Vol. 1 – January 7, 2005

Ericksonian Hypnotic Language Patterns

Patterns of Indirect Suggestion (not “Covert Hypnosis”)

In a therapeutic setting we strive to achieve the client’s goals with elegance. Sometimes, however, change is difficult and resistance, conscious or otherwise, is a natural response. By using the following language patterns we are able to bypass the conscious resistance and to communicate with the subconscious mind.

Milton Erickson was famous for his therapeutic metaphors. He would elicit hypnotic responses in his clients or direct their thinking by telling them a story. He wasn’t alone. Like Aesop’s fables, the parables of Jesus, and Greek myths, stories can teach us and direct us with their implicit, indirect suggestions.

Milton’s stories, however, were told in a manner that utilized a sophisticated understanding of how the listener’s subconscious would hear them. His use of these language patterns and vocal tonality to slip suggestions past the listener’s conscious critical mind is sometimes referred to as “covert hypnosis.” We take issue with this representation. This artful use of language cannot rightly be called covert when used in a clinical setting. The client has come to you for treatment and is paying for all of your expertise. Using Hypnosis covertly, like in a bar to seduce someone, is something Dr. Erickson would neither do nor advocate.

A direct suggestion is really a command. It tends to be evaluated by the conscious mind and may be rejected at the outset. Indirect suggestions are like a Trojan horse that slips past the gates and guard towers of the conscious mind and carries good suggestions embedded within. Hence the term, “embedded command.” [ As an example, “You will feel confident,” is a direct suggestion. As opposed to the Indirect Suggestion: “I’m wondering how it is when you feel confident.”]

Note: Words in bold are to be said utilizing a shift in your tonality and/or physiology. This is referred to as “Analogue Marking” because the shift in tonality and body gestures are analogous to that of a command. An Embedded Command can be marked out in a variety of ways. A louder voice, a softer voice, a change of vocal timbre, pausing just before the particular phrase, a hand gesture, a shift of eye focus onto the subject, etc. But, whatever way the phrase is marked out must be analogous to a command. You are telling them to do something and it must be clear to their other-than-conscious what they are to do.

I should like to point out that without these shifts in tonality, etc., there is no command at all. You must shift your tonality in a way that is noticeable. Regardless of whether or not the listener pays attention to it consciously, it has to exist. Sometimes people think they are shifting their tonality and are not really doing so. Generally speaking, you can err on the side of exaggeration quite safely. Richard Bandler is sometimes almost comical in his broad way of delivering the commands, yet they unfailingly work.

Speaking of tonality that is analogous to a command, in natural English language a change of inflection can change the meaning of a sentence entirely. As in the sentence, “You are going to the proms.” If you were to use a lifting of your tonality at the end of the sentence it becomes a question. “You are going to the proms?” (Say it aloud and listen to it.)

With flat tonality it is a simple statement. “You are going to the proms.” (Say it and listen…)

When you shift your tonality downwards at the end of the sentence it becomes a command. “You are going to the proms.” (Go ahead, say it. Say it with the downward inflected tonality and listen to how it sounds.)

Thus: In communication in general and in Hypnosis in particular, tonality is primary.

Pattern 1: Embedded Commands —
Embedded Commands are commands that are placed within the framework of a larger sentence structure, thereby sneaking by the conscious mind. e.g., “Very often, people find that they discover many useful inner resources while in trance.” Some suggested sentence openings: “Maybe you’ll… I don’t know if… A person may not know if… Maybe you haven’t…,yet.” (More about that yet soon, but not yet.)

A. Adding their Name
These commands can be made more powerful if you insert their name into the sentence structure just before the embedded command. “One can,Elizabeth, feel comfortable in new situations. A person could, Phillip, notice a growing sense of distance from one’s problems. People don’t have to, Bob, listen intently to everything that I say.”

B. “Now”
“Now” is not a magic word. Sometimes beginning NLP students over use ‘now.’ Used effectively, it can enhance an embedded command, but it alone does not an embedded command make. Often the most effective way to use it is to… pause… before you use it and then use your best trance tonality when you say it. (If you run it into the sentence without this pause it can make the sentence sound too imperative and the person feel rushed.) “You might want to learn to enjoy that meaningful pause . . . now.”

(Remember that without shifts in tonality, etc., there is no command at all. You must shift your tonality in a way that is noticeable and analogous to a command, right at the verb of the sentence. You are telling them to DO something.)

So, now, write your own examples. The best way to learn is by doing. Write them. Practice saying them out loud with the proper tonal shift. Practice delivering them to a human being. Write at least ten. Twenty is better. Perhaps you’ll find that you utilize the eight sentence openings offered on this page and then go from there.

Use them on waitresses: “You might find you want to bring me a cup of coffee.”
on busdrivers: “People can… let me out at the corner.”

Have fun. See ya next week.