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Boxes inside boxes

Boxes inside boxes: a metaphor therapy case

I had another very interesting client today. This client allowed me to get an insight into how the human mind works, and gave very clear metaphors of how she saw her problem.

 This client was a woman in late middle age who had suffered from anxiety most of her life. She came to see me because she is having trouble playing the card game Bridge. She is actually a good and skilled player. But whenever she has to partner with someone she does not know, her game falls apart. She is sure that her new bridge partner will be better than her. My client gets anxious at the thought of what the other person might think about her play. She then worries about this until by the time she gets to the card table she is a nervous wreck, and she plays terribly badly. This therefore fulfils her own prophecy and the whole cycle repeats with the next new player.

Metaphor therapy

 I decided to use metaphor therapy. I got her to take some deep breaths to calm herself. Then I asked her to think about the last bridge game she had when she felt she just could not deal with it. I got her to associate into the feeling. "Think about the shape of the feeling," I told her. "What shape is that feeling?"

She is one of those clients who fidgets a lot, and moves around in the chair. I began to wonder if this method was going to work. Then she surprised me by saying "it's ovalish.". So I asked, "How  big is it?" She guested with her hands to indicate that it was about the size of a dustbin lid. I asked some more clarifying questions and she told me "it's a big piece of coal."

I then started developing the metaphor of the "big piece of coal". She describes in detail has been black and shiny and heavy with lots of sharp angles. I then asked "can you make it a little bit bigger?" "Yes," she said. "And a little bit bigger still?" "Yes," she said. This told me that she actually had some control over it.

I then asked "can you make it a little smaller?" "And a little smaller still?" There was a period of silence until she said "no, it won't get any smaller. It is just getting more dense."

Changing the first mental block

She had now found her subconscious blockage. When a client says they cannot change a metaphor it means that there is something in their unconscious mind which is defending that. This is usually a fear of being unable to handle the change that might come afterwards.

So I changed my approach. I started to suggest to her ways that this thing could change. The idea was to keep suggesting things until I suggested something that her mind would accept. I tried suggesting hammers, drills, crushers, anything that would break up that "piece of coal".

Nothing seemed to work. She steadfastly refused to think of anything that could affect this "piece of coal". I was running out of ideas until remembered that it was actually a piece of coal. Coal burns! So I suggested it might go on fire. She immediately said "No. No, that can't happen."

I wasn't sure what to do next and just waited for her to say something else. And then she said "it could be heated, and give off gas." Somehow, this was acceptable to her mind. I told her to go ahead and heat it.

I then asked her "what is it like now?"

She said "it is grey and porous and quite weak."

I then went back to suggesting hammers, drills et cetera. And while I was going through the list of possible tools she said "It is all dust now."

And I thought to myself "Job done."

So I asked her to think back to the bridge game and the feeling she had about not being good enough for her partner. "How does that seem to you now?"

"Just the same," she said.

Changing the second mental block

Okay… I had seen this behaviour before. Her unconscious mind would not let me anywhere near the real problem. Instead it had offered me some minor metaphor and allowed her to work through that. Her unconscious mind knew that it was safe to change that.  But, it also means that her mind is now receptive to change, because it had experienced some change without any psychological kickback.

So I started the whole process again. I got her to associate back into the original problem, to imagine being in that situation where she was sure that she was going to disappoint the other person and feel embarrassed.

This time I had to work a lot harder to get past her defences. Eventually she told me "there is a big wooden box." Once again I got her to describe the object in detail. She told me that it was "very old, and very strong."

I then set about trying to find ways I could get her to destroy the box. Nothing seemed to work. I sensed that this time was up against a major piece of resistance. I suggested it might go transparent, that it might get wet and rot, it could get eaten by worms and fall apart. None of these produced any response.  

Boxes inside boxes

So I asked "what do you think might be in the box?"

After a long period she said "more boxes. There are more boxes inside."

"How many boxes?"

"There are five boxes", she said. I then got her to describe each of the boxes. She told me "the big one is made of cardboard. Then there's another one made of metal. And one made of glass. And another cardboard one. And a wooden one." It was now obvious from her demeanour, that she had gone deep into trance, and was actually experiencing these things directly.

And then she said "and there are papers, and files scattered around." I did not know quite what to make of that, so I decided to explore the five boxes.

"And what do you think is in those boxes?"

