Wimpnotherapist: A wimpy, ineffective hypnotherapist.

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too. You’ve done an induction with someone and you’re not sure if they’re thoroughly hypnotized. You’re not sure whether or not your suggestions are going to take hold. And the moment of truth is now. You could test them–maybe stick their hand to the arm of the chair and have them try and lift it but they might lift it. And then they might think you’re a failure, that you can’t hypnotize them.


So you don’t test. You hope. You hope they’re hypnotized. You do a bit of deepening or throw some clever hypnotic language in there and hope it works. You’re a wimpnotherapist.

What Happens When A Client Visits A Wimpnotherapist?

The other day a friend called me up. He’d recently referred someone he knew (let’s call her Tammy) to a hypnotherapist in the area. Tammy reported back that the hypnotherapist didn’t hypnotize her. When my friend asked what the hypnotherapist had done, Tammy said, “She just counted down from 10 to 1 and then started giving suggestions.”

It’s always possible the hypnotherapist did a lot more and Tammy simply didn’t remember it but I’d guess something else is at play here. Fear.

The Moment Of Truth

Recently, I was demonstrating some inductions to about 25 people and I was free-lancing a bit. I was having the hypnotee’s hand float toward their body (her arm was resting on a table, bent at the elbow). I made some suggestions that when the hand reached the body, she would go more deeply in to trance.

Then I had the thought–“I should stick her hand to her chest.” Then the fear crept in…

“What if it doesn’t work? I’m supposed to know what I’m doing and if her hand doesn’t stick, I’ll have failed in front of all these people.” The moment of truth had arrived.

How A Bad Attitude Can Poison Your Effectiveness

That’s how I think Tammy’s hypnotherapist got started. It started with fear that she would fail at hypnotizing someone. The fear worked its way in to her practice to the point where she was simply counting down to people, suggesting relaxation and hoping positive thinking and relaxation would do the trick. But the emperor may have no clothes.

In general, the more our clients have an experience that they believe is hypnosis, the more effective their sessions will be. The reason? Because people are liable to listen to the suggestions they give themselves. What would you like to have a client saying after a session…

“I don’t think I as hypnotized. If that’s the case, those suggestions must not have worked.”


“Wow. When my hand stuck to my chest it really felt like it was stuck to my chest. That was weird–and cool. I must have been hypnotized. If my mind can make that happen, it can make those other suggestions come true too!”

To Test Or Not To Test

So, I decided to stick the hand of the person I was hypnotizing to her chest. I simply suggested that her hand and chest felt as if they were carved out of one solid piece of wood.

Do everyone a favor.

  • Have a theory about what constitutes a good trance for suggestion to take hold.
  • Have some evidence that lets you know when you’ve achieved a good trance.
  • Test, to make sure you’re there.
  • Give your clients an experience they’re likely to say was hypnosis and some convincers to help them believe it.
  • Refine your ideas based on your results.

A Couple Of Caveats…

Ericksonian Techniques

I know there are lots of techniques that are more conversational in nature and a person may not even be aware that hypnosis is going on. I know there are cases where a person has amnesia for what happens in a trance. On the whole though, I see practitioners going to more conversational techniques not because they think those techniques might be more effective, but because they’re afraid they can’t really hypnotize anyone.

I Haven’t See The Evidence, Have You Seen The Evidence?

I often teach inductions from an Elman-style perspective. Dave Elman believed that in order to get suggestions in powerfully and permanently, you had to have somnambulism. And, if you created amnesia for anything through suggestion, you had somnambulism.

That’s why his inductions often involve counting down and losing/forgetting numbers. His inductions have multiple tests for level of trance and convincers for the clients built in to them.

It’s a good story. Perhaps the best story we have. It’s simple to grasp and we like simple stories. But I don’t know what evidence there is to support it.

I really think we need more hard evidence about what works and what doesn’t in terms of the effectiveness of suggestion and how it relates to different “depths” of trance. If you’ve heard of a good study that sheds some light on the subject, let me know. I’ll share it.

The Results?

So what happened with the person I was working with? In one way, it doesn’t matter. If her hand didn’t stick to her chest, I could treat it as feedback that I might need to go to another induction style or technique. There might be a fear I hadn’t dealt with properly in my pre-induction talk. But at least I’d have the information!

As it happens, her hand stuck to her chest. After I emerged her, I asked her what that part of her experience had been like. She looked at me like I was a little bit slow and said, “It felt like my hand was stuck to my chest.”



About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. Then I had the thought–”I should stick her hand to her chest.” Then the fear crept in…

    Keith. Huh… What sort of hypnosis are you doing?


  2. Here is my advice on this subject Verification is only as reliable as the test itself. Be careful of falling into the trap of one-it-is. Have many tools at your disposal.

    1. I do think it can be a trap. Hypnotic abilities vary from person to person. Some people produce what might be considered difficult or “deep” hypnotic phenomenon easily but have problems with what might typically be considered lower order responses. It’s tempting to fall for the hypnotic depth scales as the cut-and-dried gospel. It’s a simple answer and we like simple answers. It doesn’t seem that simple to me though. I think we need more hard data and a more accurate model of hypnosis, depth of trance and how they relate to suggestibility. Of course, any model is limited by its level of accuracy and in the inaccuracies lie the traps.

