Back to Top

4 Ways to Capture Your Client’s Attention

How to harness the power of focus for rapid therapeutic results


When focus is narrowed in the right way, therapeutic change becomes easier

Is there anything worse than having your therapeutic pearls founder on the rocks of distraction?

When we therapists, counsellors, or coaches see what our client needs, there is often only one chance to make that intervention stick. And for that, we need resolute, focussed attention from our client.

When we see what our client needs, there is often only one chance to make that intervention stick.

But how can we capture client attention in therapy when that precious opportunity presents itself?

One of the many reasons I use hypnosis in therapy is because I’ve found it’s the best way to help clients focus so they can really listen and take on board new, more productive ideas and emotional responses.

And once focus becomes narrowed, it gains great power – like the magnifying glass gathering the heat of the sun to ignite a flame.

Here are 4 ways to help you focus the attention of your clients for quicker therapeutic results

1. Be ambiguous about what is going to happen

When we’re expecting something but aren’t sure what it is, we narrow our focus in order to check our expectation.

Implying by what you say that something will occur, but you don’t know what it is yet creates curiosity, which fixates attention.

For example:

And I’m very curious… and you can be very curious too… to discover… in just a few moments… just how… your unconscious mind is going to produce a profound hypnotic trance state… and neither of us know yet… just how that’s going to happen… maybe you’ll just start to feel a little sleepy… or perhaps you’ll begin to feel kind of far away in your mind… or those hands of yours will feel a little warmer first… and you have no idea yet… just what the first signs will be… that you have gone into trance… but you can enjoy waiting for a few moments…

Another way to use this ambiguity is to presuppose that your client will begin to notice the changes they want to see in themselves, but that how and when can surprise them:

I wonder who will be the first person to notice that you’re feeling a growing confidence in your work.

What will you be doing when you first notice you’re free of that drinking habit?

New Ways of Seeing Ebook

Get my book FREE when you subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter

Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

Click to subscribe free now

2. Use what is already fascinating to them

If our clients are clearly fascinated by something, then we can utilize that interest, which already has their attention, and narrow their focus even more.

For example, Ross kept talking about how he just couldn’t believe he’d been able, as a child, to play the piano in front of large audiences – something he felt he could “never do the equivalent of now”. Because he had expressed amazement (and therefore was easily focussed by this subject), I began to talk about it as a way to capture his attention even more:

And there is still a part of you that remembers… that knows the exact feeling of being so focussed… on playing the piano… that the crowd just kind of disappeared… a particular room… a particular piece of music… being in total flow… your hands still remembering the precise sensations… of moving over the keys… as your eyes remember what they saw… and your ears what they heard… even if you don’t know that… yet…

Because I was talking about what already fascinated him and I was talking about it in an unfamiliar way, Ross was able to enter a profound and spontaneous trance without me even asking him to “go into hypnosis”.

3. Home in on their symptoms

People know very well how to focus on their problems (that’s often a big part of the problem!).

So with someone who had been having panic attacks, you might talk about how ‘people’ experience “faster breathing, feeling hot in the face, feeling like they want to run away…” and so forth, as a prelude to focussing them more positively.

Or I might say to a blusher:

And blushing is a kind of post-hypnotic response… and wonderful evidence of the mind/body connection…and perhaps you can just close your eyes… and notice what that feels like… by imagining you are beginning to blush right now… and as you do that… you can also notice what it’s like… not to blush in that situation… and to feel really chilled… cool and calm…

If I’m working with a smoker, I’ll invariably start off fixing their attention by getting them to ‘have a cigarette’ in their mind – step by step. This is their area of expertise, so it’s easy for them to focus on it.

Doing this is a way of getting people used to focussing on ideas presented by you through making sure that what you are presenting is already familiar. And if they can’t focus on the reality of having a cigarette or blushing, then you can even use that inability to feel the problem as a way to help them overcome it permanently. Win/win.

This technique of focussing your client’s mind on what has troubled them should not be confused with ‘bringing on a panic attack’ or some other symptom. Rather it’s a controlled way of discussing their symptoms, touching upon them so that you can catch – and hold – their focus of attention. But once the catalyst has done its work, you can quickly move on to positively focussed interventions.

4. Vary your tone and delivery

“I use a soft voice because that compels attention.” ~ Dr Milton Erickson

Some people still have an idea about hypnotists that we all speak in a dramatic whisper or – worse still – a dull monotone. But effective hypnosis can use all the tones in the scale.

Because hypnosis isn’t about boring the client into a stupor. Its aim is to capture and hone the client’s focus. Sometimes this means using a soft voice to encourage relaxed inner focus, but sometimes the conspiratorial phrasing of a gossip works just as well.

So you can engage your client’s attention by shifting your tone and inflection, in the same way that an actor focuses an audience’s attention through emotion and emphasis.

By working flexibly with your clients, picking up on their individualities and passions, you can better understand what makes them unique and find the best way to help them more quickly. Once you’ve helped them narrow their attention, you’ll find it becomes easier to effectively direct their focus in helpful ways, so they can begin to respond to and deal with whatever is troubling them.

Join me on the Precision Hypnosis course for advanced skills in focussing your clients’ attention. If you don’t yet know hypnosis, you can learn it on the Uncommon Hypnotherapy course.

New Ways of Seeing Ebook

Get my book FREE when you subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter

Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

Click to subscribe free now

Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

You can get my book FREE when you subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter. Click here to subscribe free now.

Search for more therapy techniques:

  • Matthew Fallon

    Dynamite and spot-on information, Mark! Thank you for a great article!

  • Trevor R Wales

    Excellent. Some very interesting techniques some I use already. Thank you for a very informative blog Mark.

    • Hi Trevor I’m glad you found it interesting.

  • Helen Hughes

    I found this very interesting and 1 ,2, and 4 will definitely be useful for me. Thank you very much. The only part I feel a little wary of is focusing on their symptom since I have been trained not to do so.

    • Hi Helen I’m glad you found it useful. Certainly we need to treat carefully when focussing on symptoms. For most people their symptom or problem behaviour is hypnotic and therefore they find it easy to access and focus on (which is the problem in itself) The problem has already caught their attention and we need to help them become ‘un-caught’ by it.

      So when accessing a ‘sample’ of the PTSD or phobic response just prior to treating it we need to just get a few seconds and never have someone become fully absorbed in high levels of anxiety.

      But for something like blushing or smoking something they do regularly having them access the feeling in a controlled way as a gateway to teaching them how not to have the problem can be useful because we are using a phenomena which already reliably directs and narrows their focus. But if we decide to do this we should do it fleetingly and only as a gateway into a more healthy trance or as part of a “pattern interrupt” technique http://www.unk.com/blog/4-useful-therapeutic-tasks-types/ All best wishes, Mark.

      • Helen Hughes

        Thank you so much Mark. This explains it very well and there are some great ideas in your ‘pattern interrupt’ link. Your site is a fantastic resource and your style of writing makes it enjoyable as well as interesting to read. Its much appreciated! Best wishes, Helen