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Four Cornerstones of Hypnotherapy


by C. Roy Hunter, FAPHP, Hypnosis Trainer ©2000, revised ©2010

Occasionally professionals ask me my opinion regarding a flier promoting a workshop, and claiming to offer a unique technique that is “so effective” that it will work for almost everyone. I personally have received numerous such fliers over the years, and perhaps you have too. How can you evaluate the efficacy of such techniques?


With a little research on the internet, you can find thousands of scripts containing suggestion and imagery to help clients with myriads of various goals. Numerous script books are offered for sale at virtually every major hypnosis convention. How effective are these scripts?

Certainly suggestion and imagery have proven their ability to help some of the people some of the time. Thousands of hypnotists purchase and use these various hypnotic script books, and/or write their own scripts. The downside of relying on suggestion and imagery is when either the hypnotist or the client expects the scripts to be sufficient by themselves. They can help some of the people some of the time, but I believe that a competent hypnotherapist can help most of the people most of the time. We can accomplish this by building the therapeutic approach on a foundation of four primary hypnotherapy objectives, discussed in this article.

Charles Tebbetts referred to these objectives as four main therapeutic steps to facilitate change (helping a client remove problems), and he described them in the very first chapter of Miracles on Demand (2nd Edition). I discussed them briefly in both The Art of Hypnosis and The Art of Hypnotherapy (Crown House Publishing, 2010). I expanded on them in Hypnosis for Inner Conflict Resolution (Crown House Publishing, 2005).

What Are They?

These four cornerstones are at the foundation of client-centered hypnosis. Building your hypnotism practice on a solid foundation with these cornerstones will increase the probability of permanent client success:

1.  Suggestion and imagery

2.  Discover the cause

3.  Release

4.  Subconscious relearning

Now let's examine them...

1. Post-hypnotic Suggestion and Imagery

With either a minimal amount of subconscious resistance or a strong motivating desire to change, post-hypnotic suggestion (direct or indirect) may be sufficient for some of the clients some of the time. This is because emotion is the motivating power (or energy) of the inner mind. Many hypnotists who excel at marketing skills often gather great testimonials from the few who require only suggestion and imagery in order to achieve goals.

Without a strong emotional desire to accept the suggestions, either the conscious or the subconscious may easily block hypnotic suggestions and/or affirmations. (This is further evidence that the person in hypnosis is not under the control of the hypnotist!) This is what Charles Tebbetts called band-aid therapy, because often the improvement is only temporary. Our 19th Century pioneers of hypnosis called it prestige suggestion. Hypnosis script books abound; but without a strong emotional desire to accept the suggestions, either the conscious or the subconscious may easily block hypnotic suggestions and/or affirmations.

That being said, my first session normally begins with suggestion and imagery. Even when I believe there is a high probability of subconscious blocks, I begin the first session with suggestion and imagery in order to enhance the client’s desire to achieve the desired goal. For example, we can induce positive feelings associated with the fulfillment of a desired goal by using a hypnotic progression: progressing a person forward in time in the imagination. I ask the client to imagine his/her emotional satisfaction while fantasizing the benefits of achieving the desired goal…and to imagine the attitude of gratitude while enjoying the most important benefit. This enjoyable first trance trip also increases the probability of the client returning for the important follow-up sessions.

Appropriate Techniques:

Both direct and indirect suggestions and/or imagery may be employed. Countless scripts abound.

a. Remember the importance of proper suggestion structure.
b. Suggest the desired result rather than avoidance of the problem.
c. Avoid aversion suggestions.
d. One person’s peaceful place is another person’s phobia.
e. No script is good enough to help all the people all the time.

If using printed scripts, remember that the scripts serve you (not vice versa). Be sure to edit the scripts according to both your personality as well as the client’s needs. Also remember thatimagination is the language of the subconscious, so be aware of how the wording will impact the client’s imagination.

