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Covert Hypnosis

by Kevin Hogan

Category: Hypnosis


Adapted from: The Covert Hypnosis Operations Manual, Kevin Hogan, Copyright 2001

Covert hypnosis has been used for millennia but only in the last 60 years has it been refined. During these last six decades covert hypnosis has been used to help athletes run faster, hit more home-runs and catch more touchdown passes. Covert hypnosis has been utilized to create conformity-thinking in everyone from military personnel to corporate employees to church-goers. Covert hypnosis is a powerful skill in the therapist's office as well. This article is adapted from my latest work called The Covert Hypnosis Operations Manual. You will read non-directive and non-suggestive examples of covert hypnosis in the Journal of Hypnotism.

(25 minutes after my client first walked in the door, it became apparent that a little covert hypnosis should precede our case analysis and trance-work. This conversation recently took place in a slightly more expanded form. )

KH: What will happen if you continue to yell at your husband?
Client: I suppose he will leave me.
KH: What would that be like?
Client: It wouldn't be any fun.
KH: What would that look like?
Client: Well, I suppose I would be alone with the kids and there would be no one there to help out.
KH: What else would it look like?
Client: I think I'd be pretty depressed.
KH: What do you feel like?
Client: I think... I feel sad...I cry a lot...I'm really very sad.
As you can see, the client has gone into trance as she talks with me. Her eyes were wide open...in apparent every day conversation. Notice that I suggested almost nothing to the client. The client suggests to me what it will look and feel like. (My predictions of what her life will be like are not important at this time.) What she visualizes as the continuation of this particular target behavior is very important. By the way, the client was seeing me for anxiety and depression. The anger she was experiencing with her husband was significant and probably relevant to her long-term improvement. Notice what we do next.

KH: I understand. (Pause) And if you stopped yelling at your husband, what would that look like?
Client: (She looks away.) I think that he would want to spend more time with me.
KH: And what does that look like?
Client: We'd have more time to talk and be with the kids...more cuddle time.
KH: And are those all things you want to see in your life?
Client: Yeah.
KH: And how do you feel?
Client: I feel good.
KH: Do you see any bad things about not yelling at your husband anymore?
Client: (Pause) No. I don't think so.
KH: Are you certain?
Client: Yes. I really have to stop screaming at him.
KH: OK. So the next time you feel like you are going to scream at your husband are you going to go inside and say to yourself, "STOP! Do something else?"
Client: Yes, I can do that.
KH: What will you do instead of screaming at your husband?
Client: I can just shut up.
KH: What else can you do instead of screaming at your husband?
Client: I could just go do something else.
KH: What else can you see yourself doing instead of screaming at your husband?
Client: (she looks away) Take a breath and tell him what I feel instead of yelling at him.
KH: Are you sure that is a good thing?
Client: Yes. (she looks back at me) I can take a breath and quietly tell him what I'm feeling and what I need him to do.
KH: Let's just pause for a minute here. See what that looks like. Pause, take a breath and quietly tell him what you need him to do.
Client: (Long pause as she looks away) OK
KH: How does that look?
Client: He listens.
KH: Do you like that?
Client: (grins) Yes. I like that.
KH: And how do you feel as you say to yourself, "STOP! Do something else?"
Client: (smile) I feel good.

As you can see, several things happen here covertly. First we find the target behavior (screaming at her husband) and we have the client ultimately identify what they would prefer to do instead of the behavior we are targeting to extinguish. We do this before regression hypnosis and before parts therapy. A critical element is to have the client tell you in this light trance state what they want to experience instead of the target behavior. They must see this behavior not just verbalize it. They must see the consequences of this new behavior just like they did of the actual target behavior.

Covert techniques of hypnosis are among the most useful in trance if you utilize them correctly.

Here is what we have learned so far:

Identify a target behavior. This is a behavior they no longer want to experience. It could be anxiety, hair pulling, swearing, anything.
Have the client see what the continuation of the behavior will ultimately mean.
Have the client identify a preferred behavior.
Have the client identify the consequences of this new behavior.
Be certain that the behavior is REALLY the behavior they want to experience. (Sometimes a client will tell you what they think you want to hear instead of what they want to do.)
You as the therapist need to be certain the behavior is ecological. (That means that it is going to be good for the client and others in the environment.)
Do not judge what you perceive to be inappropriate responses by the client.
Never tell a client they are wrong.
Covert Conversational Hypnosis
Everyone knows you are a hypnotherapist. They know you get paid to help people change their frame of mind! Therefore you can assume that people are going to be more sensitive and aware of your communications than that of the average person. This means that to create change in apparently resistant clients you will need to utilize this awareness in effective ways. What is the difference between covert hypnosis and covert conversational hypnosis then? The distinction is a fine but specific one. Covert hypnosis is the act of directing a person's mind to outcomes when they are seeing you as a professional. Covert conversational hypnosis is utilizing hypnosis covertly in everyday conversation. In other words, with covert conversational hypnosis, you are not acting in a professional capacity.

