Mind the gap
‘So what do you want to achieve ?’
This is, almost invariably, my first question to a new client who comes to see me for hypnotherapy.
The emphasis is on achievement; the future that you want, the future that you define.
Traditionally, talking therapies have started by asking ‘what is the problem ?’ but this in itself makes the problem the centre of attention. Worse still, if it is a school of therapy that encourages you to re – live or go over the problem many times, that can just embed the difficulty more deeply.
When I was taught to drive, my driving instructor gave me a useful tip for driving through a narrow gap; don’t look at the gap you are trying to drive through, look where you want to go.
Try it; it works, because this is how the brain is programmed. Deep inside the brain is an area called the anterior cingulate cyrus which tells the rest of the brain what is important, and what it needs to look out for. And from then on, your unconscious takes over, gravitating towards whatever it is that you focus on. So if you concentrate on the problem, the problem will pull you in. On the other hand, if you start by focussing on the solution, that is the direction in which your mind will naturally travel, and once it starts to imagine and model the solution, everything else will follow.
This is not to say that the process ignores the problem; far from it. The process of imagining the solution actually defines the problem, albeit in a healthier way, at a level where it cannot dominate the discussion to the same extent.
But this leads us on to the hidden question within my question; how much do you really want to
change ? Because, whilst hypnotherapy is a powerful tool, it is not a magic wand or a miracle cure. You really do have to want to change if you are to get the most out of the process. I can’t force you to do what you don’t want to do; your subconscious is far too protective for that.
It is that desire to change that drives the hypnotherapy, but it is important that it is treated with respect. We all have needs but sometimes they get out of hand, or you may continue to behave according to a need which is no longer helpful or required. My approach is to invite the subconscious to acknowledge that need, to accept that its usefulness has passed, and then gently to let it go.
Let’s give a simple example. A client may come to see me who is overweight and wants to give up their love of chocolate cake. As a hypnotherapist, it would be open to me simply to tell the subconscious that each time the client sees a piece of chocolate cake, he or she feels sick. That is perfectly possible, but is it a helpful and balanced approach ? Wouldn’t it be better if I moved the client to a position where he or she saw a piece of chocolate cake, and was able to resist it if they wanted, alternatively, to sensibly enjoy having one piece and then say that that is enough ?
Most conditions that present themselves in my consulting room are simply expressions of an underlying stress. The danger is that if you simply suppress the desire for – in our case – chocolate cake, it just creates a gap which the underlying stress will immediately move into. And that is why much of my time in the consulting room may be spent – at least on the surface – not talking about ‘the problem’ but the underlying stress.
Much of my work is simply returning people to a state of healthy balance. One of my clients said that she wanted to give up smoking, but it soon became clear that she secretly quite liked whatever it was that smoking gave her. This was reflected in the fact that after one treatment, without any effort, she reduced her smoking from 20 a day to 5 a day. That was probably the outcome that, after all, she really wanted, and at that level it was a success. Maybe one day she will give up completely and this was a necessary step along the way.
Another client was able to move from being terrified of spiders to simply being able to manage them. Another success; no-one ever said that you actually had to like them.
So if you come and see me, I will not ask what the problem is. When it emerges, in its own time, we may not even talk about it that much. But if you really want to change, hypnotherapy can adjust those parts of your mind that may have got a little out of balance, enable you to see where you want to go, rather than worrying about the gap, and then encourage the natural powers of your mind to do the rest.
So, what do you want to achieve ?
(This is a shortened version of an article that is appearing on welldoing.org during the course of June