The aim of self-hypnosis is to help you regain your emotional balance. You can use it to relieve stress, to control anxiety and to relax, to fight against negative thoughts and intrusive painful memories, to reconnect to the present moment, to combat sleep disorders, etc.
Self-hypnosis focused on external phenomena
The « self-hypnosis centered on external phenomena » is given to us by an American psychotherapist, Yvonne Dolan, in her book Healing from Sexual Abuse and Reviving. She herself holds it from Paul Carter and Stephan Gilligan, two hypnosis trainers, students of Milton Erickson , who called it the Betty Erickson technique in honor of Erickson’s wife.
This very simple technique has proven its effectiveness for several decades on both adults and children .
Here’s how to do it:
Make yourself as comfortable as possible. At any time, if you need to, your body will be able to make all the necessary adjustments to be even more comfortable.
Name out loud :
- 5 things you see (objects, a ray of light, a color, a shape, a shadow, etc.)
- 5 things you hear (noises from outside, noises from inside the house, noises you make yourself by moving, breathing or saying sentences out loud, the silence between your words, etc.)
- 5 physical sensations (feet on the floor, hand on a part of the body, heartbeat, breathing movements, blinking of the eyelids, relaxation in the jaws, contact with a cloth, weight of the duvet, pillow under the head, room temperature, etc.)
Continue by naming 4 things you see, then 4 things you hear, then 4 things you physically feel, then continue with 3 things, then 2 things, and finally 1 thing.
At any time during the exercise, if you want to come back to the here and now, you can do so easily either by moving a little, or by counting from 1 to 5 and telling yourself that with each number you are more and more awake, alert and ready. Here is the waking up technique suggested by Yvonne Dolan: « One… more and more awake, two… a little more awake, three… I’m starting to feel ready and alert… four… even more awake, and five… fully awake.
Whenever you identify something you see, hear and feel, say: « I see…« , « I hear…« , « I feel…« .
You can name the same object, sound or feeling several times.
If you are practising the technique in bed and it is dark, you can say, « I see the night » or « I see the darkness« . If you don’t hear any sound, you can say: « I hear silence« .
If you are ill or in pain, you can skip the physical sensations stage and only remember the « I see » and « I hear » phases.
The exercise can be done with your eyes open or closed. You can start with your eyes open and close them when you feel better or feel the urge to do so. When your eyelids are closed, you can name the things you know are in your environment.
If you lose track and don’t know what number or sensory modality you are in, it is a good sign. Confusion is a sign that you are no longer in control. You can stop the exercise for a few moments to enjoy this pleasant sensation or continue from where you think you are to deepen your state of well-being.
It is best to say the sentences out loud as it is reassuring and comforting to hear your own voice. However, if you feel uncomfortable or if the context is not right (for example, when you are with other people), you can say the different elements mentally.
If at the end of the exercise the level of well-being is still insufficient or, if you are using the technique to fight insomnia, if you are not asleep, you can start at the beginning and repeat it as many times as necessary.
The exercise can be practised in a quiet or hectic environment but never in a situation that requires your alertness (e.g. when driving a vehicle).
This technique can be repeated as frequently as necessary, daily if you wish, or even several times a day.
Variant by Luc Isebaert
In her seminars, the French psychologist Hélène Delucci teaches a variant of self-hypnosis focused on external phenomena proposed by the Belgian psychiatrist Luc Isebaert. This method consists of describing in detail visual, auditory and bodily perceptions.
Start by describing 5 things you see in as much detail as possible: shape, size, color, texture, etc. For example, if you are looking at a bottle, you can talk about its shape, its color, the label (shape, size, color, patterns, words written on it, etc.), the material, the liquid that can be seen through the bottle (quantity, color, etc.), the reflections of light, etc.
Then describe 5 things you hear in as much detail as possible: the variations in the sound, the source from which it comes, the action that produces it, the location of the source of the sound, its direction, etc. For example, if you hear someone talking, you can say the words they are saying, describe the timbre and pitch of their voice, etc. If you hear a vehicle, you can say the name of the vehicle and the name of the driver. If you hear a vehicle, you can say what type of vehicle it is (motorbike, truck, car), whether it is approaching or leaving, whether it is coming from the front, from the back, from the left or from the right, whether it is accelerating, braking, moving fast or slowly, etc.
Go on to describe in as much detail as possible how you feel about your body: the location of the sensation, its extent, its depth, its density, its temperature, etc. For example, if you feel your hand on one of your legs, specify whether it is the left or right leg, indicate the precise place where it is placed (for example, on the knee or on the upper part of the thigh), the impression of weight that it gives, the heat that it transmits, describe the position of your fingers, etc.
Repeat the procedure with 4 things, then 3, then 2, then one.
You can adapt this method according to your wishes or needs. For example, you may be satisfied with naming only 5 elements of each modality in detail or you may start with 3 elements and end with one.
Getting into the details soothes some people and irritates others. Test and choose the method that suits you best.
Yvonne Dolan’s variant « Here and there »
At the seminar « Rekindling Hope and Joy in Life after Trauma » in Paris in December 2003, Yvonne Dolan taught us a variation of the technique described above, which she calls Here and There.
Choose a place that represents safety for you.