And one by one she began to tell me about the contents of each box. The wooden box contains soil. The glass box contained a red light. The small cardboard box contained a wooden puzzle. The metal box took a long time to uncover. It turned out to be in two sections. The top section has five compartments, and each compartment was filled with a liquid colour. Each colour was different. I asked, "what do you think the are for?" She said, "I don't know."

So I suggested, "perhaps you can make something out of those things?"

She said, "yes, I think I might."

She then said "those papers have all the things I have done wrong in my life written on them. They are all neatly organised into files."

Burning her old anxieties

I took a while to appreciate the startling development.

So I asked her "what would you like to have happen to those papers and files?"

She said "I suppose I could get rid of them?"

I asked her "what would you use to get rid of them?"

She said, " I could use the red light to burn them."

So I encouraged her, "and you can use the red light to burn them all up."

And a lovely smile came over her face. I asked "what's happening in that place now?"

She said, "they are all getting burned up, and I'm putting the ashes in the soil."

The time between her responses got longer and longer. And the smile on her face got broader and broader. She was clearly enjoying burning up all her old mistakes.

The time between responses got so long, that I went off and made a cup of tea.

When I came back she was sitting there with her eyes open, smiling.

She said, "I didn't want to come back. I was having such a good time playing with the red light and I can still feel it swirling around me."

I asked her, "And what about that old feeling of not being good enough?"

And she said, "well, actually I think it's gone."


I finished the session then. I felt that she had undergone a profound change

And on the way out she said, "I'm looking forward to finding what's in the other compartment of that metal box."


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Archimedes spiral induction

Archimedes spiral induction

Hypnosis is associated in the public's mind with two things: a swinging watch, and a rotating spiral. The hypnotic spiral is actually called an Archimedes spiral. Whether it actually has any connection to Archimedes is unknown. 

It is also known as Plateau's spiral, after the Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau (1801–1883.) Plateau published a description of its use in 1878. The spiral is generally mounted on a card about 15 cm in diameter, with a little motor behind it that causes it to rotate slowly. The original spiral, in the mid-19th century, was driven by a sort of windmill affair, by the hot air given off by a spirit lamp.

Archimedes spiral induction

The Archimedes spiral induction is quite  effective. It is caused by a physical effect called a "spiral motion after-effect". After staring at the spiral for a while, if you look at something stationary, it appears that the stationary object is actually turning. If you look at the hypnotist's face, it appears to expand or contract, depending on the direction the spiral was turning.

The Archimedes spiral induction uses this optical illusion to put people into trance. The hypnotist tells the person that what they are seeing is their mind taking them into trance. The hypnotist suggests that every time the face expands and contracts the person will go deeper into trance. The effect is quite strong, so the suggestions are easily believed. The listener cannot deny what they are seeing. Therefore the suggestion that "this means that you are going into trance" is accepted by the unconscious mind. Most people will sink into trance immediately.

The Archimedes spiral was an immensely popular scientific toy in the mid-19th century. This is probably why it was picked up by hypnotists. The spiral, and other mechanical aids, has fallen out of use. Those objects were associated with the "direct command" style of authoritarian hypnosis. That style has largely been replaced by more permissive styles of hypnosis.



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Trichotillomania and anxiety

Trichotillomania and anxiety

I had a very memorable client today. He told me that he had trichotillomania. He said that he was constantly pulling hairs out of his beard and picking at his nails. He couldn't stop and he needed to stop because it was threatening his job. From previous experience I know that hair pulling is associated with anxiety. I asked him when the anxiety had started. He told me that he had been anxious all his life. So I asked him to tell me about growing up. He had grown up in a religious family. His father was in the military. His father was strict and verbally abusive. He was a perfectionist for whom nothing was ever good enough.

My client described an upbringing of constant anxiety. He had been sexually abused by an older stepbrother. I asked him at what age this happened. He said that he was three years old when it was discovered. Eventually his stepbrother was institutionalised. I pointed out that at three years old you have no memories, and so the sexual abuse, if it actually happened, would not have affected his behaviour.

I said it was much more likely that his parents had told him about it and expected him to behave badly. He told me that he'd spent much of his childhood on Ritalin. He was forced to take various pharmaceuticals until he went to high school when he just refused to take any more.

