Hypnosis and Immanuel Prayer

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Immanuel prayer shares several key features of hypnosis, and its facilitators could benefit from understanding hypnosis and incorporating some of its techniques. This article is a rough sketch of the issue to interest people who might want to look into it further.

What is hypnosis?

For my analysis of hypnosis I'm drawing mainly from Michael Yapko's textbook for psychotherapists, Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis, Fourth Edition. He has produced a condensed version of Trancework for a general audience called Essentials of Hypnosis.

Yapko describes hypnosis this way:

Here is my own admittedly imperfect definition of hypnosis: It is a focused experience of attentional absorption that invites people to respond experientially on multiple levels to amplify and utilize their personal resources in a goal-directed fashion. Employed in the clinical context, hypnosis involves paying greater attention to the essential skills of using words and gestures in particular ways to achieve specific therapeutic outcomes, acknowledging and utilizing the many complex personal, interpersonal, and contextual factors that combine in varying degrees to influence client responsiveness.[1]

Much of Trancework is spent expanding on this description. You'll find some of the details in the rest of this article.

Like Yapko's book, this article will focus on Ericksonian hypnosis, also called naturalistic or utilization hypnosis, developed by psychiatrist Milton Erickson. In contrast with the ritualistic methods of traditional approaches that involve reading standard scripts to induce hypnosis, Ericksonian hypnosis emphasizes an interactive approach that is guided by and makes use of the client's needs and responses.[2]

The following websites offer more resources on hypnosis:[3]

What is Immanuel prayer?

Compared to hypnosis, Immanuel prayer is a very new approach. It was developed in the mid-2000s by psychiatrist Karl Lehman, who was influenced by EMDR, Theophostic Prayer Ministry, traditional emotional healing prayer ministries, and a Christian model of human development called the Life Model, developed by psychologist Jim Wilder and others at the Shepherd's House ministry.[4][5] One of the Life Model's selling points is that it incorporates neuropsychology research from Alan Schore and Daniel Siegel, among others.[6]

Here's my definition of Immanuel prayer: It is a form of conversational prayer in which a recipient, normally guided by a facilitator, is led into a relational connection with God in which issues are resolved that are hindering a deeper and more continuous connection with him. These issues especially include unresolved painful experiences and false beliefs that cause distress. A major subgoal of Immanuel is to increase the recipient's capacity for handling emotional pain.

For demonstration videos and other information, see the Immanuel Approach website and Alive and Well's blog and Vimeo albums.

Immanuel and hypnosis use different terms for the roles played in a session. Hypnosis, at least in a clinical context, uses the terms therapist or clinician and client, while Immanuel uses the terms facilitator and recipient. Since Immanuel prayer ministers are the main audience for this article, I'll use the Immanuel terms when talking about hypnosis and Immanuel together.


  1. Both involve a state of absorption and dissociation. Absorption is sustained, focused attention. It seems to be a core component of hypnosis. Dissociation is a type of inattention. Since you can only really pay attention to one thing at a time, absorption brings dissociation with it.[7] In hypnosis the client focuses on things like the hypnotist's suggestions, a visible object (during the induction), or their own internal events (thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations). In Immanuel the recipient focuses on the facilitator's questions and their own internal events. They tend to dissociate from an awareness of other people in the room. Their level of focus can mean that after the session it takes them a few minutes to speed up to a normal level of alertness.
  2. In both the state of absorption tends to be internally directed.[8] It focuses on the recipient's thoughts, emotions, and sensations rather than on the environment around them.
  3. Both involve suggestion. In a general sense, everything the facilitator asks the recipient to do is a suggestion. This includes recommending that they close their eyes and asking them what they're noticing. Suggestions come in a range of styles: direct and indirect, authoritarian and permissive, positive and negative, content and process.[9] A key feature of hypnosis is that the client becomes very suggestible during a session. This means that some suggestions elicit an involuntary response from the client, such as lifting the arm without thinking about it when the therapist suggests the arm is getting lighter.[10] In a broader sense, the facilitator's words, actions, and mere presence can influence the recipient even unintentionally.[11] This is why, for example, the facilitator has to word questions carefully so they don't lead the recipient's answers or evoke an analytical rather than emotional response. Similarly, the facilitator has to watch for signs that the recipient is giving the "right" answers to gain the facilitator's approval.
  4. Both pay attention to the relationship between the recipient and the facilitator. The session goes best when the recipient trusts the facilitator and expects good results.[12] For Immanuel prayer a positive relationship is part of the method, since a caring relational connection is seen as the catalyst for change.
  5. Both types of session follow a similar outline. Generally the session proceeds through these steps (see the next section for differences):
    1. Introduce the session. (Educate the recipient, build rapport, etc.)
    2. Induce the target state (hypnosis or relational connection with God).
    3. Address the presenting issues.
    4. Close the session.[13]
  6. In hypnosis terms, the Immanuel induction amounts to a process form of the relaxed-scene experience using age regression.[14] Process suggestions are the counterpart to content suggestions. Content suggestions involve giving the recipient specific content to visualize or think about, whereas process suggestions only give the recipient a general category and let the recipient fill in the details.[15] There are two types of age regression. Revivification guides the recipient to reenter a memory as if it were a present experience. Hypermnesia simply guides the recipient to imagine the memory vividly.[16] Immanuel uses hypermnesia, the less extreme form of age regression.
  7. Both make use of a broad range of feedback from the recipient.[17] This includes the recipient's words, tone of voice, and body language, along with different types of messages. The recipient's messages may include resistance and other negative reactions to the process,[18] though the methods and the targets of resistance differ between Immanuel and hypnosis. See the next section for details.
  8. Both can involve similar patterns of clinical intervention, such as reframing, though in Immanuel major features of these techniques arise spontaneously.[19] See the next section.
  9. Both make use of inner conflicts to process issues. In Immanuel this takes the form of observing what happens when the recipient moves back and forth between a painful memory and a joyful memory or when they invite Jesus to be with them as a loving presence in the painful memory. In hypnosis this sometimes happens in the context of "trance logic," the way in which people under hypnosis can accept and act on suggestions that don't make sense, such as seeing a person as both visible and invisible. Trance logic can enable more creativity in a session and intensify therapeutic experiences, such as interacting with parents as if they were present.[20] The logical conflicts themselves can even spark insight.[21]
  10. Both encourage echoing of the recipient's feedback. Using the recipient's words lets the facilitator avoid giving inaccurate interpretations so the session can stay on track with what's actually happening, and it fosters the recipient's trust.[22]
  11. Both can use silence to deepen the recipient's experience. Silence gives the recipient time to experience and process whatever's happening inside them, though in hypnosis this may simply be to deepen a feeling of relaxation.[23]
  12. Both allow for recipient-oriented closure and follow-up. This lets the recipient finish their internal processing without feeling rushed.[24]


