Many hypnotherapists I’ve spoken to, even experienced ones, feel a bit reluctant to use hypnotic phenomena like amnesia with their clients. Some of them worry that it might be inappropriate, or that amnesia is just a trick used by stage hypnotists to make people forget their own names. I also get the sense that some hypnotherapists feel that they can’t reliably elicit hypnotic phenomena, so they don’t try.
But they’re forgetting something: amnesia is an absolutely intrinsic part of therapeutic change.
Getting over an ex-partner, moving on from grief, stopping a bad habit, all involve degrees of amnesia. For example, if a relationship ends badly, some people will constantly think about their ex-partner, and then, slowly, they’ll notice gaps where they are free to think about other things and begin to move on.
If the word ‘amnesia’ feels too dramatic or concrete here, then we could call it ‘thinking about that less often’. Because that’s exactly the therapeutic resource we want to access.
Therapeutic amnesia isn’t a weird hypnotic trick that wipes someone’s brain, it’s a way of tapping into the natural process that people use to put things behind them.
Casebook example: “I just can’t get my ex-boyfriend out of my head!”
I worked with a woman recently, Clara, who had to continue working in the same office as her ex-boyfriend after their break up. She told me how she was constantly thinking about him, day and night, and just dreaded bumping into him. Although six months had passed, her whole life still revolved around this situation. It was clear that she needed to feel calmer around her ex-partner, and to begin to focus on her own future. And to facilitate this she needed help to break the cycle of obsessive thinking she was caught in. What she needed was not so much to forget him, as to forget to think about him.
Here’s how I helped Clara move on
As I was working with Clara, I applied these 3 steps to amnesia:
1. Prime the brain with natural amnesia examples
I used several different examples, describing them as hypnotically and evocatively as possible: “Isn’t it interesting how much you forget as the years go by? As a child you feel totally obsessed with a certain toy, it’s all you can think about, but now you’ve put that behind you, you forget to think about it. Or the names from your infant school, even faces, that you completely forget as time moves on. And we’re quite absent-minded as a species, really. I know I sometimes put down my keys, and then spend ten minutes turning the house upside down, saying ‘But I had them a minute ago!’ Because the brain is very good at remembering how to forget. “
2. Invite contemplation of what it will be like not to notice [X] so much
You don’t need to tell them directly that they will completely forget about it, nor need you imply that it will happen right away – just casually discuss it as a hypothetical possibility. I said to Clara: “And as time moves on, even if you can’t fully imagine this yet, won’t it be great to be able to forget about those repetitive thoughts? To notice that you’ve put him behind you, and that you’re free to pay attention to other things? “
3. Completely change the subject!
When you suddenly start talking about something completely different after seeding the suggestion for amnesia, you distract the client from analysing the suggestion too closely and potentially resisting it. Clara had mentioned her holiday plans while we were getting to know each other, so now I abruptly abandoned the topic of forgetting and said: “And whereabouts in Florida are you going? “And we proceeded to have a delightful conversation about hurricanes in Florida…
In her very next session Clara announced happily: “I just haven’t been thinking about him nearly as often!” She reported that even if she did catch sight of him in a corridor, she found she very quickly put him out of her mind and got on with her day.
So for now, start considering which of your clients could benefit from some therapeutic amnesia, and how you could incorporate these hypnotherapy techniques into your next session with them!
Photo courtesy of kelehen