Ineffective therapy

He described an endless round of psychotherapists, counselors, guides and advisers. Most of these were faith-based. A few helped, most did not. He had been to group therapy, face-to face therapy, art therapy, meditation: you name it, he's been to it. He had spent thousands of hours in therapy. And I said to him, "You've been to all this counselling, all this therapy, and yet you are still anxious?". He told me that he had tried everything. He actively tried to stop his racing thoughts and he got anxious when he was in crowds. He said "I feel that there is something still chasing me".

I asked him what he felt had helped him. He said that being taught how to go sleep was very useful. He slept badly and often woke during the night. Meditation was also useful. He meditated on a regular basis. I asked them how it was that he meditated a lot, but still had anxiety. He just looked even more unhappy.

I felt that it was a tragedy that this decent young man had been let down by the entire therapy profession. It seemed to me there was very little wrong with him apart from his anxiety. Looking back, it seemed that most of it was the result of his parents behaviour towards him. And all the nonsense labels that various therapists had tried to stick on to him.

Treating deep-seated anxiety

I felt that the best approach would be to tackle his anxiety head-on. Since he said that he had been meditating a lot, and was good at it, I asked him to put himself into trance. Just say the word "yes", when you are there.

He proceeded to put himself under. I got him to deepen the trance. Then I suggested that he focused on this feeling of "something still chasing me". His expression changed, and it became clear that he was actually experiencing that old anxiety. I kept on suggesting that he could go deeper into the anxiety, to become more aware of it, to allow it to come out fully. His whole body was showing signs of anxiety. I then suggested that he could become curious about that feeling. I asked him to consider its size, its colour, its shape and what object it most resembled.

Developing the metaphor

He said "it's a motor". This surprised me. Most people think of clouds or stones or something fairly general. I was quite happy to accept a motor, so I continue developing it. He said it was about the size of a basketball, it was black, it had moving parts, and it was dangerous. I asked "what else you know about it?". He told me it was a Langolier motor. This meant nothing to me, and I wasn't sure if I'd heard him correctly. He had a very clear image of the motor whatever it was, so I started on the next stage which is to change into something else.

I asked him "what would you like to have happen to this thing?". He said he wanted to stop it. Then he said he wanted to take it apart. I asked "and what would that mean for you, if it stopped and you took it apart?". He said "I could rebuild it". This wasn't what I expected, but I pressed on. "And what would it mean for you if you could rebuild it?". He said "then I would know how it worked". I asked again "and what would it mean for you when you know how it works?". He said "then I could be calm". This meant he had now established a link between changing the motor metaphor and his desired state. Changing the motor in any way would break him out of his anxiety state.

Changing the metaphor

So I asked him "what would have to happen for that motor to stop?". He said it couldn't stop. It was too dangerous. He couldn't even see it clearly, because it was moving so fast. Even going near it, things could fly off it and injure you. This was his unconscious mind's way of keeping away from the feeling. Most likely he had never really addressed the feeling at all at any time in his life, for fear of what might happen.

I then suggested, gently, that possibly some sort of wall, some sort of barrier could go around it. A moment later he said "Ah yes, there is a barrier around it". I asked him what it was made of. He said "glass". So I said, "just allow whatever wants to happen to happen". After a shot. He said "it's filled with water" with a sense of surprise in his voice. And then he said "it has frozen". And now I can see it clearly. "It's a very clever intricate machine". And he began to describe in some detail. He was clearly thinking of some real machine, and not some vague metaphor. This was very puzzling to me, but I kept on with the therapy.

I asked him what he would like to have happen to it. And he said again "I want to take it apart". So I gently suggested he begin taking apart. And he described in excruciating detail exactly what he was doing. He was taking tiny screwdrivers and removing the screws. Each screw was carefully bagged, colour-coded, labelled and laid out. He described taking each bit apart, laying it out, taking sketches and photographs so that he would know how to put back together again. And he was constantly remarking on how clever and intricate and well-designed it was. He was filled with admiration for the working of this machine.

Destroying the machine

This actually wasn't what I was trying to achieve. I needed him to destroy the machine, not follow in love with it. So I made more suggestions about what to do with the machine. Eventually he said " I could build something different with it". So I encourage them to think about using just a few parts to make something useful. He seemed very taken with this idea. He said he could make something for everyone and they would find it useful.