Say 3 things you see in your environment, then close your eyes and say 3 things you see in your safe place. Open your eyes and continue with 3 things you hear in your environment, close your eyes and say 3 things you hear in your safe place. Open your eyes, say 3 things you physically feel in your environment, close your eyes and say 3 things you physically feel in your safe place. Repeat the procedure with two things and then one thing.
Compared to the classic technique which encourages you to anchor yourself in the present moment in the manner of a mindfulness exercise, in this variant you are invited to escape into time and space thanks to your memories or your imagination. This method, called space-time escape by hypnotherapists, is therefore more in line with hypnosis.
Variant by Evelyne Josse
Choose an image, place or event that evokes calm, relaxation, well-being and/or security. It can be a real memory (a holiday memory, a childhood memory, a happy event, an achievement, etc.), a situation that comforts you (being in your bath, being under the duvet, reading or listening to music in your living room, sunbathing on the terrace, gardening, being with your pet, etc.), a dream situation (e.g. a long white sandy beach on a paradise island where you don’t have to worry about the weather), or a situation that you have never experienced before.), a dream situation (e.g. a long white sandy beach on a paradise island where you have never been) or an imaginary situation (e.g. lying comfortably on a fluffy cloud in the sky, being a fairy in a world of Lilliputians, etc.).
At any time, if you wish to return to your usual notions of time and space, you can simply move or stand up, or count from 0 to 5, suggesting to yourself that with each number you gradually return to the here and now. Here is a way of doing it that you can adapt as you wish: « 0; 1, the energy starts to circulate; 2, I progressively come back to the here and now; 3, I move my hands (or arms) and feet (or legs) and I find in my body the sensations I want to find again while keeping the sensations of well-being; 4, the energy circulates more and more and better and better; 5, completely relaxed and calm, at the same time toned up and relaxed.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Fix your gaze on one point.
Take three deep, slow and regular breaths.
Without moving your eyes, say 3 things that you see in your environment through your peripheral vision. Take a deep breath and close your eyes while exhaling and say one thing you see in your pleasant situation. Open your eyes as you breathe in, say 3 things you hear in your environment, take a deep breath and close your eyes as you breathe out and say one thing you hear in your pleasant situation. Open your eyes, say 3 physical sensations that you are currently experiencing, take a deep breath and then close your eyes as you exhale and say one thing that you feel in the pleasant situation.
Then say 2 things that you see in your environment through your peripheral vision, take a deep breath and then close your eyes as you exhale and say 2 things that you see in the pleasant situation. Do the same with what you hear and what you feel physically.
Continue by saying one thing that you see in your environment through your peripheral vision, take a deep breath and then close your eyes as you exhale and say 3 things that you see in the pleasant situation. Do the same with what you hear and what you feel physically.
Finally, take three deep, slow, even belly breaths. Close your eyes and say three things you see, take three deep, slow, even breaths, say three things you hear, take three deep, slow, even breaths and say three things you feel in your comfortable situation. Enjoy this state of well-being for a few moments. When you feel that it is time for you to return to the here and now, count from 0 to 5.
When you are in the pleasant situation, it is better to say: « I see…« , « I hear…« , « I feel… » but if this seems artificial and makes you feel uncomfortable, you can say: « I imagine that I see…« , « I imagine that I hear…« , « I imagine that I feel...
In this variation, you are asked to focus your attention on one point in order to help induce a hypnotic state. Focusing attention is a common way to induce a hypnotic state. In the ordinary waking state, our mind is constantly scanning our environment and processing an impressive amount of information. Attention is focused on many different areas of interest, but only briefly, except when the situation demands it (danger, tasks to be done, etc.). To enter a hypnotic state, it is necessary to reduce the number of distracting factors to a minimum. By focusing on one point, you narrow the field of your attention by eliminating anything that might distract you.
Compared to Yvonne Dolan’s Here and There technique, in this variant you spend progressively less and less time in the present environment and more and more time in the pleasant situation, which promotes the deepening of your wellbeing and hypnotic state.
Opening and closing your eyes also deepens your hypnotic state. Hypnotherapists call this technique ‘split hypnosis’. When you are in your pleasant situation, opening your eyes forces you out of a comfortable state, which is relatively frustrating. When you close your eyes, you return to the comfortable state, which is rewarding. If you repeat this process two or three times, you will notice that you are getting deeper and deeper into the pleasant situation. Each time you do this, it becomes more difficult to open your eyes and reconnect with your surroundings, and more pleasant to close your eyes and dive back into the pleasant situation. Spending less and less time in the environment and more and more time in the pleasant situation increases the effectiveness of the splitting.
Compared to other methods, this one teaches you to enter a pleasant state of hypnosis more quickly. The more you use it, the quicker you recover your well-being.
Article from the series
Josse E. (2020). Relaxation. http://www.resilience-psy.com/spip.php?article155
Dolan Y. (1996). Healing from abuse and living again. Satas.
Delucci H. (2011). Competency-based psychotrauma training. Stabilization techniques. Manual of practical exercises
Lecturer at the University of Lorraine (Metz). Psychologist, psychotherapist (EMDR, hypnosis, brief therapy), psychotraumatologist
 This is the term used by Yvonne Dolan in her book
 Milton Hyland Erickson was an American psychiatrist and psychologist. He played an important role in the modernisation of traditional, directive and authoritarian hypnosis. Even today, his teaching has a great influence on the way clinical hypnosis is practised.
 Self-hypnosis for children will be the subject of a future article.