Managing the Battle Between Conscious and Subconscious

My clients often ask me whether there is a particular book I would recommend which can – in simple terms – explain the battle between the conscious and the subconscious mind and how to manage it.

The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters is a simple analogy describing exactly that.
So, what is the Chimp Paradox About?
The premise of The Chimp Paradox is that there are two separate entities in your head. A Chimp (the subconscious mind) and a Human (the conscious mind). The chimp is there to help you survive whilst the human is there to help you thrive. However, there are two problems:

• The chimp’s only goal is to keep you and your genes going, it is suited for survival in the wild.
• The BIGGER PROBLEM… We no longer live in the wild.

There are 3 key lessons that we can draw from the book:

Lesson 1:
There are two competing forces in your brain, so we must learn to recognize them. Peters describes our prefrontal cortex as the human part of our brain and our limbic system as our inner chimp.

The human acts rationally, based on facts, but the chimp only decides using emotions.
As you can imagine, this leads to problems whenever the two clash or the wrong one ends up in charge. Let’s say you got cut off in traffic and almost suffered a car accident. You come home to your partner and share this disturbing event. Trying to calm you down, they tell you that, luckily, nothing bad happened. If you’re still in monkey mode, you might take that as criticism and start an argument. However, if the human is in charge, you will calm down, and move on without making the situation worse. Therefore, the most important thing is to start observing your state of mind. When you feel the anxiety raising, ask yourself:

Who’s in charge here? Do I want to feel and act this way? Or is the chimp taking over?

Learning to observe this is the first, big step in mastering your inner monkey.

Lesson 2:
We communicate in four distinct modes:

• You’re using your human brain and so is your conversation partner.
• You are in human mode, but the person you’re talking to behaves like a chimp.
• You’re the chimp, while the other person’s human is in charge.
• Both of you behave like monkeys.

The first scenario is ideal, two and three are tough to figure out, but can be handled once you are aware of what you are dealing with, you can spot the signals and manage the chimp.
It’s the fourth scenario that’s to be avoided, because it most often ends in a bad and completely irrational argument.
How to avoid the fourth case scenario?

Explaining your reasoning in an assertive, calm, and respectful manner is the best way to avoid emotional responses and bring back others from the chimp to the rational human.

Lesson 3:
The chimp can become a fundamental obstacle to our long-term happiness if left unmanaged as it always wants to achieve more.

We should therefore stop to celebrate and appreciate our achievements as they come, no matter how small!

It’s great to always have goals, but when we achieve them, we don’t really take much of a break, and immediately dig into the next challenge.
Does it sound familiar? Well, that’s not healthy.
It’s also the chimp’s sneakiest trick. By always wanting more, he gets you to chase an illusionary, perfect state in which you can finally be happy – but only once you have achieved the next goal. Of course, there’s always a next goal and that feeling of relief never comes.

Your inner monkey will always dangle the next reward in front of you. Don’t let it ruin your long-term happiness. When you achieve something you’re proud of, take a break, celebrate, and learn to appreciate what you have.

Whilst it may sound it, the chimp is not inherently good or bad and if managed well can be a huge source of advantage – for example, if you’re struggling to complete a work task, you could get your chimp on board via negotiating with it and telling yourself completing this task competently will likely result in compliments from your work colleagues. As soon as the chimp recognises the possibility of external validation, it will help the human part of your brain to complete the work task.

Here are some examples of managing your chimp so your conscious and subconscious mind can coexist successfully.

Tactic #1 – distract the chimp

Let’s say your chimp has become uneasy at the thought of giving a public speech right before you are due to go on stage. Clearly you don’t have much time in this situation so a short-term solution can be to distract your chimp. For example, you may bargain with your chimp and say “once we’ve delivered this speech and done a good job, we can relax and order a pizza for dinner” – whilst this isn’t a long-term solution, it’s an effective option every so often.
Another distraction tip is to count to 10 before responding to situations in which you think your chimp might make an appearance. This gives the slower human part of the brain time to catch-up and weigh in before the chimp reacts in an unfavorable way.

