Understanding Secondary Gain: A Hypnotherapist’s Perspective

What is Secondary Gain?

In the realm of psychology and hypnotherapy, “secondary gain” refers to the indirect benefits that individuals may receive from their symptoms or problematic behaviors. These benefits are not the primary reason for the behavior, but they provide a form of reward or reinforcement that can make change challenging. Understanding and addressing secondary gain is crucial for effective therapeutic intervention.

How Secondary Gain Impacts Behavioral Change

When individuals seek to change a behavior or symptom, the presence of secondary gain can significantly complicate the process. This is because the secondary benefits can create unconscious resistance to change. For instance, while the primary motivation for change might be clear and rational, the secondary gains often operate on a subconscious level, making them harder to identify and overcome.

Examples of Secondary Gain

Chronic Pain and Attention

Consider a person suffering from chronic pain. The primary problem is the pain itself, which is debilitating and requires medical attention. However, a secondary gain might be the increased attention and care they receive from family members and friends. This attention can be comforting and validating, creating an unconscious resistance to fully recovering from the pain, as doing so might lead to a loss of this support.

Procrastination and Avoidance of Failure

Another common example is procrastination. The primary issue is the delay in completing tasks, which often leads to stress and poor performance. The secondary gain, however, could be the avoidance of the fear of failure. By procrastinating, the individual never fully commits to the task, and therefore, they never have to face the possibility of failing.

Secondary Gain in Teenagers

Teenagers can also experience secondary gain, often in ways that are intertwined with their developmental stage and social environment.

Academic Underperformance

For example, consider a teenager who consistently underperforms in school. The primary issue is their poor academic performance, which can have long-term consequences. However, the secondary gain might be the reduction of pressure from parents and teachers. If the teenager performs poorly, the expectations are lowered, and they might receive more sympathy and less criticism, creating an unconscious incentive to maintain their current performance level.

Social Anxiety and Peer Support

Another example could be a teenager experiencing social anxiety. The primary problem is the anxiety itself, which prevents them from engaging in social activities. The secondary gain, however, could be the support and attention they receive from close friends or family who provide comfort and validation for their feelings. This support can create an unconscious resistance to overcoming the social anxiety, as doing so might mean losing this special attention and care.

Addressing Secondary Gain in Hypnotherapy

As a hypnotherapist, recognizing and addressing secondary gain is a vital part of the therapeutic process. Here are some strategies to help clients overcome the resistance created by secondary gains:

  1. Identification: The first step is to identify the secondary gains. This often involves exploring the client’s subconscious motivations and the benefits they might be receiving from their symptoms or behaviors. Techniques such as guided imagery, regression therapy, and in-depth discussions can be useful.
  2. Awareness: Once secondary gains are identified, raising the client’s awareness is crucial. Helping clients understand how these secondary benefits are impacting their desire for change can empower them to address the underlying issues.
  3. Reframing: Reframing the situation to find alternative ways to meet the same needs without the problematic behavior or symptom is essential. For example, if a teenager is underperforming in school to avoid pressure, we can work on building their confidence and coping skills so they can meet expectations without fear.
  4. Positive Reinforcement: Introducing new, positive reinforcements that support the desired change can help replace the secondary gains. For instance, offering praise and rewards for small successes in overcoming social anxiety can provide a new source of validation and support.
  5. Support Systems: Strengthening the client’s support systems can help mitigate the loss of secondary gains. Encouraging family and friends to provide support and validation for healthy behaviors rather than symptoms can create a more conducive environment for change.


Understanding secondary gain is fundamental in hypnotherapy and other therapeutic practices. By identifying and addressing these indirect benefits, we can help clients overcome unconscious resistance to change and achieve their desired outcomes. Whether dealing with chronic pain, procrastination, or teenage academic challenges, acknowledging the role of secondary gain can pave the way for more effective and lasting transformations.

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