Friday, 17 May 2019 22:01

Learning Ericksonian Hypnosis

Sheldon Bilsker, HT, RCC is the Director and founder of Orca Institute, Canada's longest running hypnotherapy school.
You can contact him at 604-808-3703

Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist and the founding president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis born in 1901 and died in 1980. At 17 he was paralyzed by polio. This event started a process of exploration to discover what he was capable of, which eventually would lead him to become the modern-day father of hypnotherapy. He revolutionized the field. 

In earlier days and still used is what is referred to as direct approaches in hypnosis.

An example of a direct approach would be “close your eyes, breathe deeply, relax and let go,” in other words, a series of benevolent orders for the client to do certain things that will hopefully produce a state of deep relaxation or hypnosis. An indirect approach [Ericksonian hypnosis] can involve a variety of different types of phrasing such as, “and sometimes we can wonder, isn’t it nice to know that we can just let go at our own pace in our own time, I’m not sure when you’ll choose to relax, but it doesn’t really matter, and whether you choose to move into trance this way or another way it doesn’t really matter which way, as we can move all the way into trance [another term for hypnosis].”

The advantage of an indirect approach is that the client has more metonymy in choosing his or her own experience during the hypnotic session, so they do not feel as locked in. However, like anything else in this field, sometimes a direct approach is precisely what the client needs at that time. Also, some clients are more comfortable with the direct approach. It is a matter of choice, and most importantly what works.
Sometimes Milton Erickson was very direct in approach, but most of the time not. He did whatever was appropriate according to the client’s needs at that moment, and typically, he had no idea what he was going to do until that moment. His intent was always to empower the client and create an environment where they felt safe in making their own choices and finding their own resolutions.

My Story

Sometime in 1990, I was teaching classes in Vancouver on hypnosis. At the time, I was teaching very traditional and directive ways to do hypnotherapy. That is all I knew. One day I met Mahmud Nestman RCC, M.ED who happened to be teaching in the same school as me. He was a counsellor and hypnotherapist, and in our discussion, he asked me if I had ever heard of Ericksonian hypnotherapy. I said I had not.

From that time whenever I would run into him, I would ask Mahmud to tell me more about this new therapeutic approach to hypnosis. The more I heard, the more questions I had and the more fascinated I became. In one particular week, I was teaching two classes, and I asked Mahmud if he would teach my class Ericksonian hypnosis. He agreed, and enthusiastically, I scheduled him in for both classes in which case I would become one of the students as well.

The day came, and I could not wait to see what Mahmud what was going to demonstrate. I observed him working with students, and myself included, demonstrating indirect phrasing, arm levitation, utilizing stories, using anecdotes and metaphors, pacing and leading and more. What I found particularly fascinating was that this approach was almost the polar opposite of what I had been doing and had learned.
Previously, I would, in effect, “prepare” for a client that I was about to see.

Much my preparation would involve wording that I was going to use in the hypnotic induction and specific suggestions that I thought might benefit the client. I look back at that and find it slightly absurd that I believed I had to prepare in that way. The chances were that my assumptions would be way off base when it came to the particular needs of the client at that moment. As I came to this realization, I knew that I could not use my “old” approach again in my practice.

I hypnotized my first person in 1968. It was my friend’s girlfriend, and we wanted to see if we could contact spirits. I just read a book on hypnosis and decided to put it to the test. She was a willing and very good hypnotic subject and went into trance deeply. We contacted something because she was in distress for a short time until she came out of trance although I’m not entirely sure what created her anxiety. That was a long time ago, and I’ve learned much since then. The hypnotherapeutic approaches I used since then until I met Mahmud were very direct and slightly authoritative in approach.

Now, I had so many more ways of creatively and non-intrusively, helping people move into trance easily, safely, and effectively. I knew it would take a great deal of practice as these approaches were not necessarily easy to learn, although I found myself taking to this new approach as if my subconscious always knew it was there and had just chosen to reveal it. As I felt more confident in this new approach, I began to incorporate it into my classes until eventually, it became a mainstay of our training.

Many years later, this approach is still the most important thing I do when working with the client. Simply put, I allow the client to “come to” me rather than go to the client. I choose a position of openness and neutrality, which allows me to really listen to what the client is offering me. This tells me all that I need to know and what to do next. One of the things I enjoy doing with students is to put them in a position where they have no idea what they will do next in a counselling session. Most students, especially novices, will feel various stages of discomfort. It’s a wonderful place to be. It is a place of infinite creativity and choice. It also forces one to be entirely in the moment with that person in front of you.

Erickson always said that he had no idea what he was going to do or say next when working with the client, but he knew that the client had an extraordinary ability, as we all do, to access their own inner resources and with encouragement, support and insight, resolve their own issues.
Very few things in my professional career as a teacher has given me more satisfaction than watching a student in the situation I just described, climb out of the abyss and discover that they knew exactly what they were going to do next, because verbally, or nonverbally, the client let them know. In my opinion, that is the pivotal process of becoming a therapist. Erickson taught me that, maybe not in person, but through everything he left.

