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Hypnosis With and Without Imagery

8 effective hypnosis techniques that don’t involve imagery.

Key points

  • A significant number of individuals report that they cannot imagine well in their “mind’s eye.”
  • Non-imagery hypnosis techniques can also help achieve a therapeutic altered state of consciousness.
  • The type of suggestion used in hypnosis should vary depending on an individual patient’s facility with use of imagery.
Iegen Vector/Shutterstock
Source: Iegen Vector/Shutterstock

Imagery typically is used as part of clinical hypnosis, but effective hypnosis therapy can also be provided without use of imagery.

When imagery is used, patients can be taught to imagine themselves:

  • In a calm, safe location as a way of achieving a peaceful state of mind. Such imagery is useful in the treatment of anxiety or its associated conditions such as those causing development or perpetuation of physical symptoms.
  • In the past, when they developed a troubling issue. By imagining how they could have coped better at the time of their symptom onset, some patients are able to prompt improvement or resolution of the issue that is bothering them at present.
  • In a future, wherein a troubling issue no longer bothers them. For example, after imagining a future with minimal anxiety, patients might explore what steps need to be taken in the present to manifest such a future.
  • In a future, wherein they have mastered a skill, such as a dance movement. This can provide patients with confidence, following motivational author William Arthur Ward’s principle, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.”

Patients can be prompted to imagine what they can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Such induction of their imagination prompts activation of the brain centers that perceive each of the senses, and thus attention to each of the senses leads to a “whole brain” experience that many patients report feels real or somewhat real.

However, there are a significant number of individuals who report that they cannot imagine well in their “mind’s eye.” Nonetheless, clinical hypnosis can be adapted so that it can be used effectively with such patients.

I happen to be an expert in such hypnotic adaptation, as while I have been able to facilitate hypnosis for thousands of patients who have an excellent ability to use imagery, I do not personally have such an ability. I recall my extreme frustration in my college Organic Chemistry classes because of my inability to rotate images of molecules in my mind. Fortunately, I have nonetheless been able to utilize hypnosis for great benefit in my own life.

Like with the use of imagery, note that in the following examples of non-imagery methods, achievement of a hypnotic state involves altering the state of consciousness from the “here and now” to a state in which people are more receptive to suggestion. This occurs because hypnotic methods capture the focus of the conscious mind, and therefore it is less likely to interfere with receptivity to suggestions offered by a therapist or even self-suggestions.

Change “Can” to “Might”

Sometimes, patients wonder what they should do when they attempt to imagine particular senses and are unable to actually perceive them. Such patients can be reassured that imagining how something “might” be perceived can be as helpful as asking themselves what they “can” perceive.

Eye Roll

Patients can be instructed to look straight ahead, inhale slowly and deeply, hold their breath, and then roll their eyes back as if they are trying to look through the top of their head, without movement of their head. They are then instructed to slowly close their eyelids, exhale slowly, and told that this allows them to enter a hypnotic state.

Focus on Movement

Borrowing from meditative practices, a hypnotic state can be achieved by focusing on a repetitive movement. For example, patients can be taught to focus for several minutes on the sensation of air moving in and out of their nostrils as they inhale and exhale slowly. Alternatively, patients can closely observe movement of trees or leaves in a breeze, or the rhythm of waves lapping a shoreline.

Focus on a Spot

Staring at a spot on the wall or at a coin held between the thumb and index fingers, especially when attention is fixated on a spot above eye level, can lead into a state of hypnosis. Patients can be encouraged to allow their eyelids to close as they feel heavier during such a staring exercise. The natural tendency for eyelids to fatigue while staring, augments this type of hypnotic induction.

A version of this hypnotic phenomenon also can be achieved when a patient affixes his or her gaze on the face or eyes of their clinician or another person.

Directed Thoughts

Focusing on a single thought can also be hypnotic. Patients can be taught to fill their mind with a loving thought that they direct toward a specific individual, groups of individuals, or even the world at large. Examples of such thoughts include a wish for success, a prayer for well-being, or gratitude for the existence of others. Another form of directed thought involves repeating a mantra such as “Om.”

Patients may recognize such directed thoughts as commonly used techniques to achieve and maintain a meditative state. However, while people who meditate can be instructed to continue with the single thought throughout a session to clear their minds of other thoughts, patients who are doing hypnosis add the use of suggestions to help promote change in themselves.

Listening to a Story

When patients become engrossed in a long story or engaging movie, they often enter a hypnotic state. Evidence of this phenomenon can be demonstrated when people lose track of time during such experiences.

Progressive Relaxation

Patients can be invited or guided to relax their muscles from head to toe, toe to head, or from their belly to the rest of their body. Such progressive relaxation often is hypnotic. Some patients benefit from being invited to tense their muscles before relaxing them, which is especially useful for those who feel that they cannot relax easily.

Silencing the Mind

Some people can achieve a hypnotic state by pausing their thinking process through the act of listening carefully for input from their inner voice that emanates from their subconscious.

Once patients achieve a hypnotic state with non-imagery techniques, they can be given hypnotic suggestions. For example, patients might be told that they can:

  • Trigger a similar state of calm by employing a hand symbol, such as a peace sign, or by taking a deep breath utilizing the diaphragm. Such breathing is associated with the belly rising during inhalation, while the chest wall muscles do not move much.
  • Use positive affirmations such as, “I want to be able to think more clearly during stressful situations,” or “I can develop more discipline that will allow me to better complete my assigned tasks.”
  • Pose a question for their subconscious and then to allow the answer to come into conscious awareness within a few moments.


Almost every person who wants to learn how to use hypnosis can be taught how to achieve a hypnotic state with techniques that may or may not utilize imagery.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar

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