Tactic #2 – exercise and then box the chimp

When your chimp (emotional part of your brain) begins to react to something negatively, you should first exercise it in an appropriate location.
For example, let’s say you’ve got upset over poor perceived treatment by a colleague – the first step would be to go somewhere private and exercise the chimp by allowing it to express its feelings, regardless of how irrational they may sound. This may be alone or even with somebody else who you trust but never with the subject of who is causing these emotions as the thoughts and feelings of the chimp could be damaging.
After your chimp has unloaded all the perceived issues, it will begin to tire itself out. At this point, the rational human side of the brain can step back in and ‘box’ the chimp with facts and truth to counter the emotional point of view.

You need to learn to live with and manage your chimp rather than fight against it as this is a biological fight you simply cannot win due to the limbic systems (chimp) power within your brain.

This is often misinterpreted as a sign that you cannot be held responsible for the actions of your chimp, but this is a fallacy – the book gives the example that the chimp is akin to a pet dog, you are responsible for its actions as the owner and can’t simply say ‘the dog ripped up your furniture, not me’ to absolve yourself of responsibility!

Finally, here are some of my favorite takeaways from The Chimp Paradox:

  • Your brain has an emotional centre ‘the chimp’ and a logical centre ‘the human’. The chimp is not inherently good or bad, but it is strong and must be nurtured and managed in order to live in a civilised society.
  • The chimp can be managed by distracting it with rewards or exercising it (expressing your feelings and emotions in a safe and neutral location) until it’s worn out and then boxing it with logic and rational facts.
  • The chimp is an evolutionary essential as it helps keep us safe and drives our other key needs via the fight, flight and freeze reactions. We simply cannot get rid of the chimp we can only manage it. We should therefore forgive ourselves when we fail to manage the chimp.
  • Your personality is the ‘human’ portion of your brain and whilst you are not responsible for the nature of the chimp, you are responsible for managing it.

Steve Peters is an English psychiatrist who works in elite sport. He is best known for his work with British Cycling. He has published four books, A Path Through the Jungle in 2021, The Chimp Paradox in 2012, My Hidden Chimp in 2018 and The Silent Guides in 2018.

Hypnotherapy and Fussy Eating in Children

Getting children to eat healthily can be challenging, let alone trying to get them to show enthusiasm to eat fruit and veggies.

I regularly help children over the age of 5 (and their parents!) overcoming the anxiety of trying new foods or getting over any traumatic experiences with food, such as food poisoning.

I treat my little fussy eating clients by using a mix of nutritional therapy and hypnotherapy.

Fussy eating is a widespread problem in the UK and altering a habit – without the help of hypnosis I dare say – is a challenge and involves commitment and consistency.

According to research fussy eating is the result of the child developing a sense of independence and control and how the parents react to it.

Anna Groom (NHS Pediatric Dietitian) and Claire Potter funder of have developed a great approach to fussy eating which has been fully adopted by the NHS in recent years and work very well alongside hypnotherapy.

According to this approach:

• The child should see food not just as a physiological requirement but also a time to converse with his family and experience new tastes, textures, smells and sensations. Food should be a positive experience and the dinner table should be free from tension, negotiations, arguments, punishments, and orders about food and eating.

New research recommends an approach which is not about making children non-fussy, but it is about developing positive, relaxed, open minded attitude to food.

• Children are not naturally fussy but when they turn 2-3 years old they start noticing that fussy-eating is attracting a lot of attention as parents really care about what they are eating, and that is when they start being “difficult” about food.

• Parents should try to avoid using phrases we heard from own parents such as: “you are going to sit here until you have eaten it” or “think of all the starving children” or “finish that last bit, it is not good to waste food”, “you won’t grow big and strong if you don’t eat..”. Unfortunately, this approach won’t encourage the child to eat and might only increase tension at the dinner table – the emphasis should be on the enjoyment of food.
• Children have very little power in their life, and eating is one area they soon learn it is easy for them to have a lot of power on! By rejecting certain foods and insisting on others they can control us emotionally and physically. So just simply give your child the food and act as if you don’t mind whether they eat it or not.
• Stay in control of the shopping and the cooking – parents oversee what to serve, children are in charge of whether to eat it or not…The aim is to present a variety of meals – the ones they love, the ones they hate and the ones they are not sure about.

It can take anything between 7 to 20 times before a child try a new food, they are exposed to and they are not sure about.

