Inception and hypnotherapy

Steve Park

Have you seen the 2010 film Inception ?
And what does it have to do with hypnotherapy?

From Wikipedia, we can harvest the following crop of reviews: "Inception... succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually..."; "set in the labyrinth of the unconscious mind... [it] challenges viewers to sift through multiple layers of (un)reality... "; "[It is] about fighting our way through enveloping sheets of reality and dream..."; "It's... hypnotizing..."

When you talk about the film, perhaps you too use this kind of language – multiple layers, levels, the unconscious mind, dreams, deeper understanding, real and unreal...

To remind you, the core of the plot is that a team use secret technology to "hack into" peoples' subconscious. Once there, they seek to implant an idea which the "victim" will act upon without realising it has been planted. This planting of the idea is called (in the film) "inception".

If the team just tapped into the most accessible level of a person’s subconscious, knowledge of the incursion would leak through to that person’s conscious mind and they would realise that they were being manipulated. The team therefore seek to implant the idea in a much deeper level of the subconscious. To get there, they must work down through several layers of awareness; and after "inception" they hope to find their way back up through the layers again...

Nested stories

The 'dreams within dreams' of the film are like 'stories within stories'. This is not a new idea – it has been used as a plot device by Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare and countless others. One of the effects of such a structure is to draw you into the story more fully, to support you in suspending disbelief.

In Inception, the team needed to leave someone behind on each level – and this is precisely what happens with your mind when it is drawn into a story within a story – part of your "normal" awareness is left behind with the outer story because you want to make sure it ends "happily ever after", so it is a deeper part of your mind which is drawn into the experience of the "inner story". But what happens to those parts you leave behind?

One of the most famous and effective hypnotherapists of the 20th century was Milton Erickson, whose primary technique was telling stories to his clients. Dozens of books have been written attempting to analyse how his stories were so effective, but much is still left to uncover. One of his tricks was this 'story within a story' structure, which he often used to engage different levels of your awareness. In the NLP world, this technique is called "nested loops" or "nested stories". Erickson, of course, predates NLP – but then Shakespeare predates Erickson; and Homer predates Shakespeare...

Our own ropes of pearls

When a microscopic irritant finds its way into an oyster, the defence mechanism of the oyster might coat it in layer upon layer of material, resulting in a pearl.

Just so do we sometimes deal with irritation. If we are unable (at the time) to process the emotion triggered by the irritation, we might suppress it, but it remains within the subconscious like an unfinished story. Part of our mind stays with it to see it to completion – but for the duration this little seed jostles within our subconscious, continuing to irritate us below the threshold of our conscious awareness. As with the oyster, our own innate defence mechanism might seek to suppress it further by layering it in another layer of emotion. In this way, small, microscopic hurts can find themselves coated in layer upon layer of emotion. When such a 'pearl' of emotions intrudes upon our conscious awareness, we most likely only see the outer layer – we might notice that we always become angry in a certain situation, or sad, or frightened; or we may have developed an unwanted habit or behaviour – but when the layers are uncovered, it may turn out that the root cause is actually feeling out of control, or feeling insecure, or disconnected.

Each 'pearl', each case, is different. In a session of hypnotherapy with Steve, usually you will undergo some hypnoanalysis to journey down into these layers and find the heart of your own issue(s). You can see for yourself, the great benefit of hypnotherapy is that in a hypnotic state, the various levels of the mind are more accessible, and more open to influence and change – it is therefore easier to find the deepest layer of an issue. Importantly, it is also easier to change any unwanted patterns while in a hypnotic state – because of course you’re not just looking to find the root cause, but to remove that deep irritation! You naturally want to feel that "a dark cloud has lifted", as one of Steve’s clients described the experience.


If you think of pearls, you probably think of their value. They are valued for their beauty, for their satin-like lustre and shimmering colours.

Just so can we ultimately perceive our own inner 'pearls', once they have transitioned from internal irritant to a completed experience. With completion comes distance and objectivity. We can now see the complex pattern of emotions that part of us once wore as a beautiful array of shimmering colours, which our greater Self painted to distract and protect our little self; the colours or emotions are no longer sharp and cutting like a gemstone, but soft, rounded, pearlescent...

Perhaps, to the inner eye, our greater Self is adorned with spectacular strings of pearls reflecting all our completed experiences, our completed stories. And all the stories we have not yet completed will one day be added to those strings. The more oppressive our little dramas, the bigger and more spectacular and special the pearl at the end of it! If we keep that in mind, then even in the midst of our struggles we can imagine the glorious outcome at the completion of the story.

Maybe this is what Erickson meant when he said "Life will bring you pain all by itself. Your responsibility is to create joy"; or Shakespeare when he wrote "The liquid drops of tears that you have shed shall come again, transform'd to orient pearl".

That little part of our mind which stayed apart to watch over the 'irritant' until its liberation, now rejoins our greater mind. Becoming whole again is the mark of true healing. In the parlance of Inception, a part of us which had been left in "limbo", is now rescued from the unreal dreamworld... The spinning top can once more stop spinning and find peace.

Speaking of parlance, in hypnotherapy we use the term "suggestion" where the film uses "inception". To give a hypnotic (or post-hypnotic) "suggestion" is to reinforce an idea (within your subconscious mind) such that it subtly prompts you to connect with it more and more beyond the session. The key difference, of course, is that we are reinforcing your own idea for the purpose of your greater health, rather than implanting an idea for our own benefit. You're coming to us looking for that result, and all the power remains with you. Also, unlike the team in Inception, we do not use sedatives – Steve would say that we’re rather seeking to waken you from your unreal dreams... Let’s leave the final word to DiCaprio’s character in the film: "Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange".

Steve Park Hypnotherapy

07796 698 718