The So-called Hypnotic Voice?
When I first discovered hypnosis – via Solution-Focused Therapy – there were a number of debates that were heard incessantly. What is trance? Do we need ‘depth’ for certain phenomena? Are Rapid inductions suitable for therapy? And on and on.
However, one debate that I would hear back then, which I don’t think I’ve heard for some time was over the so-called hypnotic voice. Some hypnotists acted as if it was a secret skill truly mastered by only a select few (along with things like, “the hypnotic seal”). Others dismissed it as outdated, unnecessary and potentially even damaging to the reputation of hypnotists who wished to be taken seriously.
As I say, I have not heard this debate taking place for a good few years now. I think that is because the second side in the debate – those who dismissed the hypnotic voice – largely won the argument. Or at least, were perceived to have done.
I suspect a significant reason why people stopped talking about the hypnotic voice was the rise of Street hypnosis, usually for the purpose of impromptu entertainment. It was suddenly seen – and demonstrated in various cities throughout the world (not to mention countless youtube channels!) – that hypnosis could be a much simpler and far less convoluted affair than had regularly been assumed.
However, I have to say that my experience leads me to consider that the notion of a hypnotic voice is both natural, reasonable and beneficial. That may be because my style of therapy – both before and after I discovered hypnosis – can often include a series of stories or analogies, where the impact may be felt differently, depending on how they are delivered. Yet, even without that insight, I would say that the idea that a hypnotic voice is natural, reasonable and beneficial is not hard to appreciate. After all, do you not speak to your children, your spouse and your co-workers in different voices?
What do we mean by the Hypnotic Voice?
This is where some specifics may clarify things a little. You may have noticed that I said I believe in the notion of a hypnotic voice, not the hypnotic voice. I am not suggesting that when you begin hypnotising someone, that you speak in a deeper or more mysterious voice. I have witnessed some hypnotists do this, only to be met with a client whose eyes have opened and eyebrows have raised as they wonder what on earth is going on.
No, I am not for a second arguing that there is a certain tone you might want to use, to help your client “sleeeeeeeep nowwww.” What I am wanting to suggest is that the voice is one of the tools we can use to increase our client’s hypnotic journey. It is a tool that we can use, in certain ways, which may increase the effectiveness of what is being experienced.
Emphasis and Direction
Here is a rather silly, but perhaps enlightening example. When my children were much younger, Derren Brown (the magician/mentalist) had just begun his TV career. I remember performing an awful demonstration of mind-reading, more for my amusement than anything else. I wrote something on a piece of paper and asked my daughter to put it in her pocket. I then proceeded to deliver an extremely amateurish patter similar to this:
“Right, if you want to BE a part of this trick, BE willing to open your mind and think of any letter of the alphabet. It can BE any letter you want. But, I will BE asking you to go through the letters when you have it – can be BE any one you want – so you might not want to choose Z! There might be all sort of letters buzzing through your head right not, but when you settle on that one that feels like it could BE the right one, out of all the letters it could BE, just BEgin to go through the letters till you reach it…”
My daughter responded as I had hoped, by saying, “A, B…”
I invited her to look in her pocket and obviously there was a piece of paper with the letter B written on it. My daughter was flabbergasted and kept saying, “How? But how?” I turned to my eldest (and delightfully teenage) daughter, but before I had a chance to say anything, she said, “Are you being serious?” Very unimpressed!
So, that’s a ridiculous and opaque example and anything that obvious would likely lose you serious rapport-points with your clients. Here’s a slightly less silly example. It is still too obvious for adults in the therapy room, but demonstrates the same example as above, in a slightly more subtle way.
If I am working with a family and speaking with a child in the family, I might want to offer them two choices. Perhaps I’m asking if they want to sit on one of the comfy office chairs, or a bean-bag. With a younger child, it can be easy to direct, by framing the choices like so:
“Do you want to sit in the boring talking chair, or the playing bean-bag?”
“Do you want to sit in the bean-bag, like the small children do, or up here in the great big comfy grown-ups chair?”
I would still be changing my emphasis there, but the direction is predominantly a result of wording. However, with a slightly older child, I might say something more like:
“Do you want to sit in the [slightly higher voice pitch] comfy chair, or [dropping voice] the bean bag.”
It’s easy to make options sound boring and undesirable in this way, but tends to be less effective the older the child is. Having said that, you might want to consider whether such a tactic would work (for adults or children) if used during ‘trance.’
Intention and Emotion
Effectively, any change in your voice (even indistinguishable) can be useful. I remember telling-off one of my children at a time when I was feeling incredibly chilled and stress-free. There was not a raised voice anywhere in the house. Yet, something about how I spoke to them caused them to burst into tears. This confused me until I learned the power of conditioning.
When a parent comforts their injured child, they use a different voice to when they are motivating them to tidy their room. In the same way, if you use the same voice/tempo/cadence to e.g. take your client up a flight of stairs that you used when you took them down, you are missing a trick.
If you are saying something that is intended to evoke feelings of excitement, it should be obvious that it is best to do so with an excited tone of voice. You might initially feel as if you are play-acting, or putting on a performance, but I prefer to think of it as using everything at your disposal to enhance your client’s experience.
Your client may not notice some of the changes in your voice, but they can still have powerful effects. For example, I change my voice ever so slightly if I am using the My Friend John induction. I speak to “John” differently to how I speak to my client. With my client, I use a more congenial tone. Yet, you will soon see that any difference can be effective.
Similarly, if I am using ideo-motor responses, or addressing someone’s “sub-conscious,” I may use a different tone of voice. If nothing else, this helps me remember who I am supposed to be talking to!
We come now to the primary reason why I see great benefit in a hypnotic voice. We have already seen this at work in the example of a parent comforting their child, or – in my case – bringing a child to tears! Your voice is an incredibly effective tool when it comes to anchoring.
According to Robert Dilts, anchoring:
‘refers to the process of associating an internal response with some external or internal trigger so that the response may be quickly, and sometimes covertly, reaccessed.’
In simple terms, it is establishing a conditioned connection between a trigger and a particular state (e.g. confidence). And your voice is a perfect way to anchor a desired state.
A somewhat trite, yet deceptively effective example, is using a word like “relax” in a slightly calmer voice than the words before or after it. This becomes especially powerful if you use the word at time when you know your client is becoming more relaxed. For example, during a fractionation induction. If you use the word “relax” as they go back ‘down,’ you are creating a strong connection between the word (said in a particular way) and the experience of going ‘deeper’ into hypnosis.
Alternatively, you might have someone recall a series of times when they felt supreme “exCITEment,” pronouncing the word the exact same way each time they recalled a previous experience of excitement. You will see that it later has a completely different impact for you client if you merely say “excitement,” instead of the now anchored “exCITEment.”
Nothing I have said here is particularly profound. Nevertheless, I hope that it might serve to provoke some further thoughts for you, along with ideas to test out, or simply ideas to consider. Here are some for starters:
Questions to Consider
Do you think that the concept of the so-called ‘hypnotic voice’ is out-dated?
Practice inductions that begin conversationally – such as My Friend John, or the Leisure induction – and change your voice in various ways as your intentions become more hypnotic.
Ask your practice partner later if they noticed any changes in how you were with them.
Is it a fair or realistic comparison to describe use of a ‘hypnotic voice’ as an example of conditioning or anchoring?
What other ways, apart from tone of voice, might it be possible to adjust your voice to have a hypnotic effect?