Deborah Pearce Hypnotherapy Deborah Pearce

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy in East Devon & Online

07939 840 788

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News and thoughts about hypnotherapy, neuroscience and the power of the subconscious

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If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it

One of the underlying principles of the Solution Focused world is ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ As with many of the underpinning tenets, it probably sounds incredibly obvious.

 

But that’s the point. So many of us go about our daily lives believing we need to fix things that aren’t actually broken.

 

We see it sometimes in the therapy room. Typically, it will be connected with concerns about sleep. Clients may think they have a problem with insomnia because they’re wide awake at 5am and can’t get back to sleep. When we delve a little further we discover that the clients are going to bed at 9pm and drifting off pretty quickly. Now, if they’re asleep at 9pm-ish and waking up at 5am, that means they’re getting 8 hours of sleep. And all the studies show that 8 hours is a healthy amount. So, waking up at 5am if you go to sleep at 9pm isn’t a problem that needs fixing.

 

Now, that’s a pretty obvious example, but often the issue is more subtle. And it’s often brought about by external pressures, like TV or online advertising.

 

I don’t know about you, but I never knew that plastic containers not being totally dry when they come out of the dishwasher was a problem. I had just accepted it as a quirk. But I’ve seen TV adverts for dishwasher tablets that will make sure your plastic items are dry when you take them out of the dishwasher.

 

My husband and I often look at one another after seeing a TV advert and say, ‘Well now, that’s a problem we never knew we had.’ Identifying a problem and offering a solution is a tried and tested marketing technique, originating from the father of public relations, Edward L Bernays, in the early 20th century. He was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and was influenced by Freud’s theories about sub-conscious drives . He started to experiment to see if he could manipulate group behaviour covertly by applying psychoanalytical techniques to the world of PR and advertising.

 

And that set the scene for how we end up being bombarded with solutions to problems we never knew we had.

 

Now that’s kind of fine if it’s about dishwasher tablets. But the messages we absorb day in, day out are often more subtle. They’re about the way we look, how well we’re ageing, the efficiency of our digestive enzymes, the quality of the camera on our phones, whether that chip in the windscreen will lead to catastrophic cracking, and so it goes.

 

This has two effects. First off, it raises our anxiety. We pick up on the urgency of the situation and we’re left feeling that there’s unfinished business, something that needs our attention. Secondly, it leaves us feeling that somehow we’re not good enough, that we’re inadequate in some way. And of course, the messages are so subtle we’re not always aware of the source of our unease.

 

So, what’s to be done? Well the antidote is to take a step back to gain some perspective. OK, you may not have perfectly smooth skin, but does that stop you having a good giggle with a mate?  So maybe your phone camera hasn’t got all the bells and whistles, but does that stop you making phone calls or capturing the essence of a family get-together? It’s about accepting that none of us will ever get to a stage where everything is perfect. Even people at the top of their profession will no doubt compare themselves unfavourably with others.

 

So, if you’re feeling uneasy about something, ask yourself if it’s actually broken. Does it really need fixing? If it does, then take action towards getting it fixed. But if it doesn’t, it’s time to focus on what is working in your life.

 

And when you do that, you can adopt another Solution Focused principle: If it works, do more of it.

We use different language for discussing problems and solutions

One of the differences in solution focused therapy is that we actively discourage clients from talking about their problems. Instead, we help them to formulate solutions.

 

Why do we steer people away from discussing their problems? It sounds counter-intuitive and clients often think that we therapists have to understand their problem in detail before we can help them move forward positively.

 

But this is absolutely not the case.

 

And there’s a reason for this. It’s because one of the fundamental principles of the solution focused approach is that ‘the language for developing a solution is different from that needed to describe a problem’.

 

When we’re describing a problem, we generally go through all the steps that led us to the current situation. Usually this involves negative language and can lead to rumination. It keeps us stuck in the problem. We’re trapped in the mindset that got us to this point in the first place. And we’re most unlikely to come up with a solution if we keep rehearsing the problem.

 

If instead we accept that we are where we are, and concentrate on how we would prefer things to be, something magical happens. Our language becomes much more positive and hopeful. It’s focused towards a future where the problem no longer exists. We’re not stuck and we can see that problem is just a temporary setback.

 

Have you ever been in a situation where something has gone wrong and needs to be fixed really quickly? As a manager in my previous careers, this kind of situation would crop up from time to time. Being naturally solution-oriented, I didn’t waste time looking for blame or the steps that led to the problem. Instead, I encouraged my teams to get things sorted, to find a solution as soon as possible.