I said "and you can be proud of that, can't you?". "Oh yes," he said "but then everyone would start arguing about where the idea came from and try to patent it would cause a whole lot of arguments". So I then spent some time trying to assure him that it actually would work out well. I then checked to see if all the parts had been used. "And is there anything left of that machine?".

Destroying the dangerous part

He told me that there were many parts left. There were sharp and dangerous and couldn't be touched. I asked him what he was going to do with them. He said he would bag them up and put them away. This was not what I wanted. I wanted him to destroy those dangerous parts. Otherwise they might come back at some future time and ruin all the good work we had been  doing. I told him he had to get rid of them. And he said "okay, I will give them to some friends of mine". This would not at all what I had expected, but I figured  getting rid of them that way was as good as any other way.

So the machine had now been dismantled. I reminded him that this meant that he could now change. I asked him "how does that anxiety seem to you now?". He said "it all seems very distant". Job done.

Explaining the metaphor

I then brought out of trance and we chatted for a while. He said to me "did you notice that I called that a Langolier?". I said yes but I had no idea what what he meant by it. He told me that when he was a child he had watched the Stephen King movie with his father. It had frightened him at the time. The movie was about going to the edge of time and these machines called Langolier continually ate Time.

His young mind had associated these machines with some enormous monstrous power that consumed everything and could not be stopped. Somehow or other he had made a link between that and his childhood anxiety caused by things that he couldn't stop and had no control over. That was the metaphor that he brought up from the depths of his unconscious. By dismantling and disabling that machine metaphorically, he had dismantled his feelings of anxiety.

It is very seldom I get such a direct link back to the visualization of a childhood anxiety. But in this case it was very clear how his mind thought of his problems, and thought of them like this invincible machine. I made no attempt to address this trichotillomania as he had asked for. Instead, going after the source of the anxiety allowed him to take back control of his whole life. The hair pulling and nail picking will clear up by themselves now.

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Fear of dentists

Fear of dentists

A client phoned me and asked if I was able to help overcome a fear of dentists. This client has totally rotten teeth but just cannot bring himself to go near a dentist. Fear of dentists is basically a simple phobia. Phobias are created when something dramatic happens to you, that makes you experience a deep and sudden fear.

Your unconscious mind creates a powerful association between the event and that fear. And forever thereafter your unconscious mind does everything possible to keep you away from that situation, or anything that is similar to that situation. If it means that your unconscious gives you a terrifying fear of dentists, then that keeps you away from them, and your unconscious mind has done what it should do – it has kept you safe.

I have dealt successfully with many people with the fear of dentists. It is usually not a needle phobia, it is a generalised fear of being near a dentist at all. When I questioned the client about the origin of this fear in every case it can be traced back to a specific time in childhood. For some reason, the client was taken to the dentist and got spooked. The child did not want some stranger poking round his mouth, sticking needles in, giving him pain, whatever. The child just wanted to get out of there and go home with his mother.

The origin of the phobia

What actually happened next was that the child is forcibly restrained, held down and operated on. The result was a child who is frightened of a strange situation, by strange people, and a link to pain and the knowledge that he can't get away. It is the "can't get away" part which is most important. The phobia is a combination of feeling trapped and knowing that you are going to get hurt. Your mind knows that this is going to happen, and so does everything possible to stop you getting into that situation again.

It is no different from a fear of public speaking. Fear of public speaking can usually be traced back to an incident at school. The child was suddenly asked to say something, said what they thought was right, and then got humiliated by the teacher. The humiliation was totally unexpected, and undeserved, and every other member of the class laughed at them. It's the same combination of pain, unexpected, and being unable to get out of the situation.

The way to deal with the fear of dentists is to go back to the source. Using regression, or other techniques, you get the client to experience the fear in your chair. Then you lead the client through the situation again. But this time you allow the client to feel that they are in charge, that they can control it, that they decide what happens.
When you do that you get rid of the unconscious association and allow the client to react naturally and rationally. The phobia is then instantly cured.

Nothing to it really, when you know how to deal with it.

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Think about eating

I think about food all the time

I had a client today who was overweight, but certainly not obese. We talked about her eating habits, and she told me that she doesn't overeat. She doesn't snack, or binge or eat over-large portions. On the other hand, she said "I think about food all the time".
She told me "on the way to your office I was thinking that afterwards I would have a lamb chop breaded with pesto and some nice vegetables". "In fact" she said, "when am eating breakfast I'm thinking about what to prepare for lunch". "I think about food all the time".

