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What Is Cognitive Hypnotherapy?


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Of the many different psychological therapy models that have been developed over the last few centuries, cognitive hypnotherapy is one of the most recent evolutions. It was developed by Trevor Silvester (who now runs the Quest Institute in the UK) at the beginning of the 21st century, and draws on techniques from a variety of other modern psychological arenas, blending them into a new, single discipline. Rather than relying solely on set solutions such as scripts, it regards each person as a unique individual, and aims to provide the client with a solution uniquely tailored towards their issue.

At its core is the belief, first described by Stephen Wolinski in his book “Trances People Live" (1991), that trance states are a normal part of human existence; we flit into and out of them many times every day, mostly without realising we are doing so. Cognitive hypnotherapy utilises these natural states, using a variety of techniques drawn from other modern psychological disciplines such as NLP, cognitive therapy, and positive and evolutionary psychology, to help the client to uncover and understand the thoughts, feelings and memories that cause and sustain their problem patterns or behaviours.

Cognitive hypnotherapy asserts that every person already has all the resources necessary within themselves to deal with the issues under their psychological control. The therapist always relates to the client's problem using the client's own model of the world, and doesn't allow their own viewpoint to colour the judgement of the problem or its potential solutions. Once both parties are familiar with the client's mindset in relation to the problem, and the client's proposed solution (the solution state), the therapist acts as a skilful guide, using a selection of hypnotic, psychological and linguistic tools (including the unique Wordweaving), to help direct the client to towards the resolution of their issue.

The hypnosis element of the therapy is used to provide straightforward access to the client's unconscious mind, from where the trance states that drive the undesired behaviour originate from. This allows the client, guided by the therapist, to simply and effectively reframe the behaviour in a way that will be of most benefit to them.

When comparing cognitive hypnotherapy to other therapy models, some notable differences emerge, as well as some similarities.


Traditional Freudian-style psychoanalysis is based on free association, where the client talks freely in a safe, non-judgemental space, and with the therapist acting as an impartial observer, only interjecting if they feel they have the opportunity to help provide an insight. Whilst psychoanalysis, like cognitive hypnotherapy, undoubtedly utilises trance phenomena (at least to some degree) and trusts in the client finding their own solutions, it lacks the more solid up-front definitions of the client's problem / solution states, and incisive therapeutic hypnotic techniques (such as timeline regression). This tends to result in psychoanalysis taking a considerably longer period of time to achieve the client's goals than cognitive hypnotherapy.


Behaviourism is based upon the idea that all behaviours are acquired from the environment a person lives in, with the end result that the individual becomes habitually conditioned to their environment. Whilst humans do have a propensity (probably evolutionary in origin) to mould themselves to their circumstances, behaviourism tends to view people as simply reflexive organisms rather than more complex, reasoning, free-willed individuals. Cognitive hypnotherapists would see this approach as rather limited, focussing as it does simply on the neurological levels of Behaviour and Environment, without regard to deeper parts of an individual's psyche located in the Capabilities, Beliefs and Values, and Identity areas. However, interventions at the former levels can sometimes be useful as pattern interrupts e. g. asking a smoker to smoke with their opposite hand so they realise something is different which causes them re-evaluate what they are doing.

Direct hypnotherapy:

A classically-trained direct hypnotherapist will evaluate a client's issue and then, utilising trance phenomena, verbalise their solution to the client's problem. This solution will be formulated from the therapist's own viewpoint, and may involve a set script. Cognitive hypnotherapists would argue that everyone has their own model of the world thereby making a set script relatively ineffective, and that a therapist imposing their viewpoint onto the client makes the solution considerably less likely to be effective; for example, some clients may reject a statement out-of-hand if they harbour a subconscious dislike about being “ordered" to do something. Cognitive hypnotherapy follows a more Ericksonian / NLP approach, utilising indirect suggestion and confusion techniques to ensure greater acceptance, and trusting in the client to find their own way to their solution state, with the therapist acting as an experienced guide.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT):

CBT asserts that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all synergistically connected - any change in one will have an impact on the others. It attempts to help the client consciously identify their irrational or unhelpful thoughts, assumptions or beliefs underlying their problem, and replace them with more positive and realistic alternatives. As cognitive hypnotherapy is also “cognitive" it uses some similar underlying techniques, particularly during the initial stages of therapy to help the client determine their problem and solution states, but the use of hypnotic / trance phenomena and the precisely ambiguous linguistic targeting offered by Wordweaving means that it usually achieves results more quickly than CBT because these techniques provide easier access to the deeper neurological levels.

Cognitive hypnotherapy is an exciting new therapy model that draws on and mixes together the best of many other established therapies, whilst also adding some new dimensions and techniques of its own, to create a effective, efficient and modern therapeutic framework.


Wolinski S. (1991), “Trances People Live: Healing Approaches in Quantum Psychology", published by Bramble Co

Paul Marro runs Holistic Therapy, a UK-based therapy centre dedicated to restoring balance and aiding healing using a variety of powerful, modern, drug-free treatments. He is a Quest Institute-qualified cognitive hypnotherapist, member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy, and a certified NLP practitioner. He also uses EFT and Reiki in his practice, and is based in the village of Four Elms, Kent. For more information visit his website

cognitive hypnotherapy hypnosis nlp wolinski

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