  1. Absorption and suggestion are thought of as central features of hypnosis, whereas in Immanuel they are almost incidental, if they're acknowledged at all. Immanuel does recommend that the recipient close their eyes in order to focus, but the goal is simply to achieve connection with God without disruptive distractions. In hypnosis the goal of absorption is to increase suggestibility and enable the full range of hypnotic phenomena.
  2. Hypnosis doesn't normally view the client's relationship with God as a central part of the process. That is, it doesn't see the client's problems as necessarily related to God, and it doesn't see God as necessarily part of the solution.
  3. Immanuel involves a metanarrative, the Christian story of creation and redemption. Hypnosis leaves the question of metanarrative open.
  4. Hypnosis and Immanuel are applied to overlapping but different sets of issues. Immanuel is applied to emotional and spiritual problems. Hypnosis is applied to emotional problems and certain medical needs. For example, it can replace anesthesia in surgery and speed the healing of wounds.[25]
  5. Some of Immanuel's primary goals are more specific than those of hypnosis. Although Immanuel shares the open-ended goal of dealing with whatever is troubling the recipient, it adds the more specific goals of enabling a more continuous connection to God and increasing the recipient's capacity to handle pain.
  6. In hypnosis the induction techniques often simply lead into the hypnotic state, which enhances the outcomes of whatever therapeutic methods the facilitator uses during the session. In Immanuel the induction techniques play a therapeutic role. Entering a connection with God both sets the stage for the session and enables healing to take place.
  7. Immanuel inductions tend to be less verbose, since they rely more on the recipient's own internal processing.
  8. Immanuel doesn't use confusion techniques for induction, though the recipient's internal conflicts do play a role in resolving issues. The purpose of confusion in hypnosis is to create a state of focus by diverting the client's attention to the confusing messages so the client is dissociated from everything else.[26]
  9. Immanuel doesn't purposefully seek to establish a response set. In hypnosis this typically happens right after the induction. A response set is a series of statements or questions that the client naturally agrees with that puts them in the frame of mind to respond positively to the facilitator's later suggestions. This is sometimes needed because a client may be open to following advanced suggestions but may not able to follow them right at the beginning, and a response set eases them into this level of suggestibility.[27]
  10. Immanuel makes little use of specific hypnotic phenomena. In particular it doesn't make purposeful use of age progression, amnesia, analgesia/anesthesia, catalepsy, dissociation, hallucinations, ideodynamic responses, sensory alterations, or time distortion.[28] It also doesn't purposefully make use of the heightened suggestibility a client displays under hypnosis.
  11. In Immanuel, the recipient's resistance is typically an inability to connect with God or an unwillingness to hear from him. In hypnosis, resistance is an inability or reluctance to be hypnotized or an unwillingness to follow the hypnotist's therapeutic suggestions.
  12. Immanuel restricts the facilitator's input on the recipient's issues. In hypnosis terms, Immanuel suggestions are all process oriented rather than content oriented. Hypnosis makes room for process suggestions and leaves the question open how much interpreting of the recipient's issues the facilitator should do[29], but Immanuel recommends leaving most of the processing to the recipient.
  13. Immanuel involves a particular theory of emotional healing--the pain processing pathway, the role of relationships, etc. Hypnosis allows for a range of therapeutic perspectives. It's more of a container for therapies than a specific therapy itself.[30]
  14. In hypnosis the therapist decides the methods for reaching the client's therapeutic goals.[31] In Immanuel, the specific methods arise spontaneously as God addresses the recipient's issues.
  15. Immanuel sees the key, transformative insights or mental experiences as being delivered directly from God. A hypnotist might attribute them to the client's subconscious, if they arise spontaneously rather than being suggested by the hypnotist.
  16. Immanuel doesn't have a specific analogue to the posthypnotic suggestion. In hypnosis this typically happens just before closing the session. Posthypnotic suggestions are suggestions made during the session for thoughts, feelings, and actions that the client should have sometime after the session. They help the client carry the results of the session into the rest of life.[32]