I listen carefully to what clients tell me. I also listen to what they don't tell me. One thing I have learnt over the years is that when a client is doing something all the time, they are not doing something else. I said to the client "if you're thinking about food all the time, what is it that you're not thinking about?". She had no idea what I was talking about.

I explained that if someone is thinking about food all day, I always suspect that they are doing it to avoid thinking about something else. They are filling their mind with some acceptable subject, so that they do not have to examine their own feelings and emotions.

Origin of the overeating

I started to explore this client's emotional background. I was trying to nail down what it was that was so terrible in her early life that she could not bear thinking about it now.
She told me that she had been brought up in Australia. Her mother had severe depression, had attempted suicide, and was constantly threatening to do it again. Her father was angry and distant. The wider family resented the marriage and constantly told my client that she was an outsider. The result was that my client came home from school every day dreading that she would find her mother hanging. Even as a little girl she stayed away from home as often as she could to avoid her father's sudden rages. She never felt she belonged there. The constant criticism from the family wore her down, and she escaped into daydreaming.

She grew up with a terrible feeling that something awful was going to happen, that whatever she did she was never going to be good enough. It was this feeling that she was trying to avoid by thinking about food all the time.

The treatment

I put the client into a light trance. I asked her to think about the place she had grown up in, how she had felt in that place. After a while, with repeated reminders from me based on what she had said, her eyes began to fill with tears. She was now back in the feeling, not reliving  a specific memory, but connecting to her feelings about growing up there.
I asked her to think about the feeling, to become aware of the feeling even more, and to think about the feeling as if it wasn't object. I asked her to describe the object. She told me it was like a purple diamond. This purple diamond was rotating so fast that she couldn't think. Then she said the purple diamond was turning into a swirl of cloud and then back to the purple diamond. She told me that the spinning of the purple diamond was always putting her on edge. When it was spinning she felt overwhelmed and her throat closed up. Its constant relentless spinning made her angry, and she lashed out at other people.
I asked her what she would like to have happen to it. She said she wanted it to stop spinning. She said when it stopped the sun could come out and its glow would give her strength.

Using her own resources

I then asked what would have to happen to make the diamond slow down a little. She mumbled something I didn't hear about "water". I suggested that the spinning diamond could meet water. Then I asked her "what happened with the water?" She said "it has stopped now". I asked her to look at it carefully now that had stopped. She said, surprised, "it's actually an oval". The change in shape indicated that the transformation of emotions had started. I continue to develop the oval by suggesting various things that could happen to it. Then she told me it's turned into a balloon. I tried to develop the balloon by suggesting that it could get bigger and bigger. She told me "it's inflating, and then deflating, and then inflating again". This indicated to me that she does not have the resources to clear it unaided.

I needed to get her to destroy the balloon. So I suggested that she allow it to get bigger and bigger. This worked for a while and then she said "I'm afraid it will pop". I said to her "that's exactly what needs to happen". Again I suggested inflating the balloon until she said "I can't get it to go any bigger". At this point she needs more resources. I then suggested that she inflate that balloon with her own energy, with her own refusal to accept what was going on, what was being done to her. I was trying to get her to summon her own energy and resources.
She then said "it's popped".
I got her to confirm that there was nothing left of the balloon. By destroying the object, she has removed the negative feelings.

I brought her out of trance, and asked her to go back inside to check how she felt. She said "it feels calm in there. And I can feel that sun come out now". I got her  to check how she felt about her parents and the whole situation. She said "it all feels calm there now". That feeling and the theory generated has now gone forever.

It really does not take a lot of therapy to deal with even the most debilitating feelings. I hope this client is now able to get on with her life free of anxiety. And I predict that she will be able to lose weight now.

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Ending compulsive gambling

Ending compulsive gambling

Gambling is reaching epidemic proportions in Australia. There are pokey machines (slot machines) everywhere. It is becoming a major social problem. There is a constant need for ending compulsive gambling.
I saw a client today who feels that her gambling is out of control. Even on the way to my office she passed the local pub and thought to herself "I wonder if it's open", so that she could go in and play the pokey machine. Last week she put the entire household shopping budget, over $400, into a pokey machine.
When we started talking about it, she told me that the noise, the lights, the high she gets just puts her into a zone. As long as she has money, she just keeps putting it in to stay in the zone. She said that she feels she is spiralling out of control.

