This a photograph of a delightful and award winning sand castle. You may be wondering why it is at the head of a page about hypnosis. The experience of looking at this photo is much like the experience of developing a trance.
It momentarily captures your attention. Either you keep looking through the page - no trance. Or you pause, curious and captivated by the novelty. Your larger creative abilities recall the classic “come into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly and you “get” the play on this theme created by the artist. The lines we would see on a fly’s wing are now the web of the spider. This time, the fly has won. In just the few moments it takes to assimilate information to see the humor - you have created a small and effective spontaneous trance. Hypnosis is the art of deliberately eliciting trance to engage all of your creative resources.
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A lot of time and energy is spent telling people what hypnosis isn’t. People have all sorts of ideas regarding hypnosis. Truth is, hypnosis isn’t most of the things people think it is. Instead of spending a lot of time and words telling you all of these things hypnosis isn’t - I would like to tell you what I think hypnosis is. What is possible with hypnosis. How I use clinical hypnosis in my practice. I feel that this approach is much more informative, more useful and more to the point.
... a focused beam of attention, often turned inward, excluding extraneous stimuli, accessing unconscious resources. It is communication with the unconscious. Internal reality becomes more important than most external realities, and these inner experiences, created by the client and the therapist, can be made extraordinarily vivid.
The Ericksonian approach is based, in part, on the belief that the unconscious is childlike in its ability to observe, respond and learn without the superimposed structure of formal adult thinking. Most professionals believe that people are much more suggestible in a trance state. Milton H. Erickson himself sometimes supported this view of suggestibility and sometimes disputed it. Certainly, people become in many ways more vulnerable when hypnotized. The therapist must always be worthy of and respectful of that vulnerability and trust.
Hypnosis and eliciting trance can be a cooperative experience between the client and the clinician or it can be authoritarian and directive. Ericksonian hypnosis includes both styles and is most often seen as a cooperative venture. The specific situation and the needs of the individual determine the appropriate style.
Erickson had the crucial insight that hypnosis is not something the hypnotist “does to” the other person, rather it is a kind of relationship – a way of creating a learning rapport between two people who are both active in the process. Over and over, Erickson defined hypnosis as a form of communication –
a way to exchange ideas effectively.
Above all, this way of communication gives hope: change is possible.
The idea that the hypnotic state is something active, dynamic and shared was a radical viewpoint that set Erickson apart from traditional Western practitioners of hypnosis. In this regard he has more in common with cultures such as the Balinese, who use sophisticated trancework in group settings that involve and integrate the community at large. Traditional Western hypnosis was a passive process that happened to “the subject” by “the operator.” Even though fine suggestions may have been presented, it was still the hypnotist who had “the power.” By actively involving the client in the trance process, Erickson gave both himself and the client greater access to the client’s abilities and resources. Change (also known as “therapy”) emerged from their combined efforts. The client held much greater responsibility and ownership with all the positive results of that responsibility and ownership.
Prior to Erickson, with few exceptions, psychotherapies were pathology-based, viewing human troubles in terms of what was wrong or sick or broken. These pathology-based therapies begin with an idealized notion of perfect mental health. Real people depart from this ideal by having various kinds of damage or illness. The fundamental question was – and often remains – “What’s wrong with this person?” Psychological symptoms were seen to develop out of these defects in the same way that abdominal pain might develop from a liver tumor. These symptoms could supposedly be relieved through a conscious understanding of what was wrong. Once the symptom was gone, mental health was produced,
since health was defined merely as the absence of illness. Nearly every client who walks through my doors has absorbed this pathology-based view of his or her difficulties. Taking a cue from medical treatment, the client describes himself through his or her symptoms and expects to be “treated” accordingly.
Erickson saw things differently. To him, the entire organism is constantly striving toward health and development. He viewed many human troubles as outmoded solutions to problems. Sometimes the problems were in fact insoluble, but required some kind of response; other times the solutions worked fine for a while, but the person failed to discard them after they stopped being useful. Whichever, the old solutions wore out – becoming vastly more troublesome than any benefit they might continue to provide.
Erickson consistently used “That’s right” in eliciting trance, for praise, validation and to encourage the direction of the trance. For the Ericksonian therapist, the essential question is, “What is right with this client? What is s/he striving to accomplish with this behavior that looks so nutty?” We are called upon to find the ways in which we can say, “That’s right.”
And by the way, as skilled as I am - I CANNOT make you quit smoking, make you lose weight, make you forget or remember anything or everything, or cluck like a chicken.
What I CAN do is help you discover your own trance and abilities.