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black and white thinking dogs

Black and white thinking dogs

Over the last 15 years I have been trying to figure out exactly what is going on in other people's heads. And in my own. I'm beginning to suspect that a great many things that clients come to therapy for have to do with black and white thinking.

As I get more experienced in hypnotherapy, my ideas about what causes common problems has continually changed. When I came out of my hypnosis course many years ago my head was filled with NLP and Ericksonian Hypnosis and other good things. The approach to therapy was simple, obvious, and there was a solution to every problem.
Right from my first client, I discovered that this just was not true. Almost everything I had been taught in my course turned out to be simplistic and/or over-hyped. 

Black and white thinking

I was reminded of this by a post on another forum that I occasionally visit. A woman there posted a story of how she had many years ago moved to a house near the beach. On her first night there she found it delightful to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves and a distant foghorn. On the second night she couldn't get to sleep because of the incessant barking of many dogs. She tried to sleep but the barking went on and on and annoyed her so much that she got up out of bed, got into her car and drove towards where she thought the noise was coming from. These noisy neighbors had to be sorted out once and for all. She was just not gonna stand for this.

Then she found the source of the noise. There was a colony of seals on the beach. They were all doing the things seals do, and barking at each other in the dark. It wasn't dogs at all. Sounded just like dogs, but it wasn't dogs. So she went home satisfied that wasn't dogs and went to sleep. The seals barked on many nights, but none of that barking bothered her at all. She just added it to the list of pleasant noises you get when you live by the beach.

Theories about perception

The story illustrated a point about how her feelings changed when her perceptions changed. She was wondering how it is that our perceptions affect our emotions. If we can find a way to change our perceptions, then perhaps that technique could be used in hypnotherapy. There then followed a discussion by many contributors about the nature of perception and how everything is perception. 

I thought about this story. And I came to a different conclusion. I don't think her behavior, her ability to sleep after she knew the barking was seals and not dogs, had anything to do with perception. It is actually to do with black and white thinking. It is not that perception affects emotions, it is that emotions influence perceptions.

Personal Beliefs

The starting point for me, is asking why do barking dogs annoy her in the first place? Some people get annoyed by dogs barking, some people just ignore it. It's got nothing to do with the barking, and everything to do with our beliefs about barking. If you believe that dogs barking is just what dogs do, and it's meaningless, that a barking dog is just an unhappy dog, then it doesn't bother you.

If you have a personal belief that dogs should be controlled, that uncontrolled dogs are an indicator of bad training, and caused by inconsiderate people, then those people should be made to change. It is the compulsion, the call to action, that causes the emotions. The emotion is there to make sure you do something about it.  

I believe that a great many people, who would be horrified to learn it, actually have black and white thinking. When I discuss it people often say "Oh no. I can see things in shades of grey." But what they don't realize is that they have many rigid internal rules about right and wrong. And those rules are tied to emotion. The woman in the story was so annoyed about the dogs that she got up in the middle of the night to go and sort out the people allowing the dogs to bark. This is classic black and white thinking.

Consequences of black and white thinking

The essence is: "This is wrong. I am allowed to get annoyed about this. I have the right to punish people who don't behave the way I expect them to". My theory is, that for this woman, this was one of her personal beliefs. She has a black-and-white rule about dogs barking. It mustn't be allowed, and it fires off anger inside her when someone contravenes that rule. Anger makes her act. It seems irrational, but it is in complete accordance with her internal rule. And every time it happens she reacts the same way.

She has a different rule about waves on the beach, and foghorns, and for all I know, seagulls and rainstorms and many other things. I would speculate that she has a rule that natural things might be annoying, but they are things that must be accepted, welcomed even.

Reframing the perceptions

Therefore when she discovered that the source of the noise was seals barking, she realised that her rule was not being contravened. There were no grounds for getting angry, and she could sleep through it. It wasn't her perception that changed, the noise was just the same as it had been. What had  changed was the realisation that the rule didn't apply in this situation.