Source of the compulsive gambling

In my experience gambling is always an aspect of anxiety.
I started asking her what it was that she was trying to avoid by gambling, and she told me that she was having troubles with her job, her marriage, and felt that she was failing her daughter. I asked her if she had always been anxious. She told me that since she was 11 she has been pulling her eyelashes, and goes through periods of trichotillomania. And to my surprise, took off her hat, to show that she was near bald.

She was clearly unhappy. So I asked her about her childhood. She told me that she grew up on a farm. She said that she had a very happy childhood. When someone tells me that a happy childhood, my heart fails, because usually they are deluding themselves. They would not be sitting in my chair if they had had a happy childhood.

I started asking about growing up, and it turned out that for her mother she was never good enough. Her mother was a perfectionist, her father was always working. Her sister was always academically bright. So she never felt good enough.
When she was 15 years old her father lost his job, and that was when the anxiety started.

To me the suggested that her mother had anxiety, and her father had some sort of need to be always busy. I asked her she had ever been diagnosed with depression and she said she'd been on pills for 20 years.
Digging deeper revealed a history of failed relationships, single mom, unsuitable relationships with married men. All of these suggested to me that her basic problem was insecurity.

I think that her gambling puts her into the zone where she can forget all her worries. Her unconscious mind is driving her to do that because it doesn't have any other way of dealing with her overwhelming feeling of not being good enough.
Her gambling binge had only been going on for six months.

Six months ago, she and her husband went to a bar, for no particular reason put some money into a pokey machine, and won $900. This was a godsend and got them out of a financial problem. In her unconscious mind, she associated ending her problems with winning on the pokies. She started using them occasionally, and then continuously.

The solution to compulsive gambling

The solution was to deal with the anxiety. I asked her to relax, and breathe deeply. Then I got her to focus on her own feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and inadequacy. It was immediately obvious that she had found the feeling so I began to develop it as a metaphor. I helped her to develop it into an object. It was a grey object like a brain. I encouraged her to think about how it might change, and gave her suggestions as to how to do that.

She transformed into a very small green thing that she felt good about. I got her to take that somewhere outside where it could grow and flourish. Then I got her to fill the space where the brain thing had been with something nice. She chose her daughters smile to fill it with.
I use that feeling to fill the whole of her mind with a feeling of contentment. Then I use that new feeling to go fishing for the anxiety deep inside. I suggested that her mind had found the source of the anxiety, lifted it out of where it had been hiding, and destroyed it.
I then brought her back to the present.
She said to me that she felt as though she had been asleep for hours. She said she felt such a relief. And she was now ready to go back and get her life back on track.

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personalised embodied metaphor

Using a personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking

Occasionally I get a client who gives me a wonderful example of how people naturally use embodied metaphor. In hypnotherapy, metaphors are usually discussed only as parts of speech. Metaphors are seldom discussed when they represents an embodied feeling. This is a case of using a personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking.

I had a smoking client this morning who told me that she can stop smoking OK, but something always makes her start again. It's like this thing on her shoulder constantly egging her on to smoke. As the days and weeks go by of not smoking, it gets stronger and stronger until she just has to give in and have a smoke.
This kind of personalised embodied metaphor has always intrigued me. For some reason, I have always been attracted to metaphor therapy. I like the visual element to it, and I like the way metaphor therapy can remove even the most stubborn unconscious behaviour. In this case I did not have a client after this one, so I felt I had some spare time to experiment.

Developing a personalised embodied metaphor 

I began the induction by asking the client to take three deep breaths. Then I stopped the induction and asked her to become aware of the thing on her shoulder. I got her to think about this feeling of smoking, this thing that was always on her shoulder when she stopped. I talked about noticing its colour, size, and how it felt physically on her shoulder.
Even after only three deep breaths, she was clearly in a light trance. She began to describe the thing that appeared on her shoulder. She described it as being a brown mass. Then she said there was white. She said it is tall. I asked how big it was. She told me "about the size of my finger". I asked what it looked like. She said "it's a cigarette", like I was an idiot.

This completely surprised me. Metaphors are usually just that, a metaphor. In other words, something that represents something else. This woman was experiencing it as the thing itself. Usually when I do this exercise I find an imp, or something like a gargoyle, something that represents an evil spirit of some sort. This woman was visualising just a cigarette with a filter tip.

