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How to use dissociation in hypnosis

4 ways to use natural 'splitting' dissociation as a powerful therapeutic tool

By Mark Tyrrell


When you hypnotise someone you automatically dissociate them. You don't so much put the conscious mind 'to sleep' as 'split it off' from the part you really want to communicate with. That part of a person that controls their fear, their pain response, their blood pressure and their real motivation - in short, the unconscious mind.

Actually, people quite naturally 'split' themselves:

"I'm in two minds about this..."

"I know I shouldn't, but I want to!"

"There's a tiny bit of me that..."

When you become dissociated you enter an altered state of consciousness while maintaining your original state in parallel. If you're walking down the street daydreaming, then a part of you is 'split'. A part of you is still on that street, but another part of you is enjoying your lottery win in Barbados.

This type of trance state can develop quite autonomously. When we want to induce a trance state for therapeutic purposes, we can use dissociative hypnotic language to kick start this hypnotic splitting of awareness.

Keeping in mind that;

  • hypnosis happens when the unconscious mind becomes as (or more) engaged than the conscious mind

  • the conscious mind can still be active and 'observe' the workings of the unconscious mind - as when a hypnotised subject is aware of their own pain decreasing, or their arm lifting 'all by itself'

how can we use 'splitting language' to facilitate hypnosis and therapy?

Here are four effective dissociative strategies

1 Talk directly to the part that you need to reach

Okay now a part of you thinks that it wants to continue smoking, but another part, the part that actually has to deal with all the toxins, the part that regulates your blood pressure and lung function, the part that wants you to live fully for as long as possible, the unconscious part of you, is the part I'm going to be talking to today...

Every smoker's body wants them to quit, so it's the part of the brain that is responsible for bodily health that we need to appeal to, not the part that has been conditioned to smoke. When the unconscious mind gets really motivated to stop, that conditioned part will 'fall into line'. It doesn't have to lead the charge.

This line of approach immediately begins to 'split' the subject - a prerequisite for effective hypnosis.

2 Talk about the unconscious mind

Now you have a conscious mind, the part that analyzes what's going on, that weighs things up logically... and you have an unconscious mind, the part that dreams for you at night and enjoys things spontaneously without you having to think about it, the bit that regulates your blink response when you're not aware... and it's that part of you that can really enjoy this process of going into trance...

Here I'm explicitly describing the conscious and unconscious split as an hypnotic induction in itself. One of the most effective ways to hypnotise someone is to describe hypnosis to them.

3 Give the conscious mind something to do

Okay now, as you count backwards in your head from a hundred to one, another part of you can start to notice that relaxation spreading throughout that body...

You can relax about the role of the conscious mind - we've all had clients who after hypnosis report having felt 'too awake' to have been 'really hypnotised', but amazingly - to them - suddenly find they have no desire to smoke. They mistakenly believed hypnosis to be a comatose state rather than a state of split or parallel awareness.

We can facilitate this hypnotic splitting by deliberately giving the conscious mind something to focus on.

I am sometimes asked by therapists whether being trained hypnotherapists and knowing all about 'nominalisations' and illusory choice and presuppositions and all the rest of it will make it harder for them to benefit from being hypnotised themselves. I suggest that they actively and consciously try to spot what language patterns I'm using because it's not that part of them that I'm going to be speaking to anyway!

4 Keep experience and identity linguistically separate

And as that arm starts to feel more comfortable you can notice how that lovely warm restful feeling can begin to float up those legs...

Talking in terms of 'that depression' or 'those bad feelings' helps to distinguish and separate a person's real identity from the depression they may be experiencing. 'That phobia' is an abstract, external phenomenon, quite different from 'your phobia' with all its personal (and negative) connotations!

This is why psychotherapists, even when not specifically using hypnosis, are taught to use dissociative language with their clients. But, of course, this same principle is perfect for generating the kind of split in awareness we want to generate during hypnosis:

I want you to relax deeper

is an appeal to the conscious mind (and therefore not particularly hypnotic), but

...in a moment or so a part of you [the conscious mind] can begin to notice that relaxation spreading up those legs...

So you are merely asking the conscious mind to begin to notice what the unconscious mind is (and will be) doing, while creating expectation.

Once you make this way of speaking really your own, you can do away with the outdated practice of reading 'one size fits all' scripts to your clients and really connect powerfully and effectively with the person in front of you.

You can learn How to Stop Anyone Smoking with Mark Tyrrell on our Smoking Cessation Training Course (online).

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Mark Tyrrell
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