Changework for Friends – Conflicts of Interest

A couple of days ago I received an email from a  Hypnosis Without Trance Home Study student who has been playing with hypnosis for 2 years and is just starting to get into changework.

Now, I know from the many correspondences I receive and conversations that I have that most people, when they first start out in changework, initially get their first ‘cases’ via their immediate social circle, and this makes sense because people you are close to are going to be the first to know about your developing skills and interest. Whilst it is great to have skills with which you may be able to help your friends and highly rewarding to be able to do so, sometimes it can throw up some unique ‘diplomatic’ considerations that need to be taken in addition to standard the considerations one may take in evaluating a changework case where there is no personal connection.

This particular case highlights this – I have re-written the message for brevity and confidentiality:

A girlfriend of a friend of mine has asked me for some changework help.

Together they are a really nice and good couple, they don’t fight too much and they really love each other, but recently she has told me that she has realised that she’s having problems with swinging moods. She has noticed that over the past 5 or 6 months she has been getting angry and annoyed for the most small and minimal mistakes my friend makes, which is something that never used to happen.

She has already been to see her family doctor, but nothing her doctor told her to do (vitamins and minerals etc.) has worked, so now she has asked me for help. Her formal request is for me to help her feel happy and safe whenever she’s with her boyfriend (my friend).

So I’d like to ask you:

How would you approach this?
Where would you start at?

The first thing I’d do is to let her know that I’m treating this with the needed seriousness, and that she can trust me, so I’ll do some introduction work to let her know how working with an hypnotist is.

Then I’ll proceed to see if there are some grudge, some hidden resentment that she don’t know or that she doesn’t realize being important.

If nothing comes out, I’d like to change her behaviour longterm, making her feel happy and safe when she’s with him, in any kind of situation.

Am I doing this wrong? What would you change?

Now, in replying to this I have only the briefest, ‘second hand’ case history to go on, so I am limited in the advice I can offer, but in reading the email there was one very clear ‘red flag’ that popped up for me – the issue of conflict of interest. My reply:

Theoretically, from the perspective of doing a thorough and ecological piece of changework, it sounds like you are moving along the right lines with looking for a “grudge or resentment”. The feelings she has will not be coming from nowhere, so, if you can uncover what they are ‘about’ (i.e. the meanings and connections that have been made ‘under the surface’ that are generating the ‘problem responses’) you will be in a good position to help her generate a solution. However…

This is not a regular changework situation: Be aware that whatever is uncovered may lead to something unexpected, like her deciding to leave her boyfriend (your friend!).

And I’m guessing that such an outcome might create a difficult situation for you with your friend! The issue here is one of conflict of interest – working in the girls best interests is not necessarily going to align with working in your friends best interests. With that in mind, you may prefer to take an option to play it safe.

A safer option might be to elicit everything about falling in love with your friend in the first place and amplify it, along with suggestions abut love finding it’s way around difficulties etc. Also ‘psychoactively’ eliciting and developing the outcome vividly and positively (I would use Clean Language for this). This kind of work is nice, simple and ‘feel good’ and totally aligns with the clients consciously expressed desired outcome…. but may well not be the most ‘ecological’ approach; serving only to bury the issue for a time without actually resolving the underlying tensions (although there is, of course, a chance they will resolve themselves).

So, to reiterate, the big issue here in my view is the potential conflict of interest – her interests, your interests, your friends interests and the interests of the various relationships (mainly those of you/your friend and your friend/his girlfriend) – this would be the thing I would most advise you to be aware of! Personally speaking, I would NOT take this case as I would feel I could not work congruently for both the best interests of my client and the best interests of my friend (and our friendship) at the same time.

If I did decide to take it on, I would go for the easy, outcome orientated feel-good approach and leave the underlying material alone.  HOWEVER I would be reluctant to frame this with the client as a serious piece of changework, and would more likely keep it informal, saying something like:

“well, lets have a little play around with this and see what kind of differences we can make”

That way, you are not committing to doing a ‘full job with only half the tools’ so to speak.

Hope that helps!


