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In this video, Yapko describes  Process-Oriented Hypnosis: Focusing on the Forest, Not the Trees.  He shares with clinicians that they need not get lost in the details of a client’s problem or attempt to project meaning about why the problem exists in order to help their clients achieve their goals.

Instead, Yapko’s model of focusing on process (the patterns of how clients generate their symptoms) instead of content (the details of their story) helps clients not just solve problems, but teaches them how to problem solve.


    image of a microphone to link to a podcastLogo for The Science of Psychotherapy Podcast


Listen to a Podcast as Richard Hill and Matthew Dahlitz of The Science of Psychotherapy talk with Michael about Process-Oriented Hypnosis




At its core, Process-Oriented Hypnosis  makes a  sharp distinction between the terms “content” and “process” as they apply to therapeutic interventions utilizing hypnosis. The content of a client’s problem is the “what” regarding the person’s experience. The “what” might include such variables as the naming and description of specific troublesome symptoms or issues (e.g., “perfectionism” or “depression”), the details of the person’s family structure (e.g., parents, siblings, etc.), significant events or relationships in their personal history, the medications they’re taking, their hobbies, their previous therapy experiences, and many other such details. A content-oriented approach to hypnosis, most common in clinical practice, would typically try to suggest alterations in the client’s symptoms (e.g., “Your mood will improve each day as your depression lifts”). In sharp contrast, the process of a client’s problem focuses on the “how” of a client’s problem rather than the “what.” The content is less important than the process as the therapist strives to focus on and answer two key questions: How does the client generate their symptoms, and how can I use hypnosis to interrupt that symptomatic sequence and generate therapeutic results?

By focusing on how rather than why, the process-oriented clinician can identify how the client follows an identifiable pattern or sequence of steps that culminate in the symptom. The opportunity then arises to interrupt that troublesome pattern or sequence with new and helpful experiences generated in hypnosis. After all, it can be reasonably argued that the simplest definition of psychotherapy is pattern interruption and pattern building:

Introducing an interruption to get the client to stop doing whatever isn’t working and helping them start doing something else that actually helps them get where they want to go. Identifying the steps in the client’s sequence of problem generation to know how and when to introduce interruptions to it is a different approach than is typically employed in therapy. Trying to explain why the person is suffering by generating theories and interpretations of the “meaning” of the client’s symptoms may be explanations that are wholly or entirely incorrect. A process-oriented approach reduces dramatically the likelihood of making such interpretive errors while increasing the likelihood of better defining and hitting salient therapeutic targets.


Process Oriented Hypnosis is divided into two sections:

Conceptual Framework:   In the conceptual framework section, Yapko offers his  practical perspective to readers to help them grasp the important distinctions between content and process-oriented hypnosis sessions. After all, hypnosis isn’t a therapy in and of itself; rather, it’s a treatment tool, a vehicle of multi-level communication for introducing perspectives that hold the potential to establish new and more valuable inner associations in the client’s experience.

Clinical Applications:   Once the underlying rationale for this approach is established in the first four chapters, the remaining ten chapters of Process-Oriented Hypnosis will be entirely practical by providing readers with transcripts of process-oriented hypnosis sessions. These chapters begin by first providing insights into the range of clinical problems affected by a particular type of symptom sequence. Then follows a description of what the salient characteristics are of the associated underlying process of symptom formation. Then a full transcript of a process-oriented clinical hypnosis session is provided that illustrates how hypnosis might be used to address the relevant patterns.