|In many cases, depression can be overridden by suggested|
experiences of beauty, wonder, and delight
Abstract:: This paper describes the induction of a series of suggestion-induced mystical experiences to reverse an ongoing depression and anhedonia, or the loss of the capacity to experience pleasure, and to re-institute a drive for high achievement. For the present purposes, a mystical experience may be defined as one which possesses a quality and an intensity which are not voluntarily attainable in every life.
Hyperempiria, or “enhanced experience” (Gibbons, 2001, 2003) may be used not only for induction procedures based upon suggestions of increased responsiveness, but also for a wide variety of experientially-based procedures for the facilitation of personal growth and behavioral change. Hyperempiria can be attained either by the use of an explicitly hyperempiric induction, based on suggestions of increased alertness, mind expansion, and enhanced awareness and responsiveness, or by a more traditional induction if it results in a sufficiently high degree of involvement, as in the present illustration.
I like to express my suggestions using what I refer to as the Best Me Technique, to involve one's whole person in a suggested event. Every letter in "Best Me" corresponds with an element of suggestion, and these elements can be applied in a variety of ways: to place oneself or another person into hypnosis, to pre-experience the accomplishment of a goal, and to conclude the hypnosis or self-hypnosis session. It’s the versatility and the thoroughness of these elements that makes the Best Me Technique distinct from meditation and visualization exercises, and from other forms of hypnosis and self-hypnosis. Instead of merely picturing something in the mind’s eye, the Best Me Technique enables us to paint upon the canvas of experience almost any masterpiece we may desire (Gibbons, 1995, 2001, 2003; Gibbons & Lynn, 2010).
The Best Me Technique uses Belief systems (who and where you are and what is going on around you), Emotions, Sensations and physical perceptions, Thoughts and images, Motives, and Expectations. "Best Me" suggestions may be presented in any order and as often as necessary, with considerable repetition and elaboration as needed to accomplish the desired effect, much as one might repeat the verses and choruses of a song. The Best Me categories are not conceptually “pure,” and each Best Me suggestion may contain elements of the others.
Using the Best Me Technique, experiences of mystical intensity may easily be made available to clients who desire them and are sufficiently responsive to suggestion. Such experiences should be determined by the needs and expressed preferences of the client, with the goal of providing reassurance, strength, and encouragement. It should be of little consequence whether the religious and/or metaphysical beliefs of the client are shared by the therapist or are in conflict with those of the therapist, or whether the therapist has no theological or metaphysical beliefs at all (Gibbons & Schreiber, 2004).
“Jennifer” was a forty-five year old, married, Pentecostal of Italian-American descent with two grown children, who had converted from the Roman Catholic faith as a teenager. She was currently drawing workmens' compensation payments for a work-related injury She had lost interest in sexual relations with her second husband, to whom she was recently married, and she had ceased to look for work. She usually spent her days sitting at home watching soap operas.
She was raised in a Chicago tenement, and both of her parents, who taught in a local Catholic school, were alcoholics who fought regularly with each other, and who frequently would beat her with a chain cut from a children’s swing. In order not to alarm the neighbors, Jennifer had to force herself to remain silent during these beatings. If she did cry out, her parents would only beat her more intensely until she learned to endure her punishments in silence.
As she was growing up, her older sisters would occasionally set her up by placing a pack of her parents’ cigarettes in one of her clothing drawers, and then tell on her. Unless she “told the truth” and admitted that she had stolen the cigarettes, her parents would beat her even more severely for “lying.”
She married as soon as she could in order to get away from home, vowing that she would never be beaten again. Her first husband, with whom she had two children, was an extremely jealous and possessive man who watched her every move and insisted on being waited on hand and foot.
Jennifer’s two “signature strengths” which had kept her going were her closeness to her children and the pride which she took in her work. When she presented at my office, with a lifelong history of depression which had recently worsened with the loss of one of these signature strengths (her job), she clearly needed to change the manner in which she thought and felt about herself, the world, and the future (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979). But, like many real-life clients, she was probably too depressed to become sufficiently involved with the slow, painstaking “homework assignments” of cognitive therapy. Instead, she needed an experience of mystical intensity, which would fill her with enthusiasm for life, restore her desire to work, and re-awaken her passionate relationship with her new husband.