Probably, in that town, there were people who also believed that the barking of the seals was barking of dogs. But those people didn't get up in the middle of the night to do something about it. They have a different rule about barking dogs. So it is not about perception, it is beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of other people's behavior.

The woman in the story went on to ask about what she could do to alter her perceptions to stop her getting angry about various things. If she came to see me I would advise her instead to start searching her memory about what it was that created the rule in the first place. Change the rule, and you change the emotional response.

 

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Self diagnosis

Self-diagnosis technique

I think I may have discovered a new self-diagnosis technique. My client yesterday was overweight. Overeating in my experience is normally associated with some sort of childhood trauma. However, after much questioning this client said that she could not remember anything about her childhood that was bad. She did say that she had lots of feelings but for the whole of her life she has just pushed them back, refused to deal with them.

I decided that the best approach would be to do Gestalt metaphor therapy. I used a breathing induction with her, and gently lead her into trance. As soon as I was sure that she was in trance, I began fishing for the dominant feeling in her unconscious mind. This involved suggestions such as  "There is a feeling that you get, a feeling you have had many times". "It is a feeling about not being good enough, a feeling of being worthless, no good". "A feeling from long ago, and as you think about that feeling, as you get that feeling, this something will come into your mind about that feeling".

And sure enough, she immediately began to cry as the memory that she had tried to push back began to emerge. Gestalt metaphor technique is a way of dealing with the feeling in terms of a metaphor. It is a safe way of dealing with trauma, because you don't have to access the memory directly.

So I got her to express her feeling as an object. She told me it was like a white ball, then it turned into a jelly bean-shaped thing,  hard and smooth and lodged somewhere in her chest. I then started the process of suggesting to her that it might change. Eventually it shrank and wrinkled and ended up like a deflated balloon. The next step was to ask if she had ever used a chopping board. That prompted her to imagine chopping up the limp balloon. Whatever that feeling or memory was it was now gone, for ever.

A self-diagnosis technique?

After she came out of trance, we discussed the nature of metaphor healing therapies. She is an intelligent woman, and is very interested in the process. So I decided to do an experiment. I told her I was going to teach her self hypnosis, so that when she was in trance in her own time she could explore her own subconscious mind.

I used a progressive muscle relaxation induction, followed by an eye catalepsy test. She, like many overweight people, had a rapid, shallow breathing pattern. So I deepened her until her breathing became regular and slow.

In this induction, I spent some time emphasizing the power of her own mind, and how strong it was. I told her that in trance her mind would open up to a large empty space and in that space perhaps her mind would show her something. Something to do with the feeling that she gets, something to do with that need to eat, something to do with why she is unhappy. This was something I had not done before. I really wasn't sure what to expect. My hope was that her mind would reveal to her something that she had spent a lifetime trying to hide, but who knows?

 

She came out of trance, telling me she felt a very profound feeling, unlike anything she had ever experienced before. We wound up the session and she still didn't say anything about seeing something or not. So I asked her if she had seen something. She said "Yes I did, but I'm not telling you what it was", and laughed.

It seems it did work. And I will be exploring this technique in future.

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Representational systems

Do representational systems matter in hypnosis?

Do you need to pay attention to the representational systems that clients use? I was asked this by a newbie the other evening. He had recently finished a hypnosis training course, and was full of enthusiasm about NLP, wordplay, and the scientific approach to hypnosis.

Representational systems theory

What he was talking about was the old NLP belief that people tend to represent the world using one dominant representational system. These are generally known as VAK, standing for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (feeling).
I was rather surprised that this is still being taught, or rather that it was being given so much importance. Even the founders of NLP have said publicly that is perhaps a little overdone.

Representational systems reality

When I started my hypnosis practice I was fully convinced that VAK was important to success. I used to start every session by asking the client to close their eyes and imagine a horse. Then I would ask them to describe their horse and note the type of words they use to describe it. I did this hundreds of times. Eventually I concluded that it was a waste of time. I could find no evidence for consistent VAK.  Dominant primary representational systems do not exist.

