Hypnotherapy is fundamentally about ideas. Famed hypnotist Milton Erickson stated that relaxation is an artifact of hypnosis because it is a suggested behavior. In other words, the hypnotist presents an idea about relaxation, and the client converts that idea into a state of relaxation. James Braid himself, after coining the word hypnotism to define the “sleep of the nervous system,” concluded that the state was not that of sleep at all, but of intense fixation on an idea. In vain he tried to rename the art “monoideism.”
My first idea about writing this article was to present some direct method or technique for relieving pain or boosting immunity. After a rather curious experience, I have chosen instead to tell a story and through this story to relate an idea that may prove more beneficial than either of the aforementioned techniques.
I have just returned from a journey to Geneva Switzerland to speak at the United Nations about Hypnosis Health Service as a global solution for HIV/AIDS. This opportunity was presented to me as part of a weeklong “Festival of Excellence” that brings post-graduate interns together with professionals from varied fields for a week of roundtable discussions in the U.N. These roundtables focus on issues ranging from the arts, to business, to healthcare. I was happy and honored to be among so many talented and motivated individuals; it seemed that opportunities for collaborations were present at every turn.
I had arrived with a clear mission to interface with UNAIDS and the World Health Organization and found myself limited in the amount of time I could schedule for other meetings. One meeting that I thought was to be routed to cyber conference via the internet was with a group called Media Action International, who had offered an informal invitation to get involved with their outreach in post-war Afghanistan. While packing for my departure from Geneva, I made a mental note to send an apologetic email at my nearest convenience.
As I took the bus into the center of town to pick up my plane ticket, I became engaged in a conversation about hypnosis with a new friend. In fact, it was at the very moment I was discussing James Braid’s nomenclature dilemma that I realized I had missed my stop. I said a quick goodbye, then dashed off the bus to run the two blocks back to British Airways. When I crossed the street I saw Eddy Markiewicz, managing director of Media Action, sitting in a parked car. We greeted each other like two schoolmates, discussed the grandeur of our time together in Geneva, and picked up the thread of conversation regarding collaboration. Another Media Action staff member soon showed up. On the sidewalk, between a small gothic church and the bus depot, we had our meeting. The accident of missing my stop had become an opportunity to complete unfinished business.
I left that encounter buzzing with excitement, not so much that I had set plans in motion for another exciting adventure, but that it was a simple little turn of events that had opened the door of opportunity. I immediately considered that I had to tell this story to someone and began to fixate on relating it here.
Indeed, much of what happens in hypnotherapy is storytelling. Our clients tell us a story of their troubles. We, through words or processes, tell them stories of their strength. Often, if we are lucky or diligent, the solutions to our client’s problems are in the stories of their struggles themselves. By listening to the subtle clues within their own reports, we may be able to help them glean the opportunities for change that are present in their own problems or accidents.
Stories can also be models for structured success, and a form of indirect suggestion. My teacher Gil Boyne touted the value of the “Verbal Proof Story” in sales and therapy. At times a client may not respond to direct suggestion, but may be able to “relate” to the adventures of a protagonist in a tale. Through this objective perspective, insight and resolution can be gained.
I became euphorically dizzy contemplating the emotional alchemy we Hypnotherapists are privileged to facilitate. As I took my last stroll through downtown Geneva to catch the bus, the mid-morning sunlight and the gentle breeze coming off the lake made me feel like I was in my own storybook tale. I then remembered that it was directly because of an accident that I was in Geneva. An accident and injury forced me to change careers and set me on a path of pain management solutions that had carried me to a foreign land and untold opportunities. “I must remember,” I thought, “to share this story with my clients.”
Timothy L. Trujillo
Los Angeles, August 29, 2002