After employing the next three steps at a subsequent session, I return to this first step. In other words, when any subconscious resistance (or blocks) are discovered and removed, we can (and should) employ suggestion and imagery techniques to help clients believe they can achieve the desired goal(s). This enhances subconscious re-learning, which is the fourth step. Now let’s discuss Steps 2, 3 and 4.

2. Discover the Cause

If subconscious resistance exists, there is a reason, whether from the past or the present, and we must somehow discover the core cause.

Note that I use the word “discover” rather than diagnose. First, a hypnotherapist does NOT diagnose unless licensed to do so. Second, when facilitating client-centered hypnosis, my approach is based on the concept that the client’s inner mind can reveal the core cause of a problem by employing appropriate hypnotic techniques. If we take it upon ourselves to form our own opinions as to the causes of our clients’ problems, our preconceived opinions could easily result in inappropriate leading – which may take many clients down the wrong path. This is therapist-directed trance work, which often leads to wrong conclusions.

Many hypnotic techniques may help uncover the cause(s) of resistance, whether the cause lies in the client's past or in the present. Sometimes the subconscious can discover and release a cause without emotional discharges, such as with an overweight client of mine whose subconscious indicated that she would keep snacking until she started creating some “fun time” for herself. She had to make an agreement with herself in order to be released from the problem.

Although certain hypnotherapy techniques may sometimes gain release without the client ever consciously knowing the causes, Tebbetts taught that if the problem (or symptoms) resulted from a childhood perception of a past event, we should guide the client back to the past in his (or her) imagination. This is called a hypnotic regression. Recall of an event during hypnosis can provoke the emotions associated with the event, resulting in an emotional discharge. This is called an abreaction, and is easily accomplished in hypnosis, because we are dealing with the emotional mind rather than the intellectual mind. Once the emotional energy comes into awareness, it can be redirected and/or released in a positive way.

Parts therapy is another advanced hypnotic technique that a trained facilitator may employ to discover the cause(s) of a problem, especially when a client has inner conflicts.

Appropriate Techniques:

The three most effective techniques are: regression, parts therapy (or variations), and ideomotor responses. Refer to the ideomotor response handouts. Sometimes a client may be deep enough in hypnosis to simply discover and release the core cause with suggestions to do so.

Techniques abound that allegedly “release” a symptom (phobia, etc.); but if the core cause remains, there is risk that the subconscious may either replace the removed symptom with another one, or the original one may return. Sometimes the subconscious may spontaneously discover and release the cause(s) with these releasing techniques; but it is better to be sure. Verify that the subconscious has discovered the core cause.


If the cause is an unresolved issue from the client's present, then the client may have to make some decisions at a conscious level. We may need to refer that client to cognitive counseling or other professional help.

Also be certain you have received competent training in any techniques employed to discover the cause of a problem. For example, use regression therapy only after receiving competent training in the technique. The same holds true for parts therapy (or any variations of parts therapy, such as voice dialogue or ego state therapy).

3. Release

After the relationship of the symptom to the cause is established emotionally as well as intellectually, we may use one or more hypnotherapy techniques to facilitate forgiveness and/or releasefrom the cause(s) of a problem.

If the cause(s) resulted from perceptions of past events, not only does this involve forgiving (without condoning), or at least releasing others who might have victimized the client, it also includes forgiving one's self for participating and/or carrying grudges, etc. If we hold a grudge against someone who hurt us, we are the ones in bondage to that grudge. We can still protect ourselves without staying angry. Whether the client's memories are real memories, false perceptions, or a combination of both, the client can still release them in a therapeutic way without the necessity of “confronting” another relative for what might not have been an accurate perception in the first place.

Appropriate Techniques:

According to Tebbetts, the client must release his/her emotional attachment to the subconscious cause of the problem. This requires that the subconscious discover the core cause, whether or not the actual cause is revealed to the conscious mind. If you employ EFT, NLP, and/or other modern techniques, be certain to verify that the subconscious has actually discovered and released the core cause; otherwise the client’s success may only be temporary.

Regression and/or parts therapy (or its variations) are valuable for helping clients release the causes of problems. Any appropriate technique may be employed as long as the subconscious also confirms that the core cause was discovered and released.

