At all times, it is the responsibility of the hypnotherapist to remain client-centered. It's important that the session centers around the client and their needs. The session is not about the therapist, their views, opinions, or their imagination of what the client is experiencing.
Leading vs. Guiding
Leading questions and comments are those where the hypnotherapist offers their personal visions, descriptions, or assumptions. Guiding questions and comments are open-ended, allowing the client to come up with the details. It is essential to avoid leading questions and statements, as they can create false memories and disturb your rapport with your client.
For instance, if you ask your client, “Was that your father that walked into the room?” your client imagines their father coming into the room and then decides whether it was or was not. They can still say “No” if it wasn’t him. However, in years to come, if they think of that event again, they may question if their father had come into the room because somewhere in their mind, they have remembered picturing that. It doesn’t mean they will develop a false memory, but in the rare case that it does, do you want to be responsible for implanting that idea?
As a side note, if someone wants to work with you and states they are searching for memories that will be used in a lawsuit, please refer them to a qualified forensic hypnotherapist. Any information you glean from a session will be thrown out of court if you are not an approved provider.
Back to leading questions:
Leading questions would include those that add specific details, such as:
- Is that building a house or a barn?
- Are you sad to learn that?
- Was that a shocking experience for you?
- Did that occur when you were three years old?
- Would you like that to go away?
The easiest way to remain client-centered is to use the following open-ended questions during the session:
- What do you notice?
- What is that experience for you?
- What do you observe?
- What happens next?
- And then what?
- Where would you like to go?
- What would you like to do about that?
- How does that make you feel?
- Is there anything more?
- When did that occur?
- When will you be able to do that?
- What outcome would you like to have?
- Is there anything more you would like to do concerning this issue?
A Word of Caution
Hypnotherapists heal; we do not cure. Be aware that cure is a word that is legally used only by licensed medical practitioners. Additionally, hypnotherapists cannot diagnose, prescribe, or evaluate. Again, these are the purview of the medical community.
Please watch the following video on staying client-centered.
Please watch the following videos (Part One and then Part Two) in dealing with language Issues in practice.
False Memory Syndrome
Research from Northwestern University, published in the Journal of Psychological Science, demonstrates how easily false memories can be formed. The study used MRI technology to pinpoint how people develop a memory for something that didn't happen.
“Our challenge was to bring people into the laboratory and set up a circumstance in which they would remember something that did not happen,” said Kenneth A. Paller, professor of psychology and co-investigator of the study.
“We measured brain activity in people who looked at pictures of objects or imagined other objects that we asked them to visualize. Later we asked them to separate what they actually saw from what they imagined,” Paller said.
What Were Their Findings?
According to Paller, “We think parts of the brain used to actually perceive an object and to imagine an object overlap. Thus, a vividly imagined event can leave a memory trace in the brain that’s very similar to that of an experienced event. Some of the same brain areas are involved when memories are stored for perceived or imagined objects.”
In hypnotherapy, when we ask our clients if the man that walked into the room was their father, they must place their father in the scene to answer the question. This can corrupt their recall, as we'll see in the following findings.
“Just the fact of looking back into your memory and thinking about whether an event happened is tantamount to imagining that event happening,” Paller said. “If I ask you if something happened, you imagine it happening. Later on — a day or a year later — if I ask about that event, you have the tough judgment of deciding what happened and what was imagined.”
How Fallible is Memory?
"It is important to know that memory is fallible", Paller said. “We know that we forget quite a bit, but we’re not always in touch with the idea that our memories can sometimes can be misleading.”
In this study, researchers placed people in an MRI machine where they looked at a screen with a series of words and pictures. They wore headphones to hear what was being said. Subjects were instructed to create a visual image corresponding to each named object. For half the words, a photographic image of the object was presented. The subjects were told to make no response to the photos but only to look at each one while waiting for the next word.
Approximately 20 minutes after leaving the scanner, subjects were given a memory test where they heard words in random order. Participants were asked to determine whether or not they had viewed a photo of the named object during the scanning phase.
Words relating to concrete images in the study phase tended to produce more false memories than less concrete words.
"The remarkable finding is that brain activity during the study phase could predict which objects would subsequently be falsely remembered as having been seen as a photograph,” Paller said.
Memory was more accurate when photographs accompanied the spoken word during the study phase.
“In the case of the false remembering emphasized here, the false memories were created when vivid visual imagery was engaged and a mental image was produced,” Paller said. “These mental images left a trace in the brain that was later mistaken for the trace that would have been produced had that object actually been seen.“
When working with our clients, we avoid false memories by staying non-leading in our dialogue. False memories can have many damaging repercussions.
Much of what our clients think they remember is false, based on their emotional and mental state when they had the experience. And many of their recalled negative or traumatic memories may have happened differently than how they perceived it. Part of our work is to take traumatic memories and shape them into something more useful for our clients. By revisiting memories with the wisdom of maturity and the guidance of a skilled hypnotherapist, clients can reframe the event in a way that is far more useful in their present lives.
I saw a client who was a college student at the time. She was sure her father didn't love her because he had divorced her mother and moved out of the house when she was eleven. Her conclusion was formed from her immature perspective and the emotional turmoil at that time.
As we worked together, we reviewed all of her evidence of how he had shown his love. She could separate the discord between her parents from how he felt about her. By bringing positive memories to the forefront, enlarging them, and making them more colorful, she had a new view of her relationship with her father. At the end of the session, she told me she felt secure in his love and was excited to build a better relationship with her father.