Making hypnotherapy goals work for you
Stating your hypnotherapy goals or what you want as the outcome of the treatment is an important part of any therapy, not just in hypnotherapy. If the initial contact (by email, phone or face to face) has not already established this, a trained hypnotherapist will ask you directly about the nature of your goal (or presenting condition). They will then (re) confirm the goal during your consultation and may give some mention about the treatment methods used to help achieve it.
Sometimes the goal is clear and the treatment can proceed with both parties sharing the same understanding about the direction of the therapy e.g. “I want to stop smoking”. On occasions, the nature of the goal needs further clarification to ensure that it is attainable since you may be confused about your own condition, how it continues to affect you and what could be a potential solution e.g. when you have suffered abuse in the past.
The following points can clarify the nature of your hypnotherapy goals:
That the goal can be (reasonably) defined
Some hypnotherapy goals are unrealistic and may expect far too much from a short course of treatment. Wanting to be completely “free of anxiety forever” (implying a cure) is an example of an unrealistic goal in hypnotherapy. Stating the goal more specifically can help you to establish the goal or progressive goals in your treatment program. For example:
- With a fear of flying, your goal could be stated as “to be more relaxed during your next flight”.
- With weight loss, your goal could be stated as “to eliminate unhealthy snacking in between meals”
- With social anxiety, your goal could be “to learn how to relax when socialising.”
Stating it as a positive goal helps to engage your imagination and resources into the goal situation. Some clients commonly arrive with negative goals as an illustration of how they are dominated by their negative state. When asked about their goal, they reply “I don’t want to panic in my next flight”. The positive nature of the goal can be re-evaluated by asking “so what do you want (rather than not want) in your next flight?”
How you will know that the goal is being (or has been) achieved
Sometimes identifying that the goal is being or has been achieved is obvious and is connected to the defined goal (explained above). The treatment thus ends and it is mutually acknowledged as being achieved. In some cases where several issues affect the achievement of a goal, intermediate goals may need to be set to show that progress is being made e.g. when weight management goals are being treated, but weight gain through comfort eating is found to be related to anxiety and low self esteem. The latter may need to be treated concurrently, adding anxiety management and self esteem building goals to ensure that the healthy eating patterns are long-term.
Additionally, the arrival of (what is initially considered to be the achievement of) “the goal” may still require continued treatment to secure its conclusion e.g. when a smoker has just stopped smoking during the early stages of the treatment but still feels vulnerable about lapsing into smoking again. They have indicated that previous lapses have occurred due to stress. Stress management goals would also be necessary to help secure the goal of stopping smoking for a sufficient period after initially stopping smoking.
Imagining the arrival of your goal as a future goal-achievement “lifestyle scene” is a useful strategy in goal setting. It can create an open pathway for your mind to explore what happens when the goal is achieved in its entirety. The scene can be accessed by asking the questions “Imagine that you have gone through a successful process of change, how would you know that you have arrived? What would you be sensing, feeling, communicating and doing in the new situation X when this change has taken place?” These questions can almost create a momentary hypnosis. When you immerse yourself into that scene, it can project you into the experience of your goal and can demolish some established negative “anchors” (or connected internal responses that are inhibiting you from achieving it). In addition to asking the question, the client can benefit by visualising it when they are in hypnosis to intensify the desired state.
That the goal can be achieved in a realistic timeframe
This can involve a discussion about the estimated number of sessions required to achieve your goal. It can also give some indication of the duration of the course of treatment (estimated number of weeks and potential frequency of visits to treat the condition). You can expect these figures to be estimates since every client brings a different background to their treatment, but it’s worth asking these questions to gauge your treatment plan.
Stating when you want to achieve your goal by can help set up a schedule of treatment consultations (number of possible sessions before a deadline e.g. the date that you are giving a presentation). It will also help to identify the time available to work on any proposed homework tasks.
Some hypnotherapy goals have continuous targets e.g. when you have a fear of public speaking and you are giving a series of presentations at regular intervals. Treatment progressions can be revised based on the feedback that you give in the subsequent session following each of your presentations.
Unrealistic timeframes usually involve last minute bookings with a demand for a cure of your condition. An example can include wanting one of those “I’ve done nothing about this until the last moment, but am still hopeful for a cure” treatment for your fear of flying, when you are flying tomorrow! Even though some clients can respond quickly to hypnosis, it’s more realistic to expect help to “control” some of your fear symptoms at this short notice, rather than outright cures.
That the goal can be achieved in view of (or in spite of) any personal history, medical issues or situational factors that might affect its accomplishment
When your goal is not “blocked” by background traumas and conflicting beliefs, you can usually set a realistic goal and achieve it independently; the process does not need therapy (external help) to accomplish it. The impact of past doubts and internal conflicts however can harm your ability to achieve your goal. Therapy then becomes an option to objectively deal with your internal conflicts, reframing these negatives and maximising the focus into your goal so that you can see a clear pathway into its achievement.
A professional hypnotherapist will discuss your medical history, background of the condition and lifestyle issues in the earlier part of your treatment, usually in the initial stage of the first consultation. These details can help indicate the extent to which the presenting condition or goal is being “weighed down” by other core issues. Sometimes when a client is highly suggestible to hypnosis, the goal can be treated in isolation of these core background issues and rapid change can take place. (You can assess your level of suggestibility here.) However, it is more common for these deeper background issues to need reframing to help you feel that the goal is detached from your negative history and can then be freely accessed.
To illustrate this, consider the following example. You suffer with panic attacks (this is your presenting condition) and you want to be able to control them (this is your goal). Hypnotic techniques are used to treat the panic attacks but are only partially helpful. Further enquiries into your background reveal post traumatic stress disorder and childhood abuse (cause of your conflicts). The emotions related to the abuse are reframed in your treatment and the panic attacks are subsequently eased (your goal is achieved).
Discussing the hypnotherapy goals is an essential part of the treatment process. Openly examining the nature of your goal can have several benefits including:
- Establishing a direction for the treatment.
- Clarifying if the initial expectations are realistic.
- Helping you set up an early positive “anchor” with the goal so that it can then be accessed and reinforced in the hypnotic treatment.
- Identifying a timescale to achieve the goal.
- Reframing what conflicts are stopping you from achieving your goal.
- Building rapport between you and the hypnotherapist
Are you ready to achieve your hypnotherapy goals?
(Further reading: When you are struggling to achieve your general goals, the SMART approach can be a useful strategy.)