I chose to employ a traditional hypnotic induction rather than a hyperempiric one, because I suspected that Jennifer would have learned to be extremely good at learning to dissociate due to her early childhood conditioning. Since hyperempiria literally refers to a state of "enahnced experience," high responders are often able to perform quite well by first going "down" into hypnosis and then "up" into hyperempiria, much as one might first draw back a slingshot in order to increase its forward momentum, feeling alternately shut down and hypersensitive in turn.
Jennifer responded extremely well to the induction, and was totally amnesic for the experience. With her prior knowledge and consent, I used suggestions similar to the following, pulling out all the stops to induce the required levels of happiness and enjoyment to re-orient her approach to life and to re-awaken her emotional responsiveness.
Belief systems. Now we are reaching down farther than ever before into your vast, untapped potential for feeling happiness and joy,
Emotions. Great waves of happiness and joy are flowing out from the innermost depths of your being, like water from a hundred secret springs.
Sensations and physical perceptions. These waves of happiness and joy are bathing you from head to toe in wave after wave of infinite, boundless peace and happiness.
Motives. And the more you feel, the more you are able to feel. And the more you feel, the more you want to feel, and the more enjoyable the experience becomes.
Thoughts and images. You are pre-experiencing now, in concentrated form, the happiness and satisfaction that will always be yours in response to a job well done.
Expectations. And as a result of these hypnotic experiences, your entire outlook on life will be different, and each new day will become a thing of wondrous beauty.At the conclusion of each session, the intensity of her emotional level was returned to normal, post-hypnotic suggestions for relaxation and clear-headedness were provided, and the session was concluded in the usual manner.
At the end of the first session, which lasted approximately thirty minutes, Jennifer became momentarily tearful, explaining that it was such a relief to have someone to talk to about her problems with her neighbors and her extended family, since her husband was not interested in these details. For the remainder of the first session and the remaining sessions, we would devote half of each session to hypnosis, and half to a discussion of these topics.
Her manner immediately brightened; and as she arrived for the third session, she announced that she had resumed sexual relations with her husband.
At about the fifth session, Jennifer told me that she had begun looking for work. She also stated that her managed care insurance company had requested a review of her case, which is customarily for workers in her State who are drawing disability for on-the-job injuries.
The insurance company review took place at the conclusion of Jennifer’s eighth session. The reviewer noted in his report that she was wearing jewelry, and did not appear to be outwardly depressed. Jennifer was amnesic for the specific content of the suggestions she was given under hypnosis, and the reviewer – apparently not wishing to be criticized for being one of the reactionaries who still do not believe in hypnosis – made no reference to the treatment itself. Instead, he focused on our discussions of Jennifer’s daily problems during the second half of our sessions, pronounced them “specious,” concluded that she was not depressed, and allowed four more sessions for termination.
Soon afterwards, Jennifer told me that she had found a job teaching the very skill for which she was disabled. At the first interview, she was asked if she would mind taking over the program and administering it. The current supervisor, apparently, was in some political difficulty, and Jennifer was being groomed from the start to become his successor, which occurred within a matter of about a month.
Jennifer was seen for a total of twelve sessions, as provided by her workmen’s compensation insurance. I called her home one Sunday, six months after the conclusion of the twelfth session, in order to ask Jennifer how she was doing. Her husband answered, and said that she had gone in to work that day, to finish cleaning up the paperwork mess left by her predecessor. I then called her at the work number which he gave me, and she reported that she was indeed doing well.
I contacted her for a second follow-up one year after her treatment had been concluded. She reported that she was still experiencing pain from her work injury, and that political problems had developed on her job, and she was currently busy with wedding preparations for her second daughter.
If other therapists encounter similar results with clients who are highly responsive to suggestion, it will no longer be possible to regard mystical experiences as beyond the range of voluntary human control. Instead of having to wait years or decades for experiences of this type to occur spontaneously, if indeed they happen at all. The versatility and power of the Best Me Technique should enable clients who respond well to suggestion to undergo mystical experiences as often as needed, anchoring the intensity of the emotion thus produced to suit the client's needs -- in the present instance, to an appreciation of the beauty of each new day, and the satisfaction of a job well done.
Throughout the course of human history, a few individuals have been able to have experiences of mystical intensity, which are perceived as having the potential to permanently alter the lives of those who are fortunate enough to undergo them. The fact that these experiences are now voluntarily available to a wider number of people does not detract from their mystical, life-transforming potential.
I incorporated the words "as if" into my suggestions because I regard hyperempiria as a form of experiential theater. The subjective experiences which result from "as-if" suggestions are every bit as real as if they are really happening.