Conversational Hypnosis – An Introduction to Hypnotic Language Patterns

A guest blog post by my good friend Joanna Taylor MHS (Acc) Clinical Hypnotherapist & NLP Master Practitioner.

Hypnotic language is the art of using words in such a way as to alter the listener’s state of consciousness; for example to assist an anxious client to access a state of calmness, or to motivate a weight loss client into more useful eating habits – it is not about getting someone to do anything the thinking they would not normally want to do. We already use hypnotic language – think of a time when your mind wandered off half way through a conversation and you missed what was being said, because something in the speaker’s words had sent your mind off in a completely different direction!
Learning how to use this technique deliberately and with positive intention can turn it into a useful communication skill.

Language is one of our most powerful internal “filters” through which we perceive the world around us. Words, whether spoken by another person, or what we say to ourselves inside our own head, communicate much more than we can process consciously. Whatever we say will affect the receiver in some way, so it makes sense to use language in such a way as to produce the most effective results, both for ourselves and for those around us.

On the subject of language, acclaimed Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson wrote, “In any work, you are going to use words to influence the psychological life of an individual today; you are going to use words to influence his life twenty years from today. So you had better know what you are saying.
You had better be willing to reflect on the words you use, to wonder what the meanings are, and to seek out and understand their many associations.” Erickson’s skill with language was such that one of the models within NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) – The Milton Model – was based uponhis work.

The Milton Model uses “artfully vague” and ambiguous language which can communicate with an individual’s unconscious mind, enabling them to overcome problems and discover new

By changing the structure of the language we use, we can create more choices for ourselves and others. As you start to pay attention to the words you use, you can develop a way of communicating elegantly and effectively; which is what conversational hypnosis is all about.

Negatives and Positives

So how do the words you use affect your clients?

The unconscious mind cannot process negatives (don’t think about a pink kangaroo – oh, sorry; too late!). Bearing this in mind, how careful are you not to use negative words and phrases? I spend a lot of my time working with dental practices and often come across phrases such as: “nothing to be afraid of”, “this won’t hurt”, references to injections or drills and so on. Those are obvious ones, but what of the less obvious ones?

Consider the impact of your own words, especially with anxious clients; what thoughts are being created in their minds as a result of the language you use?

We can make a big difference in our outlook and our clients’ thinking by presupposing what we want and avoiding what we don’t want. You may suggest to the client that it’s easy to incorporate daily self-hypnosis into their schedule, or that they may find it difficult to start with and that it will be a nuisance to remember about it until they eventually get used to it.Which option do you think will produce the best results?

Trying to Change

The word “try” carries with it an implicit suggestion of potential failure. Inviting your client to “try to relax” or “try to imagine” is therefore unlikely to achieve the results you want. (How is that kangaroo, by the way, or are you trying not to think about it..?)

Truisms and the “Yes Set”

Socrates proposed that if a question is asked to which a positive answer will definitely be given, it is more likely that subsequent questions will be answered positively. This is also the case if we use a succession of “truisms”; ie statements of fact that cannot be denied, followed by a statement which we wish the client to act upon. For example, “…so as you sit there in the chair…” [the client is sitting in the chair] “…listening to the sound of the music…” [there is music playing in the background] “…and looking at the trees moving in the breeze outside…” [the client can see the trees through the window] “…you might notice how easily you can relax…”

Now, you have given the client a suggestion to relax, to which they are likely to respond since the rest of your statements were true.


A presupposition is the linguistic equivalent of an assumption. The power of presuppositions lies in the fact that the unconscious mind has to accept that the presupposition is true in order to make sense of the sentence. Every sentence that we use contains at least one presupposition, and we can use patterns such as the “double bind” very elegantly in conversation; “Will you choose to listen to your self-hypnosis CD in the morning, or at bedtime?” presupposes that the client will definitely be listening to the CD every day; it’s only the time that is in question.

Embedded commands are an instruction embedded within the context of the sentence; for example, “…and you can be surprised at how easily you can… relax in the chair now…”

We can also use presuppositions to attach meanings to something specific; people like to know WHY you are asking them to do something – “Using self-hypnosis regularly means that you will find it very easy to reach your goal.”

There are many more language patterns than I am able to detail in this short introduction; perhaps you might be curious to discover just how easily you can use them in your conversations and how much fun you can have with your new learnings – you probably already know much more at an unconscious level than you think you do… and by the way, have you managed to stop thinking about that kangaroo yet…?



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