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3 Hypnotherapy Techniques That Help Your Clients Let Go of the Past

Why hypnotic amnesia can be therapeutic and how to use it (with video demonstration)

Let Go of the Past
Therapists can help clients let go of the past

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.

Amnesia is an absolutely intrinsic part of therapeutic change #hypnotherapy

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.

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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 the 3 steps to amnesia I used to help Clara stop endlessly thinking about the past with her ex-boyfriend

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 itOr 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. “

For more technique demonstration videos, see Uncommon Practitioners TV

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!

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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.

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  • Joanna Ellis

    Thanks for this great article and especially for de-mystifying amnesia.

  • Rebecca Armstrong

    Thank you Mark, great article and such a practical example of a way to help clients, my mind is excitedly thinking of situations I can apply this technique to help my clients. It’s very useful for learning and understanding how you helped your client, particularly the specific details and language patterns (versus just saying “I primed Clara with amnesia examples”).

  • I’m going to be adding this to my personal techniques manual. I can think of several situations where it may be useful when used with other techniques. It would need to be used with care in some situations, such as bereavement when you wouldn’t want the client to think you were suggesting they forget about their loved ones.
    Regarding getting over an ex-partner, I have successfully used the ‘Swish’ technique. When the ‘bad/old’ and ‘good/desired’ picture have been ‘swished’ enough times the clt is then asked to imagine the bad picture blowing away into the gutter and being washed down a drain. I guess that this is another way of getting the client to ‘forget’ about their ex-partner.

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  • Alexander Fidelman

    In my practice as a certified clinical hypnotherapist, I found that inducing amnesia for any sort of trauma in the past is counterproductive – no technique whatsoever is capable of permanently “erasing” a memory – it has been proven over and over again that even drug induced Jason-Borne-style amnesia is only as “permanent” as the desire and motivation of the subconscious mind to keep it suppressed. Nothing can be erased from the unconscious, every memory is stored permanently and blocking it is the only way to prevent it from surfacing consciously. And this is exactly why we should not be doing it and this is also exactly why what we do is called hypnotherapy, not just hypnosis: in order for suppressed memories not to run our lives any longer we transform beliefs and emotions that prevent any healthy reactions to what happened in the past. Change occurs only when we let go, forgive, experience real compassion and reach the true Core State. An enormous amount of trapped psychic energy is released as a result, making our clients feel truly healed.

  • Hi Mark! Great blog you have shared. I liked it. In my sense, Hypnosis is a wonderful training tool for motivation, through which one can know how to led a successful and happy social as well as professional life.