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
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.
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.
Lisa Brown is a student at Orca Institute, Canada's Longest running hypnotherapy School
A superhero movie recently trumpeted this message. A counselling hypnotherapist sat in the movie theatre all dinner plate eyes at the transformation of well, just EVERYTHING on the screen. I’m that hypnotherapist and I was watching that movie as a story filled with metaphors, symbols, mind and magic and boy was I entranced by it all! Oh my gosh! This was IT on multiple levels. This was what I did with hypnosis, what I had been and was currently going through, This spoke to me as only stories and metaphors, and suggestion can! I was a kid in a candy shop!
My unconscious mind was jumping up and down, doing backflips and somersaults. Guy goes through a traumatic and totally out of the blue experience that laid waste destroying his expected career trajectory, his whole life and outlook/worldview. His experiences changed him and who he really was, a very different life. He found his greatness in his adversity. He thought he was one thing and that the world was only one thing, so it was for him for a long time.
Then something huge happened-a very unexpected experience shook all that up and it turns out everything is really really different from how it was before. Yet all along really was there all along. Hidden in the open. Like the unconscious mind. Like neuroplasticity. Sounds like, smells like, looks like magic but actually-it is science and art. Maybe that is our “magic” after all. Science and art. It sure is our mind and reality. The superhero drew golden light sigils upon the air with his mind to change reality, we craft words and thoughts upon the spaces within us, with our mind, and change reality.
Wikipedia defines it as:
Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity and neural plasticity, is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual's life, e.g., brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change, and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time.
Research in the latter half of the 20th century showed that many aspects of the brain can be altered (or are "plastic") even through adulthood. This notion is in contrast with the previous scientific consensus that the brain develops during a critical period in early childhood and then remains relatively unchanged (or "static"). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity
There is a woman in Toronto who changed her brain and is teaching others to do the same and even more. Her name is Barbara Arrowsmith and her challenges growing up were quite daunting. She couldn't understand what she read. She sometimes read a sentence many many times and still never sure she understood it. Something others take for granted like reading "take the book and place it the desk" It meant nothing to her. She was 26 before she could read a clock. The effect it had on her confidence and self-esteem was tremendous.
Her story is inspiring. Many children and adults carry shame over their hidden difficulties in learning or doing certain things that they keep hidden. Getting by with compensating for whatever it is they just can't do. For me it is math. For the person who interviewed her, it is reading maps. Maps make no sense to him, as fractions and long division are a mystery to me.
Not being able to do these things caused her tremendous pain and cost years of frustration and tears. She has a photographic memory-visually and auditory. She used this ability to compensate for not being able to reason in certain areas even through college. In fact, it was in college during a science class that she decided that she needed to figure out a way to address and change how she learned directly. Without compensating for it.
She worked hard to discover how she could change what too many neuroscientists at the time said was impossible as an adult. She did it and she has a school in Toronto, The Arrowsmith School where she teaches others how to change their own brains. Some have struggled with learning disabilities their entire life. Others are still very young her students cover the entire human lifespan from kids to senior citizens. She said that she does it so others don't have to go through what she did. Overcoming her deficits didn't change her feelings of lack of confidence and self-esteem overnight built up over such a long time. That healing took longer but after a while, it happened for her.
I love that she changed, healed, and now guides others to change and heal themselves. I think we can heal and help others with their challenges without having first experienced those exact same issues but there is something about someone who has been there that gives hope and confidence a boost. A validity born of motivation, concentration, and belief.
An interesting thing to note is she doesn't only help others bring their cognitive abilities to average-she teaches her students how to bring them to as advanced a level as possible for them. To excel. That has got to be a huge huge boost to people's self-esteem and confidence.
When I first went to university in the 80’s Introductory Psychology classes, biology, anatomy, human development classes taught what was commonly believed to be true at the time. That neurons don’t grow, and that once an area of the brain is disrupted, injured, damaged, or otherwise undeveloped/malformed it is gone forever, can't regrow, that what you had at birth was what you would have throughout your life, that there was a small, all too brief window of opportunity when you were young in which you could learn languages, develop talents and abilities.
if you missed that window-you missed the train so to speak to ever learn and develop those things and more. Research and better brain imaging proved that this wasn’t true at all. In reality, our brains can and do grow new neurons throughout life. Our brains can and do grow pathways around damaged areas. Old dogs can and do learn new tricks. All the time.
Not only does this make sense in keeping with what we do commonly see happening around us in our experiences, but it has also been verified in studies and research. More so every day across the world.
Ask yourself in what ways can you take your highly malleable brain & using the art and science of what you do as a counselling hypnotherapist, make some magic in your client's lives?