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How to Tell if Your Client is Hypnotically Capable Without Using a ‘Susceptibility Test’

Or why one-size fit all approaches will reduce your effectiveness as a therapist

Therapeutic technique needn't always be laid bare in a procedural or even bureaucratic form of doing therapy.

I teach the use of clinical hypnosis a wee bit differently to how it’s often taught. For example, the way I teach clinical hypnosis enables technique to merge naturalistically with conversation.

Therapeutic technique needn’t always be laid bare in a procedural or even bureaucratic form of doing therapy. Rather, I feel it’s best to have it flow and feel natural as part of a very human interaction.

I’ve written before about the potential dangers of being too form filling and bureaucratic with clients who may be desperate for connection and understanding.

But sometimes my approach can be confusing for people trained in other approaches.

In a recent Q&A session I was asked about why I don’t teach standard hypnotizability tests in my courses for practitioners.

One reason is that when we are naturalistic with our clients we can much more subtly test for hypnotic responsiveness without putting them, or us, under undue pressure to ‘perform’.

One-size-fits-all approaches have limited success with clients because the very essence of therapy is to meet the client on their level. And this level is unique for each client, depending on who they are and what they’ve experienced.

This isn’t to say that standard techniques are never useful – certainly, they can be – but rather that the way we use techniques is what’s most vital. We want to avoid making the client feel like the therapist is ‘trying something’ on them. When technique doesn’t feel like technique, therapy is much smoother and often more successful.

We want to avoid making the client feel like the therapist is 'trying something' on them. When technique doesn't feel like technique, therapy is much smoother and often more successful. Click to Tweet

When technique – or even, as referenced by the above question, ‘testing’ – blends in with a natural sense of communication and human warmth (rather than bureaucratic data gathering), the client becomes much more amenable to therapeutic help.

It’s tempting I think, as a therapist, to want things to be clear and well defined. But is that always best for the client?

Anyway, I present a rough transcript of the question and my answer below, along with the audio version if you’d prefer to listen.

I hope you find this interesting and valuable.


Mark, in your courses the question of clients who are and are not susceptible to hypnosis (i.e. suggestibility tests) is not given much attention. Did I miss something, or is it your experience that most or all are capable of hypnotic induction? What do studies show? I am a hypnosis newbie who hopes, like you, to use it with my training in CBT to help.

My answer

That’s true. We teach conversational hypnosis and encourage the use of naturalistic hypnotic inductions stemming from the conversation with the client, which should feel natural and comfortable for them. Anything that feels too procedural or even bureaucratic might make many clients feel a little alienated or unnatural.

Just about everyone can be hypnotized to some degree. Everyone dreams at night, whether they recall those dreams or not, and this indicates that they can focus inward, experience rich imaginings, and forget about their physical surroundings for a while.

When you discover what uniquely appeals to the client and use those elements as the basis for hypnotic induction, then suddenly all kinds of people who may not have responded to one-size-fits-all approaches become readily responsive.

I like to hypnotize clients when I observe that they have entered a kind of natural state of fixed attentiveness. Maybe they look a little glassy eyed or have been reminiscing about something relaxing. Hypnosis then becomes a natural consequence of the preceding conversation.

People can be responsive to hypnosis in different ways. For example, someone might not exhibit arm levitations or much eyelid catalepsy, but still respond deeply to your therapeutic suggestions.

We can subtly test for hypnotic responsiveness though. So I might say:

“Now sometimes people find one finger on one hand feels lighter than all the other fingers… and often that finger begins to flicker a little all by itself as it starts to feel lighter…”

You may notice that, although you were ostensibly talking about other people, your client’s finger starts to flicker. Now this is more subtle, because you weren’t asking them directly to experience anything, but simply talking about “some people”.

So we can subtly test for that kind of responsiveness, taking the pressure off them and ourselves, by using the so-called “my friend John technique” and seeing if the client responds to those very indirect suggestions.

Click the play button to listen to this Q&A in audio format

or click here to download the mp3 and listen later

Learn Clinical Hypnotherapy with Mark

Conversational, indirect, flexible hypnotic approaches can be merged seamlessly with all types of therapeutic approaches. Learn hypnotic language and how to use it to help your clients online with Mark Tyrrell on his course – Uncommon Hypnotherapy.

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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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