I encourage all hypnotherapy students to learn Ericksonian hypnosis and broaden their perspective on this fascinating field.


Monday, 11 February 2019 15:33

Thoughts on Cancer

Serge King, Ph.D. is a Hawaain Shaman based in Hawaii. He is the author of many books including The Urban Shaman and Imagineering for Health. 
Contact Orca Institute at 604-808-3703.

My younger brother died of cancer in his early thirties, and my mother died of complications involving cancer when she was in her eighties. And I have had the opportunity to work with many people suffering from that disease. In every case, I am familiar with, and according to many medical experts, cancer has both physical and emotional aspects. The strength of each of these can amplify the other, and the healing of either of these can help to heal the other.

My brother had lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker and had a lot of stress in his life. In addition, he fit the personality profile observed in almost 1000 lung cancer patients by Dr. David Kissen of Southern General Hospital in Glasgow: before he was fifteen one of his parents died (our father); there were marital difficulties, and there were professional frustrations. Naturally, a very large number of people may have these particular experiences, but what Dr. Kissen considered significant was how many of the cancer patients reacted to them. Typically, they held in emotional expression and denied conflicts. This certainly described my brother.

My mother had lung cancer. She also lost her father before the age of fifteen, and had her share of marital difficulties and professional frustrations, too. And, she held in emotional expression and denied conflicts as well.

Similar relationships between emotions, experiences of loss or frustration, and all forms of cancer have been noted in many medical studies (two good sources for this kind of information, if they are still available, are Psychosomatics, by Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis [Pinnacle Books, 1975} and Who Gets Sick, by Blair Justice, Ph.D. [Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1988]).

The common thread of emotional response in all forms of cancer (and, I suspect, in all disease), is a frustrated desire to control experience in some way. There is a wide variation in what people are trying to control. Some are trying to control their own behaviour; some are trying to control the behaviour of others; some are trying to control past, present, or future events; some are trying to control it all. It is not surprising that cancer is often associated with symptoms of depression, but it not always clear whether the depression is associated with the cancer, or with something else that the person cannot control.

In my own experience with an observation of people with cancer, I have noted that the most successful recoveries seem to be strongly associated with major mental, emotional, or physical behavioural changes among the people with the illness. What is major for one person, of course, may not be the same for another. Some people get results from radically changing their whole lifestyle, while others get results from forgiving a longtime resentment. I know of one success where a woman left her family, took up a different religion, changed her clothing and diet, and moved to a different country. Maybe she needed all of those changes and maybe not, but overall it worked for her. I know of another person, a man, who simply stopped trying to outdo his father, and that worked for him.

My brother, however, didn't change his reactions or his life. And my mother, right to the very end, refused to give up grudges she had held for many years against many people. If you want to change something, you have to change something.

Whenever we try to control something by mental, emotional, or physical means, and whenever we fail to control it to the degree that we want, we increase the tension in our body. The more often we try and fail, the greater the increase in tension. Not everyone gets cancer because of this since the specific outcome of excess tension depends on so many different genetic, environmental, and mental factors, but I believe that healing the control issues can be of tremendous benefit in helping to heal cancer and, probably, everything else that needs healing.

The need for control is based on fear, and fear itself generates tension. Control, then, is merely a technique for trying not to feel afraid. Maybe a good place to start the healing process would be to stop trying to control fear and do something to change the fear reaction, instead.

It is an experiential fact that you cannot feel fear if your body is totally relaxed. However, even though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to relax, such as massage, meditation, play, laughter, herbs, drugs, etc., that does not always solve the problem. The real problem lies behind the tension, and behind the fear. The real problem is not even the idea that something is fearful. The real problem is that you feel helpless. When this problem is solved the fear disappears (not the common sense, just the helpless fear), the need for control disappears, and a huge amount of tension disappears.

Fundamentally, what I'm really talking about is confidence, a kind of core confidence not related to a specific talent, or skill, or behavior, or experience, or piece of knowledge. Lots of teachers and lots of merchants offer ways to get this kind of confidence, and my own works contain many ideas about it, so rather than limit your possibilities by suggesting a particular technique, I'm only going to share a couple of Hawaiian words for confidence whose root meanings may point you in the right direction:

Paulele - "stop jumping around"
Kanaloa - "extended calm"

There is no quick and easy fix I know of that will produce this kind of confidence. It takes internal awareness and one or more internal decisions, but even that will only work if it results in a different way of responding to life.

