SPOTLIGHT ON HYPNOSIS: IDEOMOTOR RESPONSE - A WAY TO GET ANSWERS
By Jimmy Eldred Quast
Your unconscious mind is a part of your mind that you have no willful control over. This unconscious mind automatically directs all of your vital functions including the operation of your heart, respiratory system, digestive system, immune system, etc., etc. Many of these systems depend on the functioning of smooth muscles. You may remember from science or health classes that smooth muscles are the internal ones, such as the heart, that we have no direct control over. The other major group of muscles, called skeletal muscles, are the ones that we willfully control as we walk, move our arms and hands, talk, etc.
My point is that smooth muscles are primarily controlled by our unconscious mind, while our skeletal muscles are primarily controlled by our conscious (willful) mind. On occasion, however, our unconscious mind has the ability to exert some control over skeletal muscles. One common example of this is sleep walking. If you have ever done that, you know that your only memory of it is what someone else told you, or perhaps you only remember waking up in a different place from the one where you went to sleep. A more subtle, and more self-observable example of this phenomenon has been experienced by many of us when we are relaxing on the sofa or in a recliner. As one becomes very relaxed, a leg or an arm can twitch involuntarily. The movement might even snap us back from the brink of sleep. In a few individuals, this type of twitching can become a serious impediment to sleep, but for most of us it is just an occasional curiosity.
My purpose in this article is to describe the use of ideomotor response to establish two-way communications between the conscious (thinking, willful) mind and the unconscious (in charge of life in the body) mind. For many years this ability of the unconscious mind to move skeletal muscles has been used by hypnotherapists as a means to establish communications with the unconscious mind. The basic principle is very simple, and can even be quite entertaining. Here is a very basic experiment you can try which may allow you to demonstrate to yourself how this works. Just relax in a sitting position and dangle all ten of your fingers by either letting your hands droop from the armrests of your chair, or you can lean forward resting your forearms on your thighs so that your hands and fingers dangle over your knees. It is important that you are very comfortably relaxed and that all ten fingers are dangling in free air with little or no effort involved. Now silently ask your unconscious mind to jiggle or twitch any one of your fingers that it chooses. Sometimes a finger begins to move right away, but sometimes one must wait for as much as a minute. You will probably be amused by this because you will absolutely know that you are not deliberately moving the finger and yet it moves very visibly. Roughly four out of five people will be able to see and feel the finger moving during this experiment. If it doesn’t work, it is usually because one is too tense, either physically or mentally.
An experienced hypnotherapist can work with a client’s unconscious mind to elicit movements from different fingers and assign meanings to those movements. Thus a very direct and practical means of dialoguing with the unconscious mind via finger signals is established. Having a conversation with the unconscious mind is a bit different from a conversation with just another person, but in the hands of a professional this is an extremely useful tool. I teach most of my private clients how to tap into their own deeper minds this way. The information that we gain is subsequently used to help resolve whatever problem(s) the client is seeking relief from. The precise technique that I use in my practice was taught to me by the late David B. Cheek, M.D. who was a well-known and innovative obstetrician. I have particularly enjoyed teaching this technique, from time-to-time, to groups of professional therapists at national conventions. The following is an actual example of how this technique is normally used in a professional hypnosis session as described by Leslie M. LeCron in his book SELF-HYPNOTISM.
The client/patient was a psychiatrist who is referred to as Dr. S. He had asthma which had persisted in spite of every kind of treatment including psychoanalysis. Ideomotor finger signals were taught whereby one finger represented “yes,” another “no,” and yet another was programmed to indicate “can’t answer.” Dr. LeCron told Dr. S that he wanted to try to find out what the first event was in his life that had anything to do with causing the asthma - the original cause of breathing difficulties. I am paraphrasing this portion of the conversation below:
Q. Was there an event early in your life that initiated your breathing problems?
A. Yes (finger movement).
Q. Was it before the age of five?
Q. Was it before the age of two?
Q. Was it before your first birthday?
LeCron continued this way until it was determined that the event occurred during birth. At that point Dr. S, who was still hypnotized, spoke up and expressed his opinion that this was ridiculous because no one can remember their birth. Nonetheless, LeCron continued using ideomotor communications and determined that the event not only did happen at birth, but that it was very frightening. He asked his client’s unconscious mind to take the client back to the time of his birth so that he could remember what happened and be able to describe it. The client then turned very red and began to choke and gasp for air. He said he could not breathe, but after a few moments of this he began to breath again as he stated that the doctor was holding him up by his heels and had just smacked him on his rear. “I can breath now!” he said.
After the patient fully regained his composure, LeCron asked him to go through the experience again several times. Each time the reactions were much less upsetting. Finally ideomotor communications were used once more to confirm that the client’s asthma had, in fact, been the result of the trauma with getting that first breath after being born. The last question was something like, “Can you now be free of asthma?” Dr. S. remained an acquaintance of Dr. LeCron for many years after this session. Throughout that time he never suffered another asthma attack.
Note: hypnosis for medical issues may require a physician’s referral.