Psychotherapy and Counseling in New York City

Susan Dowell, LCSW

Transforming Possibilities

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Transforming Possibilities

Susan Dowell, LCSW

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Lost and Found
Susan Dowell, LCSW

Whether it is a treasured object, valuable papers, keys or glasses, losing that important something can be very distressing. Recall does not always come easily, even with suggestion. As clinicians we know that one size does NOT fit all, and there are often unique factors to take into account as we design hypnotic exploration and interventions to help our patients.

Below are some clinical examples that illustrate both the importance of taking certain questions into account, and some hypnotic approaches for identifying and dealing with it.

  1. For some people all that is required is a simple regression to the last time s/he saw the missing object, with a suggestion that the memory for the placement of the object will then become clearer. I have found that in using this method, recall can often be enhanced by adding a sensory dimension to the experience. For example: what did it feel like in your hand, look like, smell like etc. This type of question enhances access to our non verbal memory system.

    Because memory is often embedded in time and space as well, it also helps to locate that last recall with such questions as “Who were you with when you last had the object?” or “What were you doing when you had it?” or “What time of day was it?”

  2. When there is a highly emotionally charged experience occurring at the time the object was lost, the memory for the location of the lost object can be encoded in that emotional state of high arousal. In hypnosis we can re-amplify the emotions of such a past event in order to help access the memories encoded in that emotional state. This very often can help the person remember the location of the lost object.

    June was very much involved in the planning of her best friend’s wedding and had compiled a special book of amusing photographs to give to her at the Bridesmaid’s party, the afternoon before the wedding. Two days before this party she received a phone call informing her that her brother, who was away at college, had been in a serious car accident. Her parents were out of town and June had to take charge of the details around the accident and make sure her brother received the proper medical care.

    June had been working on the finishing touches of the picture book at the time of the call. She stopped everything to handle all the necessary arrangement for her brother and to reach her parents.

    When she found out that her brother was going to be alright, she attempted to turn her attention back to the book of pictures but could not find it. She knew she had put it away for safe keeping but had no recall as to where that could be. After frantic searching, she called me in a state of panic asking for an appointment that day.

    My hypothesis was that the memory of where she put her book, was encoded in the highly aroused emotional state she experienced, when she heard about her brother’s accident. I, therefore, put her into hypnosis and had her bring back up the feeling of distress she’d experienced at the time of the phone call.

    I suggested that as she remained in this charged state, her unconscious mind would review all the occurrences of that afternoon unwinding backwards, and that there would a freeze frame just at the moment when she put the picture book away. She quickly remembered that she had brought the book upstairs with her, when she went to her father’s study, where her parents had left the itinerary for their trip.

  3. Ideomotor signaling can be used to quickly and easily explore the emotional meaning of the lost ob- ject:

    Beatrice, a patient of mine, came in distraught because she had lost a treasured bracelet of her mother’s, while packing up her mother’s things for a move to an assisted living residence.

    We began by using ideomotor signaling to explore whether the emotional meaning of this object was impacting the loss. Beatrice brought up an early childhood memory of secretly playing with the same bracelet and being severely punished for it. She began remembering how hurt, misunderstood and angry she felt and how she had never discussed it with her mother. After she reconnected to those angry and hurt feelings, we did some brief hypnotic repair work, where she could promise her younger self that she would tell her mother in the present, how she felt and she did that, the same afternoon. By the next day, she was able to recall where she had put the bracelet.

  4. Hypnoprojectives are also helpful in exploring the emotional meaning of the object and accessing valuable information that may help conscious awareness:

    Andrew, a talented 25 year old graphic designer, grew up in a very critical household, and had internalized the negative voice of his parents. This had been the key motivating factor for his coming to therapy. Andrew had just moved out of his family home and into an apartment of his own. In the process of doing this, he misplaced some important papers needed in order to apply for a much coveted job.

    In this case, I used a hypnoprojective to identify and clarify the emotional issues impacting on this experience and enable Andrew to remember where he put the papers.

    After putting Andrew into trance, I invited him to visualize a special meeting room where there would be a support group gathering to discuss a topic of special interest to him. I told him that the meeting was going to be for young people who had moved out of their family home and misplaced something important to them in the process of doing this and I asked him to see the members as they gathered in the room. I suggested that while he listened to the participants talk, he would hear some important ideas or information that would be helpful to him.

