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Evocative or Manipulative?

The Trance of Modern Hypnotherapy

Book review written by


Bryan M. Knight Hypnosis Depot Reviews

A Guide to Trance Land


By Bill O’Hanlon
W.W. Norton, 106 pages,
$18.50

This slim volume is a clear-cut guide to the hypnotically permissive manner


of encouraging clients to uncover their own solutions.

O’Hanlon distinguishes this solution-oriented hypnotherapy from what he


calls the traditional approach with its emphasis on treating the “causes” of
problems and the outside-in focus of the hypnotherapist telling the client
what to do to overcome her pathology.

“Ericksonian or solution-oriented hypnosis holds no such assumption of


pathology, problem, damage, or deficit. Instead, we are oriented to people’s
abilities and resources. Therefore, we use the hypnotic process to discover
and connect to [to the person’s inner] resources.”

This “permissive” approach is in direct contrast to the old way of conducting


a session of hypnotherapy. Instead of speaking of “shoulds” and “musts” the
hypnotist speaks of “perhaps” and “maybes”. The idea is both to meet the
client where he or she is and to allow solutions to their problems to arise
from within them.

Despite the author’s demarcation of his approach as being radically different


to traditional hypnotherapy in practice surely most of us incorporate
something of both methods?

Just the other day, for instance, when a Christian client spoke of herself as
being immature, I said perhaps that’s true but she is moving forward and as
St Paul said. “When I was a child…” and continued with the Biblical quote
that was meaningful and relevant to her. Meeting the client where she is
now.

Evocative or Manipulative? The Trance of Modern Hypnotherapy copyright©2009 Bryan M. Knight


O’Hanlon rightly warns (in regard to using the client’s vocabulary) “it is
important to be careful here and not come across as mocking or
disrespectful…”

I certainly don’t want to be “mocking or disrespectful” about this Guide but


here are four items that raised my eyebrows:

1. I find the cover, with its big dog looking down at a cat, puzzling for a
book about human hypnosis.
2. On almost every page there is a rubber-stamp type black and white
image of an animal or bird. Contrary to the author’s assertion that
such designs make the book easier to read and memorable I find these
images distracting. At first glance, the book appears to be a book
about pets or for children. It is neither.
3. Some of the suggested “therapeutic” behaviors are downright comical.
For example, what would you think about a hypnotherapist who
bounces around, speaking into your left ear while emphasizing “you
can make those changes you really want to make.”
4. What have become known as NLP [Neuro-Linguistic Programming]
techniques are, in my opinion, manipulative and dishonest. This one,
from page 31, is both. And funny:

“The hypnotist sometimes mirrors the person’s posture or movements


as a way of joining and connecting. For example, when a person
crosses and uncrosses his legs, the hypnotist also crosses and
uncrosses her legs. Another way to match body behavior is to vary
some part of your behavior when the person changes his body
behavior. That is, every time he blinks, you nod.”

Despite such hilarious portions of the book, the main thrust provides
invaluable instruction for hypnotherapists – particularly those hitherto
inclined to bark orders at their clients.

To this end, Bill O’Hanlon provides many specific examples of what to say
and how to say it. Much of this is derived from the genius of the late Milton
Erickson whose (at that time) unorthodox methods of hypnotherapy have
become dogma for some devotees.

Unfortunately, you can’t package genius. How Erickson dealt with people
arose from his unique talents. We can be inspired by him, we can imitate his

Evocative or Manipulative? The Trance of Modern Hypnotherapy Copyright © 2009 Bryan M. Knight 2
respectful approach but we stifle the very essence of his permissive attitude
when we seek to encapsulate his methods into rigid rules.

Nevertheless, the synthesis of the Ericksonian approach that O’Hanlon


details at the end of the book is masterful.

Hypnotherapists new to the field and those previously stuck in the


“traditional” mode will find these instructions enlightening. Especially the
chapter, “Bad Trance/ Good Trance” with its table of “Symptomatic Trance
vs. Healing Trance.”

This slim volume is a


clear-cut guide to the
hypnotically
permissive manner of
encouraging clients
to uncover their own
solutions.

O’Hanlon
distinguishes this
solution-oriented
hypnotherapy from
what he calls the
traditional approach
with its emphasis on
treating the “causes”
of problems and the
outside-in focus of
the hypnotherapist
telling the client
what to do to
overcome her
pathology.

Evocative or Manipulative? The Trance of Modern Hypnotherapy Copyright © 2009 Bryan M. Knight 3