I did get some very interesting answers. One woman told me that her representation was in fact auditory. What she was getting was something like a race caller's patter "and now the leader is rounding the bend, and the second favourite is coming up the outside…". Another woman told me that she could feel the horse. I said so you can feel what? Its back, its legs? "No, I can feel this much". And she demonstrated with her hands that she could feel about two palms width on any part of the horse she chose to. Another told me that what she got was patches of random colour in her mind.

Now these were all very interesting, in fact fascinating, but not really useful in therapy.
What I found much more useful was listening carefully for the metaphors that the client uses. In my opinion, these give a much more accurate representation of how the client is feeling and where their problems lie. And unlike VAK, they also give you a very good idea of where to direct your therapy.

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organ language

Organ Language

Organ Language in the treatment of pain

I was asked recently about the use of organ language for the treatment of pain. This is something I had heard of but never used. The person asking had no idea what it was.

Theory of organ language

Organ language is a concept introduced by Leslie LeCron in his writings in the 1920s. The basic idea is that the language that you use, the words that you say, can affect the organs you talk about. NLP uses similar ideas about the power of words to influence feeling.
According to LeCron, if you repeatedly use a phrase such as "this guy is a pain in the neck" then saying the phrase over and over will actually give you a pain in the neck.

The theory is that constantly mentioning the organ in everyday phrases focuses attention on that organ. That causes it to malfunction. If your illness is being caused by the overuse of a metaphor such as "I'm sick of seeing my team lose every Saturday" then the answer is to stop saying it. If you change your language to something different such as "I'm really looking forward to our next win" then that will keep you healthy.

Overused Metaphors

Personally, I just don't believe this simplistic logic. Most of us use metaphors all the time, and we don't know the origins of them. These are known as lost metaphors and are basically a lazy way of speaking. These metaphors used to be bright and fresh and colourful but overuse has dulled them to the point where they lose all their force. Telling someone "I was taken aback" nowadays simply means that the speaker was surprised.

The phrase "taken aback" originally referred to a sailing ship. Sailing ships are designed to take the wind from behind. If the wind suddenly 'backs' to come over the bow then the masts get pressed backwards instead of forwards. Masts are not designed for that. They can snap. Being "taken aback" is very dangerous. The image is of immediate panic and the crew running around to save the ship. But that original colourful meaning of the phrase has been lost through time.  

 I suspect that someone saying "it's a pain in the neck" really is not thinking about the neck or anything else. All they're doing is substituting an overused phrase in place of original thinking. To suggest that someone using the phrase "I was taken aback" has in mind an image of a sailing ship suddenly plunged into danger is just not believable. Our minds are not as literal LeCron suggests.

Treatment

I think the truth is more straightforward. When someone says "I feel stabbed in the back", then they probably do feel that. It's not the metaphor that is causing the pain, is the pain that is causing the metaphor. And therefore the correct course is to use the metaphor to alert you to their pain.

Simply telling the person not to use the phrase again is not going to work.

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Hypnosis aversion

Why hypnosis aversion works

Hypnosis aversion works

Hypnosis aversion works.

All psychotherapy is aimed at changing behaviour.  Hypnosis aversion is a very powerful technique for changing behaviour.

The basic theory of behaviour change is that people will stop doing things they get punished for but will do things they get rewarded for. This is the basis of behavioural therapy.

However, behaviour can only be changed while it's happening. For example, suppose you have a situation where a child is constantly interrupting adults while they talk. If your response is to remove the child from the room, then the behaviour is no longer happening. Problem solved.

But the child is learning nothing. The child may in fact be learning resentment or hatred towards you, which is not actually what you want. The child may in fact be reinforced by the bad behaviour. There might be things to do outside the room which are just as enjoyable. What the child is not getting is any instruction on how to behave while adults are speaking. You can only change behaviour during the behaviour.

