Trancework: Michael Yapko’s Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis

Published Categorized as Psychology

For anyone interested in the world of hypnosis, I would recommend Trancework as your first stop. Written by Clinical Psychologist Michael Yapko, Trancework is the definitive textbook on Clinical Hypnosis. It covers the science and evidence for the use of hypnosis in therapy, as well as a how-to guide for anyone beginning their clinical hypnosis journey.

Below is an introduction to the book including a summary of Chapter 1 with my highlights from each of the key sections. I hope that it provides a useful glimpse into what this book is all about and inspires you to dive into learning more about this fascinating topic. Direct quotes are written in italics.

The book is broken into two parts:

Section 1: Thought Before Action. Developing a Deeper Understanding of Hypnosis.

Explains key things important to understand about hypnosis before you start practising. Yapko emphasises that how you think about hypnosis will determine how you practice hypnosis. So a solid conceptual and practical is important.

Section 2: Hypnosis in Action. Developing Skill and Artistry in Clinical Practice.

Once you have developed a solid conceptual framework for working with hypnosis, the remainder of the book guides you through the development of the skills in applying hypnosis in clinical practice.

🌀 Chapter 1 Summary: A Kaleidoscope of First Glimpses of Hypnosis

Power… Magic… Mystery… Danger

We all have a need to believe:

The Strength of a belief can allow one to endure the gruelling hardship of a Mt. Everest climb or six months of chemotherapy, or allow one to respond to a child’s mistake with love and education instead of a barrage of criticisms.

Belief in meaningful change may become a defined pathway for real change.

This is, indeed, a “how to do hypnosis” text that aims to guide you in your desire to learn about how and when hypnosis can be effectively used in treatment.

These topics can provide a good introduction to the field and will be further developed in subsequent chapters.

A First Attempt to Define Hypnosis (Sort of)

After describing the many challenges the field has had in defining hypnosis (down to a definition committee being formed), Yapko offers his own imperfect definition of hypnosis as:

Hypnosis is a focused experience of attentional absorption that invites people to respond experientially on multiple levels in order to amplify and utilise their personal resources in a goal directed fashion. When employed in the clinical context, hypnosis involves paying greater attention to the essential skills of using words and gestures in particular ways to achieve specific therapeutic outcomes, acknowledging and utilising the many complex personal, interpersonal, and contextual factors that combine in varying degrees to influence client responsiveness.

How Hypnosis Informs Clinical Practice

The study of hypnosis teaches us about how to present ideas and how to structure interactions for maximum therapeutic benefit.

The Clinician-Client Relationship is the Foundation for Hypnosis

An orientation towards hypnosis that is skillful and compassionate in relating to the client minimises the use of ritualistic or impersonal approaches to hypnosis. Instead, it encourages as assessment of and flexible responsiveness to individual or client needs.

Is Hypnosis a Therapy?

Instead of seeing hypnosis as a form of therapy in itself, Yapko views it as “a tool, a vehicle for delivering information and perspective in the form of suggestions, not a therapy in its own right”, which can be brought into all our interactions to influence the patient to have better outcomes.

Is There Empirical Evidence that Clinical Hypnosis Really Works?

The question most research on hypnosis seeks to answer is “if a therapeutic approach is employed without hypnosis, and hypnosis is added to the same type of interventions, will the addition of hypnosis increase the effectiveness of that approach?”

The answer to this question is generally yes, based on the growing body of objective evidence that when hypnosis is part of the treatment process, it generally increases the benefits of treatment.

Clinical hypnosis has been successfully applied across a wide variety of clinical populations suffering from disorders such as: anxiety, depression and depression relapse prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, pain, habit control, weight loss… and many other medical and psychological conditions (See Elkins, 2017 for a substantive consideration of a wide array of medical and psychological problems).

Buyer Beware

Approaches to hypnosis and styles can vary dramatically across practitioners. It is important to have a brief discussion about a person’s needs and the nature of clinical hypnosis so they can realistically assess their needs and give informed consent to therapeutic activities.

This education is important as people hold varying views of hypnosis (from stage shows to negative religious viewpoints). It is worth keeping this in mind if introducing hypnosis into the therapeutic relationship. If a person is to give informed consent, it is important to be able to clearly articulate to them what they are about to do and why it might be beneficial.

Broadening Perspectives about Hypnosis

The term hypnosis has been put in a negative light by stage shows or religious leaders. Clinical hypnosis or medical hypnosis is a better label to use than just hypnosis because it helps distinguish good therapeutic hypnosis from its less helpful counterparts.

Communication as a framework for hypnosis

Your clinical framework is your way of viewing people and their problems.

No one theory adequately explains why people do what they do or how to intervene successfully in a uniformly successful way.

There are hundreds of models, and none are 100% effective.

It seems that taking the client’s communications about his or her problems and altering them from their original form to fit with a clinicians preferred theoretical belief is a step that is both arbitrary and unnecessary. Responding to a client’s communications in their original form as a reflection of what he or she is experiencing can lead you to communicate in a more meaningful way that can enhance the quality of the interaction.

The approach to clinical hypnosis promoted in this book is essentially a way of organizing your therapeutic communications to best fit an individual’s needs, intentionally using words and gestures in order to arrive at some worthwhile outcome.

The clinical skill lies in knowing which approach to use with someone at any given moment. To use your words and gestures skillfully in the deliberate creation of therapeutic experiences for an individual in distress (or any other person on would want a specific outcome with) is the “nuts and bolts” of what hypnosis is all about. Approaching hypnosis from this standpoint places emphasis on being an effective communicator.

When you shift your focus away from mere techniques and consider the dimensions of communication that increase the potential for influencing another person’s experience, the emphasis becomes much less on ritual or attaining particular levels (i.e. depth) of hypnosis.

Thus elements of any piece of communication can have hypnotic qualities associated with them without being called “hypnosis”.

And I think we can all benefit from being better communicators.

Hypnosis and Positive Psychology: A Shared Focus on Personal Strengths

Martin Seligman founded positive Psychology. It emphasises the internal strengths and resources a person has to overcome challenges rather than pathology.

The First Lesson of Hypnosis: What You Focus on You Amplify

The first thing to understand about hypnosis… is that when you focus on something, you amplify it in your awareness.

When we do cognitive therapy, we tend to focus on peoples thoughts. When we ask the question “how do you feel?” we are trying to focus on and amplify a person’s feelings. The field of hypnosis is a field of applied Positive Psychology. It focuses on and amplifies peoples strengths.

Hypnosis begins with the premise that the client has valuable abilities that are present but hidden that can be uncovered and used in a deliberate way to overcome symptoms and problems… Of course, and to be therapeutic you have to pay attention to the negative, at least some of the time. However, the greater issue is to become aware of how your beliefs and methods serve to increase or decrease your chances of noticing and amplifying what is right with people.

Consider your reply to this question: Is the goal of treatment to reduce pathology, or expand wellness? How you answer this question will help determine much of your reaction to the material within this book and will shape how you ultimately use clinical hypnosis in your own practice.

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