• Don’t use pudding as a reward or punishment “if you eat up your lunch you can have chocolate pudding” or “if you don’t eat up your lunch you won’t have chocolate pudding!”. The message we are sending this way is that the main course is not enjoyable, just something to endure to get to the good bit. The pudding! Instead than pudding try to give a piece of fruit or a yogurt and try to limit a sugary pudding to once a week as a treat rather than as a regular thing.
• Don’t force the child to eat anything (for example by spoon feeding them) as that will make the table a very unhappy place and could create some very deep long-term issue around food.
• Keep their diet as savory as possible (at least 90%). There are a lot of calories in sugar but nothing else and the more a child eats sugary food the less will be interested in healthy savory food.
• Keep offering them the food they don’t eat as I mentioned before it takes more than 7 times for a child to be curious enough to try a new food.
• Don’t make comments at mealtime – just give your child the food and say nothing. Talk about other stuff, not about food or eating. Don’t watch and monitor what they eat or don’t eat. Also don’t ask them what they had at school as constantly referring to the food or the meal put the child under a lot of pressure and gives him/her the power to react against it.
• Keep introducing them to new and unfamiliar food together with the food they are comfortable with – just in small portions so that there is not much waste if they don’t eat the new food.
• Try to offer the vegetables first when they are very hungry as it is more likely that they are going to eat them.
• Let the child eat at their own pace…even if they take very long! And try not to rush them.
• Don’t praise the child by saying “well done you have eaten it all!” as that sends the message to the child that eating is unpleasant and something they must do instead food must be seen as something enjoyable, pleasant and a wonderful part of life!
• Ban words like “yuk” or “I don’t like this”.

Claire Potter is the author of “ Getting The Little Blighters to Eat”.


Move Your Body – Move Your Mind: The Effects of Exercising on the Brain

Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? I always recommend my clients to try to fit exercise in their daily routine. The evidence is incontrovertible: aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.

In the book “SPARK”, John J. Ratey, M.D., explores comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain, presenting startling research to prove that exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer’s.

Everybody knows that exercise creates a fit body, but what many forget is that the brain is part of the body too. Modern science has been able to learn much about how the brain works, and has even tracked neurogenesis (i.e., new cell growth) in the brain in response to exercise.

The old saying, “Once your brain cells die, they can’t grow back,” is a myth.

It should be no surprise that humans respond positively to exercise. We’re descendants of hunter-gatherers who were optimized over thousands of years by evolution to walk and run around the equivalent of many miles per day.
I’ve decided to include in this blog quite a few excerpts from the book as I may need this info to motivate myself in the future!
I have faith that when people come to accept that exercise is as important for the brain as it is for the heart, they’ll commit to it.
Here’s how exercise keeps you going:

1. It strengthens the cardiovascular system. A strong heart and lungs reduce resting blood pressure. The result is less strain on the vessels in the body and the brain. There are several mechanisms at work here. First, contracting muscles during exercise releases growth factors such as VEGF and fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2). Aside from their role in helping neurons bind and promoting neurogenesis, they trigger a molecular chain reaction that produces endothelial cells, which make up the inner lining of blood vessels and thus are important for building new ones. Second, exercise introduces more nitric oxide, a gas that widens the vessels’ passageways to boost blood volume. Third, the increased blood flow during moderate to intense activity reduces hardening of the brain arteries. Finally, exercise can to some extent counteract vascular damage. Stroke victims and even Alzheimer’s patients who participate in aerobic exercise improve their scores on cognitive tests.

Starting exercise when you’re young is best, but it’s never too late!

2. It regulates energy. As we age, insulin levels drop; and glucose has a harder time getting into the cells to fuel them. Then glucose can skyrocket, which creates waste products in the cells–such as free radicals–and damages blood vessels, putting us at risk for stroke and Alzheimer’s. When everything is balanced, insulin works against the build-up of amyloid plaque, but too much encourages the build-up, as well as inflammation, damaging surrounding neurons.

3. It helps fight obesity. Aside from wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems, body fat has its own nasty effects on the brain. Simply being overweight doubles the chances of developing dementia, and if we factor in high blood pressure and high cholesterol–symptoms that often come along with obesity–the risk increases six-fold. Exercise, naturally, counteracts obesity on two fronts: it burns calories, and it reduces appetite.

4. It makes you more resilient to stress. Exercise combats the corrosive effects of too much cortisol, a product of chronic stress that can bring on depression and dementia. It also bolsters neurons against excess glucose, free radicals, and the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, all necessary, but they can damage cells if left unchecked. Exercise makes proteins that fix the damage and delay the process.

