Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
This Blog is published for information and educational purposes only. No warranty, expressed or implied, is furnished with respect to the material contained in this Blog. The reader is urged to consult with his/her physician or a duly licensed mental health professional with respect to the treatment of any medical or psychological condition.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

How to Conduct a Therapeutic ''Séance''


To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, “One thing must be clearly understood, or no good can come from this story I am about to tell.” Our brain constructs our own reality! We construct this reality out of what William James called the “buzzing, blooming confusion” of raw sensory input, which bombards us from every direction. Since no two people have exactly the same experiences,  no two people can share exactly the same reality. What we believe to be “out there" is actually an individually constructed parallel universe which can never completely intersect with those of others.

In accordance with the teachings of post-modern constructivism, my task as a therapist is to help clients to construct a reality that will help them to live better lives, regardless of the reality that I may construct for myself, since each person's reality is equally valid  

"Maryanne" was the last of six children in a rigidly conservative Catholic family. All of her brothers and sisters had gone to Catholic school, and those who wanted to had gone to college. By the time Maryanne was born, there was no money left for private education. so she went to public grade school and graduated from high school with no prospects of going further. 

Shortly after she was married, she incurred serious spinal injuries from a fall an icy sidewalk, which resulted in her having to see a pain specialist and take medication for the resulting chronic discomfort..

Her mother wanted to keep Maryanne by her side instead of leaving to get married as her other children had done, so she encouraged her to become emotionally dependent.

Her father, on the other hand, scolded her incessantly, in the mistaken belief that he could "shock" her into being highly motivated if he nagged her intensely enough. Instead, she developed s number of stress-related physical ailments including ulcers, migraine headaches, and chronic constipation.

When she finally did go to work, her boss was bullying and sadistic. Once when she.had mistakenly ordered a shipment of several cartons of supplies delivered directly to her desk instead of to the office, her boss forbade her to move them out of the way for several days, and made her climb over them in order to get to her desk.

After she was married, she still lived close enough to her parents to go home for lunch. Her mother would hold her and soothe her to give her courage enough to return to her job every afternoon, until she was finally fired because she could not put up with her demanding boss any longer and her work had begun to suffer.


She had married a man with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, in the expectation that they would be able to help each other with their health problems. He had developed a chronically sarcastic outlook which was well within her emotional comfort zone because it unconsciously reminded her of her father. To make matters even worse, shortly after she was married, she incurred several serious spinal injuries from a fall on icy pavement which required her to receive ongoing medication and treatment by a pain specialist.

On her first visit to my psychology practice, four years after her mother had died, Maryanne showed me a picture she had taken on her cell phone of household clothing piled inside her bathtub because she did not have the energy to put it away. Fortunately, her new husband liked to cook, and he did most of the grocery shopping. But the matter of household chores was clearly her responsibility.


Maryanne responded very well to hypnosis and was amnesic for most of the sessions. However, no matter how much I tried, I was unable to help her to summon the energy to clean up her messy house.

One day, she was discussing her desire to go back to work in order to help with the family finances, adding that she would have to clean up her house first before she could ever consider doing that. She also mentioned how depressed she was, and how much she missed her mother, who had died four years previously. Her father was also deceased.

It occurred to me that she might be unconsciously using the condition of her house as a wall to prevent her from having to look for a job. When I was about to hypnotize her, I told her confidently that this time we were going to give her all the energy she needed. "Are you going to take the place of my mother?" she asked, which tended to confirm my suspicions.

I could not actually take the place of Maryanne's mother, of course; but if she could re-experience her mother holding and soothing her just as she had done in real life, I would not need to.

In Victorian times, there was a great interest in contacting the spirits of departed loved ones by means of a "séance," in order to obtain reassurance and advice, which was usually communicated by a series of rapping sounds while the participants were holding hands. The practice died out, however, when the source of this rapping was revealed to be produced by trickery.. Nevertheless, the widespread popularity of séances had revealed a deep yearning on the part of many people for this.type of experience.

After hypnotically guiding Maryanne through a rainbow of pleasant emotions and coming to the pot of gold at the end of it, I suggested that this was the gateway to Paradise, where she could contact her mother and pour her heart out while being comforted and soothed, much as her as her mother had done while she was still alive. 
As our sessions continued, I soon discovered that these experiences were much more effective if I  suggested that she was able to join her mother in a parallel Universe, where she was able to experience the actuao reality of her mother's actual presence.

Many modern physicists now believe that quantum mechanics implies that there are multiple copies of us living in an infinite number of parallel Universes. Since Maryanne's brain constructs her own reality, any hypnotically induced contact with her mother in a parallel universe would constitute a non-deceptive séance, since it would perfectly match at least one of the possible sets of circumstances in which her mother is currently still alive.. 

This type of reassurance appeared to be all that Maryanne needed in order to regain her former self confidence, clean up her house, and  begin looking for a job.

Was she really talking to her mother at the gateway to Paradise or in a parallel universe? As a post-modern constructivist, I have no right to say that the experiences which I have constructed for myself are any more "real" than the ones which she has constructed for herself. In most situations, I am perfectly content, therefore, to help my clients to construct  a set of beliefs which enables them to lead happier and more effective lives as they themselves interpret them. 

Considering the depth of pent-up longing experienced by many grieving relatives who yearn to contact their loved ones once more, as the Victorians have amply demonstrated, this opportunity to experience a non-deceptive hypnotic séance would appear to be a potentially useful application of hypnosis. However, one must be careful not to ask leading questions, in order to insure that the hypnotic realities constructed by one's clients are truly their own, and not a projection of the hypnotist.  Finally, it should be noted that the effectiveness of the hypnotic suggestions in acting as a catalyst for permanent change primarily depends upon the personality and unique characteristics of each individual client, rather than how the suggestions themselves are worded.


Monday, July 29, 2019

How to Learn Self-Hypnosis at Home

You can easily  learn the basics of self-hypnosis at home and free of charge by reading this instructional article on WikiHow. It describes the use of the BEST ME Technique to combine Beliefs, Emotions, Sensations and perceptions, Thoughts and images, Motives, and Expectations, in order to more fully involve oneself in the content of a suggested experience. I use it with the clients in my psychology practice, both as an introduction to the experience of self-hypnosis and for use between therapy sessions as a training and practice aid. According to the statistics available at the site, with the help of several co-authors, it has been viewed almost 1-1/2 miillion times since I first wrote and posted it.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"Covert Hypnosis" and "Ambush Hypnosis:" It's Mostly a Hoax, Folks!


In spite of the numerous advertisements encouraging you to learn how to do just that, don't just sidle up to someone at the mall, or someone who is asleep, and try to hypnotize them on the sly!

Though not impossible, it is extremely difficult to hypnotize someone without their prior knowledge and consent. Although covert hypnosis (sometimes referred to as "ambush hypnosis") can work occasionally with an unsuspecting person who is caught by surprise, much more often than not, people will catch on to what you are trying to do. They will either laugh at you, or become angry for insulting their intelligence, and/or suspect that you have an ulterior motive and report you as a suspicious person -- that is, if they don't decide to take the matter into their own hands.