New clients are often concerned that they won’t be able to ‘go into trance’. Some even say that they have had hypnotherapy before but were unable to ‘go under’ and so believed that the hypnosis did not work.
Similarly, they may say that they have no imagination and are worried that they won’t be able to visualise ‘walking through a forest’ or ‘relaxing in a tranquil garden’.
These concerns are based on a misconception about what is involved in both trance and visualisation. These words can pack a mystical punch, but the truth is, we all go in and out of trance multiple times a day, and we can all visualise.
As a demonstration, I suggest to these clients that they describe their kitchen to me. Immediately I see them turn their attention inwards (often they look up or out of the window), and they very easily describe the size, layout and style of their kitchen.
Now, in order to do this they have had to visualise (imagine / call to mind / recall ) what their kitchen looks like. The chances are they ‘see’ what they would see if they were standing in their kitchen. They are not actually there, of course, they are in the therapy room with me, but they have had to take their attention away from me and into their kitchen.
That’s pretty much what ‘trance’ is. In fact it’s just like day-dreaming. It’s a very powerful state in which the activity of the brain is altered. As Dr David Spiegel, psychiatrist at Stanford University and an expert in the use of hypnosis in a clinical setting, puts it, “In hypnosis, you’re so absorbed that you’re not worrying about anything else.”
In the therapy room we guide people into trance, by getting them nicely comfortable, in a relaxing chair or on a therapy couch, playing some soothing music and then gently encouraging them to imagine (visualise) being somewhere else.
We can then begin the therapeutic change work by using uplifting, motivational language to help them achieve their desired outcome.
In solution focused hypnotherapy we have already established what the client’s preferred future is, through the use of special questioning techniques. Once the client has a clear idea of their next step towards their ultimate goal, then we do the trance work.
Due to the changes that occur in the brain during trance, the process means that it is easier for the client to effect change once they have left the therapy room.
So, trance is ultimately a natural, but powerful, experience. As one of my clients described it, ‘It’s just like having a mind massage.’
Working as I do in the Solution Focused approach, does not mean that life does not serve up the occasional lemon. Adopting a positive attitude to life does not make you immune the occasional setback or hiccup. But, as the saying goes, 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade'.
I am careful to explain this to clients, who are sometimes disappointed that they let someone annoy them, or they had an off-day in between sessions.
We will none of us reach a state where there are no challenges to be overcome.
What’s different about using a Solution Focused approach is recognising a number of things about life’s lemons:
- Viewing a setback as a challenge or a threat makes all the difference to how well you cope with it.
- Approached with a ‘can do’ attitude, a setback is only a temporary affair.
- By overcoming life’s occasional challenge, we become more resilient and better able to cope in the future.
After more than a decade of immersing myself in Solution Focused techniques, I find it relatively easy to see the upside in most situations. My brain naturally begins a process of ‘OK, that’s a nuisance, but at least it means x, y or z’, which enables me to see a positive future beyond the problem at hand.
To be fair, I already had a ‘can-do’ approach to life generally, and that’s what attracted me to Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, but the good news is that anyone can learn to develop a more robust approach to life’s hazard.
Whether you see yourself as a victim or a survivor, a pawn or a player, a drain or a radiator will determine how you handle a tricky situation. You respond how you respond because that’s how you’ve always done it.
Fortunately you can re-wire your brain to be more resilient, because your brain is malleable. Changing how you respond is achievable by imagining how you would prefer to react in a given situation:
- How do you want to come across in that job interview?
- How do you want to behave when your children are throwing tantrums?
- How do you want to respond when the decorator has made a blunder?
Visualising how you want to be is the key to developing a more resilient approach to life.
And that way you can make lemonade no matter how many lemons come your way.
From time to time I come across a client who I know would benefit from additional therapy such as holistic massage, osteopathy, acupuncture, reflexology etc and, like most therapists, I have a network of colleagues that I can refer clients to. Similarly, I am fortunate in that those other therapists will occasionally refer their clients to me for hypnotherapy.
Together we work with the clients, complementing each other’s therapy. This is because we are acutely aware of the mind-body connection. For example, we know that our thoughts can cause us to become physically tense, or if we are in pain we can become depressed or moody.
Have you ever noticed yourself clutching the steering wheel really tightly because someone has just upset you? Or you don’t get migraines when you’re on holiday? Or you get stomach cramps before meetings at work? Being stressed can even impact on your blood pressure, immune system or reproductive system.
When clients are referred to me from other therapists, I work with the clients using Solution Focused techniques designed to help them cope better with the emotional stresses they are experiencing. In this way clients learn a more relaxed approach to the events in their life, which in turn leads to a release of physical tension and relief from other stress-related symptoms.
Hypnotherapy can have other physical benefits too. It may be that the client becomes more motivated to exercise, or chooses to eat more healthily, or manages to sleep better, which of course helps both the mind and the body.
It’s absolutely fascinating how the mind affects the body, and vice versa.
Several years ago a lovely client gave me a greetings card that nicely summed up our work together. The caption read:
'Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday, and everything is fine.'
Wow! So simple and yet so powerful, summing up how most of what we worry about never happens and, even if it does, we have survived it.
That saying still makes me smile and it got me thinking about other inspirational quotes that demonstrate how we create our own reality. These two are amongst my favourites:
'Only when we accept the fact that we are where we are because of choices we've made in the past can we live every day of the rest of our lives in the certain knowledge that we can do anything we want to do if we simply make the right choices.' Jim Stovall
'Do something today that your future self will thank you for.' (Sean Patrick Flanery)
That first quote was a game-changer for me. The penny dropped that I wasn’t stuck in the difficult situation I found myself in; I could make choices that would lead to a better outcome.
The second quote is never far from my mind. It motivates me to take action on projects that will provide a future benefit, no matter how small that action is.
So, what choice will you make today?
Have you ever compared notes with a colleague after a business meeting and found that you each thought something different was agreed? Or reflected on a holiday to find that you recall it as being really enjoyable, but the person you were with only remembers the times when things didn’t go to plan?
How can this be? Well, it can’t be the event itself. When all is said and done, pretty much the same things happened to each of you. It actually boils down to the way we think about things. And the way we think about things is ultimately a result of how our neurons (nerve cells) are connected in our brains.
When we are born we have around 100 billion neurons in our brain. At this stage it’s pretty much a blank canvass and we have relatively few connections between the neurons. As we experience life, so our brain cells connect in such a way that we can recognise a situation next time around and respond appropriately. In other words, we learn.
So, it’s easy to see that if we have different experiences, we learn to respond to events in a different way. Fast forward a few years and our past experiences shape who we are. If in the playground at school we found that our input was overlooked in favour of a more confident friend, we may subconsciously ‘learn’ that it’s a waste of time speaking up in meetings or expressing an opinion.
Of course, to us, it feels normal. How I respond to a situation feels normal to me, and the way you respond feels normal to you, and it comes as quite a shock when we realise that others don’t see the world as we see it.
None of this is a problem if our experiences have shaped us to lead a fulfilled and contented life, with inbuilt resilience to tackle the occasional challenge. If, however, we have developed into an anxious, fearful individual then that’s not so much fun.
The good news is that our brains are ‘plastic’, they are malleable, and with the appropriate training we can learn to respond differently to life events. We actually forge new connections between the neurons in our brains, so we can react in a more helpful way.
Of course, anything worth doing takes effort and consistency, but the rewards can literally be life-changing.