what to do for resistant clients

Why Hypnosis & NLP Don’t Work

I was at a hypnosis seminar recently and the instructor was taking everyone through the Dave Elman induction. Early in that induction you go for catalepsy of the eyes. It goes something like, “Now, relax your eyes and the muscles around your eyes so completely that they won’t work. When you’ve got them so relaxed that they won’t work, test them and find that the harder you try to open them, the more they stay closed.”

The point is to get critical factor bypass. According to Elman’s theories, that helps get past the conscious mind.

You Can’t Make Me!

Well, I decided, rather than participate in the induction, I’d look around. One guy’s eyes popped open. He had a look on his face I interpreted as “See. My eyes don’t stay closed just ’cause you say so.”

My Mind Is Too Strong

It reminds me of a time I was doing a seminar in Sedona. We were doing kind of an instant induction thing where the hypnotist goes through set of steps and then blows on the hypnotee’s forehead. The person being hypnotized falls over backwards into this interesting REM state (usually).

I could see from across the room that one fellow being hypnotized was having problems with it. He would start to go over backwards and then catch himself (he had people behind him to catch him). I heard him say, “I guess my mind is too strong for this.”

I think you can probably guess why it was not working for him. He equated going into trance in this particular way with having a weak mind.

Why Hypnosis & NLP Don’t Work

As for the guy whose eyes popped open–it may have been a similar issue. Some folks have a vested interest in not going into trance, not being able to visualize, not having NLP or hypnosis work for them or not getting over some issue.

For instance, some people have a strong sense of identity around their problems. While they might sincerely want to move forward, they might also have a fear of what might happen if they no longer formed their identities around being an abuse survivor or an accident victim or a sufferer of a disease.

Perhaps their situation gives them a way to be unique.

But If We Let Our Problems Define Us Then The Terrorists Have Won!

The point is that sometimes we run into folks who want to change and also have a motivation to not change. We meet those who want to be hypnotized and being hypnotized means something negative to them. We run into people who feel unique and special because they “can’t visualize” or “NLP just doesn’t work for me.”

If we want to make helping them easier, it’s good to answer all of their needs.

Meeting Needs

I got a chance to do an exercise with the guy whose eyes popped open. I led him through the first part of the Elman induction and changed the wording a bit. I emphasized that he was to maintain the relaxation in his eyes. As long as he maintained that relaxation, he would find that his eyes stayed closed. It worked.

As for the guy in Sedona, I threw one of the Sleight of Mouth patterns at him. I asked “Is your mind strong enough to let it happen?” He went down like a rock.


About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. I remember that instant induction-type exercise from my Sedona class with you. It is amazing when it works as planned and pretty frustrating when it doesn’t.

    What I love about this post is that it reminds me how important it is to utilize both what we think we know about hypnosis and whatever the client brings with them.

    Thanks for bringing out these deeper levels of skill. Now I have to ask myself; “Is my mind strong enough to remember to use this knowledge every time…”

  2. Excellent, I often have this same problem when I do self Hypnosis. I wonder how I can make it work for me. I also seem to be unable to get change with NLP techniques and feel like a freak at times. I am a Master NLP practitioner and really have difficulty believing I can help others when I don’t get change in myself. maybe their is a way I haven’t uncovered yet. Thanks.

    1. Hi Bill,
      I’m sure there are many ways you haven’t uncovered yet.

      One of my first clients had been to multiple NLP trainings with most of the pioneers in NLP. He said he found it difficult to visualize and was feeling a lack of confidence when he was working with people and asking them to visualize. If he couldn’t do it himself, how could he ask them to?

      When you actually paid attention to his internal processes (as opposed to a generic process which works for most people), and used his particular structure, it was pretty easy for him to visualize.

      I’ve had the same experience with lots of folks who have been to many hypnosis seminars but feel they have yet to experience hypnosis. Typically, when you tailor your approach to them it works.

      As Erickson said when asked if he’d ever failed to hypnotize anyone… “No, and there’s some I’m still working with.”

  3. When I started practicing first, my concentration was on doing everything correctly – doing all of the techniques exactly the way I had been taught. The longer I practice, the more I understand that the induction must suit the client, and so, the responsibility is for me as a hypnotherapist to mould my techniques to suit the particular client, and to be aware enoough of the client to notice what they are doing and incorporate that into what it is I say and do.

  4. So if the guy closes his eyes and falls back it means he’s in a trance?? No it means he’s closed his eyes and fallen back. Ah, so he resists, his body does it but his mind does not, there’s something deep seated etc etc etc. Been there and done it all m8. Gone through with it all, earnestly wanted it to work, to be, let my mind go, relax etc etc etc. There is NO trance. If I want I can open my eyes, I can get up, be ‘normal’. I may choose to stay lying down but the actual ‘hyponosis’ and talking to the subconscious etc has absolutely no effect whatsoever.
    Do I think my mind is too ‘strong’? No! Do I not want to be hyponotised? No! It just plain does not work for me and I think the therapist who follows the line that it is the fault of the patient that s/he cannot be hypnotised is on very dodgy ground indeed.

