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Ericksonian language patterns and indirect hypnotic suggestions

Ericksonian language patterns and indirect hypnotic suggestions

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‘Hypnotic suggestions’ are widely used throughout the entire hypnotherapy process, whether during ‘change-work’, within the ‘hypnotising’ process or even in the consultation phase or on your marketing material and website. The purpose of suggestion is to convey ideas and to inspire action, whether behaviours or thoughts, in the person that you’re interacting with. Suggestions are fundamental to hypnotherapy and hypnosis, and are the bedrock of all hypnotherapy approaches. All techniques involve suggestion. All scripts are made up of suggestions. So it is a good idea that any hypnotherapist should know how to craft suggestions of their very own.


Direct hypnotic suggestions vs indirect hypnotic suggestions

In an older blog, I wrote about ‘direct hypnotic suggestions’ and how they work. I also spoke about the importance of using a variety of suggestions and repetition in that very same blog. So, this time, the topic of focus is indirect hypnotic suggestion. These suggestions are often referred to as ‘Ericksonian language patterns’ or as ‘conversational hypnosis’ and sometimes even as ‘covert hypnotic suggestions’, but fundamentally they all fall into the ‘indirect hypnotic suggestions’ category.


Ericksonian language patterns

The term ‘Ericksonian language patterns’ came about due to the renowned hypnotherapist Dr Milton H. Erickson, who, due to his physical impairments could not present hypnotherapy in the standard (direct and authoritarian) mode of the time. Erickson made full use of his soft voice and almost whimsical tones by delivering his suggestions more indirectly, engaging with clients in a much less domineering way. He often allowed them to ‘connect the dots’ without his having to overtly tell them what to do, as demonstrated beautifully in this very short clip of how he dealt with clients crying in his office:


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…a pretty interesting and indirect approach, I’m sure you’ll agree!


Types of indirect hypnotic suggestion

There are various different types of indirect suggestions that you can utilise, whether in your day-to-day language, or within hypnotherapy sessions, but the purpose of indirect suggestions is to be exactly that: indirect. The idea is that you do not appear to be directly telling someone what to do or think, yet you are still conveying the same (or a similar) message to them. Indirect suggestions are a wonderful way of softening the delivery of your intended suggestions, of giving the illusion of choice, or even having clients create their own suggestions as you allow them to fill in the blanks, putting their own spin on what you tell them.


Permissive suggestions

Taking your direct suggestions and making them ‘permissive’ is one of the easiest ways to start developing your indirect suggestion skills. This can be achieved by softening your direct suggestions with words like ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’, ‘can’, ‘perhaps’, etc. For example, a direct suggestion of “You will stop eating when you are full” could be made permissive in various different ways, such as:

“You might find yourself noticing you are full sooner, and so can decide to stop eating.”

“Maybe you already know that you can stop eating before you’re full.”

“Perhaps you’ll notice that when you’re full, you can easily stop eating.”


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Awareness suggestions

Bringing in suggestions of awareness is an excellent indirect hypnotic suggestion method, and one that was already mentioned in some of the permissive examples above. Did you notice that the suggestion brought awareness to noticing the intended response, rather than suggesting it directly? And perhaps you can become aware of how you could apply that in your own day-to-day language… (do you see what’s happening here? lol)



“Soon, when you’ve incorporated indirect language into your overall hypnotherapy approach, you will be surprised at just how effective it is.” This means I am ‘presupposing’ that you will do as I’ve just said. Just the same as the next time you see your client out in the street, you might look forward to seeing how healthy and happy they will be as a non-smoker. You are giving a suggestion as though it is an inevitable fact.


Embedded commands

Now, you don’t have to try to just relax as you read this, because it’s interesting how your mind can just relax as you focus your attention on reading these words. Adding a direct suggestion or command to ‘do something’, like ‘just relax’, into a seemingly unrelated overall message is an often used indirect hypnotic language pattern that can lead to surprisingly good results, as you can see in this Derren Brown clip:


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Pretty amazing stuff right? Arm sure you’ll get uplifted by continuing to read on… (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)


Linking suggestions

It’s easy to learn to use indirect language because you’re already reading this blog, and as you continue to read, you’re more likely to go ahead and incorporate these indirect hypnotic language patterns into your life, because it will improve your life when you do so. And because I say ‘because’, it bypasses the critical reason-seeking that may ordinarily occur if you tell someone to do something without giving them a reason to clarify why what you said is true. Interestingly, what you say after ‘because’ doesn’t even have to be logically related to what you previously said. For example, if you want to test the ‘because’ theory, you can have a go at cutting into a queue, and giving a reason – any reason…

“Can I just quickly jump in front of you, because I need to pay for my shopping…”

You may be surprised at just how often that works!


Negative suggestions

When you suggest; “don’t relax too quickly now”, or, “I don’t want you to think about how good your life will be when you are free from anxiety just yet.” You’re telling someone to do something by not doing it. Similar to the old phrase: “don’t think of a pink elephant”. To ‘not do it’, first you have to do it… how indirect is that!

On that note, please exercise your willpower and do your best not to click the green banner below, because I don’t want you to claim your free online hypnosis training quite yet…

Seriously. Don’t click it.



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Probably one of the most important types of indirect suggestion, having a client use their imagination to connect to an idea or outcome is highly effective. An example of this, and one that hopefully every hypnotherapist already uses, is ‘future pacing’. Having the client imagine themselves in the future, succeeding at reaching their goal and also imagining overcoming potential challenges successfully. Sales-people are great at engaging our imaginations. Think about your ideal car, what colour is it? Imagine it with your ideal alloy wheels on it. Would you have music playing the first time you take her out for a spin, or would you prefer to listen to the sound of the car as you accelerate along, feeling comfortable as the new suspension absorbs any unevenness from the road below? I’m not saying ‘buy the car’, I’m saying imagine what it will be like when you’ve bought it!

(*cough* presupposition *cough*)



Stories and metaphors also engage the imagination, and are a great way to bypass any critical thinking, because you’re just listening to a story, not being told what to do or think. You can tell totally fictional stories and fairy tales weaved with indirect hypnotic language, or you can tell stories about people you know, or purport to know, who were in similar situations to your client. Metaphors work great with children too, and are widely used by child therapists. My book, Sam the Sleepy Sheep is one long metaphor interspersed with masses of indirect suggestions, about a sheep who goes to sleep.


Ericksonian language patterns and indirect hypnotic suggestions


Obviously, I’m not in the business of hypnotising sheep, but a story about a small child going to sleep would have been too obvious, and so would more likely be rejected by children listening to the story. However, the child is obviously not a sheep, so it’s just a story that they can listen to whilst not being ‘on guard’, and from which they will draw their own meaning (whilst actually drawing the intended meaning from it, which is ‘go to sleep ASAP’). Sneaky right?


Using indirect language

Perhaps you’d like to further develop your indirect hypnotic suggestions and learn to incorporate them into your day-to-day vocabulary? If so, check out our hypnotic language cards, because they are a great way to ‘get the ball rolling’. When you buy the language cards and begin to use them, you may notice how easy it is to improve and learn, as your methods of communication will change. You don’t need to think about how you’ll start to use these language patterns, but I’d like you to just imagine yourself with this wonderful new tool in your linguistic tool box. I know a hypnotist named John who wanted to improve his suggestion skills, and just by actively using one language pattern each day, incorporating it wherever he could, he quickly became highly competent at using indirect suggestions…

…and if you didn’t already notice, go back over the last paragraph and count all of the indirect language patterns that were included there!


Hypnotic Language Cards



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Written by
Rory Z Fulcher
Rory Z Fulcher
RZHA Trainer and Founder
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