  3. Hey Keith,

    When you frame things as on/off, it worked or it didn’t work, you are setting up an unnecessary dichotomy for the client. They start to think in terms of the hypnosis worked or it didn’t, i.e. dissociating themselves from solving their problem. Don’t go there.

    Instead, talk to the client about all of their strategies for achieving their goal, hypnosis being one of them. Get them involved in designing their total solution so they have some emotional skin in the game. Frame it as one step along the way. Leave out the concepts of trance depth and take the performance pressure off the client. Perhaps the goal of the first session is just to get the feel of learning how to relax their body and their mind, so they have a tool they can use for the rest of their life. Then there is no failure. Every step is a step towards their goal, whatever happens.

    Also, I’d lose the concept of the wimpnotist. We have enough problems with the public image of hypnotherapists as it is.

    Just my $0.02.


    1. Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your comments.

      I can see that it would have been useful to be a bit more specific in the article. The article refers to a specific part of a specific type of session–the induction phase in which formal, overt hypnosis is occurring. In that phase I’m not typically not helping someone form their goal or talking about various strategies for getting there. Of course getting someone involved and motivated to achieve their goals is useful.

      1) I don’t frame it as worked/didn’t work to the client.
      2) I rarely bring up the subject of trance depth with a client, unless afterward they tell me they were really deep. Then I might say it’s a good sign.
      3) The article is talking about a specific part of a specific type of session–the induction phase in a session in which you use formal hypnosis.
      3) My job isn’t to protect the reputation of hypnotherapy so that poor practitioners can continue to get clients. I think there should be a problem with the public image of hypnotherapists.


  4. Hi Keith, how about putting your comment to Bill in ALL CAPS. That is something that needs to be shouted from the highest hill.


    PS~Ignore Geoff!!! LOL!!

  5. When I started I was doing Elman-style inductions, but I was always running into people who couldn’t relax enough to let their arms go limp or couldn’t push the numbers out of their mind. I have switched to a conversational induction that basically takes place while we are still talking, but after I have asked them the questions I need to create my suggestions. So the first sign of trance is that the client has stopped talking. Sometime after they reach that point they realize that they are in a trance.

    I then do some fractionation and deepeners, mostly theatrical, and some vivid imagery. They always end up with a trigger to drop back into a trance on my command, which I often use at the end of the session to “adjust” their recall of the trance – to make sure they remember being in the trance, as some people will not remember unless they receive the suggestion to remember, while I may not want them to remember the suggestions themselves. And of course they are feeling absolutely great. So I don’t have a problem with clients not being in a trance or not believing they were in a trance anymore.

    1. Hi Katherine,
      Thanks for your comments. It sounds as if you’ve thought about this subject.
      I remember a few years ago, I spoke on front of a group of hypnotherapists. I asked them to tell me in general, what level of trance they felt was good for a client having a suggestion be long-lasting and powerful. There were three categories of response.

      1) No level of trance is required at all (I wonder why the folks that answered this way billed themselves as hypnotherapists).
      2) Any level of trance is fine.
      3) You need deep trance or somnambulism to get powerful suggestions.

      Personally, I don’t buy any of the three as absolutes. I’m least comfortable with the second answer. And I think it’s good to remember that there’s no universally accepted definition of hypnosis or trance and that “depth” is a limited way of looking at hypnosis. I do think the client realizing they were in trance is a good start (in most cases). What are your thoughts about depth of trance? Do you give any credence to the depth scales? If so, what depth of trance do you believe your clients are reaching and what evidence do you have that they’re reaching that depth?


  6. Thanks Keith, you’re right, this is something that occurs all the time – the ‘what if’ moment. It’s a confidence game, thanks for bringing it up.

  7. Hey Keith, I can sympathyse with the example you gave. There are a lot of life-long amateurs out there. I am only a newly qualified hypnotherapist, but I try to follow the Ericksonian approach I have learnt, i.e. be aware that most people are so familiar (however subconsciously) with spending most of their lives in some state of trance or other, that they are in a trance already the moment they walk into our office. So putting them in a different state of trance is the main objective,as well as making it all as safe as possible. Milton Erickson is my hero, but I like hearing from other people and their different methods.
    Thanks for the emails,keep them coming

  8. Hi, Keith,
    Thank you for all your precious tips. I think you present yourself in the most professional way and yet make everything sound so very simple.
    It’s great.
    I will appreciate to continue your wonderful newsletters.

    Toronto, On Canada

  9. Keith,
    Thank you for stirring such a stimulating conversation. I learned from your article, your video, the responses and your comment on the responses. I am a better hypnotherapist because of this conversation. I will look forward to more of your insights, and the responses you get.

    Specifically, two thoughts from Bill and Katherine’s responses were very informative: Hypnosis is a part of movement to their goal. Use fractionation and conversational induction.


  10. Enjoyed the video, Keith. Could you maybe do one now on recovery techniques? Sometimes tests do fail, and then what? It’d help a lot to know how to go from ‘Oh, I see your hand isn’t stuck to your face yet,’ to a successful stick. What’s a useful strategy to assure you won’t be left sitting there with (non-stick) egg on your own face?

    Cheers from warm and smiling Thailand,

  11. Hey Keith
    Other than being a wimpnotherapist, and believe me, i have some symptoms, what could be other reasons that i’m 0/5 for smoking cessation?

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