External punishment doesn't work

That is why punishment seldom works. The first response to any kind of unwanted behaviour is to punish the person doing it. If that doesn't work then you punish them some more. If that doesn't work punish harder. However the basic problem with that approach is that the punishment is applied after the behaviour has finished. It is too late then. In the criminal justice system people are often punished long after the crime. The criminal may in fact have forgotten the crime by the time they get to court. It is the time difference between the behaviour and the punishment which is crucial. If your finger broke every time you stole something there would be a lot less theft. If your car refused to start after being illegally parked, illegal parking would soon die out. 
It is the immediate link between the behaviour and the punishment which is critical. And the punishment has to happen at the exact time that the behaviour is happening.
That is the critical difference between hypnosis and behavioural approaches. When a bad habit is treated with Hypnosis Aversion a link is formed in the unconscious mind between the behaviour and a feeling. The feeling is usually disgust or fear or some other negative thing. The critical difference is that as soon as the behaviour starts the unconscious mind brings out that horrible taste or fear or whatever it is immediately. There is no delay. There is no gap between the behaviour and the punishment.

And that is why hypnosis aversion works.

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chinese restaurant phobia

Chinese Restaurant Phobia

Chinese Restaurant Phobia

I saw a client today with Chinese Restaurant phobia. This is one of the more unusual phobias I have come across. My client went to a Thai restaurant about two weeks ago and was enjoying the meal. But something in the ingredients set off an extreme allergic reaction. He ended up being stretchered out of the restaurant barely breathing and into hospital dangerously ill.

He was discharged two days later and swore to avoid Thai restaurants in future. However this week, when he went into a Chinese restaurant he immediately felt dizzy and frightened and had to go outside again. After ten minutes we went back in to join his friends. But again he was seized with an overwhelming fear and actually vomited when he ran outside.

It is interesting to see so clearly the process of how a phobia forms.  His unconscious mind has identified something in the Thai restaurant as being associated with the sudden onset of a dangerous illness. It is therefore primed to protect him  by forcing him out of any place where he might get harmed. It is now in the process of broadening out the possible indicators to include other types of Asian 'things'.  Over time, if left untreated, his unconscious will start to include an ever wider range of possible indicators. It may eventually end up as a full size fear of any restaurant, or even of food.

Treating the phobia

I like to treat phobias by going directly for the feeling. I ask the client to think about the feared situation and feel the fear. If they can get the fear as a feeling in their body I can clear it immediately using Gestalt Metaphor Therapy.

In this case the client could not summon up the feeling, probably because it has not had time to create a strong repeatable feeling.

So I put him into trance and tested to make sure he was under. Then I suggested he think about the Thai restaurant and the Chinese restaurant and the feeling that he got there. The client turned to be one of these people who go corpse-like in trance, and give no indication of what is going on inside. I therefore could not do a question and answer session with him.

All I could do then was assume he had the feeling and try to remodel it without feedback. I suggested that the feeling could become an object, that it  had a shape, a size, a color and so on. Then in several different ways I suggested  that the object was changing, shrinking, changing color and transforming itself in ways it wanted to. I really had no idea what was going in his mind or whether he was experiencing anything at all.

I brought him out of trance and asked, a bit nervously, what object had looked like. "Oh, a big concrete square," he said, "and I crushed it".

Looks like the job got done.

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Bored

Bored – a special word in hypnotherapy

Bored is a special word in hypnotherapy. When a client says to me "I  [do something] when I am bored" this immediately sets off a warning signal in my mind. Then I know I am dealing with a case of anxiety.

Boredom is better defined as a lack of stimulation. When you lack stimulation one of two things happens. You either get up and seek external stimulation, or you allow your inner thoughts to come out. Both of these alternatives have good and bad aspects. 

Seeking external stimulation is least bad of the outcomes. Some people get motivated to do useful things. Others just go aimlessly looking for something, anything, to do. The old saying 'the devil finds work for idle hands' applies here. Much petty crime is the result of too much time and not enough planned activity. 

Allowing inner thoughts to intrude also has several outcomes. Some client are so afraid of their inner thoughts that they spend their life in frantic activity, keeping busy all the time. Other people so hate the thoughts that they play music all day and keep the radio on all night. Having an external noise drowns out the the disturbing internal thoughts. 