Using the personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking

However, a metaphor is a metaphor, so I just went with what she gave me. I asked her to confirm that this represented her feeling of needing to smoke, of having to smoke. She said, "Yes, that's what it is". So I asked her what she would like to have happen to it.

She said "I want to break it up into little bits". I told her to do that. I then asked "And what is happening now to that thing?". She said "It is scattered on the ground". I then encouraged her to squish it all into the ground, to utterly destroy the cigarette.
Then I went over it all again. I used the suggestion that any time in the future when she might feel like starting smoking again, she would become immediately aware of this thing on her shoulder. She would reach up, break it into little pieces, scatter it on the ground, and utterly destroy it.
I brought her back out of trance, and we discussed it. She said "I don't quite know why, but I feel that I'm in control of it now".

Metaphor therapy can be quite amazing. Fast, flexible and powerful.

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hypnotherapy and virtual reality

Hypnotherapy and virtual reality

Hypnotherapy and virtual reality may be coming to a screen near you. Is the future of hypnosis about therapy over the Internet?

Anyone who has been doing hypnotherapy for a long time, will quickly realise that a lot of it is repetition of standard routines plus a personalised twist. Several companies have set up in business to exploit this fact. They offer personalised recorded therapy for stop smoking, weight loss, confidence, and other common problems. The basic deal is that you email your name and an idea of what your problems are and they will record an induction using your name, and try to adjust their standardised therapy routines to suit what you ask for. They then post the CD to you.

The business proposition is that it is much cheaper than seeing a therapist face-to-face, and more personalised than just listening to a CD or MP3 recording. Modern audio technology is cheap enough, and easy enough to use, to make this possible. It is only a very short step to imagine the whole thing on simulated video. As well as choosing what you want to be cured of, you could also choose the gender, race, age and accent of your virtual reality hypnotherapist.

The question is: is this actually a useful form of therapy?

There are several problems with this. The first is that clients are very often do not know what it is that they want. The origin of a behaviour problem can often be hidden under layers of old programming. Even where the problem is a very straightforward thing, like stopping smoking, a successful treatment often depends upon working out why the person smokes. You then address that reason.

The second problem is that everyone is unique. It really is too simplistic to think that a standard routine will work with everyone, or even with a high percentage of people.

The third problem is that not everyone is equally hypnotisable. The advantage of seeing a therapist face-to-face is that the therapist can judge exactly how the words are being received, and adjust the delivery to suit.

There is nothing wrong with delivering therapy by CDs. I have listened to CDs myself, and found some of them to be very useful. However, even with a full money back guarantee, I feel that there is going to be a very great number of people for whom it just won't work. Most of those won't bother asking for their money back, and will just assume that the problem is them. The danger is that the failure will leave the client even more in despair, believing that they are incurable.

None of these personalised recording services have any sort of follow-up system, and is hard to see how they could have one that worked. But a face-to-face hypnotist can take the extra time to work out why you are not getting the changes you want.

It does cost more, but isn't it better to have a service that works that costs extra, as opposed to a cheap service that doesn't work?


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stop smoking aversion

Spiegel’s method for stopping smoking

Herbert Spiegel was an American physician in North Africa with the US Army during the Second World War. He had learnt to use hypnosis clinically before the war. As an army doctor he had to deal with hundreds of soldiers who were physically injured, but also hundreds more who had what is now called PTSD. As always in any wartime situation he was short of morphine and other drugs. So he turned to hypnosis. He discovered that he was able to greatly reduce the amount of morphine by using hypnosis instead. He was also successful in using hypnosis to reduce battlefield induced psychological injuries.

Spiegel's method

When he returned to civilian life he began to apply hypnosis in his normal medical practice. He published extensively and his ideas on hypnotherapy were widely taken up in the medical profession. Spiegel  moved hypnosis out of the area of stage hypnosis and into the area of proper academic study. He applied his hypnosis treatments to weight loss, depression, and in particular smoking.
He was able to claim consistent success with a single session hypnosis technique known as Spiegel's method. Spiegel's method encourages smokers to keep reminding themselves of three basic ideas. A) smoking is poisoning your body. B) if you keep poisoning your body you will die. C) if you don't want to die, then you have to respect and protect your body.