Learn more about Huna at

Sheldon Bilsker, HT, RCC is the Director and founder of Orca Institute and the IACH. Orca Institute is Canada's longest-running and only Designated hypnotherapy school.
You can contact him at 604-808-3703
In 1983 I was diagnosed as having Melanoma Carcinoma, a potentially lethal form of skin cancer. Needless to say, it came as a shock. It was more the word though. The word seemed to have so much power, “Cancer.” My immediate response was that Cancer was something that happened to other people. Not me. However, it was a surprisingly short time I began to accept that it was I who had Cancer.
In retrospect, at the time, I had a complete belief in my own ability to heal myself. I still hold that belief, but admittedly it has become a bit tainted over the years. It is not the pure unadulterated belief which I had back then. Sometimes I wonder if what I did would be as effective if I was in the same situation now. I don’t know. In my two years (of a 30-year practice) of working with clients who had Cancer, I have witnessed many healings which I believe were due to, or enhanced through belief in our own power (or a “higher power”). I also found that sometimes my clients would “heal into death.” That might seem like an odd thing to say, but I have witnessed incredible healing as some of my clients were preparing to die. 
I have seen very few examples of the type of peaceful state exhibited clients as they were dying. A cynic might argue that it was the drugs, but I saw and felt something far beyond the drug response in my opinion. I believe there is much we can learn from moments like these. As Ram Das has said, “if nothing happens after you die, then why do so many people experience so much growth when they are dying?”. I don’t know the answer to that one either. 
The one thing I do know is that everyone is different and responds differently to treatment, whatever the type of treatment. When I work with someone, I always encourage my clients to create a method that they feel would work most effectively for their individual situation. Sometimes my clients would look at me incredulously as if to say “this is what I’m paying you for, so you can tell me I should do this myself?” My answer, verbally or non-verbally was always “Yes I’m here to support you, not do it for you.” I can’t do it for you. I do not have that power”.  What follows is my personal experience with Cancer. 
I had just moved from Montréal to Vancouver, but in that short time, I had taken courses in a variety of alternative and/or complementary fields. I had studied hypnotherapy in Montréal and had a small client base there, so I was eager to get started with my practice in Vancouver. Then I got Cancer. The realization came that everything else I was doing in my daily life had to be put on hold. Within eight days of seeing the oncologist, I was in the hospital. The Melanoma was almost directly over my heart, and there was a concern that it would spread quickly. Afterward, I learned that another month and I probably would have been dead. It was decided that surgery was needed as soon as possible. My surgeon was great. She explained to me in great detail what would happen in the procedure as well as post-surgery. 
Although I wasn’t thrilled that at least two lymph nodes would be removed at least, I wouldn’t be losing any muscle. In deciding to have the operation, I also chose to do everything possible to stimulate my body's own immune system. Since there was some question of the cancer spreading, using hypnosis, I started visualizing my healthy cells being protected. I breathed in deeply while imagining a white light surrounding all of my healthy cells. I mobilized an army of PAC men (1983 reference) seeing them devouring all unhealthy cells moving them swiftly out of my body. After that, I breathed in Pink energy to enhance healing. I began seeing the future operation as entirely successful. That night after the surgery I had a very vivid dream. I have heard that this is common after an operation but what amazed me is not just the vividness but the effect. After the dream, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the cancer did not spread and I was fine. I hadn’t talked to anyone, but I knew. 
The next morning I awoke, and although experiencing some pain as a result of the skin graft for the sites on my chest, I was secure in the knowledge that all was well. The situation I was in became a challenge for me. The skin graft from my thigh to my chest was left partially open to drain. The pain and discomfort were getting worse, so using hypnosis I visualized an orange colour surrounding and penetrating the afflicted area. Although not disappearing, the pain or rather my perception of the pain had definitely subsided. That night the nurse arrived with some morphine. She proceeded to get very flustered when I refused the shot. Throughout the following few days’ pain killers of various sorts that had been reserved for me were piling up, and I became the center of considerable controversy among the staff, especially when it was discovered that I was using hypnosis. 
I started getting visits from Doctors, nurses and social workers, all of whom expressed a healthy curiosity about what it was I was actually doing. My favourite person in this group was probably the Social Worker who in no uncertain terms let me know that “hypnosis was the work of the Devil.”  She seemed to have a genuine interest in saving me, but I guess I just wasn’t ready for that at that time. Being in a shared room and getting a bit bored I began to teach two other patients self-hypnosis. One of them even refused a painkiller or two. He told the nurse he was using self-hypnosis for the pain. I kept practicing self-hypnosis and visualizing myself getting healthier. 
Shortly after my stay at the hospital, it was recommended that I see a physiotherapist. I could only lift my extended arm about 1 inch above my waist. The graft would have to stretch. The physiotherapist said it would take six months of therapy before I had full movement in the arm. I told her it wouldn’t. In six months tennis season would be over, at least outdoors. Three weeks later I had a 100% movement in my arm. Using hypnosis and visualization, I imagined my arm going higher than it actually was each time.
On the other hand, maybe my arm was going as high as I imagined it but just not in this reality. I’ll leave that for another article. If I had believed the physiotherapist, it would've taken six months (possibly precisely six months). A Harvard University study was conducted in which they chose 10 cancer patients and taught them self-hypnosis hypnosis. After recording their white blood cell count, the researchers had their patients use their self-hypnosis and visualize their white blood cell count increasing.
This method was practiced every day for five days. Each day the patient's white blood cell count increased significantly. Medically, this was considered impossible. Although it was a small study, the possible implications are interesting. Many people know, or at least have heard of someone who has overcome what seemed like insurmountable odds to achieve success. Hypnosis is an ability we all have which is just as natural as sleep, although it isn’t a sleep state.  It can be a very useful tool in opening the doors to the power within each of us.