As someone who has been in practice as a registered hypnotherapist for many years I am sometimes called upon to give advice and lend support to newly qualified or trainee therapists. From this experience I gather that the technique of ideomotor response, or IMR for short, is no longer taught as part of a hypnotherapist’s basic training.

When I began training as a hypnotherapist some twenty years ago, IMR was one of the first techniques we were taught. The National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy offered a basic hypnotic induction technique which included IMR as part of the process. While IMR is not suitable in all cases for all people, to abandon it altogether is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Ideomotor responses are elicited and employed when a person has already been hypnotized. Using the method that we were taught, a suggestion is offered to the hypnotized person that their unconscious mind will completely take over the control of one the fingers of the person’s hand – whichever hand is nearest to the person doing the hypnotizing. The unconscious mind will show that it has taken over the finger by allowing that finger to feel, and become, increasingly lighter and lighter until it actually rises up from where it is resting. When such an IMR response has been established it can then be used as a way of communicating with the unconscious mind directly. Simple “yes or no” questions are asked and the unconscious mind can “choose” the answer by allowing the finger in question to float upwards from where it is resting.

As trainees, we were encouraged to use this technique with most clients and for most presenting issues. For example, someone who smokes may do so for a variety of reasons. They may smoke simply because it is an unfortunate and dangerous habit they have picked up, they may smoke because they identify with the “image” it creates, or they may smoke to comfort some underlying problem or anxiety, and so on.

It is, perhaps, more useful with eating problems. Suppose a person knows what dietary changes they need to make and is responsive to hypnotic induction and suggestion. But the changes still don’t happen. Then maybe there is some deeper issue that the client hasn’t disclosed, simply because they’re not aware of its possible significance with regard to the present issue. IMR can sometimes lead the arrow straight to the target.

I think that IMR is a very useful technique for trainees to learn. Having said that, I don’t use it myself very much these days. The reason is that when you have been involved with therapy for quite a while you tend to develop an intuition about whether the problem of the person sitting in front of you is being driven by “deeper” motivations. A properly conducted initial non-hypnotic consultation will often tell you as much as you will get from the use of IMR. Another problem is that not everyone responds to IMR suggestions in the same way. Some inner defensiveness may inhibit ideomotor response, the finger may fail to rise, and then the client might feel that they themselves have failed in some way. Also, you can never be sure as to whether the “yes” and “no” answers you elicit through IMR are absolutely truthful. The unconscious mind doesn’t lie consciously – that is a contradiction in terms. But it may be operating in a way which is not immediately apparent to the therapist.

Sometimes I use IMR as a handy shortcut. I might ask a hynpotized subject to wander through an imaginary room and look at miscellaneous objects, and if the unconscious mind regards one of those objects as significant to let me know by an IMR. The applications are many and manifold, especially in past-life work. It is a useful tool. Not for everyday use, perhaps. But it should certainly be taught to hypnotherapy trainees.

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