Category Archives: Hypnotherapy

Below the Surface

Did you see the BBC Horizon documentary on “the unconscious mind” last week? I found it very disappointing. It just reinforced my negative opinion of experimental psychology: if we can’t measure it, it’s not scientific so we’ll ignore it.

The programme focused particularly on brain scans. Neuroscientists may have some idea of how the brain works but this tells you nothing about “the mind” in general or the unconscious mind (“UCM”) in particular. And how can you produce a documentary on “the unconscious” without even mentioning Freud or Jung?

To learn about the UCM we need to use introspection, excluded from academic psychology for over a hundred years. If you want to know how someone thinks – ask him. NLP provides us with a useful set of tools for this, including the study of representational systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic) and “parts integration”, in which we can talk to and negotiate with “parts” of the UCM.

Parts in particular, and the UCM in general, don’t have a separate physical existence, either in the brain or elsewhere. They are, in effect, metaphors – a way of looking at and dealing with the mind which works as though it exists separately.

Let’s look in more detail at this metaphorical structure of the mind.

We can think of the mind as an iceberg, of which the conscious mind is only the tip; the vast majority of the mind, the UCM, is “below the surface”. (I’ll get to the Collective Unconscious later.) The main differences between the two “minds” are:

The Conscious

The Unconscious

Can only hold up to 9 “chunks” of information Holds everything else
Is aware of now Is the storehouse of all memories
Thinks Feels
Works logically and deliberately Works intuitively and automatically
Asks “why” Knows “why”
Tries to understand a problem Knows the solution
Controls voluntary movements Controls involuntary movements

So where do Freud and Jung come in? They were both pioneers in the study of the UCM, although they had rather different opinions on what it contains. For Freud, it was primarily the repressed part of the mind, full of forgotten traumatic memories which continue to influence our behaviour. Jung’s view was that the UCM’s content is much wider, including various aspects of the self, and, in the Collective Unconscious, inherited racial memories and especially “archetypes”.

When I studied psychology, many years ago, we had several lectures on Freud, but Jung was dismissed in one sentence as “a mystic”. Although I have had no formal training in his methods I have read enough of his work to accept at least some of his ideas, and in particular I have been trained in the use of “Archetypal Parts Imagery”, which in effect is a merger of Jung’s archetypes with the NLP parts integration technique. This is a particularly versatile tool which I’ve used to help many clients.

Even the Horizon documentary acknowledged the power of the UCM, although their understanding of it wasn’t the same as mine. Hypnotherapy, NLP and some Jung’s “Analytical Psychology” are based on the idea that we can, with help or training, gain access to the memories and other resources of the unconscious mind and to make use of them to improve our lives.


Look into my eyes…or possibly not.

A demonstration of the difference between a classical and an Ericksonian hypnotic induction.

Look into my eyes…

A Radio First?

Several years ago I received a telephone call from the London local radio station LBC. At the time, flying phobia was in the news for several reasons, and LBC asked whether I would be prepared to “cure” (their word, not mine) the phobia of a member of their staff on air. In those days LBC used to broadcast traffic reports from a light plane, and the idea was that I’d treat the chap for his phobia then they would send him up in the plane to see how he got on.

I had to be at the airfield, on the other side of London, by 6 am; fortunately they sent a car for me. It was towards the end of Winter, so it was very cold and still dark by the time I arrived. After being introduced to the presenter of the piece and the traffic reporter, I hung around in the control room for a while, then I was introduced to the “client” and given ten minutes alone with him to treat his phobia off-air (UK broadcasting rules don’t allow hypnosis on-air).

With such a short time available I could only use the fastest methods. I chose three, all designed to give the client self-help techniques to use on his own when he went up in the plane. The first was EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), the second was a very fast self-hypnosis induction for relaxation and the third an NLP anchor.

After we had completed the work we were both interviewed on-air by the presenter – the client said he was looking forward to going up and seemed to go back into a light trance while I was talking – and then he and the presenter went up in the plane. I was supposed to be able to talk to him while he was up there, but there was a technical problem; I could hear him and the presenter, and both of us were heard on-air, but they couldn’t hear me. Nevertheless, he remembered and used the techniques that I had taught him and the experiment was a complete success.

For several hours after the broadcast LBC were announcing on their news bulletins that “they” had “cured” a member of their staff’s flying phobia “live on radio” – a radio first, apparently. There are a few slight inaccuracies there, and it was unfortunate that, although they mentioned his name in the news bulletins, they didn’t bother with mine!

NSAD 2011: The Signs of Stress

Today, 2 November 2011, is National Stress Awareness Day, organised by the International Stress Management Association UK. I am an Approved Stress Adviser for the day. Full details are available here:

How do you know if you’re stressed? Here are ISMA’s suggestions for identifying the signs of stress:

Psychological & Emotional signs

  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling out ofcontrol
  • Tearful / Irritable
  • Anger / Guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetful
  • Worrying
  • Low confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor decisions

Physical signs

  • Muscle tension
  • Frequent colds
  • Skin problems
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion /IBS
  • Heartburn
  • Weight loss or gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems

Behavioural signs

  • No time for relaxation
  • Accident prone
  • Workaholic
  • Poor time management
  • Change in appearance
  • Withdrawn
  • Relationship problems
  • Insomnia
  • Increase in e.g. alcohol/ smoking

If you recognise yourself in this list, I’d be pleased to help!