Potential contributions of hypnosis to Immanuel prayer

  1. Immanuel practitioners could benefit from looking into the aspects of hypnosis theory and technique the two approaches have in common, such as the pervasive role of suggestion, age regression strategies, and environmental factors affecting the session.[33]
  2. Immanuel could incorporate other hypnosis induction techniques, such as the "as-if" method or the use of metaphors for easing clients through resistance.[34] Since the target state in Immanuel is somewhat different (connection with God rather than simply a state of focus), hypnotic techniques would need to be adapted for the purpose of connection rather than borrowed as-is.
  3. Immanuel facilitators could use a knowledge of hypnotic techniques and of approaches to various client symptoms as a guide for asking Immanuel questions.[35]
  4. Immanuel could pay greater attention to the role of nonverbal communication.[36]
  5. Immanuel could benefit from the research on hypnosis with children at different stages of development.[37]
  6. Immanuel could adopt the role of being an aid to other forms of therapy by separating itself from particular theories of development and healing. That is, there might be other theories of emotion, pain processing, and so on that a facilitator could use to guide their questions within an Immanuel session. The purpose would be to give the facilitator even more flexibility, especially if they find themselves agreeing with another theoretical perspective, and possibly fit the facilitating even more closely to a particular recipient's needs.
  7. Immanuel could consider what aspects of hypnosis might be happening implicitly in an Immanuel session and think through what to do with those.


Based on my examination, I would characterize Immanuel as an approach to emotional healing that uses techniques that result in a light hypnosis, which may facilitate the session's results. To put it in more spiritual terms, in Immanuel prayer God may use the brain's hypnotic mechanisms to enable healing, the way he uses the brain's capacity for language, bodily sensations, and relationships. If this is the case, Immanuel practitioners could benefit from thoughtfully integrating the findings of hypnosis researchers for guiding recipients into a focused attention on their own internal state and on the Lord's communications.


  1. Yapko 2012, 7
  2. Yapko 2012, 52-53
  3. Yapko 2012, 543
  4. Lehman 2007, 1-9
  5. Coursey 2013
  6. Wilder 2015
  7. Yapko 2012, 41-42, 65, 68-70, 95, 168, 184-185, 302-303
  8. Yapko 2012, 328
  9. Yapko 2012, 257-277
  10. Yapko 2012, 34
  11. Yapko 2012, 17, 143-144, 517
  12. Yapko 2012, 9, 16, 71-74
  13. Yapko 2012, 302
  14. Yapko 2012, 308-310
  15. Yapko 2012, 267-270
  16. Yapko 2012, 345-353
  17. Yapko 2012, 287
  18. Yapko 2012, 463-474
  19. Yapko 2012, 415-426
  20. Yapko 2012, 57, 185-186, 364
  21. Yapko 2011, 141-142
  22. Yapko 2012, 280, 284-285
  23. Yapko 2012, 316-317
  24. Yapko 2012, 406-408
  25. Yapko 2012, 136, 497-498
  26. Yapko 2012, 336-340
  27. Yapko 2012, 296-297, 397-398, 402
  28. Yapko 2012, 343-387
  29. Yapko 2012, 96
  30. Yapko 2012, 10-12, 42-43, 411
  31. Yapko 2012, 392-393
  32. Yapko 2012, 272-273, 405-406
  33. Yapko 2012, 197-202
  34. Yapko 2012, 312-314, 330-334, 440-442
  35. Yapko 2012, 411-462, 495-513
  36. Yapko 2012, 293-294, 322, 368
  37. Yapko 2012, 475-494


Coursey, Chris. 2013. Joy to the world–The dream–Part II. Joy Starters. http://www.joystarters.com/2013/12/30/joy-to-the-world-the-dream-part-ii/.

Lehman, K. D. 2007. Brain science, emotional trauma, & the God who is with us: Part I: A psychiatrist’s journey – A brief introduction to the Immanuel Approach. KCLehman.com. http://www.kclehman.com/download.php?doc=132.

Wilder, Jim. 2015. How the 1990s changed everything we know about the brain. Life Model Works. https://www.joystartshere.com/1990s-changed-everything-know-brain/.

Yapko, Michael D. 2011. Mindfulness and hypnosis: The power of suggestion to transform experience. New York: Norton.

Yapko, Michael D. 2012. Trancework: An introduction to the practice of clinical hypnosis, 4th ed. New York: Routledge.

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