Sunday, December 1, 2019
Hypnosis for Lasting Change
A few years ago, at a hypnosis conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, during a discussion of the phenomenon of hypnotic rapport, one of the members of the audience said that she used to occasionally lapse into her native Gaelic during a hypnosis session, and even though her clients may not have understood a word of Gaelic, the results were still quite effective.
Suppose, instead of using a language that was already fully developed, she had decided to experiment with the language patterns of highly successful hypnotists, and assembled a group of like-minded individuals to help her discover exactly which inductions, and which suggestion patterns, were the most effective. Sometimes the results would inevitably appear to be more powerful in comparison with the patterns which had been used before -- at least with the current sample. Over time, as these practitioners discovered that sometimes the results were more effective and sometimes they were less effective, we could expect a drift in the direction of ever more complex patterns as more and more elements were added to the mix.
Before we continue to expend more time, energy, and money in developing fancier and ever more persuasive hypnotic language and induction patterns, I would like to respectfully point out that while individual techniques may vary in duration and effectiveness, experimental research has shown that the true permanence of a particular suggestion lies in the meaning it has for the client in terms of his or her own individual life narrative (de Rivera & Sarbin, 1998), rather than the linguistic style with which it is composed or the induction within which it is framed.
I am fond of quoting a well-known story about a Russian lad who had become shy and withdrawn and did not even want to go to school because his face was disfigured by a birthmark -- until his grandmother told him that this was a special sign from God that he was destined for greatness. Although he did not become famous, he grew up to marry, have a family, and experience a much more successful life than he otherwise would have had were it not for his grandmother's suggestion, which, even without the benefits of an induction or any fancy wording, fit in so neatly with his life narrative that it had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When I was in graduate school, I was astonished to learn that there were over five hundred different types of psychotherapy, some of which were mutualy exclusive and mutually contradictory in their assumptions. But they all led their followers to the conclusion that they knew what was wrong in their lives and how to go about fixing it; and the support and encouragement provided by the therapist provided the necessary catalyst for therapeutic change to take place. If this change successfully altered the ongoing narrative of the client's life story, as happened to the Russian lad with the birthmark, then the
Improvement was likely to be a lasting one. Unfortunately, however, this was not always the case. And so, therapists are inclined to redouble their efforts in whatever directions they had originally taken, rather than seeking a biographically based solution which was rooted in the personality and unique characteristics of each individual client they encounter (Gibbons & Lynn, 2010, p. 289).
If you want to enploy elaborately worded and ever more persuasive language patterns in the suggestions you employ, that's all well and good -- but don't forget to make sure that your suggestions alter the ongoing narrative of the client's life story! Here is a case example:
"Jacob," a 58 year-old Israeli immigrant with three grown, children, was experiencing a great deal of trepidation in dealing with the stresses of life in general: but especially with regard to his State civil service job working with distressed families and in preparing for the Fderal civil service test. I saw him weekly for about a year, during which time we practiced weekly sessions of Multiversal hypnotic meditation which involved experiencing suggested feelings of happiness in repeated voyages to the Multiverse which were so intense that with repeated exposure they would have the power to overlay the effect of every bad thing that had ever happened to him in his entire life.
He gradually developed an air of confidence in dealing with his superiors and coworkers, and placed highly on his
civil service test. When he could no longer continue our weekly sessions due to a change in his insurance coverage, he was awaiting the results of several interviews for promotion. He was now confident that these suggested changes had been sufficiently effective that he was able to proceed on his own.
Was his success due in part to the fact that I served as an authority figure who conveyed to him my conviction that he had the power to succeed? This was surely helpful; but the suggested changes were retained due to their alterations in the ongoing narrative of his life story, which still persist long after his formal therapy has been discontinued.
de Rivera, Joseph & Sarbin, T. R. (Eds.) (1998). Believed-in imaginings: The narrative construction of reality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Assn.
Gibbons, D. E., & Lynn, S. J. Hypnotic inductions: A primer. in S. J. Lynn, J. W. Rhue, & I. Kirsch (Eds.) (2010). Handbook of clinical hypnosis, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.