How Does Self-hypnosis Work?

There's an old Chinese proverb that states: "One picture is worth a

thousand words." In conveying suggestions to the subconscious, we have

found that picture images are more effective than the words that are

implanted. For example, it isn't sufficient to say, "I will be

confident." The words must be augmented by a picture of yourself as the

confident person you want to be. If you say, "I can't visualize myself

as a con
ident person because I have never been that way," you can

"borrow" those personality traits that you want for yourself. Imagine

yourself endowed with the characteristics of some confident person that

you know. The qualities that you seek may even be borrowed from a famous

person. If this isn't possible, make up a personality which is a

composite of all the things you want to be. See yourself walking,

talking and carrying on activities. Keep fortifying this image with the

mental suggestions that are needed. It won't be long before these mental

impressions give rise to the confident feelings that you seek. As you

keep implanting these images, they will become a natural part of your

conscious personality.

Dr. S. J. Van Pelt, president of the British Society of Medical

Hypnotists and editor of the British Journal of Medical Hypnotism,

writes about this technique in his book, Secrets of Hypnotism. He

calls it "'3-D' Technique in Medical Hypnotherapy." As you read the

following paragraph, it would be well to remember that it contains the

essence of making the self-hypnosis technique work once you have

achieved the hypnotic state, per se. Incidentally, the same procedure

can be used in attaining the hypnotic state itself. You see yourself

entering the state of hypnosis in your initial attempts. This, in turn,

sets up a conditioned response and a favorable emotional reaction which

is necessary.

"The writer has found (visualization) of the greatest value in the

re-education of the patient, which is an essential part of hypnotherapy.

In this method, after the cause of the trouble has been discovered and

as a part of his re-education, the patient is instructed while under

only light hypnosis to 'form a picture' in his mind. He is asked to

imagine a movie screen and to see himself 'just like an actor' on this

screen playing a part. He is told that the picture looks 'very

real'--'3-D' in fact--and that he can see himself acting and looking the

way he really wants to look and act. Various scenes are suggested such

as ... the patient will have to face in real life. In each he is

instructed to see himself--'as in real life'--always succeeding. For

instance, the stammerer might be asked to picture himself speaking

easily to people, and feeling perfectly at ease. The patient is also

instructed how to form these 'success pictures' for himself, and it is

stressed that he will only be able to see himself as he wants to

be--successful. Since the pictures give rise to the appropriate

feelings, it is not long before the patient begins to show the benefit

of his private '3-D' film shows."

After explaining this technique to students, many have inquired, "Is

that all there is to it? It seems so simple." Of course, there is more

to it in that the individual must follow through with the instruction.

This is one of the difficult aspects of this type of program. Let me

enumerate some of the problems I have encountered in teaching


As mentioned, one of the difficulties is that the technique seems too

simple. Students become skeptical. They feel it should be more

complicated and involved in order to get results. I suppose people

better appreciate something that comes only after a hard struggle. This

procedure is devoid of this. Of course, I am not saying that once a

person begins to use this technique his problems will automatically

vanish and his life will be cheery forever after. We have been

conditioned to think that success in anything can only come after a

long, hard struggle. This is the basic theme of the American way of

life. We have been accustomed to believe that conflict and struggle are

part of life and large doses of it are necessary before we achieve

success in any field. I can only reiterate that the information

contained in this book is all you need to get results. It is necessary

that you follow through and not give up after you have tried the program

for a short while and have obtained no appreciable results. This brings

us to another point.

Many persons expect immediate results when they begin to use

self-hypnosis. If they don't get the results they anticipated

immediately, they want to know "what's wrong?" My answer is usually

that "nothing is wrong" and that they need only keep steadily applying

the instructions. Certainly, one doesn't become a proficient typist,

musician, actor or sportsman because he has mastered the basic

techniques. It takes time to acquire proficiency.

Let me assure you that anyone using and applying this technique can

benefit from it. One of the troubles in dealing with any problem is

routing defeatism and hopelessness. You can incorporate posthypnotic

corrective measures in the suggestions that you give yourself. However,

I believe that they must be dealt with on a conscious level as well. You

must believe that you can conquer your difficulties no matter how long

you have had them. If you are prepared to work with self-hypnosis in an

unremitting manner, you will achieve the self-help that you seek. Now

and then, you can anticipate a setback in your progress, but this

needn't discourage you from your overall task. Recount the progress

already made. If you have a "let-down" because you expected quicker and

more dramatic results, remember that this is a common feeling shared by

many with emotional problems. Remember, also, how long you have had the


No doubt, you have tried other methods and became discouraged because

you weren't making the progress you had anticipated. You dropped the

idea and landed back where you started. Make up your mind, consciously,

that you will work with untiring sincerity and a perseverance that will

not falter because your chosen goal is not achieved immediately. I know

of no therapy that leads straight to positive results without obstacles

and intermittent failure. Success comes in spite of intervening failures

because the ultimate direction has been clearly thought out and charted.