5. It makes you happier. More neurotransmitters, neurotrophies, and connectivity shore up the hippocampus against the atrophy associated with depression and anxiety. Staying mobile also allows us to stay involved, keep up with people, and make new friends; social connections are important in elevating and sustaining mood.

6. It boosts your immune system. Stress and age depress the immune response, and exercise strengthens it directly in two important ways. First, even moderate activity levels rally the immune system’s antibodies and lymphocytes, which you probably know as T cells. Antibodies attack bacterial and viral infections and having more T cells make the body more alert to the development of conditions such a s cancer. Those who are physically active, for instance, have a 50 percent lower chance of developing colon cancer.

7. It prevents osteoporosis. Women reach peak bone mass at around thirty, and after that they lose about 1 percent a year until menopause, when the pace doubles. The result is that by age sixty, about 30 percent of a woman’s bone mass has disappeared. Unless, that is, she takes calcium and vitamin D (which comes free with ten minutes of morning sun a day) and does some form of exercise or strength training to stress the bones. Walking doesn’t quite do the job. But as a young adult, weight training or any sport that involves running or jumping will counteract the natural loss. the degree to which you can prevent the loss is impressive: one study found that women can double their leg strength in just a few months of weight training.

8. It increases motivation. The road to successful aging really begins with desire, because without the desire to stay engaged and active ad alive, people quickly fall into the death trap of being sedentary and solitary. One of the problems of getting older is the lack of challenges, but with exercise we can continually improve and push ourselves. Exercise counteracts the natural decline of dopamine, the key neurotransmitter in the motivation and motor systems. When you move, you’re inherently boosting motivation by strengthening the connections between dopamine neurons, while at the same time guarding against Parkinson’s.

And by far my favorite benefit of exercising:

9. It fosters neuroplasticity. The best way to guard against neurodegenerative diseases is to build a strong brain. Aerobic exercise accomplishes this by strengthening connections between your brain cells, creating more synapses to expand the web of connections, and spurring newly born stem cells to divide and become functional neurons in the hippocampus. Moving the body keeps the brain growing by elevating the supply of neurotrophic factors necessary for neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, which should otherwise naturally diminish with age. All these structural changes improve your brain’s ability to learn and remember, execute higher thought processes, and manage your emotions. The more robust the connections, the better prepared your brain will be to handle and damage it might experience.

Dr. John J. Ratey, M.D., is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

If You (Don’t) Snooze, You Lose! Hypnotherapy in the treatment of insomnia and other sleeping disorders.

“Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker is the most compelling book on the importance of sleep.
After reading the book I became even more certain, that being able to sleep well and long enough is one of the most powerful cures and prevention medicine for most ailments.
The book is a summary of scientific research on sleep to date, providing insight on how sleep affects cognitive and physical performance in both the short and long term, and what you can do improve your own sleep.
Any individual, no matter what age, will exhibit physical ailments, mental health instability, reduced alertness, and impaired memory if their sleep is chronically disrupted.
Sleep is therefore the most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day and hypnotherapy can help a great deal with improving quality of sleep.

What happens if we don’t sleep long enough?
Obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep a night, and especially less than six hours a night, and the following happen:

• Concentration failures – Playing out most obviously and fatally in the form of drowsy driving.
• Cognitive impairment – Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance.
• Emotional and psychiatric problems.
• Memory loss.
• Increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.
• Weight gain – short sleep will increase hunger and appetite, compromise impulse control within the brain, increase food consumption (especially of high-calorie foods), decrease feelings of food satisfaction after eating, and prevent effective weight loss when dieting.
• Immunodeficiency – sleep deprivation vastly increases your likelihood of infection and reduces your response to flu vaccine.

Trance or Hypnosis is a very powerful therapeutic tool to address sleeping issues and prevent ailments.

How do you know if you are sleeping enough?
If you didn’t set an alarm clock, would you wake up on time?
Do you find yourself re-reading things?
Do you need caffeine to function optimally before noon?
If the answer to any of these three questions is yes, then it is very likely that you suffer from sleep deficiency.

What are the benefits of sleeping well?
• REM sleep exquisitely recalibrates and fine-tunes the emotional circuits of the human brain; help up empty the stress bucket and be more in control of our emotions.
• Sleep fuels creativity.
• Of the many advantages conferred by sleep on the brain, that of memory is especially impressive, and particularly well understood. Sleep has proven itself time and again as a memory aid: both before learning, to prepare your brain for initially making new memories, and after learning, to cement those memories and prevent forgetting.
• Post-performance sleep accelerates physical recovery from common inflammation, stimulates muscle repair, and helps restock cellular energy in the form of glucose and glycogen.

