The topic of hypnosis has attracted much interest and misunderstanding since its more formal therapeutic usage over the last century. The mystique surrounding the experience and effects of a trance state continue to draw debate and curiosity, both from those who seek and those who deliver hypnotic therapy.
Traditionally, hypnosis has been a process that was considered to be highly dependent on the direct suggestion of a therapist or 'hypnotist', and the 'degree of hypnotisability' of the client. Under this assumption, the 'subject' would in general be told what to do and have their experience prescribed by the therapist. Statements might include 'Your eyes are getting heavy', 'You are feeling very sleepy and will fall into a deep state of rest when …', or 'You will never … again'). It was found that some people would respond very readily to such suggestions, while others would not.
It was this variable effect among 'subjects' that lead many theorists to conclude that some people were very 'hypnotisable', while others would respond to suggestions to a moderate degree. Of course, there were some people who displayed little if any cooperation with the suggestions. Some theorists have even devised 'scales of hypnotisability' that purport to measure the degree to which an individual may be susceptible to direct hypnotic suggestion.
Milton Erickson and Solution Oriented Hypnosis
Modern day hypnosis operates from a quite different set of ideas, and has been very largely influenced by the work of Milton Erickson, who began to gain notoriety and influence from the mid-1900s beyond his death in 1980. He has left an enduring legacy of ideas and knowledge to this field, and highlighted the importance of identifying, awakening and using the power that we all bring to our life situations.
Those who practice the more modern hypnotic techniques emphasise and work with the resources, strengths and values of the person they are working with. Erickson was a therapist who emphasised strategies that empowered his clients. Of the many revolutionary ideas that Milton Erickson offered, perhaps his most pervasive was that the experience of trance or hypnosis is a natural, everyday experience, what one might call a symptom of being human. Most of us would recall the experience of driving a car and discovering at some point that we were further progressed on our journey than we may have realised. We may have actually gone through a town that 'we had not noticed' at the time, or missed the street that we intended turning into.
Effects associated with time distortion and even amnesia are common in our everyday lives. Frequently, conversation around a memory of an event can seem to evoke more of the mood and detail of that occurrence - in a way, like an experience of regressing in time or age. For example, if a friend has forgotten where they placed their car keys, we might assist by asking them to retrace their movements, and 'climb back into the experience' involving their actions and thoughts relevant to when they may have placed their keys.
These ideas and realisations about hypnosis, dissociation or trance have pointed to our experience of it as being more a natural part of our everyday living. Our regular experience of being 'entranced' or engrossed in thought begins to demonstrate to us all the frequency with which our attention is removed from the 'here and now'. Clients who feel that they may not be capable of experiencing hypnosis are often pleasantly surprised to learn how they can generate the experience and intentionally use it for their own purposes.
Therapists who practice a more modern approach to hypnosis tend to take the view that everyone experiences trance or hypnosis quite naturally and frequently. With this in mind, part of the task of the therapist is to assist the client to discover and use their own skills and style to develop the experience, rather than 'do hypnosis to them' or tell them what to do and what they should or will experience.
In a similar way, clients are assisted to evolve their own solutions and directions for their own issues, which can often be more potently, delightfully and enduringly achieved in a more focused and comfortable state, largely chosen and evolved by the client themselves. Importantly, this process can proceed with the client 'in the driver's seat', moving at their own pace, making their own decisions and thus in a way that is clearly relevant to them. The therapist's skill is in guiding, supporting and generally assisting the client to achieve this.
These methods tend to reduce the necessary time in therapy, as the client can quickly learn to become more self sufficient and to even use some of the techniques themselves.
In our clinic, we use hypnosis to assist with many issues, not the least of which is teaching our clients self hypnotic techniques that they can use whenever needed. We also often provide our clients with hypnotic aids such as CDs for relaxation and habit cessation. We can also design and provide CDs specifically for individual clients that are targeted to particular needs.
While hypnosis can be used to assist a broad range of problems, it can perhaps most relevantly be used in situations where a client can be assisted to stop doing something that they no longer wish to do - something which may seem to be beyond their choice or understanding. Stopping smoking, teeth grinding, hair pulling, anxious thinking, thought avoidance and nail biting are a few examples of common presenting issues.
In our experience, many problems that we treat tend to involve a sense by the client of having little or no choice. We believe that useful therapy will frequently involve the discovery of existing possibilities (that may not have been evident to the client) or the generation of new possibilities (choices).