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More than Words Can Say

Spice Up Your Therapy Using Impact Techniques

By Yael Tsvieli Reiss

A story I heard: A client once entered the office of Milton Erickson, the father of hypnotherapy and a world-renowned therapist. He seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Erickson reached for a heavy bowling ball on his desk, and from his wheelchair struggled with the heavy weight. The client offered his help, which was kindly rejected. Eventually, after many efforts, Erickson managed to place the bowling ball on his knees. Erickson took a while to catch his breath, then suddenly threw the ball over to the client. The client, puzzled and surprised, caught the ball, only to discover it was weightless. It was not a ball, but a balloon shaped as a bowling ball. Because sometimes things are lighter than they seem to be...

Impact Techniques use multi-sense effects and props to create profound impact. This concept appears in Milton Erickson's work, and is known to many therapists. Sometimes it's just good to be reminded and get some extra ideas about how to spice up your therapy, training, or any communication actually, including in personal life. It can be playful, enjoyable, and can also be highly effective in conveying messages in an unforgettable way. In this article you can find a few ideas about how to create profound impact, using everyday objects such as a sheet of paper, garbage bag (full of rubbish), chair, banknote, and more.

What happens when we use props in communication? The more senses an experience contains the deeper and more profound it can be, and the more impact it will have on memory. It's simple, and more than words can say. New information can be more easily integrated when containing familiar elements, as opposed to information that is not linked to a person's existing knowledge base. Advertising industries link toilet paper to puppies' softness, birds are linked to freedom, jaguars to speed and power, control and status. Why do they do it? The brain receives and remembers tangible information more easily than abstract information. Use of familiar tangible objects enhances the efficiency of message reception and integration.

Something familiar, with which you can explain something else, is a metaphor. To create a good metaphor, you can use a word, a fable or a story. You can also use an illustration. It adds and puts into action more senses than solely the auditory one. A picture is worth a thousand words. Doing has a greater conviction than words and pictures. Adding more senses to the way you convey a message is a bit like a few people lifting something heavy together, instead of one person by herself. It's much easier to get it from point A to point B, and it also feels much lighter doing so...

And so, the best way to explain Impact Techniques is to give you some examples.
Hold a $100 note. How much is it worth? Now fold and crease as if it was an unwanted piece of paper, toss it on the floor and grind it as if it were a cigarette butt. Then unfold it and straighten the $100 note. How much is it worth now? This can be used as a demonstration for a person that suffers lack of self worth due to abuse.
Another simple and powerful prop is using small children's chairs. There are so many things for which they can be used. Imagine the impact it can have, if, when talking about a childhood memory, the therapist will grab a child's chair from another room and look at it as if someone was actually sitting there. Then ask the client what would she look like sitting there as the child she was, what would she be doing, feeling, what way would she see things, what resources can the client draw from that child she was? etc.

One of my favorite chair-work is using a chair for the resourceful self. I once worked with a therapist that was considering retirement. He had been considering it for several years when I saw him. I asked him to sit his resourceful self in the chair in front of him. And so, in that chair he saw his resourceful self, the one who believed in himself and in peoples' resources, the one who acted based on his resources and not based on his fears only. I invited that self to help this person make a decision about his retirement, in any way suitable for this person, since he obviously knew him best. They had a conversation. Then I asked if there was anything else the resourceful self could do to help this therapist reach his decision. And so they hugged. He really needed that hug, he said. It was moving to watch. The therapist then found it easier to make the decision that felt right for him.

Here's something my father likes doing when he wants to help people understand that talking only to their conscious mind is not utilizing the vast opportunities that are accessible by communicating with their unconscious mind as well (with hypnosis). As we know today, the conscious mind contains only 7+-2 items at a given moment, while the unconscious simultaneously contains all we are, memories, problems, habits, resources, skills ect. The conscious mind is only a torch beam highlighting a tiny piece of what we are, depending on what we choose to focus on at a specific moment. To illustrate that, my father takes a piece of paper, tears a corner and shows it: In this corner is only the words, the logic, the conscious mind. Then he puts it closer to his mouth and asks (a bit louder): What do you say: Can we really expect that by only talking to that part, we will be able to help a 100% of the person (meaning the rest of the sheet) to change?

In her books and workshops about Impact Techniques, Danie Beaulieu brings inspiring examples. One example that left an impact on me is the one with the garbage bag. Let's say a teenager client says his life is garbage. But he won't open up to therapy. The therapist leaves the room, and comes back with the rubbish bag. A full one. Various questions can then be asked: If we leave the bag closed, will the smell go away or increase with time? Then allow some time for the silence to answer. We can keep the same bag for the following week's session, and again put it in the room. It is also possible to discuss the "progress" of the rubbish bag and its contents during that week.

Once I was working with a client that had a bad pattern of being attracted to men that didn't appreciate her, usually married ones. It had to be a single breakthrough session of a few hours, since she lived quite far away. One of the most powerful decisions she made during that short therapy was that she wanted to spend her life in a state of a "queen-of-hearts". "Queen-of-hearts" for her meant she wished for appreciation, love, and to be loved - to be the one and only for the person she loves. I excused myself, left the room, and came back with a pack of cards. I searched for the queen of hearts and gave it to her, to place in her wallet. Every time she opened her wallet since, she was reminded of her decision. A few years later I received an email from her, saying how that short therapy had helped her and accompanied her wherever she chose to go. She specifically wrote about the queen-of-hearts resource anchor in her life.

Like a young child's "blanky" we can also provide our clients with tangible props that will act as resource anchors which they can carry with them once they leave the therapy room, and be reminded of their resources, of all the good things they have in them that they sometimes forget to see or turn on. It can be a good rehearsal of, conditioning of, an anchor for resources.

I hope reading this article gets your ideas going with ways to spice up your communication. For a multitude of impact ideas for various issues and uses, I highly recommend having a look at Danie Beaulieu's books (Impact techniques for therapists/Impact Techniques in the classroom).

Published in the Hypnopatter - The Official Australian Hypnotherapy Association Quarterly e-journal, April 2011, Volume 62, No 2.


Beaulieu, D. (2004). Impact techniques in the classroom. Gomer Press. UK.
Beaulieu, D. (2006). Impact techniques for therapists. Taylor & Francis Group. NY.
My Father, Dr Amnon Tsvieli, M.D., Hypnotherapist, NLP Master Prac, LAB Trainer, EMI Therapist.

© All content and photos by Yael Tsvieli Reiss

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