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Understanding Advanced Hypnotic Language Patterns: A Comprehensive Guide

By John Burton, Ed.D.
Crown House Publishing Limited, Wales, U.K.

Copyright 2006

Reviewed by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. L.P.C.

According to Dr. John Burton, hypnotic language involves “structuring sentences in such a way as to invite the reader or listener into a trance state.” In Understanding Advanced Hypnotic Language Patterns, Burton’s sentences do much more than simply inducing trance. He teaches his readers and listeners to expand their thinking and to consider alternatives to limited perceptions and beliefs, and new possibilities for alleviating problematic emotions and behaviors.

In this book, Burton classifies hypnotic language into three general forms: cognitive, metaphorical, and introducing a resource state. He also posits four tiers of human information processing:

Perceiving with the senses.
Organizing information to create meaning, patterns, and frames.
Making personal meanings and applying to self.
Generating emotional states and personal beliefs.

He states that hypnotic language restructures these four processes as a “way of undoing and re-creating the meaning-making process, ending up with more effective life choices.” Burton draws from theories of learning psychology, gestalt psychology and cognitive psychology to support his point.

Learning psychology tells us that we consistently strive to make sense of experience. Cognition emerges from awareness. As information enters our senses, we categorize, delete distort and generalize that information. We communicate our perceptions and cognitions in words. Awareness exists as a continuum, ranging from a single element to the whole. Our emotional states determine “noticed response options.” Fear narrows the scope of awareness, and limits choices. With expanded awareness, we perceive a wider ranges of choices for emotions, thinking, and behavior. With such flexibility, we perceive and consider additional possibilities for accomplishing outcomes. The purpose of hypnotherapy is to help clients see this wider range of choices.

Gestalt psychology tells us that our brains continuously organize information into meanings and patterns to make all parts of that information into “a meaningful whole.” We organize, make associations, and assign meanings based on the elements that form the gestalt: proximity, figure, ground, similarity, closure, simplicity, dissonance reduction, and continuation. Burton suggests that hypnotic language patterns can use these same elements as leverage points to help people change limiting meanings, associations, and beliefs.

Burton also posits that adults often revert to the cognitive styles of childhood. Limiting beliefs and ineffective strategies develop in childhood, when flawed perceptions create “problem states” that carry into adolescence and adulthood. Hypnotic language patterns revisit these flawed cognitive/perceptual styles of childhood, returning to the “scene of the crime” so to speak. However, this purposeful revisiting is intended to reshape the problem state into a solution state. Drawing from Piaget’s learning theory, Burton tells his readers that these cognitive styles include:

Either-or thinking (thinking in terms or all or nothing)
Irreversibility (inability to perceive events as they existed before trauma)
Over-generalizing (generalizing a conclusion from one situation to other situations)
Egocentrism (exclusive focus on self, to the exclusion of other points of view)
Transductive logic (assuming cause-effect between events occurring closely in time)
Centration (focusing on only one element of the whole)
Inductive logic (generalizing a conclusion from a single event)
Animism (giving inanimate objects human-like qualities)

Burton shows how hypnotic language can employ verbal tactics such as sleight of mouth patterns, double binds, confusion, and challenging questions to loosen up rigid and limiting ways of thinking. To illustrate his approach, he presents case studies and accompanying transcripts of hypnotherapy sessions. He demonstrates hypnotic language that have the potential to alter emotional states, perceptions, time orientation, and behavior. The transcripts are charming and appealing, with metaphors based on common experiences such as driving a car, gardening, playing games, sitting in a classroom, fishing, travel, and telling time. The metaphors employ symbols and analogies for human change and problem solving: crossing bridge, tending a garden, carrying an umbrella in case of rain, and shining a flashlight in darkness.

The case studies cover a wide range of emotional, perceptual, behavioral, and time-orientation problems---the problems that psychotherapists treat daily. The presenting problems include anxiety, stress, recovery from childhood abuse, post-traumatic stress, grief, coping with illness, limiting beliefs, problems with planning and motivation, unwanted habits, weight control, smoking and alcoholism.

Understanding Advanced Hypnotic Language Patterns provides a nice sequel to Burton’s earlier work, Hypnotic Language (with Bob Bodenhamer, Crown House 2000), which explores the methods by which language induces trance and stimulates new thinking. Burton expands our understanding of the cognitive underpinnings that make Ericksonian hypnotherapy effective. His appendix on the Milton Model makes for worthwhile reading. The Milton Model is an explanation of the language patterns used by Milton Erickson. It purposely uses double meanings, cause-effect statements, presuppositions, abstractions and ambiguities (deletions, distortions and generalizations) to cause the receiver to engage in transderivational search—an inward search to “make sense out of it”---an opportunity to reconfigure one’s internal “map.” Burton makes masterful use of the Milton Model throughout his text.

John Burton is a graduate school instructor and Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Greenville, South Carolina. He holds a doctorate from Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tennessee.


Advanced Hypnotic Language Patterns is an opportunity to travel into the genius mind of John Burton where words wield a gentle, trance-inducing power and impart life-changing possibilities.

To purchase Advance Hypnotic Language Patterns, go online and visit (for readers in the U.K. and Europe) or (for readers in the U.S. and Canada).