Most people do not go to such extremes. But the fact that they are having these thoughts is disturbing, and makes them feel anxious. So they do something to fill the void. When things get quiet is often when people start on their bad habits. Snacking is a classic response to boredom. Smoking is another. As is hair pulling. 

So when the client tells me that they do it when they are bored, I start seeking the cause of their anxiety.  Fix that and you fix the behavior. 

 

 

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Lucid Dreaming

Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming is being aware that you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. Some people claim to be able to do it, others claim it doesn’t exist.
Most of us have had the experience of realizing we were dreaming in the dream. Usually you just wake up and that’s it.
Lucid dreaming tries to do more. In a lucid dream, the dreamer interacts with elements of the dream. Really skilled lucid dreamers can bring other characters into the dream, such as famous power figures such as Einstein. Or they can create resources out of nothing, such as chain saws. They then use these to create changes in the dream. So if you are in a dream being pursued by some faceless monster, you create a flame thrower and destroy it.

The whole idea of lucid dreaming is intriguing. There is a minor industry claiming to teach people how to do it. Various psychologists are now investigating it as well. The attraction is that it might offer a way to deal with the thousands of service people suffering from PTSD. Every war produces thousands of cases, and they are very hard to treat.

I was reading about the latest research in this area and it struck me that lucid dreaming might be nothing more than a form of trance. The parallels are very close. They both involve REM thinking, and they both allow people to dissociate and enter states of imagination.

In fact many hypnosis techniques use exactly the same techniques. NLP has comedy transformation routines. These get the person to think of what they fear and get them to change more and more parts of it until it becomes ridiculous. Gestalt therapy uses metaphor transformation in a similar way. Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language get the client to visualize their issues as symbols and then change them.

So perhaps there is already a whole area of knowledge in existence.
If you want to try it yourself you can try ‘dream incubation’ to start you off. What you do is to rehearse some scene in your mind during the day in order to prime your mind for the night. You might want to think of an upcoming interview that you are worried about, or an exam. Go over it several times before bedtime, and then think of some symbol or object that sums it up. Then when you fall asleep your mind should create a dream about the situation. You will know you are dreaming when the symbol or object appear in the dream. You can then take charge and dream it into a successful conclusion

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secret hypnosis resource

Finding your secret hypnosis resource

Sometimes when you are doing hypnosis for smoking you need to utilize a secret hypnosis resource. You need to be always on the look out for things the client says that you can use. It comes down to really listening to your client. If you listen to your client the client will tell you exactly what they need.

I had a client come back to me several months after I had hypnotized her to stop smoking. She had started again and wanted me to fix it again. She told me that there had been a big family bust up. Her father had died and all sorts of unpleasantness between family members had come out. My client just couldn't take the arguing and spite and got stressed and started smoking again. 

It is a mistake to just take things the client tells you at face value. When I started probing about why the arguing had upset her so much I found the real reason. She loved her father and missed him desperately. With the family clashes and the loss of her dad she just couldn't cope. So she went back to the thing she had always relied on in times of stress: smoking. 

She was sitting in the chair weeping and it was clear that was not even near being over his death. As long as she felt that way she was not going to be able to stop smoking. So that became my secret hypnosis resource. 

I put her into trance and changed my standard stop smoking routine to include the secret resource. In trance I had her imagine a journey where she is going up a mountain path. The path gets steeper and harder and she can't go back and she can't go forward. Then along the path comes a person. This person is not described but it become obvious who it is. The person then tells her that he knows she is carrying some awful burden. He helps her let it go and it tumbles down the mountainside. Then he asks her to do something for him. He asks her if she will give up smoking for his sake. 

By this time my client was in floods of tears and promising to do anything for him. I then let the two of them reconcile and he told her it was time for him to go. He told her that he was happy where he was and it was time to let go. They embraced and then he continued down the path and she continued upwards. 

She me afterward that she felt such a feeling of relief. The path was exactly how she felt. And nothing would ever make her betray her father. She would never smoke again. 

