Ideomotor Response Signals
(Finger Response Questions)
©2004, revised ©2010 by C. Roy Hunter, FAPHP, Hypnosis Trainer
When a client responds to yes/no questions by finger and/or thumb movement, it is called ideomotor responding. Virtually all hypnosis instructors teach their students about idomotor responding, in varying degrees.
For any new students of hypnosis reading this article, I'll give a brief definition of ideomotor responding. The technique involves asking a hypnotized person questions that the subconscious can answer with finger movements. Generally these are questions that have either a "yes" answer or a "no" answer. The concept is that the subconscious is more likely to provide better answers than the conscious or analytical mind, because some clients have actually verbalized a "no" response while moving the "yes" finger.
I establish finger response signals even when I already plan on using regression or parts therapy. Also note that ideomotor responding can often be a good starting point for determining which therapy technique to use if the preinduction interview leaves us uncertain, or if the client fails to respond to the technique that we might normally use for another client with a similar problem.
Finger response signals are often used with clients to discover the cause of a problem. Although around for decades, ideomotor response questions are often misapplied and used in ways that could provide false information.
The theory is that people may often allow more accurate information to come from the subconscious mind through ideomotor responses than through verbal answers. Since the conscious intellect can filter and/or embellish easily if a person is only in a light or medium trance depth, there is greater likelihood of accuracy when the answer comes more spontaneously from the inner mind. In fact, I have frequently seen clients answer “no” verbally while moving the “yes” finger. We still have no guarantee that total truth will always emerge, as people can lie with finger responses while under hypnosis if they really want to. (Lest anyone debate this point, I have personally done so when asked to indicate seeing something that I could visualize! I amnot a good visualizer, but I don't like to argue during hypnosis. I'd rather just move on with the trance.)
The concept sounds simple enough, right? One finger represents a YES response, while another finger represents a NO response. How could we possibly improve on that?
The use of ideomotor response questions has actually evolved considerably during my 20 years of experience with hypnotherapy. In some ways, I may have partly contributed to that evolution. There are some important reasons justifying the need for certain changes, and this article explains why those changes were necessary, and how we can facilitate ideomotorresponse questioning in a more client-centered way.
The Way We Were…
When I studied hypnotherapy in 1983 from the late Charles Tebbetts, he gave us a complex formula for determining which finger should be used for the YES response, and which finger should be used as the NO response. In his book, Miracles on Demand (now out of print), he reproduced a sketch of the brain that showed the two hemispheres. His theory was that left-handed people should use the right finger for the YES reply unless their handwriting was written in a certain way, and vice versa. I received a copy of that same sketch in 1983, long before his text ever went to press.
We learned other formulas taught by other therapists for determining which finger to choose as a YES finger, etc. Tebbetts convinced us to use his own formula, which I did when I first started practicing. However, out of all the teachings I learned from this grand master teacher, this was the first one that I updated. Furthermore, I made this update before his book ever went into print, and before he asked me to teach his course. In one of the first conferences I had with my mentor after I started teaching his course in 1987, I informed him of my update.
Let the Client Choose
The concept is simple: let the client choose the finger responses while he/she is in a hypnotic state. My explanation can be summarized in one paragraph…
No matter what formula you use for allowing a client to determine the YES or NO finger responses, once a client has a YES response embedded into the subconscious, it may remain for a long time. If I use Charlie's formula (or anyone else's formula) and choose the right index finger for the YES response, what happens if another therapist in the past chose that finger for the NO response? The probability of accurate responses just dropped significantly.
My words resemble the following:
I'm going to ask you a series of questions that can be answered YES or NO. I would like for you to allow the response to come from your subconscious, or your inner mind.
Note the either/or choice in the above statement, increasing the probability of a subconscious response rather than a conscious one.
Increasing numbers of clients have previous experience with hypnosis. Also, some who don't believe they were hypnotized might have unknowingly entered trance in a counselor's office and used finger responses. In light of the above, all of Charlie's theories (and anyone else's theories) go down the tubes if we attempt to change finger responses from whatever was previous assigned.
For the reasons explained above, I now ask my client to choose the YES finger, and to indicate that response by moving the appropriate finger. After making a note of it, I then give a second suggestion: "Please choose a different finger or thumb that represents ‘N.O.’ [spell it out], and please indicate the negative response now." I make a note of it. My reason for spelling "NO" rather than saying it is to avoid any possible confusion with the word "KNOW." Now I'm ready to give a suggestion for yet another finger response.
