Authoritative suggestions in hypnosis
Is it enough to simply put someone into a trance and then provide them with positive suggestions? Here’s a perspective from Milton Erickson (Quoted in Cheek & Rossi: Mind Body Therapy, p. 14):
The induction and maintenance of a trance serves to provide a special psychological state in which patients can reassociate and reorganize their inner psychological complexities and utilize their own capacities in a manner in accord with their own experiential life. Hypnosis does not change people nor does it alter their past experiential life …
Erickson maintains that direct, or authoritarian, suggestion is based primarily on the assumption that whatever develops in hypnosis derives from the suggestions given:
It implies that the therapist has the miraculous power of effecting therapeutic changes in the patient, and disregards the fact that therapy results from an inner resynthesis of the patient’s behaviour achieved by the patient himself.
It is true, admits Erickson, that direct suggestion can result in a change in the patient’s behaviour and result in a symptomatic cure, at least temporarily. “However, such a ‘cure’ is simply a response to the suggestion and does not entail that reassociation and reorganization of ideas, understanding, and memories so essential for an actual cure.”
For Erickson, the important thing was getting the patient to do their own work – reassociating and reorganizing their inner material in more beneficial ways. Direct, authoritarian suggestions, in which the patient is simply expected to listen and passively absorb new information, is thus seen as having a limited effect.
On the other hand …
It should be noted that Erickson’s comments refer to the use of direct suggestion in the context of attempting to suppress unwanted characteristics. Erickson himself often gave very direct commands, and most hypnotherapists do so as well. There is a time and a place for the direct suggestion, and it would be counter-productive to try and phrase everything in an artfully vague and indirect fashion. The main point of this is that the use of direct suggestion specifically in an attempt to suppress an unwanted characteristic is bound to have limited success. You can’t just put a smoker into a trance and suggest that from now on cigarettes will taste like horse manure. They simply won’t buy it, or if they do it will only be for a few days.
For a helpful discussion on “The myth of the inherent superiority of indirect suggestions”, see Randal Churchill’s excellent Regression Hypnotherapy: Transcripts of Transformation, v.1
References: Mind-Body Therapy: Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis, 1st ed, by Ernest Rossi and David Cheek, W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Article source: Editor
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