The Ericksonian HypnoTherapy Experience

Most of us have heard of hypnosis, but what is it? There are so-called examples of hypnosis on television shows, movies and even stage performances. In these “examples” the person receiving the “hypnosis” seems to have no control over their actions or behaviors and sometimes have no memory of their actions! While we could spend the time to explain what these instances are in reality, I can assure you that they are most certainly NOT hypnosis. 

Clinically, medical professionals and therapists have historically used a form of hypnosis where the therapist makes suggestions about what is best for the patient after inducing a hypnotic state. The therapist is the “expert/authority” and the subject is the “patient.” This is certainly one form of hypnosis. You may have encountered this in hypnosis groups marketed for stopping smoking or losing weight. Milton H. Erickson (father of family therapy and modern evidence-based hypnosis) said that these forms of hypnosis “are great for the BASIC person. Problem is, I’ve never met a BASIC person.” 

Ericksonian hypnosis is a strengths-based approach founded on a few principles that respect a person’s natural resources and abilities and is supported by the most current in neuroscience research.  It utilizes the relationship between therapist and client to inform the interventions so that client is able to connect with their innermost “knowing” to facilitate their own new solutions. Clients of Ericksonian hypnotherapy are fully in control of their participation level. The therapist is not the “expert” of the experience. The therapist may, however, expertly guide a client, using the client’s own trance, to assist the client in finding whatever solutions or shifts for which they are looking. 

So, what is a trance? Trances are natural states that we all come in and out of on a daily basis. Some trances seem to come on spontaneously; some trances take a routine to build; some trances seem to be attached to people who are important in our lives and we find ourselves acting in very specific ways around them that may not be typical for us when they are not around. A common example of trance is that almost universal experience of driving to work, lost in thought, and parking only to realize that we don’t remember any bit of our drive there! We were so involved in our trance that muscle memory took over and got us to work!

“Problem” trances exclude information that is otherwise useful to us. Again, most of us have had the experience of looking for our keys/phones for embarrassing amounts of time only to discover that the item is in our hands. Client’s often come into therapy experiencing one or several of these “problem” trances that keep them from seeing what they need, and likely already have, to create their solutions. A skilled hypnotherapist can assist and guide a client to rediscovering their unconscious resources that have been present all along!

When we view problems as types of trances, it can be easy to see how hypnotherapy can assist clients in creating their own outcomes. The more research we uncover about the mind-body connection and the role of automatic processes in our awareness, perceptions and experience, we now see scientifically how it is that hypnotherapy has often been wildly successful for people struggling with pain, somatic experiencing, psychosomatic issues, trauma history, challenging family dynamics, mental health diagnosis and more.

Children haven’t unlearned some of their innate intelligences quite yet and find themselves in hypnotic states most frequently. Children are expertly using trace when we simply ask them to “IMAGINE….” Play is a most common trance state for a child where anything is possible. Children are aware of deeper meanings and respond well to metaphors and symbols and often work out their struggles symbolically. A child’s hypnotherapist will enter into the child’s symbolic rendering of their world and assist the child in making the small shifts necessary to continue growing in healthy and adaptive ways, using the child’s specific and unique interests and abilities. 

Regardless of a person’s age or issue, humans need to play. A trance of playfulness can benefit clients of all ages. Consider this an invitation for you to “play” with some new possibilities for the outcomes you are seeking. You need not be a child or have a life-threatening illness or trauma to benefit from hypnotherapy. Though, having a little bit of child-likeness may help.