Can hypnosis be used as a cure for insomnia?

My answer on Quora:

I don’t use the word ‘cure’, but hypnotherapy and related techniques can certainly help insomnia.

My normal approach is to teach clients self-help techniques that I’ve successfully used for myself – self-hypnosis, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and a few other things. I also give them instruction in ‘sleep hygiene’ – changing various habits which can have a negative effect on sleep patterns.

Usually clients find that one or more of these techniques work for them, but occasionally it may be necessary to deal with underlying causes; stress is an obvious one, but there may also be something buried in the unconscious mind that needs to be found through analytical methods such as regression or parts work.

Barry Cooper’s answer to Hypnosis: How long does it typically take to learn to hypnotize someone?

You can learn to hypnotise someone in an hour tor two. Learning how to use the resulting trance properly takes a lot longer, either for hypnotherapy (where you need to learn how to perform therapy as well as hypnosis) or for ethical and safe stage hypnosis.

My basic hypnotherapy training took about a year part-time. I have continued with further courses and reading ever since.

How long does it typically take to learn to hypnotize someone?

Do you really want to become a non-smoker, now?

I’m a hypnotherapist but I can’t hypnotise you into stopping smoking against your will. I’m also a magician, but I can’t do it with a wave of my magic wand either. But what I can do is help you to give up – if you want to. Pressure from your family on its own is not enough; I’m always suspicious, for example, when a wife rings up to make an appointment for her husband – that’s not going to work.

Having said that, there are both conscious and unconscious reasons for wanting to carry on smoking. I start my client sessions with a general chat to find out the conscious ones and then we probe a little deeper to get at the unconscious reasons and see what we can do about them.

Smoking is both a physical and a psychological addiction and both need to be dealt with. Personal circumstances make a difference too; if you’re going through a stressful time in your life – moving house, for example – it’s not a good time to try to give up. It’s not that smoking relaxes you – it just relieves the nicotine withdrawal symptoms – but if your unconscious mind has linked it to stress relief you need to train it otherwise. This may involve dealing with underlying issues as part of the process of giving up or instructing you in stress management techniques.

Generally I use a single session approach. I combine hypnotherapy with NLP, and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) too, which is particularly useful for getting over the short-term nicotine withdrawal symptoms. NLP and EFT work over the phone, and even better on Skype with a webcam; I prefer face-to-face consultations but I can work this way if it’s more convenient for you.

If you really want to become a non-smoker, improve your health and save money – I can help.

Hypnotherapy: A Few Questions – and Some Answers

What can hypnotherapy do for me?

Well, quite a lot, as a matter of fact. The National Council for Hypnotherapy website includes a list of nearly 50 issues that hypnotherapy can help, including:

  • Smoking
  • Weight control
  • Habits
  • Stress
  • Exam nerves
  • Confidence
  • Sleep problems
  • Phobias
  • Pain
  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Work performance
  • Interviews

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a way to help you to use the power of your unconscious mind to bring about therapeutic changes. A hypnotherapist will normally do this by inducing a “hypnotic trance”, which is simply a state of altered awareness, not sleep or unconsciousness

What does trance feel like?

Everyone experiences trance differently. For some, it may not feel any different to the normal “waking” state. But normally it’s similar to that feeling of deep calm that you experience just before falling asleep at night or just before waking in the morning. It’s an entirely natural state; every time you get absorbed in a book or a TV programme you are in trance!

Will I lose control of myself?

Hypnotherapy is not a passive experience – it is not something that the therapist does to you. It is more like a partnership between the two of you, with the therapist guiding you to focus on your internal world and access the huge store of resources held in your unconscious mind. You will remain fully in control and will be able to come out of trance at any time you choose. You will not be made to do or say anything against your will, or to give away any secrets. You will only be asked for enough information to enable the therapist to help you with your current problem.

So I won’t be made to bark like a dog or quack like a duck??

Absolutely not! The difference between hypnotherapy and stage hypnosis is one of context. They both involve hypnosis, but a hypnotherapist uses this for therapeutic purposes only, not for entertainment.

Will you swing a watch in front of my eyes?

Very unlikely! There are many different ways of inducing trance and the therapist will use the methods which he considers to be best for each individual client. A therapist trained in modern techniques, normally referred to as “informal”, “permissive” or “Ericksonian” (see NLP, below) will normally use only his voice to take you gently into trance, although he may use other methods if they are needed. He will never use drugs, by the way.

Can anybody be hypnotised?

You can’t be hypnotised if you choose not to be. Provided that you allow yourself to be hypnotised, however, almost everyone can be hypnotised, but not necessarily by the same hypnotist.

