Brookside Center for Counseling and Hypnotherapy

Reflections on the Careers of Hypnotists

by Maurice Kouguell, Ph.D., BCETS. 

I have been in practice for over 30 years. I have over 50 certificates, including degrees, and I have seen easily thousands of clients/patients. Yet, reflecting back on the source of my most important learning experience, I feel that it has been learning from my student population. (This includes students attending my courses and seminars as well as interns and students who have taken my mentorship program.) An important requirement for my own learning experience from my students was my ability to listen to what they were asking or needing and my own awareness of how they could be guided to find their own styles within an acceptable clinical framework. As hypnotherapists, we should be required to use hypnosis to treat problems which we would be qualified to treat with a non-hypnotic technique. 

Hypnosis training by itself does not qualify us to work in subspecialties which are beyond our expertise. Learning a few hypnotic inductions or a variety of inductions and applying them may, at some time, prove to be ineffectual for the client and harmful to the profession. 

There are basically two forms of hypnosis: Self Hypnosis and Hetero-Hypnosis (depending on whether or not a hypnotist is present). There are also two basic approaches to hypnosis: the traditional one and the Ericksonian approach. 

My initial training in hypnosis was with Dr. Louis Wolberg. His was an authoritarian method. Later, I studied with trainers in the Ericksonian approach and in NLP (which is based on Ericksonian thinking). In both cases, it was clear to me that hypnosis was only a tool and results could not be achieved without a basic knowledge and understanding of human behavior, pathology and psychotherapy. 

Hypnotherapeutic work, whether with one person or with groups, demands very special care. The wording, whether used with one individual or groups, is of primary importance. Maybe even more important however, is the power of observation: learning what to look for and interpreting what one sees.  It is also important for us to know why and when we use hypnosis.   Hypnosis is a technique. We must ask ourselves: of what benefit is this technique to the client? Could we do as well with waking hypnosis? With simple dialogue? Or with other verbal techniques? 

In John Hartland’s classic book, Medical and Dental Hypnosis and Its Clinical Application, he states that, “it cannot be too strongly emphasized that whenever psychological or neurotic illnesses are involved, the general practitioner should use the greatest care in selecting the cases he proposes to treat unless he possesses a sound working knowledge of psychopathology.” He continues to say, “...apart from the medical and dental professions, no one should attempt to practice hypnosis unless he/she has received adequate training in both normal and abnormal psychology...the general practitioner should use it only in the course of their daily work.” (pp. XV & XVI)  There are however many hypnotists who may not possess the above academic requirements, yet are qualified and have even taught  and trained students with MDs or PhDs.

There is more to hypnotizing than producing a trance-state. After one has received training in how to produce a hypnotic state, the hypnotist is now on his way to becoming a hypnotherapist. 

A basic knowledge of counseling and therapeutic procedures needs to become part of the newly trained hypnotist’s repertoire.  A very skilled hypnotist who knows all kinds of hypnosis techniques is ready to hypnotize. However, how competent is the hypnotist in recognizing the pathology of a client even though the client is coming to his office for what may at first appear to be a simple procedure (such as smoke ending, weight control, nail biting or any procedure dealing with a habit disorder or addiction)? In my opinion, there is no such thing as a person with a well-defined, simple symptom. Not every smoke-ender is like every other smoke-ender. Not everyone who comes to lose weight is like anyone else who comes to lose weight. Although standard, readily available scripts for inductions may be useful, one may need to go beyond that and begin to learn some basic simple counseling techniques. 

In my own training with a well known professional in the field, having volunteered to be the “subject” for an induction, the instructor turned to the group to indicate that I was “resisting.” I had made a request that the background music be changed because it interfered with my ability to relax. The reason for this was that, as a musician well versed with the classical repertoires, I was spending too much time concentrating on and obsessing about the particular performance which was being played during the induction. This was interpreted as resistance. The very important lesson which I learned at that point, and in subsequent years, was that there is no such thing as resistance. There is just the inability of the hypnotist to establish rapport not only on his terms, but also on the terms of his client. If rapport cannot be established, then there can be no communication. In hundreds, if not thousands of cases after that experience, it became clear to me that rapport needs to be established every time: we need to communicate congruently and that this brings about a state of consciousness which then would be advantageous for trance. 

Defense Mechanisms and Resistance

I would like to emphasize the importance of recognizing and understanding defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are part of the overall development of the ego system. They basically protect the individual against a frightening or anxiety-producing situation. Keep in mind that the reason that you are seeing the client is that the client is not capable of giving up his symptom and is coming to you to help him give it up. Yet, the symptom is something very precious and something he wants to hold on to. Consciously he knows he should give it up and the conflict comes from his unconscious, where he is incapable of giving up that symptom. While it takes a good deal of courage for clients to seek help and to express their desires for change, they will still exhibit signs of resistance. Resistance is basically a manifestation of a fear related to uncovering unconscious material. Although historically the behavior therapists such as Wolpe and Lazarus, claimed that resistance did not exist in behavior therapy, they have come to recognize that resistance is a rationalization which the therapist uses "against" the client to account for his own inability or his own failure to reach the client. Some behavior therapists thus imply that the client was at fault for not taking responsibility in the process of getting well. One could speculate that any therapeutic failure is due either to the therapist or the method, or the resistance of the client, but it is important to remember that one does not sit in judgment and that resistance needs to be seen as a motivational factor. Thus, both client and therapist should be absolved from taking responsibility and being blamed for the failure.

Personally, I feel that there is one major framework we need to work with: Respect the client and accept him with all his strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes strengths will be his weaknesses and weaknesses his strength.

Dr. Louis Wolberg in Techniques of Psychotherapy mentions the following rules for the building of a relationship with the client or patient. (This text has become a classic in the training of all clinicians and in supervisory work in psychotherapy and the following suggestions have become guidelines for most clinical practitioners).

Always Growing

Flexibility and adaptability on the part of the hypnotherapist are essential.

So how does one accomplish one’s search for professional development?

Reading, reading and more reading! And not only hypnotism-related works, but all manner of subjects. Be aware of new thinking, new ways of discriminating and choosing . Be ready to acquire new knowledge and/or give up old or out-dated ideas and put one’s ego to the side to find a new path to wisdom.

I am currently under the care of an oncologist, an internist, a homeopathic physician, an acupuncturist and occasionally see an ophthalmologist and a podiatrist.

The sharing of information is mostly verbal, although I listen to the body language of all those specialists. Above all though, I listen to my own reactions and have learned to quickly ward off any verbal statements where I feel hurt when I know that this is not intended by the care providers (even though it is processed in my body as such and that is what I need to deal with at that moment).

A quote attributed to Marvin Belsky states, “It is not enough for your doctor to stop playing God. You’ve got to get up off your knees.” The following is a saying attributed to Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but having new eyes.”

The most significant gains I have acquired in the study and practice of hypnosis are respect for the unconscious of the individual and, above all, to respect in all and every way what the individual is telling you (whether you agree or not with the statements) Any resistance to change is the most important message the individual is telling you and it is up to you to uncover it so as to bring an increased rapport to the therapeutic situation. Every word you say has an impact on the client. Every word the client says has an impact or makes an impression on you and it is up to you, the hypnotist, to uncover that deeper layer of communication for that could very well be the source of the healing process.

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