With many types of hypnosis work, visualizations are a core aspect of what we hypnotherapists do. While you might occasionally get away with, “Imagine you’re in a beautiful place”, most clients will want a few more clues! So how can you make the visualizations you use more powerful?

How can you make it almost impossible for your client to resist the pull of the image you’re creating? You want them to become completely immersed in their inner world, so what can you do to make it as real for them as possible?

Some therapists make the mistake of trying to describe every little detail of whatever the client is meant to be experiencing in visualization. I say “make the mistake” because it’s an incredibly difficult thing to get every detail right for that particular client. Let’s take an example. Suppose I suggest to a client that as they’re walking along the sandy path through a meadow, they can hear the sound of running water in the distance. They follow the sound, and it brings them to a small river. They walk along the river bank for a few minutes, with the river on their right, enjoying the sound of the water and the warmth of the sun on their skin. After a short distance, they come to some stepping stones, that lead across to the other side of the river…

At this point, half of you might be thinking, “OK – what’s wrong with that?” because my description will have fitted accurately what you were imagining. But the other 50% of readers will have experienced at least one moment of difficulty within that simple paragraph. Firstly, as you imagined following the sound of water and stumbling upon the little river, what if in your mind at that point the river was on your left? The next thing you’re told is that the river’s on your right. It can jar and irritate that you’re being told something that doesn’t match with what you’ve already imagined. The second point of difficulty… what if in your mind there were shady trees lining the riverbank? But the therapist tells you that you can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

Now in reality, if you have a good relationship with the client, and they trust you, and they’re willingly trying to make the hypnosis work well, they’ll probably just do a mental shrug and think, “Oh, ok, so the river’s actually on my right…” and carry on. But it’s not ideal, and for clients who find it difficult to visualize clearly, it makes it even more difficult. Also, if we can easily find two jarring moments in a short paragraph like this, just think how many there might be in a whole visualization, especially if you’re trying to be really detailed. One or two you might get away with, but the more often it happens, the less deeply your client will be able to immerse themselves in the visualization.

So, without going into huge detail, how can you make your visualizations as powerful as possible for the client? Here are a few key pointers to help you:

  • Allow the client to picture everything for themselves, by being non-directive. Rather than telling them, “the beautiful staircase is made out of intricate, wrought iron, with delicate carvings of plants woven throughout the balustrade”, you can direct them to notice the details for themselves: “As you get closer to the bottom of the staircase, take a moment to look carefully at it. Notice what materials have been used to construct this staircase. Is it intricate or plain? Does it have open sides, or is there a banister or balustrade of some kind?” This way, whatever the client imagines remains “right” and can’t be jarred by your suggestions of something that doesn’t fit with what they’ve already pictured. You’re helping them to build up a detailed image of their inner world, and you’re giving them the key components that are necessary for whatever intervention you are using, but you’re not telling them exactly what it should look like. Later, an analysis of what they created can lead to interesting insights as to the symbolic nature of the different objects in their inner world. This wouldn’t be relevant if you told them exactly what to picture. This technique is particularly important and effective if you’re asking them to visualize an event or experience that they’re preparing for or dealing with. Only they will know what the relevant details really are
  • If your client prefers a more directive, authoritarian approach, be really careful about the order of the descriptions you give. If we take the original example about the river, you can circumvent trouble by stating where something is, or is coming from, before saying what it is, so it arrives, fully formed and in the right place in the client’s inner world. So if the river being on the right, and the sunshine were both in some way important, our example might look more like this:
As you walk along that sandy path through the meadow, some distance away to your right you can hear the inviting sound of running water. You follow that sound, and soon you discover a small river running through the open, sunny meadow. Notice how the sunlight dances on the water. Turn so that the water is on your right, and walk along the river bank for a few minutes, enjoying the sound of the bubbling water and the warmth of the sun on your skin. After a while, you notice some stepping stones that lead across to the other side of the river…

Can you see how there’s far less margin for error here than in the original version? It takes a bit of thought and care, but is far less likely to cause the client irritation, or get in the way of their becoming fully immersed in the image.

  • Use all of the senses. This is critical for really immersive visualization. Not everyone is particularly visual. In fact some people find it really difficult to conjure up a strong, visual image. But if you involve all of the senses, then it doesn’t matter whether you have a predominantly aural, visual or kinaesthetic client, you will have satisfied their needs, and you will be giving them the information or prompts they require so they can imagine the details vividly in their own way. So as well as talking about what they can see, get them thinking about what they can smell (the warm damp earth? The heady scent of flowers?), what they can taste (the salt of the sea on the air?), what they can hear (the singing of birds? The light bubbling of a stream? The hum of insects on a summers day?) and feel (the polished smoothness of a marble floor? The dry, powdery sand running through their fingers? The cool breeze against their skin?).
By including all the senses, you make it difficult for your client not to let themselves drift deeply into the place you’re creating with them.

  • Give them time to explore for themselves. Once you’ve established the “place” that the client is visiting in visualization, giving them a few moments simply to explore and discover this place will help them to sink even deeper into the “reality” of the visualization.
  • Ask them what worked. Feedback is such a useful tool. If you plan to re-use the same or similar visualization with the client, ask them what worked well, and whether anything got in the way. If it’s appropriate, ask them to describe some of the details they noticed within the visualization. You can mention one or two of these the next time, knowing that they will be consistent with the client’s image of this “place” or experience.
So there you have it. In short:

  • Let them picture everything for themselves
  • Be careful about the order you say things in – give locations and directions before giving detailed descriptions
  • USE ALL FIVE SENSES (if you do nothing else, do this!)
  • Give the client some time to explore their inner world for themselves
  • Get feedback. Find out what worked for them, and use it again next time!

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