In doing changework, it is always important to consider the context. To do your best work, you need to be free to act in accordance with the best interests of the client in making lasting, ecological change. Personal situations are not the only context that can be problematic (regular clients often attempt to manipulate context by bringing certain frames to bear on the changework relationship, and this needs to be watched for), but I have found that when there is a personal connection, there is almost always extra considerations that have to be taken in doing the work.

The message is: personal and changework relationships do not always align well… so, be aware of this when working with friends and family!

This doesn’t mean not doing the work, only being aware and making good quality choices based upon that awareness!

Let your awareness help you in helping those around you!

Have a fantastic week!


P.S. If you are interested in HWT as it applies to Changework, please do check out Changework Applications!

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About The Author

James Tripp

Hypnotist and Transformative Facilitator. Creator of Hypnosis Without Trance.


  • mic

    October 15, 2012

    He could blindly remove all negativity from past memories still keeping the lesson and promote happiness and the love she first felt for her boyfriend.

    • admin

      October 15, 2012

      For sure Mic… providing, of course, the ‘lessons’ are not in conflict with the love she first felt for her boyfriend.

      And assuming that the ‘negativity’ isn’t a key part of the structure of the lessons. Meaning, a lesson is only a lesson if it leads to difference. The ‘negativity may be a key aspect of that difference (a motivator). Take it away, and the difference may not function as intended, thus de-potentiating the ‘lesson’.

      This is the problem with NOT exploring the underlying structure – you never know what’s going on so you have to just apply surface level interventions and hope!


  • Philippe

    October 15, 2012

    Hi James

    What you say makes a lot of sense. Personally, I already did some changework with friends, and I’ve already discovered that it can be both difficult and potentially dangerous, not to mention that it’s difficult to ask for an adequate compensation!

  • Jim Macy

    October 15, 2012

    Your comments are spot on. I agree that to do a whole job with only the basic and limited tools is work for the foolhardy.
    One of the great advantages to doing any kind of meaningful change-work with an experienced hypnotist or NLP practitioner is that usually the more experienced have more tools and options. The ability to shift from one tool to another, to avert abreactions, to reach positive closure is somewhat dependent upon experience and familiarity will all the tools available.
    Thank you James

  • I couldn’t agree more with this post. When I first started studying hypnotherapy I used family and friends to practise on but the more I learned the less inclined I was to get involved in any way in friend’s and family members personal and private life.
    If I get asked to help by people I am close to I now tell them they should really see someone unfamiliar with them for the best chance of success.
    It seems harsh to them until I explain in a little detail, then they get it that I am looking out for them.

  • Paul

    October 15, 2012

    Even if I did have the credentials, I wouldn’t touch this one with a barge pole.

  • Laura

    October 15, 2012

    James, I appreciate you taking the time to point out conflict of interest when we are doing change work on friends and friends of friends. Does she think she might have PMS? If so, although hypnosis can help, it isn’t likely to completely alleviate the mood swings. We should remember that along with the successes, we as change workers will also inherit the failures, and that also could negatively impact your relationship with friends. Especially in cases like this, where the end of therapy may be that she decides to leave the relationship, treatment that promotes feelings of love that may be in conflict with the client’s underlying desires is a bandage at best, or at worst, could be outright manipulation against the client’s best interests, and that is against the codes of ethics.

    Although I see nothing wrong in doing some light exploration with friends and acquaintances, for doing actual change work, I suggest it is just best to refer, in order to avoid conflict of interest, to protect friendships, and to promote the interests of the client.


    • admin

      October 16, 2012

      That’s a perspective worth exploring! It may be nothing more than that, or… :-0

      All the very best


  • Maarten Aalberse

    October 15, 2012

    No scoop here, but especially in such a situation, we’d do well (understatement) to explore as honestly as we can whether we have any personal outcomes for our relationship with this person.

    The most obvious ones, of course: “am I attracted to her”? What if she were to become attracted to me (not an uncommon event in such approaches…).

  • Daniela

    October 15, 2012

    Hi James,
    great thoughts. With friends the potential of conflict of interest and of crossing certain boundaries can be very real.

    I am also finding that people you know come with that extra set of expectations. Often unrealistic and to the point that they cannot be fulfilled. When they are not fulfilled, your relationship with them will be certain to undergo some change of its own.

