Terms and Conditions. Nobody reads them, right? Let's see if we can't discover some of the juice in a few of the terms we use in practice. One that makes little sense to define is "hypnosis." There are many, perhaps as many as there are people with opinions about it. None I have heard offer much in terms of what to expect, how "it" works or even much of a context for explaining anything. So I rarely use the term, or for that matter, perform what seems to be a common expectation: me droning on with a fixed glare, pushing my version of what a client (or victim?) NEEDS to hear. Balderdash is a good word here.
I don't care much about the entertainment application of the term hypnosis. It is essentially unrelated in all important ways to what we do in session. But let's briefly touch on the modern genesis of hypnosis in a therapeutic setting. If you want to read in depth, there are literally thousands of volumes about it. You are welcome to read them all if you like. Perhaps I will generate a bibliography at some point when I get the site built out a bit...
There are three significant stages or types of approach to hypnosis in health and healing. The classic that everyone has seen in movies and television might be called Authoritarian. And is by me. The central characteristic of this approach is that the Operator, that is, the person assuming the role of Hypnotist or Therapist, takes a lead role in the process. The role of the client is entirely subordinate, and is often of minor contribution. The mind of the client is considered to be an adversary to be dominated, tricked or "put to sleep", whereupon the Hypnotist installs what he (or she, but mostly he) assumes to be the commands that will bring the client into resolution of whatever is "The Problem." Beyond the brazen arrogance of this model, there are many reasons it doesn't work very well, first among them that treating someone as an adversary rarely brings them into any sort of rapport. Another is that we almost never find the solutions to personal issues in someone else's words, deeds or memorized scripts. We find them very close to the action: where the conflict is warmest. An outsider (like any therapist, ever) would have to be perfectly psychic or damn lucky to stumble on the set-up for a situation, the images and feelings associated with the resolution for a conflict and the precise wording the client would use to communicate the experience. Which is why this approach is only effective a small percentage of the time. Despite nearly constant failure, there remain many who continue along this path. Perhaps they fixated on Bela Lugosi movies early on and haven't noticed no one else did. Or maybe it is so pernicious because it isn't very difficult to memorize a dozen short scripts and hang out a shingle.
A major revolution hit the world of hypnosis in theraputic practice in the person of Milton Erickson in the mid-20th century. Again, there are hundreds of works on and about Erickson. Worth reading elsewhere. Erickson's main thrust (among many contributions) was the idea that the Unconscious of the client could be an ally, rather than an adversary. He still considered the Conscious mind of the client to be useless and worked around it with various word games, confusion and so on. But the idea that there was a part of the mind that operated apart and independent of cognition opened up the beginnings of therapeutic work that was otherwise unavailable. Much of contemporary thought and practice regarding hypnosis comes to us from Erickson himself, from those who worked and studied with him, and from legions of the hopeful who have come along since to read books and watch videos. In practice, Erickson coined the term Utilization as a key to his successes. Essentially, rather than forming a preconcieved notion of what prior work fits a new situation, the focus becomes paying exquisite attention to *how* the client does as they do and *how* they might experience a change that offers some relief. Needless to say, this is a significantly more skill-based approach than existed before Erickson's work. Most therapists using hypnotic technique this century use techniques drawn from Erickson's work and developed by those who studied his work.
Perhaps the most well-known offshoot of this second phase is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) developed at UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s based on methodical study of Erickson, Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls working with therapy clients. NLP is an analytical model, a method of inquiry when working with clients, and series of techniques or recipes for performing particular transformative operations. While many of the modeling and structure ideas are profoundly powerful, in practice, most NLP practitioners are still working in a model that holds the cognitive resources of the client in low regard, usually in favor of an array of clever maneuvers designed to work outside the awareness of the client. These techniques found a fertile base in the world of sales and marketing (not to mention advertising and propaganda), in addition to being in the toolkit of most therapists working today.
The most recent major contribution to therapuetic engagement is centered on recruiting a more complete representation of the available resources, including the Conscious mind of the client, as well as both cognitive and non-cognitive resources of the therapist in working toward positive changes. Stephen Gilligan, a prime mover of this new work, has called this approach Generative. Gilligan studied for a number of years with Erickson, as well as Gregory Bateson and others at Santa Cruz, and has continued to develop the model since Erickson's passing in 1980. In practice, the primary assets deployed by the therapist involve focused curiosity about the client's experience, and even more about how the client might imagine a useful array of change. There is a good deal of intuitive sensitivity that can lead the therapist into fruitful inquiry. The work is high-skill and the results impressive both in terms of the tenacity of the outcomes and in how quickly issues can be resolved. Often in a session or two.
Having begun my journey in the world of hypnosis and hypnotherapy in the 1970s, I've had the opportunity to study and work in each of these modes of practice. They share a number of characteristics and pieces of each of them can show up in any given situation. The real key to effective, humane practice is sensitivity to what is going on in the room. Both what is called for and what is expected. While *I* may not have a strong prefererence for classic hypnotic inductions (ala Hollywood) for many good reasons, I have a number of clients who don't feel like they have gotten what they came for without going into a "deep trance." So we do that, it's part of what is needed at that point.
I will write more about many of the things touched on here. This piece is already a bit long. So thus ends my first blog post.