4. Subconscious relearning

We might also refer to this as subconscious reprogramming. We may choose from among numerous client‑centered techniques in order to facilitate adult understanding at a subconscious level, where it gets results. The goal is to help a client create a more mature understanding (or new perception) of the problem, including its cause(s) and solution(s). Sometimes it is sufficient simply to have the subconscious relearn; however, the client‑centered techniques taught by Tebbetts often result in total conscious recall of the entire hypnotic process.

Note that many qualified and trained counselors employ hypnosis to discover causes; but instead of completing the vital third and fourth hypnotherapeutic steps with a client in hypnosis, they often try to deal with those causes at a conscious level - and sometimes needlessly keep clients in therapy for months or years!

Appropriate Techniques:

The client must believe that his/her success will be permanent; otherwise there is a risk of backsliding. For example, a smoker was regressed back to the original cause of his smoking habit, and discovered that his strong emotional attachment to cigarettes originated when his father disciplined him for smoking with a friend. His father said: “Do as I say, not as I do!” He smoked for years as a statement of his own freedom. Although he released his father and forgave himself, his success was temporary because he believed that he would backslide again just as with other previous attempts to quit.

After a successful hypnotic regression, we may ask the client: “As a result of what was discovered and released, how will you best benefit in the here and now?” We may then paraphrase the client’s response in the form of suggestions and imagery…adding additional suggestions as appropriate. If parts therapy (or a variation of parts therapy) is employed, be certain that you understand the technique thoroughly, including possible detours and potential pitfalls.

After accomplishing the third objective, I often ask a client to verbalize his or her own relearning. Then I paraphrase their words back in the form of suggestions and imagery, which help to accomplish subconscious relearning. Notice the arrow going both directions between #1 and #4 on the diagram. Suggestions and imagery enhance subconscious relearning, and become much more powerful once the subconscious has discovered and released the cause(s) of a problem.

As you learn other hypnotic techniques from various places, consider how each technique you learn can help accomplish one or more of these four steps. In my opinion, all hypnotic techniques should accomplish one or more of these four very important objectives. I suggest that you memorize them and make them an integral part of your therapy.

Additional Comments

Each of these four therapy objectives serves as a stepping-stone towards the next step. Although the first step may be sufficient for some of the people some of the time, if the problem remains, consider the accomplishment of ALL FOUR steps as your prime hypnotherapeutic goal.

The numbers of various hypnotic techniques keep growing as new ones are invented and old ones are updated or modified. While it is not necessary to know every technique ever invented, the competent master of the art of hypnotherapy should have width and depth of training, as there is NO technique that is effective enough to work for all the people all the time.

Some years back, a businessman told me that his employer wanted to send him to Australia to work with a new client. He was terrified of flying, and found a facilitator who used a popular hypnotic technique that allegedly released people from phobias without discovering and releasing the core cause. The “cure” worked for the outbound flight, but his subconscious returned the symptom before his return flight. He had 17 of the most terrifying hours of his life, and was afraid he would have a heart attack over the Pacific Ocean. This man needed a regression back to the initial sensitizing event in order to be permanently released from the fear of flying.

Over the years I’ve heard presentations from trainers who get very fond of a particular technique and become experts, making broad claims. It is quite possible that many of these techniques work alone with some of the people some of the time because all four hypnotherapy objectives are accomplished spontaneously by the inner mind. Here is my professional opinion: let’s accomplish these hypnotherapy objectives on purpose. Why leave them to chance?

NOTE: The above article is based on information covered in three of Roy’s books:
The Art of Hypnotherapy (4th Ed., 2010, Crown House Publishing). 

Hypnosis for Inner Conflict Resolution: Introducing Parts Therapy (2005, Crown House Publishing)

The Art of Hypnotic Regression Therapy: A Clinical Guide (2012, Crown House Publishing) co-author: Bruce Eimer, Ph.D., ABPP

Order any or all of the above books on 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. 

Last updated: December 30, 2012
Originally Posted December 4, 2007​

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