The Power of Unconscious Symbolism and What It Can Do For You
by Richard Haggerty
Amanda walked in the door for her second session. Before she had even entered the room, she blurted out, “I left here after my first session, and the generalised anxiety I’ve had for years was totally gone. It’s like a cloud that lifted. Does that usually happen? I feel amazing!” Amanda’s experience is not unusual with a new and powerful form of hypnosis that is like alchemy, generating new experiences from old ones.
Although I develop programs that help people change fears, I’m perhaps best known for my Lifetime Guarantee Stopping Smoking Program; a rare breed of international hypnotists who does offer a lifetime guarantee for their work. The reason I do this is a little-known approach to hypnosis, which works with symbolism of the unconscious mind, and virtually guarantees success. Since having my son, Jacob, I can’t bear to see other people’s children killing themselves with smoking. I wouldn’t allow my son to do that. So I pull out all the stops for other people’s children too – even though they are adults now!
Although I enjoy demonstrating the power of their inner mind to clients using hypnotic phenomena like a hand stuck to their head, the clients I serve want to not only change, but feel excited and inspired about life again. So I give them a complete makeover: more energy, fun, creativity, sense that life is replete is possibility. Smoking becomes irrelevant because they feel better inside and can generate all the confidence and states of being they need without the old habit. They become engaged with life again.
Academic research over the past two decades has increasingly shown the importance of metaphor and embodied cognition in how we experience reality and perceive the world. Symbolism provides the opportunity to work with problems at a deep unconscious level, Symbols naturally generate creative solutions that become a part of the identity and day to day experience of clients.
The conscious mind can only focus on between five and nine ideas at a time. The non-conscious mind is so much more powerful, and most of us have the experience of that symbolism with our dreams. Symbolic hypnosis means you are able to generate ‘dreams’ on demand, and have them help transformation without any specific need to understand consciously why the subconscious mind presented those symbols. Generative symbolic hypnosis takes this a step further and lets that positive powerful change seep into other areas of your life.
This generative symbolic hypnosis approach has now been recognised as a contribution to executive coaching. In 2018, I was asked to sharing how I use metaphor and symbols in a major book on coaching. And in 2020, I co-authored the book The Journey Inside: Coaching to the Core, which became an instant Amazon #1 bestseller. It was a watershed moment – for the unconscious mind to be recognised more widely in the coaching community. Because I don’t use standard closed-eye hypnosis, this opens up a whole new opportunity for clients to benefit who may not have thought about hypnosis before. It also means that clients globally get to enjoy sessions remotely in the comfort of their home or office, using video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype.
I introduced the basic metaphor model in the book because, although the magic of using symbolism was recognised and championed by great therapists like Carl Jung and hypnotherapists like Milton Erickson, the nuanced deeper aspects of using symbolism effectively for generative change are currently known only to a few therapists.
Here is my 7-Step Basic Symbolic Resource Process:
1. We have all had times in our lives when we have felt amazing. Maybe it was a conversation. Maybe something creative. Something you did well, and you surprised yourself in doing so. Perhaps it was an experience you had where you felt totally at peace, alive or engaged. Think of one of those experiences now. Whatever it is, let’s call that “you at your best”.
2. Consider this question, “When you’re at your best, you’re like what?”
3. Really reflect on that to allow a symbol, metaphor or idea come to mind. No pressure. For example, “When I’m at my best, it’s like total clarity. I can see what matters, I feel excited and happy.”
4. Take a moment to reflect on some aspect of that symbol that seems important to you by asking “What kind of…?” For example, “What kind of clarity is that clarity?”
5. Take some time to notice what answers emerge. For example, “It’s the kind of clarity where I know exactly what to do.” You can always ask follow up questions, “And what kind of knowing is a knowing like that?”
6. Capture any insights that come to you: Write down your thoughts. Record them to audio. Draw them, if you feel inspired to.
7. Reflect on the original symbol again, and notice how it automatically connects you to that feeling more richly.
Amanda is now creating the life she wants with a new partner and her anxiety is merely a distant memory. She’s still in awe of the alchemy that occurred: once reclaimed, old emotions become a powerful source of creative change and a fulfilling life of empowerment.