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Using Neuro Linguistic Programming In Your Hypnosis Practice

I am a little unusual, though by no means unique, in coming to hypnosis through NLP. I remember one occasion early on during my NGH training: I asked a question using my “NLP vocabulary”, which is sometimes very different from “hypnosis vocabulary”. My instructor, Melissa Tiers, is herself an NLP Master Practitioner and she patiently “translated” my “foreign language” for the benefit if the rest of the class. Afterwards she took me aside and told me to carefully explain any non-hypnosis terms for the non-NLP’ers.

As I study NLP and hypnosis more and more I realize that both disciplines deal, more or less, with the same techniques and same phenomena, just in a different way and using different terms. I find it fascinating to draw these connections between the two disciplines.

NLP began as an exercise in modeling certain therapists (including Milton Erickson), by Richard Bandler a computer student, and John Grinder, a linguist. In order to model they developed a language for the most basic building blocks of experience. As a result, NLP provides a very rich and detailed vocabulary for describing your client’s experience.

In this article we will consider how one of the fundamental building blocks of NLP, the concept of representational systems, can be used to help in the construction of inductions, deepeners and interventions for a specific client.

A representational system simply means one of our senses, i.e. our sense of sight, or hearing, or kinesthetic sense (interestingly standard NLP does not distinguish between internal and external kinesthetic sensations, or even emotional “feelings”), as well as olfactory, or gustatory. These may be referred to as VAK (visual-auditory-kinesthetic) or VAKOG (adding olfactory-gustatory).

By being fully aware of our clients vocabulary, eye movements and other clues, we can begin to determine which of their senses they are using most at that time (we will not deal in detail with how we gather this information other than through vocabulary, in this article). Most of your clients will likely be visual or kinesthetic, with a minority being auditory (although perhaps not surprisingly many hypnotists are auditory!). For example a client may say:

Client: I was hoping things would be looking up by now, but they’re not. I really can’t see any way out of this problem [visual].


Client: I am feeling bad about this. It’s like I am dragging a weight around [kinesthetic].

So what do we do, as hypnotists, with this information? By using words from the representational system the client is using, we can pace the client’s current experience, building rapport. In addition, the hypnotist can begin to direct the client’s attention to their current inner experience.

Hypnotist: I understand how things could look that way. What I’d like is for you to imagine seeing yourself beginning to relax. Get a really clear picture of that. See yourself relaxing. Notice what it looks like when your breathing is becoming deeper, see the relaxation in your arms and legs. [Visual]


Hypnotist: We all feel that way sometimes. What I’d like is for you to sit back, take a deep breath. Begin to feel your feet relaxing…[kinesthetic]

Once we have matched the client’s experience to build rapport, and begin trance, then we can begin to lead the client into other representational systems. Leading the client in this way does two things, firstly using a representational system they are less used to can lead to a “trancier” experience for example during a deepener, for example:

[for a visual]…now feel yourself floating out of your body. Feel yourself floating up, as your body sinks deeper into the chair…


[for a kinesthetic]…now see yourself walking down a staircase, look around and notice details as you descend, deeper…

I know from personal experience that feeling myself float out of my body feels really odd and trancey to a strongly visual person like myself!

Using mutiple representational systems also allows a much richer hypnotic experience to be constructed:

Hypnotist:…and as you walk along that beach, look up at the white clouds in the blue sky [visual], hear the sound of the waves [auditory], feel the cool breeze [kinesthetic], smell the scent of the ocean [olfactory], see the waves rolling slowly into shore [visual and kinesthetic], listen to the seagulls as they soar in the sky…

Switching representational systems can be a challenge. One of the Presuppositions of NLP is that all experience is coded via sensory information, we see, hear, feel, smell and taste things. When we think of an experience we think about it as remembered or constructed images, sounds or dialogue, feelings or scents and tastes. Even individuals who seem to think in abstract terms have to make pictures or sounds of the abstractions, “1+1=2” (visual) or “one plus one equals two” (auditory). So by matching the system the client uses we should be able to begin to lead them into a more relaxed state. But how do we go from the representational system they favor to another one? One way is to use a method called “overlap” in NLP. Consider the following:

[for a visual] Hypnotist:…Imagine you are in a movie theater, looking at the screen. See yourself on the screen, the you that you want to be. Notice how that ‘you’ stands, how he breathes, how he moves. See the expression on his face. [Begin to overlap representational systems, say into auditory]: Now hear any sounds associated with the movie. Maybe that ‘you’ up there is speaking. Listen to the tone of voice. Really see and hear all those details. [Begin to overlap into kinesthetic] As you watch the movie, and hear the soundtrack, notice how it feels there in the theater. Begin to float toward the ‘you’ on the screen, notice how everything gets larger as you float closer. Float into the screen, into the ‘you’ on the screen. Now seeing out of your own eyes, hearing out of your own ears, that’s right, notice how it feels…

Another advantage of switching representational systems is that the client may have become stuck by putting their most of their attention on one specific representational system. Not only that, the client will often tell the hypnotist what she needs to do in order to facilitate change…

Client: I feel so bad, I just can’t see my way forward…[stuck in kinesthetic, is asking to be lead into visual]

By directing the client’s attention into a representational system other than the one they are experiencing when they get stuck, they may begin to become unstuck before any specific hypnotic intervention is begun:

Hypnotist:…and now as you begin to see your way forward, you can begin to notice how that looks…[bringing their attention to visual]

By paying attention to the client’s words, eye movements, breathing, physiology, gestures and other clues, we can begin to notice which representational system they are using the most at that time. This is useful information about how the client constructs their reality, and allows us to construct a hypnotic encounter that first matches the client’s current experience, then begins to lead the client into new areas and new experiences.

About The Author
Shawn Carson is director of The International Center for Positive Change and Hypnosis in New York, a qualified hypnotist and NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer, coach and helps with self improvement, personal development, as well as weight loss, smoking, and stress.

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