What’s Stopping You from Sleeping?
Six key factors have powerfully changed how much and how well we sleep:
(1) constant electric light as well as LED light. A good start is to create lowered, dim light in the rooms where you spend your evening hours and stay away from screens. Maintaining complete darkness throughout the night is equally critical, the easiest fix for which comes from blackout curtains. Finally, you can install software on your computers, phones, and tablet devices that gradually de-saturate the harmful blue LED light as evening progresses.
(2) regularised temperature. Room temperature, bedding, and nightclothes dictate the thermal envelope that wraps around your body at night. A bedroom temperature of around 18°C is ideal for the sleep of most people, assuming standard bedding and clothing.
(3) caffeine.
(4) alcohol
(5) long working hours
(6) excessive stress

So how can you improve you sleep?
Rule #1 – Stick to a sleep schedule.
Rule #2 – Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
Rule #3 – Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
Rule #4 – Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
Rule #5 – Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
Rule #6 – If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep.
Rule #7 – Don’t take naps after 3 p.m.
Rule #8 – Relax before bed. Don’t overschedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.

Rule #9 – Take a hot bath before bed whenever you can.
Rule #10 – Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom.
Rule #11 – Don’t lie in bed awake.

If you are already doing all of this with no luck, try Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. No past or current sleeping medications on the legal (or illegal) market induce natural sleep. One of the most effective way of treating insomnia is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. Working with a hypnotherapist for several weeks, patients are provided with bespoke tools intended to break bad sleep habits and address anxieties that have been inhibiting sleep.

Matthew Paul Walker is an English scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a public intellectual focused about sleep.

Tackling Children’s Anxiety with Solution Focused Hypnotherapy

Anxiety in children can manifest in three different ways: psychological, physical, and behavioral. And it’s important for parents, teachers, and carers to look out for the signs:

  • Psychological: anxious thoughts, maybe real or imagined about anticipated or present events.
  • Physical: shortness of breath, dizziness, increased heart rate, increased heart rate, trembling, muscle tension, sweating, numbness, dry mouth, tingling, abdominal discomfort, nausea, fatigue, panic attacks.
  • Behavioral: crying, screaming, tantrums, avoidance behavior, sleeping difficulty, separation anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, irritability, restlessness and eating disorders.

Lynda Hudson in her book “Script and Strategies in Hypnotherapy with Children” explains how the origin of anxiety in children might be due to several factors including genetic predisposition; reproducing parents or relatives’ anxious behavior; a life changing event such as the death of a parent, a divorce, or the arrival of a new sibling; withdrawal from prescription drugs or protracted illness.

Why anxiety is not short-lived though, why does it tend to carry on and on and sometimes get worse?

Anxiety can be maintained by:

Association: when something relatively harmless can become associated with something scary. For example, a doctor uniform can be associated with fear of injections and so a child can become frightened every time they see a doctor.

Avoidance: if a child avoids putting themselves in a situation, they consider frightening, they will never give themselves the chance to cope with it. For example, a child that falls from his/her bike and never wants to cycle again.

Reinforcement: If a child is scared of going to nursery and once, he/she gets to nursery the parent takes him/her back home without entering the building, the child’s feeling of relief will reinforce the fear.

How can Solution Focused Hypnotherapy help?

Hypnotherapy can eliminate or reduce anxiety and phobias by dispelling the fear by explaining to the child how his/her brain work (the fight or flight response); reframing anxiety as an overenthusiastic reaction by the child’s inner mind which is designed to protect them; building confidence and self-esteem; increasing calm and relaxation; encouraging thought stopping and positive self-talk.

In addition to hypnosis itself the Hypnotherapist can teach the child one or more coping strategy which are appropriate to their age should they need it, for example breathing techniques. Lynda Hudson, summarizes two of the most effective ones including:

Ratio breathing
Close your mouth and count to yourself as you breath in, to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6. Continue to do this until you feel more in control again.
Brath in 1-2-3…Breath out 1-2-3-5-5-6.