    And helping (enabling) friends stay in relationships that are not good for them is usually not in their best interest. No matter how much they may think it is, or want to make it work. Those little niggling things tell us where we are at, we just need to pay attention to them.

    This situation reminds me of a story I came across about a year ago and like to tell people now when they are in relationship doldrums:

    In this story nothing changed about the situation, except the woman’s attitude towards it. And the result is very precious. To her anyways. Good story to tell with both of the couple present, perhaps in a casual setting. Whatever they make of it afterwards is up to them. It can become a catalyst for change in either direction. At least that way they are at a mutual starting point. And if things go south it was nothing more than a story that brought the real state of the relationship to light. If it turns her attitude about the relationship around, wonderful.

    • admin

      October 16, 2012

      That’s a beautiful example of a genuine reframe Daniela. Thank you for sharing!

      All the very best


  • Bob C

    October 15, 2012

    Couldn’t it also be dangerous in terms of making her feel “safe”? If the friend/boyfriend has anger issues, for instance, which this person is unaware of, then the problem could be that the girlfriend is feeling threatened.

    It’s a stretch from what we are given here, but I’m not completely sure about making a woman feel “safe” around her partner.

    Bob C

    • admin

      October 16, 2012

      There is always the issue, when considering a case from afar, about what could be there that has not been said. You are quite right that this could be an issue, and so part of the exploration would need to be around the nature of the relationship.

      All the very best


  • bill perry

    October 15, 2012

    I would actually go for broke and offer her the whole thing. But ONLY after I explained to them all my concerns (which you covered James).

    I’d make sure my friend knows that part of the possible result would be her breaking up with him. I’d lay it all out there and allow them to both come to a mutual decision regarding it. Assuming she doesn’t mind if the friend knows, that is.

    I assume the friend does NOT know, but in that case, I wouldn’t touch it at all.

  • bill perry

    October 15, 2012

    At least that’s my take on it.

    • admin

      October 16, 2012

      That’s a totally valid way to play it, Bill.

      I would avoid that because I would need to have the discussion with both parties, where I had only been approached by one. So my preference would still be to keep it light or leave well alone.

      All the very best


  • Mark

    October 15, 2012

    James, sound advice and words of wisdom. Personally, I have found trusting my own gut feelings to be a excellent moral compass when deciding whether or not to help friends. Trust, your own ‘spider senses’ if it doesn’t feel right stay away! and refer them on. I always recommend James Tripp sound bloke and excellent change agent

  • Marc

    November 21, 2012

    Hrm, I think you have the right idea but I would do it differently. I’d start by working with HIM, and see if there isn’t something bogging him down that might be stressing the relationship in some way. Working with the guy and helping him to improve his ‘attitude’ might very well be enough to fix things and then you don’t have to go getting involved with her/their problems.

    If that doesn’t work, or doesn’t turn anything up, THEN I’d work with the girl. Also, I think it’s something you have to accept in doing changework that sometimes relationships just don’t ‘fit’. There’s a real possibility that what is best for her is to leave him, and for that reason it might be better to decline to take the case if that might cause you personal problems. Especially when you’re just starting out I wouldn’t be digging myself any holes that I couldn’t get out of.

    I also agree with the comments above; definitely don’t get involved with her or directly in their relationship. If you’ve got more experience you could do couples counselling, but with friends I say no in general unless you’re a master. And definitely don’t hit on her, unless you want to go off the deep end and lose all your friends. It’s unethical anyway. If that’s what you have in mind you should be on the other end of therapy.

    • admin

      November 27, 2012

      Thanks Marc – an excellent perspective!

      All the very best


  • Nic_Oliver

    January 3, 2013

    A couple of random thoughts:

    1. If I were to take this on, I’d want to know more about her mood swings. My ex-wife had a similar issue and Evening Primrose oil sorted out what was a hormonal issue.

    2. If 1 is not the case I’d want to see the couple together. I had a similar client situation where the client went home after the session and told his partner that I had said that he didn’t have a problem and that it was all her fault! I’ve learned to see couples together, whenever possible. Of course, sometimes it wont be possible!

    3. I’d be very, very careful about transference. There’s a danger of doing excellent change work and because the client associates the change worker with feeling good, the client transfers her affections to the change worker.

    We probably don’t discuss issues related to transference enough among change workers.

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