Immediately a flag should be raised.
Is this ethical?
My answer: Absolutely. Millions of communication messages are wittingly or unwittingly exchanged every single day. These messages often contain trance inductions and persuade people to take some action, or not. The difference between covert conversational hypnosis and conversation is that of intention. In everyday conversation we tend to communicate without conscious awareness of our unconscious intentions. In covert conversational hypnosis we tend to operate with full awareness of our intention and that of the person we are communicating with.

Imagine (note the hypnotic word induction) that you are a parent and you don't know how the unconscious mind acts and reacts.

"Don't put your fingers into the outlet son!"

The son immediately moves to the outlet and places his fingers in the outlet. Why? The parent clearly ordered the child NOT to do that behavior. The reason is multi-fold. First, the child (in all probability) didn't know it was an outlet. It is a child's (people's) innate programming to be curious and explore that which is novel. Second, there is no unconscious or conscious representation of the word "don't." In fact, the word "don't" is what I call a "directive." This word is useful because we tend to have a polarity response to this word. In fact, in most people, the polarity response is quite strong.

The unwitting child was put into trance and told to place his fingers in the outlet. That was not the intention of the loving parent, of course. This was a trance inducing conversation where the result was negative...and examples of these conversational hypnosis are endless.

Covert hypnosis is not only powerful it is very real. We accomplished getting the son to put his fingers into the outlet with hypnosis. Now that we know what we are doing we can use covert conversational hypnosis appropriately and make sure his fingers stay occupied with more appropriate behaviors!

Covert Hypnosis for Sports Enhancement

Specific types of self talk and imagery have been scientifically shown to improve sports performance. Other strategies fail to help individuals perform optimally. Covert hypnosis can be used in many effective ways. What follows is an abridged and edited dialogue of a client I saw this summer. The dialogue takes place in the first of three meeting we had together.

Client: ...it just always seems that I blow it. I shoot five holes perfectly then I go to pieces on one hole. Then I shoot perfectly for awhile. Then blow it again.
KH: What would you like to see happen?
Client: I'd like to shoot like Tiger Woods.
KH: What would have to happen for that to occur?
Whenever someone wants to have the same results as the one professional at the top of their profession a bit of re-direction is critical. People like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Chris Carter, etc. spent their entire lives on developing a set of very specific skills which they practiced for tens of thousands of hours. Therefore the client must see that while possible to replicate such a set of skills, it is unlikely to occur if the same recipe of success is not followed. In other words, if the client is willing to quit their job, leave their family and friends, yes it is possible that if they are young enough and in the proper physical shape, that they possibly could accomplish the success of Tiger Woods. They will have about the same chances as winning a lottery. It is never ecological for a therapist to assist the client in the decision making process of making such a move.

Client: I'd have to play a lot.
KH: And how many years did Tiger play before he achieved his results?
Client: 20 or so I guess.
KH: And are you willing to dedicate 5-7 hours every day for the next 20 years to achieve the same results?
Client: Well of course not.

(Had the client answered this question with a "yes" response, we would have had some problems!)

KH: So what would you like to see happen in your golf game?
Client: I'd like to shoot my best on all the holes on any given day, not just 15 of them.
KH: If you shot that well on every hole would you be a par golfer?
Client: Just about.
KH: What does that look like?
Client: (Laughs) That looks good.
KH: Tell me, what does it look like to you?
Client: Well, I see myself finishing a round happy for a change and not all pissed off because I blew it again.
KH: And what does it feel like to be happy?
Client: It feels good. It just never happens.
KH: Does Tiger Woods know that visualizing his shots before he makes them helps him be a superstar?
Client: No question.
KH: He still occasionally shoots a bad hole.
Client: Of course. Everyone does.
KH: So you would be happy about what?
Client: Shooting my best on each hole.
KH: And what if you blow the 4th hole at Valley Wood. You shoot the next six well. Do you need to blow the 11th as well?
Client: (Looks at me) Of course.
KH: What usually happens when you blow a hole?
Client: I get too excited that I'm doing good. I say to myself that "this can't last" and I'm always right. It doesn't. (laughs)
KH: (laughs) I understand. Now, when you hear yourself say, "this can't last" can you say to yourself, "STOP! It can last...and it will this time because it can last."
Client: (looking a bit confused) I suppose.
KH: OK, let's look at that. Hear that. Walk up to a familiar tee thinking that "this can't last" and then say to yourself, "STOP! It can last...and it will this time because it can last."
Client: (Pause) OK. I did it.
KH: How does that feel?
Client: Good I guess.

(Good I guess, is not a response I settle for.)

KH: Great, now in your mind, tee off and tell me what happens.
Client: (Looks away) OK, I'm on the fairway.
KH: Is that good?
Client: Yeah, absolutely.
KH: Great, now what happens next?
Client: (pause) I walk up to the ball and I hit it perfectly. Right onto the green.
KH: Excellent. Now what happens.
Client: (pause) I sink a long putt.
KH: Fantastic. How do you feel inside?
Client: I feel great. (Big smile)

The client has no idea he has been in trance for five minutes. He is totally unaware consciously that he perfectly visualized the experience and had a very positive emotional response. That sets us up perfectly for the balance of our work. There will be no resistance because he now has a wonderful goal in mind. He feels good inside! The client is ready to begin more formal trancework.


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