Cupped breathing
If you feel very panicky, put your cupped hands over your nose and mouth and breath in the air you have just breathed out. This can help to bring back up the levels of CO2 and make you feel calmer. It is best to do it with your moth closed and you can do it everywhere without people taking notice.

Another coping strategy is to challenge your thoughts for example:
I have been in this situation before and I was fine afterwards…I will be fine this time too!

Using a coping statement of your choice can also help reduce anxiety:
I know I can stay cool calm and in control…
I don’t like this think but I can cope with it anyway…
Although these feelings are a bit scary, they will soon pass….
Everyday I’m getting stronger and stronger…braver and braver…

The last coping strategy worth mentioning is anchors. They are essentially powerful triggers for a behavioral response. In real life anchors are accidental and we respond to them naturally – for example I’m suddenly happy when I smell home made pizza baking in the oven as it brings up good memories from childhood back in Italy. In hypnotherapy we deliberately aim to take the power away from negative anchors that underlie many fears and phobias, and we aim to empower children by giving them positive anchors to trigger their resourceful states. For example, we can ask a child to associate a good memory and feeling (e.g., the child parent giving them a big cuddle) to a gesture, so they can repeat that gesture whenever they feel alone and miss their parent to bring back that feeling of comfort and safety.

Lynda Hudson is a former teacher is a clinical hypnotherapist practitioner who specializes in working with children. She is a lecturer in clinical hypnosis at the London College of Clinical Hypnosis (LCCH) and the ISIS Hypnotherapy Centre in Brighton, UK.


Ericksonian Solution-Oriented Approach to Hypnosis

I have recently listened to a lecure by Bill O’Hanlon on Solution-Oriented Hypnosis:

Beyond finding his confidence inspiring, I was taken by his passion for the Solution-Oriented approach to hypnosis, a passion we most definitely share.

First of all I was pleased to hear that – like me – this internationally renowned hypnotherapist was at first a little wary of hypnosis and worried that somebody would manipulate him or control him in some way. It was Milton Erickson himself that taught him how gentle, relaxing and empowering hypnosis can be!

It was also interesting to learn that when O’Hanlon was a psychology student, he thought that the brain and its neuro-pathways were fixed and that after childhood one’s brain didn’t grow any more, it solely lost brain function over time, and or through damage. Thankfully, over the last 25 years, there has been a revolution in the understanding of how the brain works, in a field called neuroplasticity and brain plasticity. It’s now known that new brain cells can grow, new connections can be made, and the brain and its neurology changes all through life.

Before this discovery, Milton Erickson was already convinced of the possibility of positively changing people’s brain through hypnosis. He already knew that:

Their physiology was changeable.
Their emotions were changeable.
Their thinking was changeable.
Their personalities were changeable.
Certainly their behavior and their interactions were changeable.

I have no intention of dying. In fact, that will be the last thing I do! – (Milton Erickson)

Traditional psychotherapy, basically said people were damaged in their childhood or somewhere in their past, and that set them in a certain way so they had functional problems in the present. Erickson was much more optimistic. He thought people could change any time in life and that solution-oriented hypnosis was a terrific tool to facilitate change happening.

But this solution-oriented approach is different from traditional hypnosis. Traditionally, the hypnotherapist is the authority who tells you what to do and controls you in some ways with suggestions and with the power of their hypnotic ability.

The Solution Focused Approach however is cooperative and permissive – that is, we’re not trying to assert control. Instead, we’re trying to actually give people options and possibilities, which are essentially a way to make changes themselves, and which are an individual perfect fit.

So this permissive approach uses a different kind of language than the traditional approach
to hypnosis.

It uses language like “You could do this,” “You might do this,” “You can do
this,” “It’s okay,” “You may do this,” and gives multiple choice options.
So that’s different from the traditional approach which uses language such us: “You will go into trance”, “You won’t be able to open your eyes”, “You won’t be able to come out of trance” kind of thing.’s basically trying to be the controller of that person’s internal experience and external behavior: “You’ll no longer want cigarettes” …”You’ll avoid buying cigarettes.”
Traditional Hypnotherapists are giving instructions, while we – Solution Focused Hypnotherapists – don’t give instructions. We instead evoke, make gentle suggestions.

Another fascinating point of the lecture was on the “resources within”. Erickson had this idea about how you get people to change: people already have the resources and the answers to their problems within and all Hypnotherapists need to do is evoke those resources and answers.