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hypnosis suggestions

Can’t be hypnotized

Hello,I am looking for advice.
I have used a number of self hypnosis CD’s and paid for hypnosis 1-1.
I keep trying but they seem to have little or no effect on me.
Is there something I am doing wrong? Is there something wrong with me?
Can you advise if there is some thing I could do which would remedy this?
Many Thanks

What if I can't be hypnotized? The short answer is that everyone can be hypnotised. It is simply a matter of finding the right method.

Client centered issues.

What you get is not what you expect

Part of the problem may be that you are expecting something different from what you are getting. Everyone reacts differently to hypnosis. Some people expect to get fireworks and cosmic enlightenment.  Others expect to wake up totally blank and remember nothing. Some people feel weightless while others feel their limbs so heavy that they can't move. Still others jerk and twist in trance and are convinced that they can't have been in trance because they can move. 

The fact is that everyone's experience is different. I know I am going into trance when my right hand twitches. I know I am going into somnambulism when I get a tingle on my upper lip. But I can also have a conversation when I am in trance. 

Issues of control

As a hypnotherapist I get clients from all parts of the hypnotizability spectrum. The ones who do not go into hypnosis easily are usually people who fear losing control. They want to go into trance but when they feel themselves slipping away they instantly snap out of it. 

This is often mixed in with or a part of mental anxiety. In some people their mind is always busy. They are so filled with constant thoughts, worries and panics that they  cannot focus on the process. Some just drown out the words of the therapist. Others over analyse what the therapist is saying. They are both ways of protecting their mind from what will happen if they lose control.

Hypnotist centered issues

Competence

Some hypnotists just aren't very good. It takes a lot of experience to know when someone is going into trance, and when they are not. Anyone can read a script, and most people will go under. But some people need a different approach or multiple approaches to let go. 

Matching the induction to the client

A hypnosis recording is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. There is nothing wrong with recordings, but they have limitations. NLP says that people are either visual, auditory or kinesthetic. There is some truth in that. So I have to match my induction to the client. I sometimes do two or even three inductions if I don't see the signs of trance I expect to see. And in every case, I test to make sure the client is in trance before I continue with the therapy.   Of you course, you can't be tested if you are listening to a recording. 

How to deal with it. 

The client can't do anything wrong in hypnosis. There is nothing wrong with you or your mind. You are a human being, therefore you can be hypnotized.  If you don't go into trance then it is the hypnotist's fault. Everyone can be hypnotised. It might take a while, it might take several goes, but it can be done. Whether the hypnotist has the skills or the patience is another matter. 

I suspect that if you have dealt with a competent hypnotist, and you have listened to multiple CDs, and you still can't go into trance, then the issue is one of control. Your mind just won't accept losing control. The test is if you have difficulty with sleep. 

A good hypnotist can work with you and find a way of bypassing your loss-of-control fears. However, this might take a lot of time and a lot of money. What I suggest you do is practice a simple form of self hypnosis. This will let you experience the feeling of trance in a safe environment and under your own control. Once you mind learns that you can give up control and not die, you will be able to go into trance easily. 

Self hypnosis exercise

All you have to do is to find some quiet place and do the exercise. Start by counting your breaths. On each breath out count from ten down to one until your breathing is soft and regular. Repeat it if you have to. Then count from ten down to one and think to yourself "body relaxing" on each out breath.  Repeat if you have to. 

Then on each out breath gently whisper or think a word. Any word. The word 'one' is fine. Or 'success' or 'trance' or anything else. The word is not important, the repetition is. Keep repeating the word until you dissociate. This means that the word will lose all meaning, will seem strange, disconnected. When you dissociate you are in the first stage of hypnosis. 

Notice what the state feels like. Then practice finding that state again some other time. Practice with your word again and again if you have to. Eventually you will able to think yourself into that state without the exercise. When you have achieved that, you are successfully going in and out of trance. You can then develop from there. The CDs will begin to work and you will begin your path to change. 

 

 

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