The method consists of teaching smokers self-hypnosis. The self-hypnosis installs a post hypnotic suggestion to encourage the smoker to repeat A, B, C every two hours, and any time they feel the craving to smoke.
The theory behind this method is that motivation is the key factor in stopping smoking. Spiegel believed that concentrating on preserving your own body is the key to changing any destructive behavior.

Testing Spiegel's method

Academics tested and repeated his technique several times, under scientific controlled conditions, and got consistently good results. About 25% of random smokers will be smoke free a year later.
However, a great deal of research and development has happened in the 40 years since Spiegel introduced his method, and modern hypnotists claim a much higher rate of success.
It would be interesting to go back to the motivation method, and see how today's  smokers accept the idea, and whether it works any better now than it did then.


Source: Spiegel, H. (1970). A single treatment method to stop smoking using ancillary self-hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 26, 22-29.

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Surprise Easter egg

A surprise Easter egg

I had a client today who reminded me of the deep and complex psychology that our clients bring to us. When I went looking for the origin of this client's problems, I had no idea what I would find. This one brought me a surprise Easter egg.

This client came to me several months ago, and at that time I treated her for the anxiety she felt during meetings at work. She felt unable to speak up and was afraid of conflict. She said that she felt a tremendous change after the last session and felt it was time to change some more.

I asked what her problem was today, and she said that she has a knot of anxiety in her stomach all the time. Her constant anxiety means she overeats and drinks too much to deal with the stress inside her. She also eats too much when she is "bored".

Visualising the problem

The problem seemed simple enough. I got her to close her eyes and become aware of the feeling inside her body. She identified it quite easily and said that it was located in her abdomen. I asked to describe what it seemed like. To my surprise he said it is like a huge oblong egg. I asked her to describe it and she told me that it had a shell, with a mottled black and dusky gold surface.

When I asked her to describe it in more detail it told me that it was womblike, that there was something like a foetus inside it. This really surprised me. I have never come across anything like this before. It clearly had deep significance to her. It is not often that a client gives you such a powerful and direct metaphor.

Chair therapy

I decided that the best therapeutic technique would be to use the Chair method. I told her to imagine a chair in front of her. Then I told her to imagine taking that egg and placing it in the chair. She said she had done that:that was the most critical part of the therapy done.

I then told her to just regard it. Look at it, be curious about it, to think about what she felt about it. She said there was something inside it. I asked her what she thought it was, and she told me that the thing inside was the true essence of her. She felt that this thing inside the egg shell had been trying to get out for a very long time.

Breaking open the surprise Easter egg

The next job than for me was to help get this thing out of the shell. I told her to imagine leaning forward and putting her hands on the shell. Then I suggested that the contact of her hands would begin to transmit heat into the egg. I asked her what the thing inside the egg wanted. She told me that it wanted to come out.

I then asked what was happening in the egg, and she said that it was now warm inside. Then I told her to move her hands around on the surface of the egg to see if thing inside would begin to follow the movement. After some time she said that it was moving and that it was ready. I told her to move her hands closer together at one point in the egg and to leave a space between them. I suggested that between her hands she would begin to feel bumps and tremors and little cracks begin. Quite quickly she said that yes it's happening. Then with out any more input from me she said "it's out".

Keep the change

At this point there were tears in her eyes, so I decided to consolidate the experience. I told her to take this thing (and at no point did I ask her to describe it) and hold it the way she would hold a new baby. I told her to love this thing and allow it to love her, to open herself up to it, to allow it into her body.

This brought more tears, and I spent some time getting her to take it into her body, to feel it spreading to every part of her.

She needed to have this change impressed into her unconscious mind so I did a kinaesthetic confirmation. This consisted of suggesting to her that she send a message of gratitude to her own mind for having allowed this to happen.  I suggested that she might get a message back. I told her to focus attention on her hands, and that she might feel a need, a compulsion to move a finger or perhaps the hand would move. She got a motor response in her hand. I told her that that was her guarantee that her mind had heard and would be applying the changes.

Visualise the outcome

I finished the session with lots of suggestions of her new ability to stand up for herself in meetings, ( the original thing she came for) and that she would no longer have any problems with eating or drinking.

She came out of the session saying that she felt completely changed. She said "I feel like I can do anything today".

I gently suggested that she would feel like that every day from now on.



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