The third distinction O’Henlon makes between Solution Focused and Traditional hypnosis, is that the therapist in the traditional approach is an expert, while in the solution-oriented approach, we’re more collaborative.
We are giving the client multiple choice possibilities, and they are going to tell us (and themselves) what is right for them.

I enjoyed the story O’Henlon told about his former father in law. His former father-in-law
used traditional hypnosis. And what he would typically do is to send people back to the past to figure out where they had some sort of trauma that was buried deeply in their subconscious, get inside it, and then they would resolve the problem (or not).

Now in solution-oriented approach, we’re interested in discovering and connecting with people’s innate power and wisdom. We’re not looking for the causes of the problem. We may go back to the past, but we’re looking in the past to help people discover or connect
with their resources which were left somewhere in the past.

And the last thing is, in traditional approaches, as in most psychotherapy, there is an assumption of pathology:
There is something wrong with the person.
There is something off about the person.
There is something broken or traumatized about the person that needs to be fixed.

O’Henlon explains how Erickson had this very contrarian view that people had incredible resources and abilities. If he’d see someone having a panic attack, he would say something like:
“Wow, you have an amazing ability to control your heart rate, to get racing thoughts, to make your hands start to sweat. That’s an incredible ability!”

He didn’t see it as a disability or a dysfunction. He thought it was maybe being used in a non-helpful way.

He thought that even when people were having problems, that was evidence of their resourcefulness and their abilities, and you just have to capture those abilities, connect with them, and then direct them in a way that’s appropriate for the person in their current circumstances. Erikson thought a new therapy and a new approach to hypnosis should be created for each person, an approach that truly resonates with me as I believe that each person is unique.

Life will bring you pain all by itself. Your responsibility is to create joy –  (Milton Erickson)

What is probably the most radical difference between an Ericksonian or solution-oriented hypnotherapist and a traditional hypnotherapist is that, they can spend a lot of time right at the beginning, giving permission for whatever is going on with the person. Erickson called this the utilization approach.
So if the person was giggling, he would say, “That’s a fine way to go into trance. You can giggle your way into trance.” If they were tense, he’d say, “That’s fine. You can be tense and you can go into trance.” So he would give permission for whatever they were experiencing.
For example, if they would say: “I can hear sounds outside,” he would say, “You can listen to the sounds outside” and so on.

Another difference is that Erickson would presume positive developments and change. So he’d say, “After you go into trance, before you lose that anxiety, before your depression lifts…”. He would presume results, and he would just embed that in his language and in his behavior. That made me reflect on the power of words. So if I said, “Okay, the next time you binge eat,” I’m presupposing my client is gonna binge eat again. But if I say, “The next time you felt the urge to binge eat, I wonder how you’re gonna stop yourself “.

The final point I wanted to mention about this lecture is Dr. Erickson’s view that the unconscious is really wise.

Trust your unconscious. Your unconscious knows a lot. (Milton Erickson).

Now that’s different from Freud. Freud had this view of the unconscious as having some kind of primal urges you had to guard against, so he had sort of a more negative or a pathological view of the unconscious. Erickson had a more benevolent view.
He really thought that the unconscious is great.

But if it’s so smart, why doesn’t it just solve our problems automatically? Well it doesn’t on its own, but we can unlock its problem solving and healing powers through hypnotic trance.

It is really amazing what people can do. Only they don’t know what they can do – (Milton Erickson)

When we learn to do something, such as walking, talking or driving, after a while, that became really an unconscious ability.
Sometimes however, we learn the wrong thing – for example, if a dog barks at us, we learn that all dogs are dangerous and bad and we stay away from them. Now that stops us from visiting all our friends who happen to have dogs. So how can trance help?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy uses trance for non-voluntary, out-of-conscious-control experiences.
During trance the hypnotherapist find the place where automatic patterns that lead to unwanted results occur and introduces changes in those pattern by evoking different resources or different experiences.

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy does change life.

Bill O’Hanlon is a US based Clinical Hypnotherapist, Board Memebr of the American Psycotherapy Association and author and co-author of thirty-six books including “Solution Oriented Hypnosis”, “A Guide to Transland” and “An Uncommon Case Book”. He has published sixty articles or book chapters. His books have been translated into sixteen languages. He has appeared on Oprah and a variety of television and radio programs. Since 1977 Bill has give over 3,500 presentations around the World on hypnosis and has won several awards for his contribution to mental health.