One More Finger Response
After establishing the YES and NO response fingers, I now say: "If I ask you a question, and the answer is EITHER 'I don't know' OR 'I'm not ready to disclose,' then please choose another finger or thumb that indicates that response, and move it now…"
There are important reasons for my establishing a third finger response. First of all, a person can lie even in deep hypnosis if there is a strong desire to conceal the truth. If we only allow the client to choose between YES or NO, the chances of inaccurate answers will increase with the intensity of subconscious resistance. Conversely, by allowing the subconscious an escape hatch for refusing to answer, we increase the probability of truth for the NO responses and the YES responses. Certainly there is no guarantee of accuracy, but I explore the YES replies first. Then, if necessary, I explore the "I don't know" responses for possible clues to the cause(s) of a client's problem.
Additionally, I provide the same finger response for "I don't know" as for "I'm not ready to disclose" in case it is unwilling to admit that it does not want to disclose. Since lying can leave the therapist guessing, hiding in the response of "I don't know" becomes easier than saying "YES" or "I'm not ready to disclose" if the latter was the only option.
Minimize the Risk of Leading
Normally, open-ended questions (who, what, when, where, why, how) are much safer than questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." Asking a question that can be answered in the affirmative is often considered a leading question, especially if therapist expectations are projected into the client. For this reason, we must use caution.
In Chapter 6 of The Art of Hypnotherapy, I describe what Charles Tebbetts called "The Psychodynamics of a Symptom." He used finger response questions to ask a client about the cause(s) of a problem, going through each one of the seven psychodynamics. This resembles the Seven Key system created by Leslie LeCron decades ago, but the categories are slightly different. The categories are as follows: authority imprint, current unresolved issue, secondary gain, identification (desire to emulate someone, and/or peer pressure), inner conflict, past experience, and self-punishment.
First, it is imperative that we set up the client for ideomotor response questions in a way that prepares the subconscious for a series of questions. Sometimes I ask several questions that are totally irrelevant to the therapy process just to get the subconscious accustomed to the freedom of answering with either finger.
Second, in conjunction with the above recommendation, I ask questions about ALL of the psychodynamics before digressing (authority imprint, secondary gain, past experience, present unresolved issue, inner conflict, self-punishment, identification).
Third, I speak in a monotone. A number of years ago, at a hypnosis convention, I witnessed a presenter using finger response questions with a volunteer. The presenter suddenly raised his voice in anticipation when asking, "Is there an ENTITY influencing you?" His expectation of a YES response was conveyed to the woman in hypnosis, whose YES finger moved afterwards. He then facilitated an alleged entity release. After his presentation, this experienced hypnotherapist was too embarrassed to have lunch with her peers. She talked to me at length privately, telling me that she was certain she had no demonic influence, and couldn't believe her YES finger had moved.
Who held the correct opinion? …the facilitator, or the person who experienced inappropriate leading?
The best professional advice I can give to any hypnotist is to avoid leading your clients into preconceived conclusions, because that is an easy trap for obtaining false information and creating confabulation that may confuse the client. This advice applies to asking finger response questions as well as employing other hypnotic techniques to gather information from the subconscious mind. Such false information will normally lead the client down the wrong path, putting both the client and hypnotist at risk for unwanted consequences.
In case you are reading the opening paragraphs and the conclusion of this article (without reading the middle), let me conclude with the following summary:
1. Let the client choose which fingers represent which responses.
2. Provide a third finger response for "I don't know" or "I don't wish to disclose."
3. Minimize the risk of leading: ask a series of questions, and speak in a monotone.
4. Avoid projecting any preconceived opinions into your client.
Once you have obtained sufficient information to begin the therapy process, change to open ended questions when possible. When you discover the cause(s) of your client's problem, use appropriate techniques (within the scope of your training) to facilitate release and relearning. Remember the ultimate goal is to help your client attain his or her ideal empowerment.
NOTE: The above article is based on information covered in Roy’s book, The Art of Hypnotherapy (4th Ed., 2010, Crown House Publishing), and The Art of Hypnotic Regression Therapy: A Clinical Guide (2012, Crown House Publishing), co-authored with Bruce Eimer, Ph.D., ABPP. Both texts contain more valuable information than what was covered in this article. Either book may be ordered from Roy's Hypnosis Books page.
Roy Hunter practices hypnotherapy near Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest region of the USA. He also worked part time for the Franciscan Hospice facilitating hypnotherapy for terminal patients for seven years, and taught a 9-month professional hypnotherapy training course based on the teachings of Charles Tebbetts for over 20 years. Roy is the recipient of numerous awards, including awards from three different organizations for lifetime achievement in the hypnosis profession. Roy is available for mentoring and coaching.
Last updated: July 12, 2015
Originally Posted December 4, 2007