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Anchoring and Hypnotherapy
by Dr. Frank Valente Ph.D.


To begin one might ask what exactly a hypnotic anchor is. Simply put, a hypnotic anchor is an association to any life memory. "Hypnotic anchors" are composed using all of our senses including that of sight, sound, smell, taste, and sensation. When applying a "hypnotic anchor", the greater number of senses used, the stronger it becomes, and the harder it becomes to falsely trigger.

An example of a "hypnotic anchor" would be as such. If I mentioned the word "rose", what happens in your mind? You might all of a sudden see the image of a rose before you, or even smell the sweet scent. Perhaps you might even have some found memories of a not so distant past. So a word or anything which simply acts as an association to a memory or combination of many memories is considered an anchor.

As for uses in therapy there are many, and for a therapist of any vocation, becoming skilled at the use and application of "hypnotic anchors" is without a doubt a very handy learning to acquire. For example; whenever working with troubled clients, it is handy to have a safe place for them just in case they become overly associated to an uncomfortable event. Below is an example of how to anchor a safe place for use in the
therapeutic process.

To anchor a "safe place", one must first understand "anchors".
A "hypnotic anchor" is any stimulus that triggers a consistent psychological state. Anchors occur throughout all of our sensory channels in a potentially infinite number of ways.

There are four keys to anchoring:
1. The intensity of the state;
2. Timing (peak of experience);
3. Uniqueness of the stimulus, including the number of senses used (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory), and;

Exact replication of the stimulus, or trigger..


To anchor a "safe place", the therapist must begin with paying close
attention to the verbal predicates used by the client in order to guide
her. The procedure then is:
  1. Ask the client to think of their favorite place of relaxation, where everything is comfortable and they feel perfectly safe. With the use of the client's preferred language (verbal predicates), elicit and shape the client into the desired state.
  2. Having decided what trigger(s) to use for the state (touch, visual, auditory, or combination of), the hypnotist, using his/her sensory acuity to determine when the person is at a peak of intensity, applies the trigger himself, or he can ask the client to take a deep breath, or even apply a combination of possible triggers, then releases the new trigger/anchor, just as the client begins to lose the peaking effect of the emotion within his/her imagination.
  3. The client's state is then changed by simply asking a question, "What is your phone number backwards?"

Finally the anchor is tested by re-triggering the new stimulus/"anchor" and taking note as to whether the client is re-associated into the desired effect.

It is often helpful during regression therapy to use anchoring, which is similar to Pavlovian conditioning, providing a "safe place", without a threat of pain. The primary benefit to both client and therapist would be in the event of an abreaction. Although useful at times, if not presently desired, the "safe place" provides for a more controlled atmosphere.

Using already-developed associational relationships, "Hypnotic Anchors": In the hypnotherapeutic context, the triggering of a "hypnotic anchor" is often used to induce trance. For example, to induce a state of relaxation, the hypnotherapist may initiate a conversation to discover specific incidents, activities or stimuli that naturally elicit the state of relaxation in the client - and then utilize these key elements in the course of induction.

The general idea is to identify the verbal and non-verbal cues which elicit experiential responses, in order to use them during the therapeutic exploration process. It should also be remembered here, that when anchoring such memories, the point of peak experience is best used in order to draw the richest memory back when desired.

Developing new associational correlations:
The development of new associational "hypnotic anchors" is useful to influence the how, what, and when of experiential association a therapist wishes to evoke.

There are five principles which should always be observed for effective anchoring.
  1. Interpersonal Absorption and Trust: The securing of trust should be implemented before attempting to anchor experiences, and the anchor should also secure the hypnotherapist involvement.
  2. Uniqueness: The "hypnotic anchors" should possess qualities directly linked to the hypnotherapist and not bring up other memories.
  3. Clearing: The client should be experientially absorbed before and during the anchoring process, so that other memories don't intermingle clouding the effect.
  4. Timing: The peak or height of an experience is best used when creating the "hypnotic anchor".

Conscious Bypassing:
This states that the initial cue used to access the memory is best if operated through an out of conscious modality. Simply put, if the client's primary modality for accessing a memory is visual, a kinesthetic or auditory one should be used because it will bypass the conscious control eliminating resistance.

As mentioned, applying an anchor in such a fashion that it is only triggered when desired is the key to successful operations.

The primary purpose of having a combination of a visual and or kinesthetic cue along with a verbal, or auditory signal, is for "safety measures". The combination of cues prevents the possibility of an accidental re-induction. Aside from this safety measure, the combination type cue acts as a compounding of the "hypnotic anchor".

As taught in classes of NLP, when a hypnotic anchor is compounded, it becomes stronger and more effective. This double cue strategy also prevents the possibility of the "hypnotic anchor" being worn out. For example, if an "anchor" is placed or emphasized in a manner or location that gets easily triggered by ones everyday lifestyle, it builds other associations upon itself, reducing and changing its original intent. By situating the "hypnotic anchor" in such a manner that there is the least possible chance of accidental triggering, its effectiveness could last indefinitely.

It was Milton H. Erickson's belief that everyone already has the resources they need to make the changes required to meet their goals.

Anchors are a natural process employed by all living creatures, and are often naturally used to get what one wants, the only thing is, that most people don't realize what they are doing, and/or don't use it for everything consciously, or unconsciously. Take for example the use of tonalities in general conversation. People have tonalities that say "don't bother me right now" and tonalities combined with facial expressions that
indicate something is wrong. We also use postures as anchors on others that say, "hey baby I'm available", or "don't mess with me." So it is easy to notice the naturalness of "hypnotic anchors" in society.

As we are now familiar, words are "hypnotic anchors", and more accurately put, words are "hypnotic anchors" for past learned associations consisting of all of our senses combined (also known as a 4-tuple). The wonderful thing about this knowledge is realizing that a 4-tuple can be accessed through any of the modalities present, and that any of the modalities present or applied to a 4-tuple can be used as an anchor. It can therefore be stated that images, sensations, sounds, smells, and flavors, as well as variations of each can be used as associations to whatever specified meanings these are applied.

Anchors can be used overtly; by asking someone to access a particular memory, and associating that memory with an image, touch, sound, or smell, and anchors can be applied covertly just as easily by creating associations when a person doesn't realize it, such as a hand pressed up against the subjects shoulder during a good laugh.

Covert methods employed could be as casual as a certain motion, deviations in ones tone of voice or its location via spatial markings, and can be as casual as that employed by entertainers when they move about a stage marking out humor in one location, and sadness in another. Many comedians will tell a joke on stage in one location, then come back to the same spot, and give a certain look to the audience re-creating a memory of a joke they told early in a show.

In therapy resources can be built up in clients with the use of anchors. One resource I often use with clients is a power anchor. I have the client remember times when they have felt powerful, and then I stack these memories kinesthetically one on top of the other. Later the client only has to fire off the anchor and he, or she feels wonderful and able to accomplish whatever he or she might have been afraid of.

Another use of "hypnotic anchors" applied in the therapeutic setting is that of anchoring past events for quick recall later. Even the application of an anchor to bring trance about quickly comes in very handy, and is one of which I employ always with clients, both for my own work with them, and also to make their own transition with self-hypnosis practices easier.

Dr. Frank Valente Ph.D (c) - Certified Hypnotherapist
Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming
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