Altered state

I have been somewhat cynical of clinical hypnotherapy over the years and it has been something that has never interested me but as I gain more experience, I have realised that it takes many facets of practise to get it right!

Hypnosis in dentistry is nothing new and has been used by many exponents over the years to help the clinician deal with nervous patients.  

I recently attended a two-day course in clinical hypnosis, run by the Institute of Hypnotherapy for Medical and Dental Practice in central London, and my thinking on hypnosis has altered.

The course was led by Dr John Butler, well-known in the world of clinical hypnosis, widely published and president of the British Society of Hypnotherapy. It was somewhat of a serendipitous course for me as there were two other hygienists I knew and I was sat next to Roy Bennett of Mellow Dental, someone with whom I frequently chat on Twitter.

The course was fully subscribed and was attended by a mixture of dentists, dental hygienists and dental therapists. Many attending seemed to be in the second half of their career and the inferences I drew from this is that, as we gain experience, we become open to new ways of thinking.

Get practical
It was stressed there would be a focus on the practical elements of clinical hypnosis rather than the reading and learning. Dr Butler suggested that it is the very real and practical elements of hypnosis that are needed, rather than reading complex psychological texts.

As with many aspects of our work, communication is the key in hypnosis that can become an adjunct to the already large range of skills we use daily to help patients. Dr Butler also suggests that, for our anxious and nervous patients, the power of suggestion may well help to overcome the fear without the need for placing patients into deep trance-like states.

Power of suggestion
We can – and do – use verbal and non-verbal tools to suggest to our patients that the treatment is right for them, and this forms a very normal part of the human psyche. When dealing with verbal suggestion, a quote from Kipling was used by Dr Butler: ‘Words are the most powerful drug.’

We attempt to convince our patients that the treatment they need is the best thing for them. We use verbal suggestion all the time and, indeed, use it daily to perhaps convince ourselves that we need to exercise, do the washing up, etc. Sometimes, it is all about semantics; in so much as how we deliver the words rather than what we say! Practising our verbal skills can help us immensely by ensuring we are happy with our rhythm, speed, volume and pitch (RSVP) something that we have to adjust depending on who we are dealing with.

Most clinicians understand the value of non-verbal communication and know that our patients will pick up on our own negative body language. We all (mostly) manage to leave our problems at the threshold of the surgery so that our patients do not pick up our negative vibes and this is also true when we are convincing our patients about a particular treatment. If we are positive and believe what we are telling our patients, this is reflected in our non-verbal body language.

Can everyone be hypnotised? The short answer is yes but it is dependent on how hostile the individual is to the initial suggestion. There is little point in attempting to hypnotise those that resist or are cynical as they will let their conscious mind over-rule their sub-conscious mind and this resistance will make the task at hand very difficult. There are a few simple tests that the practitioner can carry out to test someone’s suggestibility and the hand levitation technique is just one.

This was excellently demonstrated by Dr Butler on a delegate. It is a simple test that would take one or two minutes in the dental surgery. Others include postural sway, eye catalepsy and the heavy hand technique.

Positivity remains one of the key elements throughout though and is the key to successful hypnosis –and sometimes suggestibility tests require improvisation by the clinician!

Key course points
• Practical approach
• Communication is key
• Power of suggestion
• Delivery is important – rhythm, speed, volume and pitch (RSVP)
• Focus on non-verbal communication
• Be positive
• Simple tests of someone’s suggestibility

There is a belief by many that the patient loses control during hypnosis; this is a myth not helped by stage hypnotists who will often get participants to carry out bizarre acts they would (apparently) never do. It has to be remembered that all a hypnotist will do is suggest something to an individual and those not willing to  carry out such a suggestion quite simply will not do it.

While the sub-conscious mind will take over, they will continue to function normally in all other respects; this is true for all aspects of hypnosis. This can be easily demonstrated to any patient who wishes by allowing them to open their eyes at any point during hypnosis; all the hypnotherapist does is suggest the eyes stay closed and there is no way to force them to stay shut.

Practical sessions
Break-out sessions involved course participants attempting the techniques demonstrated on each other – all participants were keen to have a go and some were obviously more suggestible than others. It was interesting to watch the various.

Should you do it?
Most of us probably already use some of these techniques daily yet do not realise it. I’d encourage all dental team members to consider attending. The IMDH is going to create a database of trained practitioners that can be accessed by patients seeking out those trained in clinical hypnosis and this would surely be a practice builder?

Next stop
Dental Hypnosis Courses for Dental Professionals:
Dental Hypnosis Course 1:  Technical Foundations
Dental Hypnosis Course 2:  Clinical Applications
October 2012.  Cost: £300 (£50 discount if both course taken together).
Visit for more information.

Shaun Howe trained in the Army in 1993. He joined the real world in 1999 and currently works in two practices full time in Nottingham and Derbyshire. Shaun started speaking in 2005 and has spoken nationally to various groups and continues to do so. He likes to write and is well-known for his outspoken views on regulation and all matters dental. He is one of three DCP local advisers to Dental Protection, an active member of the FGDP in the West Midlands regional group, a key opinion leader for Philips Sonicare, a trained practice appraiser, mentor, and a moderator on He is also a school governor and occasionally spends time with his wife and family.
Follow on Twitter @shaunhoweRDH


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