  5. Very interesting. I think you have hit the nail on the head. I have experienced this. No of the NLP crap works for me. Why? I don’t believe it will. What does that mean?

    Ahhh, is it about belief?

  6. “I guess my mind is too strong for this.” It’s what you equate with the experience.

    If someone believes they are stronger than hypnosis or NLP and it won’t work, then it won’t. If someone believes that hypnosis or NLP is the greatest thing in the world than it will work. Or, if someone believes the problem they have is too big for hypno or NLP to fix, then it will be.

    A lot of beliefs are involved.

    1. Senin,
      What’s your evidence? I’ve certainly seen people who thought their problems were too big for NLP or hypnosis who got their problems solved by NLP or hypnosis. I’ve also seen folks that expressed the greatest belief in NLP & hypnosis but didn’t get results in that moment.
      I do believe belief is a factor but it’s not the whole game, by any means. I think the client’s unconscious motivations and the practitioner’s skill in taking those in to account are much more important.

  7. Evidence?! LOL. “I’ve seen……” Ancedotal.

    I actually agree with you. I think a client’s unconscious motivations (which is almost the whole game) is a form of a belief. And, of course, a practitioner’s skill is almost everything. Unfortunately, most are very unskillful. Here is the pattern I have seen: oh, you have this problem, let me look it up in my book, here is my strategy, and here is your therapy. Lame.

    Perhaps there are times that folks who thought their problems were too big, got their problems solved by NLP or hypnosis. But I would wager that they are the exceptions, rather than the rules.

    1. Yes, it’s called anecdotal evidence. It’s not the strongest form of proof to be sure. But I doubt that there have been double-blind studies looking into what role belief plays in the effectiveness of NLP & hypnosis. If anyone knows any different, I’d love to hear about it.

      The client’s motivations are likely driven by a belief. Whether or not that makes it more difficult to help them change has more to do with whether that belief affects their willingness to change or not. As an example; I’ve had clients who don’t fully participate when I’ve asked them to do something simple.

      That means you may have to work outside of consciousness–which can be a challenge.

      For me, I have rarely had a session go the way I expect it. I’ll sometimes have an idea of what pattern I might use on a presenting problem before the client comes in but that almost always gets thrown out of the window as I gather more information. I’ve written lots of articles here about working with process as opposed to content. It helps avoid the trap of looking in the book for patterns that are supposed to help a particular problem.

      I just did a presentation on beliefs the other day. And I’ve recently changed a lot of my own beliefs I felt were getting in my way. Beliefs are fluid. They change. So to me, whether or not a particular belief prevents an NLP or hypnosis process from working is not a critical issue. If it does–change it.


  8. I want to overcome fear of riding a motorbike ,tried a hypnosis video and I am still the same what am I doing wrong why is it not working? Or has it worked and I don’t feel the difference.

    1. Hi Linda,
      If it worked, you’ll feel fine riding a motorcycle. There’s no way for me to know if you’re doing anything wrong or why the program might not be working. I don’t know the program and I’m not there.

      I’d take a look at The Phobia Self-Help Book.


      Keith Livingston

  9. I have a fear of flying. I was recommended to have hypnosis as a cure. My therapist was a lovely professional lady, who tried both hypnosis and NLP to help me. Both methods failed to work (I could visualise a scowling figure at the back of my mind saying “you don’t believe this!”). Although at the “front of my mind” I wanted both techniques to work, nothing happened. I think the big problem is that I cannot as a 21st century rational person believe that anyone talking to me can change the way my mind works.

    By the way I am autistic. I see some websites which acknowledge this as a problem for hypnosis.

    1. Chris, there are a lot of implications in your comment. You seem to think that believing in a technique is necessary for it to work, for instance. That’s not true.

      Talking to someone in whatever century can obviously change your mind. It doesn’t ‘change the way it works’ in the way that you’re thinking, though. That’s not necessary.

      As an analogy, I once worked with a guy who didn’t exercise regularly. What he was visualizing when he thought about exercising was himself sweating and feeling tired, on a treadmill. This didn’t motivate him. When he, instead, visualized the results of him exercising (being more fit, energetic, and healthy), he was more motivated. We didn’t change the process (imagine something that generates feelings). We changed the content of his imagery, which changed the feelings, which resulted in different actions.

      It sounds like the therapist you worked with wasn’t a good fit for you.

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