 

Then, and only then, would we investigate what had happened so we could develop procedures to prevent it happening again. And that was so much easier, because we already had a solution as a template for a more successful outcome in the future.

 

I listen out for problem-oriented language in the therapy room and gently guide clients to adopt a solution-focused vocabulary.

 

Here’s an example of problem-speak, and how the same issue could be expressed in a solution focused way:

 

A client might say, ‘I’m always on the go and I never have time for me.’ As you can see, the statement is negative, it focuses on what’s wrong and it implies that the issue is permanent.

If instead the client says something like, ‘I want to have some downtime, just 15 minutes a day would be wonderful,’ that’s using completely different language. It’s future-oriented, positive and hopeful. The next step, of course, is to help the client work out how they’re going to ringfence 15 minutes a day, how they’re going to work towards that solution. By expressing the situation in a solution-focused way it demonstrates that the problem is temporary. They’re not stuck on a treadmill. They can take steps to create a different outcome.

 

So, talking about a problem in detail (while it’s still ongoing) is unlikely to lead to a positive outcome. It will just mean that you’re even more entrenched in the problem.

 

If you want to solve a problem, it’s far better to spend time describing what a positive outcome would look like. Talk about what’s going to be happening after the problem has been solved. Once you’ve done that, you can take the steps towards that positive outcome. You’re released from the constraints that the problem has caused.

 

Learning to use solution-focused language rather than problem-oriented language is hugely liberating. It prevents rumination and negative introspection, and replaces them with optimism and empowerment.

 

Awesome!

What does it mean to be happy?

Several years ago, I ran some 8-week courses in Happiness. And one of the first things I asked the attendees was, ‘What does the word happiness mean to you?’

 

It’s a simple question but it provoked a great deal of discussion. It got everyone thinking. What do we mean when we say we want to be happy?

 

We all agreed that it didn’t mean being ecstatic all the time. That’s simply not practical and frankly sounds exhausting. The general consensus from each of the courses was that it involved feeling content with life. Feeling that everything is fine, that we can relax with a quiet mind.

 

And ‘contentment’ is a word I often hear in the therapy room. When I ask clients what they would notice if something in their life had shifted for the better, they will often start with, ‘I would be happier.’ When we probe about what that means, we will often reach stage a of, ‘I would be content with my life.’

 

So then it’s a question of doing the things that are likely to lead to contentment.

 

And that’s not about having certain possessions or endless holidays or even being in relaxing surroundings. There’s no point splashing out on a pampering retreat if your mind is still ruminating about all the worries you need to face when you get back home.

 

When you’re in a good headspace, you can pretty much feel content whatever the situation.

 

There’s a metaphor that I share with clients about having a calm mind. It’s about a king who launched a competition to find the best picture of peace. Surprisingly he chose a picture of a stormy day in the mountains with black thunder clouds and a foaming waterfall. When people questioned why he thought it was peaceful, it was because he’d spotted a bird in a nest behind the waterfall, sitting in perfect peace. The king said ‘Peace does not mean to be in place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart.’

 

I often see clients who are in very stressful situations. They’re not in a position to change what’s going on without enormous upheaval. But that needn’t be a problem. Because it’s not the situation that’s causing the stress. It’s their response to the situation. If we imagine a stressor is a threat we’re going to feel worried and anxious. If instead we see the stressor as a challenge, then we have the confidence to know that we can deal with it. We have peace of mind.

 

And once you understand that, you can pretty much cope with anything. Problems at work, relationship issues, illness. Almost anything.

 

It all boils down to how you think about the situation. And that’s linked with how you think in general. If you’re in the habit of glass-half-empty patterns of thought, you’re less likely to be able to cope when a stressor crops up. If you’re already in the habit of finding the positives in life, then you’re better placed to cope with a difficult situation and take it in your stride.

 

So, the time to learn how to cope with a negative situation isn’t when you’re in it. It’s when things are ticking along nicely. Getting your thought processes into trim, building resilience and strengthening your ‘positivity muscle’ before the crisis hits. Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes.

 

So, if you’re feeling confident that you can cope with whatever life throws at you, you’re home and dry. You’re feeling nicely content.

 

And that’s a good place to be.

 

Finding Exceptions

One of the most powerful tools in a Solution Focused therapist’s toolkit is the underpinning principle that ‘No problems happen all the time; there are always exceptions that can be utilised.’

 

And what that means is we work with our clients to identify times when the issue they’re struggling with is absent, or not as pronounced.