    Andrew abruptly snapped to attention a few minutes into the experience declaring “I remember where I put it.” He then explained that he had heard one young woman in the group saying that she hated an expression her father often used when she made an independent choice, “Don’t think you have your future in the bag. You have to really sweat for it.” This was, Andrew reported, exactly what his father frequently said to him. He explained that as he heard the girl say this, he suddenly remembered that he had put many important papers into an old duffle bag he left behind to store in his parent’s house.

  5. Since resources, skills, and abilities are often embodied in certain Ego States, these Ego States can be utilized to assist a patient in problem solving. An Ego State with particular skills can be engaged as a resource in hypnosis to help in the search for the lost object:

    Fred, was a retired police detective, who came to me for assistance because he had misplaced several cartons of cherished family photos while his wife and he were getting the house ready to be painted. He had searched for weeks unsuccessfully and was quite distressed when he came in.

    I was particularly interested in his role as a detective and asked him lots of questions about it in our first interview. I thought that the ego state connected to this role might be a good resource for him. He was very proud of his work and of his ability to identify hidden clues when he was in a detective.

    In hypnosis, I asked him to bring up a scene from his past when as a detective, he had successfully put clues together to solve a difficult case and then to reverse roles with that part of himself, just for a moment, so that he could reconnect to the bodily feeling of being in this “Detective” ego state.

    After returning to his ordinary state, I invited him to ask the Detective part of himself for assistance with his problem, and to go inside and listen to the questions the Detective asked and the clues he looked for. Then I told Fred in hypnosis, to slowly walk with the Detective, through each room of his home, and listen attentively to the guidance he was giving him.

    Fred was silent briefly and then became very animated, emphatically pounding his fist on my table, saying “Oh boy, how could I forget.” He announced that he remembered putting the cartons of pictures in an old family trunk in the attic and that he had chosen this place, because it had a special connection for him because it was where his father had stored family pictures. He said the memory came back to him as he heard the Detective ask him “Now where could all those boxes fit?”

  6. We are all familiar in hypnosis with the phenomenon of a negative hallucination. Often an object is right in front of us, and we don’t see it. Using a Distraction Technique can be very helpful in these contexts:

    I often have negative hallucinations when I am looking for my keys or cell phone. But usually I can focus myself, and lo and behold they materialize exactly where I had left them. Once in a while that does not work.

    On one particular occasion last year, I was getting ready to leave my office for a lunch and errand break. I went to pick up my keys from the usual place on my end table and they were not there. Frustrated, I did a quick scouring of my table, desk and book shelf- No visible keys.

    I sat down in my chair and did a rapid self-hypnosis induction giving myself the direct suggestion that I would find my keys. I knew perfectly well that direct self-suggestions do not work for me. But I was impatient and I did it anyway and then sat there waiting for an immediate revelation, which of course never came.

    Finally I came to my senses. I took more time to go into trance and then used a distraction technique, and told myself I would get so involved in something else that I would forget about my keys and do something that would unconsciously take me to the location of my keys.

    I came out of trance. Waited a few minutes, again expecting a revelation. Fat chance! Finally I got so frustrated I decided to take a book and go out to lunch anyway without locking my door. Of course that brought me over to the bookshelf (where, by the way, I had looked before). There was the book I was reading and guess what was laying next to it?
One of the most exciting and delightful things about hypnosis is that we have available to us, a conceptual framework and a wide array of tools that are very versatile and adaptable. But it is pivotal to begin by identifying the unique aspects of each problem and to use that as the guide for choosing the right intervention.

In this article, I have attempted to illustrate this point through a brief examination of some of the varied hypnotic approaches possible in working with the “simple” problem of losing an important object, and to show how these interventions can be effectively designed by taking accounting of the unique aspects of each problem.

The following books may also be of interest.


Brown, D.P & Fromm, Erika (1986). Hypnotherapy and Hypnoanalysis. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erbaum & Associates.

Rossi, E.L. and Cheek, D.B. (1988). Mind Body Therapy, Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis. New York, NY. W.W.Norton & Company.

Ewin, D.M., Eimer, B.N. (2006). Ideomotor Signals for Rapid Hypnoanalysis: A How-to Manual, Springfield, IL. Charles C. Thomas Publisher LTD.