Is hypnosis safe?

Absolutely. Hypnosis is a 100% natural state; you have been in trance many times today. You can’t become stuck in trance, as you are always in control, although you may feel so comfortable that you may decide to remain in trance a little while longer. You also can’t stay in trance indefinitely because your bodily functions would arouse you even if your therapist stopped talking for a while. The worst thing that can happen is that you may become too comfortable and fall asleep!

What is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)?

NLP is a revolutionary approach to human communication and development, based on the discovery that by changing how you think you can change what you think. NLP can change your mind and your life, for faster learning, better relationships and greater success. It can help you overcome fears and increase your confidence. NLP techniques are closely related to Ericksonian hypnosis, as Milton Erickson was one of the therapists on whom the founders of NLP “modelled” their system. A hypnotherapist does not have to induce a formal trance to use these methods, but they are usually more effective when the client is in a trance state.

What are Meridian Energy Therapies (METs)?

METs are mind/body healing techniques which work on the body’s energy system. The most popular MET is EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), in which you gently tap on or massage the major meridian points while focusing on your problem. EFT can help with a wide range of issues, including stress, self-confidence, pain, cravings and phobias. It is intended to be a simple self-help system, and your therapist will give you thorough instruction in its use so that you can practise and help yourself between sessions.

Milton Erickson – the Father of Modern Hypnotherapy?

The foundations of hypnotherapy were laid in the nineteenth century by medical researchers such as John Elliotson, James Esdaille and James Braid. The latter, who coined the term “hypnosis”, was largely responsible for the acceptance of hypnosis by the British medical community (although its current status among them is somewhat equivocal). But it was Milton Erickson’s observed and published work that made hypnosis a respectable approach within the American medical profession and worthy of study in medical schools. It has been suggested that Erickson was to the practice of psychotherapy what Freud was to the theory of human behaviour.

Erickson never did “Ericksonian Hypnotherapy”. He took a pragmatic approach, utilising whatever techniques were need to facilitate change in each individual client. Although he is remembered for pioneering the indirect (or permissive) approach to hypnosis, he was also prepared to use more traditional direct (or authoritarian) methods where appropriate. Many modern hypnotherapists follow Erickson’s lead in utilising both types of therapy, but for the purposes of the explanations that follow we will treat them as two distinct approaches.

Practitioners of direct hypnotherapy are often authoritarian in style – similar to the persona of the stage hypnotist – telling the client what to do. This is the classical approach to hypnosis represented in countless novels and films; the therapist adopts the role of the expert, and the client is simply a passive receiver for his suggestions. The principal problem with this approach is that the therapy will be ineffective if the client is unwilling to accept the therapist’s suggestions. The client may be the sort of person who resents being given orders, or perhaps is nervous about hypnosis and being under hypnotist’s control. Also, direct therapy is one-sided and does not use the client’s personal resources.

In indirect hypnotherapy the relationship between therapist and client is emphasised. Rather than giving the client orders, the indirect therapist offers new ways of looking at a situation or choices of behaviour, and, as far as possible, the client is encouraged to find these himself from the resources in his own unconscious mind.

The importance of Erickson, and his methods as practised in Ericksonian hypnotherapy, is to take hypnotherapy away from the classical approach involving an authoritative therapist and a passive subject. His indirect approach allows a greater freedom of response from clients, both consciously and unconsciously, allowing them to access their own resources to deal with the real problems from which their symptoms have arisen.

Stress? What Stress?

What is stress?

Our bodies have an instinctive response to danger – the Fight or Flight Syndrome. This prepares us either to fight or to flee, with a number of physical changes, including increased heart rate, shallow breathing and muscle tension. If there is no real enemy to fight or run away from, our physical feelings have no release, and we begin to build up stress.

What causes stress?

Stress affects everyone in modern society to some extent. It can be caused by overwork, changes at work or at home, relationships, unemployment, loss, illness, pollution or just the pace of modern life.

How do I tell if I’m stressed?

Stress can show itself in many different ways. These may include illnesses, sleep loss, anxiety, panic attacks, chronic fatigue and muscular tension.

Is stress contagious?

No – but others may react as though it is, and may tend to avoid those suffering from stress in case they catch it!

Will it go away if you take a few weeks off?

No – unless you deal with the underlying problem the stress will still be there when you return.

Is stress an illness?

Stress is a natural reaction to pressure applied by circumstances and the environment. It’s not itself an illness, mental or otherwise, but if it’s prolonged or excessive it can lead to mental and physical ill-health.

Is a little stress good for you?

Generally speaking, “pressure” is good for you but stress isn’t.

This is what you can get from stress:
High blood pressure
Stomach upsets
Muscle tension
Loss of confidence
Poor sleep/insomnia
Irritability/mood swings

Pressure, on the other hand…:
Zest for life
Optimistic and energised
Increased performance
Impetus to achieve success
Boosts inner potential
Creatively helpful

OK, I’m stressed – what can I do about it?

Look out for my next blog…