 

So, if someone is struggling to maintain their ideal weight, their focus is likely to be on the times when they’re heavier than they want to be. They’ll be reminding themselves of all the times they ate too much of the wrong kinds of food. In the therapy room we’ll help the client focus on the times when they were more in control. We explore what was different and encourage them to recognise that there have been times when they’ve had the resources to reach their preferred weight.

 

Similarly, if a client reports that they are always arguing with their partner, we’ll help them identify times when they weren’t arguing. We’ll explore what was different about those times.

 

If a client says that they’re feeling totally jaded and can’t be bothered to do anything, we’ll help them recognise activities they have completed, no matter how small, to demonstrate that there are times when they’ve been slightly more motivated.

 

It’s a strange notion that we have something called a recency bias. It’s where we distort our perception of life by judging everything on the most recent event that has happened. You may have had a reasonable day at work, but if the last phone call you took was from an unhappy customer who was aggressive, you’re more likely to recall that your whole day was awful.

 

We also have a negativity bias, and that means we distort our perception of events by placing more emphasis on experiences that went wrong than on those that went well. It would probably have been a good survival trait in prehistoric times. Being alert to what might go wrong would be a better approach than being overly optimistic.

 

By recognising that ‘no problems happen all the time’, and by identifying the ‘exceptions’, we can gain a more balanced perspective on life.

 

And that has to be a good thing.

Happy New Year!

And there’s much to celebrate.

 

First, we made it through another challenging year. Yay! Vaccines, boosters and home-testing kits have meant that we’re in a much stronger position than this time last year. Things are definitely looking up.

 

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of course, and along with my hypnotherapy colleagues, we’ve oscillated between online-only sessions and in-person sessions several times. We’re all very grateful that we can provide our hypnotherapy services remotely, so we can continue to support our clients regardless of evolving guidelines.

 

It’s incredible how adaptable we can be, and here are some of 2021’s highlights:

 

Although I retired as a hypnotherapy trainer in 2020, several of the Clifton Practice Hypnotherapy Training (CPHT) schools invited me back to present the marketing module to their students. All of 2021’s sessions were online, but it was great to ‘meet’ students in Hampshire, Manchester and Sheffield at different times throughout the year. Looking forward to delivering in-person training during 2022.

 

As a clinical hypnotherapy supervisor, it’s a privilege to support a small group of local hypnotherapists. We meet in person or via Zoom, depending on current guidelines and, being Solution Focused, we keep the sessions nicely positive so we all come away buzzing. They, too, have faced challenges with their practices, but have responded in typical can-do fashion and continued to help their clients through difficult times.

 

My own hypnotherapy practice has evolved during 2021. With the addition of online sessions, it was no longer practical to maintain a presence at four therapy centres, so in February I retired as a contract therapist from the Axminster Health and Wellbeing Centre. After 11 years there, it was a difficult decision, but the good news is that clients in the Axminster area don’t have far to travel to Orchard Osteopaths in Chard where I work one day a week. Plus of course, I still have therapy rooms in Ottery St Mary and Sidmouth.

 

With so much training having moved online, I’ve been making the most of opportunities to immerse myself in all things brain-related. In February I attended an online one-day conference focused on Scientific Behaviour Change, with lectures from a range of experts in the field. And I’ve found some fantastic online Podcasts about the link between the mind and body. Plus I’ve had time to catch up with reading many of the self-help/neuroscience books I’ve bought over the years. That hasn’t stopped me buying (and reading) loads more of course.

 

I was chuffed to be invited to give a talk as part of Sidmouth Science Week. So, in October, I gave a presentation about the Science of Sleep at Sidmouth Parish Church in Church Street, a stone’s-throw from the therapy room in Ebdons Court. It was a bigger audience than I’d expected, but they were lovely and lively, and asked plenty of follow-up questions at the end.

 

On the personal front it’s been a year of significant celebrations, with Mr P’s 60th in January, Mrs P senior’s 80th in July and our 25th wedding anniversary also in July. We marked each occasion in the best way possible at the time – a Zoom party for Mr P, a garden party for the mum-in-law, and a socially-distanced posh hotel stay for our anniversary.

 

And finally, I’ve made a determined effort to seek out and share good news via my social media accounts and newsletters. I subscribed to a marvellous publication called Positive News. It’s produced by professional journalists focused on highlighting good-news stories from around the world. Inspirational, uplifting and optimistic, I can highly recommend it.

 

And as I said at the start – there’s so much to celebrate.

 

Here’s to an even brighter 2022!