Self-hypnosis will finally work because you are constantly conditioning

your subconscious to react in a positive, constructive manner. The

program must, of necessity, become automatic in nature. When it does,

you will suddenly find yourself feeling the way you wanted to and doing

the things that you set out to do with the aid of self-hypnosis. You

actually cultivate those feelings that you want.

Hypnosis will not work with skeptics. Every so often such a person comes

to my office seeking help. He tells me that his family physician or his

spouse feels he should take my course in self-hypnosis. I inquire if he

feels he might benefit from the course. If his answer is not positive,

and if after talking to him at length about the benefits of hypnosis, I

still feel he is not ready for the course, I suggest another mode of

treatment for him. The reason for this is that unless the person is

optimistic and enthusiastic about self-hypnosis, it just isn't going to

work as effectively as it would otherwise. The very nature of a

skeptical attitude limits the constructive forces that we wish to


Occasionally, individuals want indisputable proof that hypnosis is going

to help them. It is impossible to give them the proof and unqualified

reassurance that they seek. Yet, these same people do not require proof

from their physicians. No one can guarantee success. However, I do point

out that the continued and intelligent use of self-hypnosis can be

instrumental in directing the healing, curative, constructive forces of


Many times, a metaphysical rather than a scientific approach is

required. It's a matter of trying to satisfy the patient's needs. At

times, it is helpful to allow the patient to attend a class in

self-hypnosis. Being able to communicate and identify with other

individuals seeking self-hypnosis often is enough to change his

attitude. This is especially true when one or more of the students

relates dramatic changes.

Self-hypnosis works because we are able to condition ourselves to

various stimuli. We condition ourselves consciously and unconsciously to

many activities. When we experience anxiety, it stems from a

conditioning process which could have been conscious or unconscious. In

self-hypnosis, the individual consciously works toward implementing and

strengthening his own inherent strength and resources. These objectives,

when attained, result in feelings of confidence, relaxation,

self-mastery and well-being.

Furthermore, hypnosis utilizes a natural mental process. We all know

that placebos work admirably in numerous cases. The dictionary defines

the word placebo as, "an inactive substance or preparation, administered

to please or gratify a patient, also used in controlled studies to

determine the efficiency of medicinal substances." Many controlled

experiments have shown that people achieve similar results whether they

take a placebo (which they think is the real medication) or real

medication that was prescribed. Several years ago many such tests were

carried out with antihistamines to prevent colds. The results were

always the same.

We are interested in what makes the placebo act as effectively as the

true medication. It stands to reason that a chain reaction is set up,

actually causing a physiological result from a psychological reaction.

The unsuspecting patient declares, "I've never felt so good in my life."

Yet, this would never have happened if he didn't think he was taking the

marvelous new medicine. A recent scientific study by one of the leading

pharmaceutical houses concluded that one third of the effectiveness of

any medication depends upon the faith and trust that the patient has in

the prescribing physician.

I am sure that the placebo results and the patient's faith in the

physician as contributing factors to the effectiveness of medications do

not come as a revelation. We are all aware of such information. Our

problem is how to harness this unconscious process for constructive

goals. The answer is through self-hypnosis.

Self-hypnosis, as we have explained it, uses a technique called

visual-imagery. This has been referred to by many different names, but

for our purposes we'll call it visual-imagery. Within this technique

lies one of the keys for achieving the goals that you want. There have

been many famous books written incorporating this technique as a basis

for achievement. Perhaps the most famous of all is called Think and

Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In recent years, The Magic of Believing

by Claude M. Bristol and The Power of Positive Thinking, already

mentioned, have become well-known. The book which gives direction to

most of the books in this field is called Self-Mastery Through

Conscious Auto-Suggestion by Dr. Emile Coue. I am sure the older

readers of this book have heard of his famous saying, which I will

repeat here for emphasis. "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better

and better." Invariably, in all these books, there is reference to the

Biblical quotation, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."

As the reader can deduce, we are not theorizing about a startling new

discovery. The technique is as ancient as man himself and his dream of a

better tomorrow. All books using the visual-imagery technique tell you

to paint a vivid, mental picture of the material things you wish to

acquire, if it is a case of material wealth. For personal improvement,

they tell you to paint a vivid picture of the individual you want to

be. In most cases, you are told to do this in a relaxed or meditative

state with as few distractions as possible. The next two requirements

are constant repetition (conditioning) and a "burning desire"

(motivation) to achieve what you set out to do.

Aren't these books really talking about self-hypnosis? Aren't they

describing precisely the techniques of self-hypnosis? The terminology is

different, but the approach is the same. With these techniques there is

an aim to direct thinking, picturization, positive thinking, suggestions

and constructive thoughts or images to the "inner self" or "real self."

Aren't they once again really talking about the subconscious mind? I

have no argument with any workable approach to emotional maturity, but

in many cases we are actually becoming involved with the meaning of

words (semantics). The quickest way to the subconscious is through

self-hypnosis. In this self-hypnotic state, you are able to consciously

direct suggestions to your subconscious mind.