Garner Thomson on Hypnosis












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Michael : Good morning Garner. Firstly I'd like to really welcome you back, this time for a discussion on hypnosis. Could you kick off by reminding our audience about yourself and a little bit about what you do.

Garner : Sure, and thank you for inviting me. I'm an NLP meta-master practitioner and trainer and clinical hypno-therapist. I have a full time practice in London and I am founder of the Society of Medical NLP, which we founded to develop and teach the principles -specifically to the health professionals - I developed a curriculum in which I teach doctors, medical students, and health professionals from all over the world.

And also the book Magic in Practice, which is subtitled Introducing Medical NLP The Art and Science of Language in Healing and Health.

Michael : Excellent. And I also understand that you helped Richard edit his new book A Guide to Trance-formations, Ive just finished it, and I have to say that I really really like it - but I was wondering if you could add a few words of your experience in doing that?

Garner : Yes certainly. I was up in Ireland - Richard asked me to go down there to - he offered to write an introduction to my book Magic In Practice. And I actually expected to be there a couple of days. I thought that it was good, weighty book, and that there was quite a lot to it, but Richard sat down and had read it cover to cover in literally a couple of hours so we had quite a lot of time left. So I said to him "While I'm here, is there anything that you would like me to do?" Thinking that I could potter around in the garden or something.

And he said "I want you to re-do Trance-formations." Trance-formations was a book that he wrote on hypnosis, and is probably about twenty-five years old now, and he wanted to rewrite it for some time. So I went "OK." And that's how it happened.

So, literally the next six months or so involved many, many, many hours of talks with him - being able to ask him any question that I wanted to ask him, which was brilliant. And actually, the Holy Grail of NLP which is the audio book archives, because Richard has kept records of absolutely everything that he has ever done. So that alone was an extraordinary experience.

And the book officially comes out in the states in November and in the UK some time early next year.

Michael : So almost leading on from that, what is your own view on what is trance and what is hypnosis? And are in fact, they the same thing?

Garner : Well, actually its a very good question. In Magic in Practice I called hypnosis something that nobody understands, but about which everybody has an opinion. And there are two things - we have no idea of what it is and why it should work. it just is, and it does.

Milton Erickson defined trance as "The reduction of the multiplicity of the foci of attention.", basically meaning that you've narrowed the persons attention down. But that told us more or less, what happened, not actually it actually is. I think personally I don't care too much for the Hypnosis word, for the H word, and that's largely because of connotations that it carries. So I tend to use the terms altered state, and trance inter-changeably with hypnosis.

Personally I define it as the functionally altered state that we talked of as a heightened unconscious focus. We know that involves reduced pre-frontal cortical activity, and that's the logical side of the brain. So it very well might be a heightened sense of suggestibility.

What I would like to emphasise is that trance may be a response to acute arousal. Emotional arousal. We suspect that that may have something to do with our evolutionary development. So in medical NLP we regard all patients in distress as in an altered state, and therefore more susceptible to suggestion. So its of premium importance that all health professionals are aware of its effect.

There's a profound difference in saying to someone "This form of cancer is fatal for 60% of people." and "40% of people successfully overcome this form of cancer." The first way of saying it is a death sentence, and the second suggests different odds. I'd buy a lottery ticket on those odds.

Michael : Moving on from that, what kind of thing can altered states, or trance, or whatever wording you choose to use, be used for?

Garner : Well, I regard trance largely as a tool to speed up interventions that might otherwise take up too much time. I think that there's a lot of over-emphasis amongst some people, of hypnosis and hypnotherapy as a means in itself. They don't have an underpinning of therapeutic applications or interventions that they can use.

But the advantage of trance is that these things can be done very quickly when they do have those elements introduced. So it can be used adjunctively to treat probably almost any behavioural problem, effectively. And since the more we practice a new behavioural response the better we get at it, trance gives us the means to set up many many repetitions of mental rehearsal or future-pacing as we call it in NLP, within a relatively short period of clock time.

Michael : OK. So, can I just clarify that its particularly useful for people, or for us, if we want to take on new behaviors?

Garner : Yes it does, because rehearsal of new behaviours is crucial and the time distortion ability of hypnosis is particularly useful. I don't think that you can just rush in on a trance and get them doing something different than what they've been doing for a very long time. You often come across it in hypnotherapy, just to put people in a state of trance, and unless its credible to their unconscious mind, they're not going to change their behaviour, without developing new neural pathways.

Richard said something quite interesting to me when we were in Ireland and writing the book. He said that Virginia Satir had said to him when he was a lot younger that people, if they had choices, would always make the most appropriate one - the best one available to them. And I always thought that that sounded la little bit optimistic.

But he explained to me that what she meant was that to make the neurological choice, they needed the actual experience of a new behaviour. So for example a person who was afraid of flying, no matter what you did with him, you wouldn't really be able to do anything without his neurology altered, developing new pathways - to at least perceive themselves flying comfortably and safely in a plane.

So that is where hypnosis is very useful. It allows us to install patterns without actually having to drag people out onto the street and onto a plane.

Michael : We're obviously going to be talking about some of the positive sides of hypnosis - but just to make people aware, do you believe that there are any cautions or concerns about hypnosis, or putting people into an altered state?

Garner : I do believe that the cautions are really as much about the one person as one chooses. You see, the reason that hypnosis has such a bad rap is that there is a lot of incompetent hypnotherapists around and people encounter them. But the stories that I hear, are not about hypnosis as such, but about practitioners who have become really frustrated and not being able to bring about a change in the patient, and install guilt in the patient.


So in hypnosis itself I would say not really, because you will find that if people are given an injunction, which runs counter to what they believe, to what their moral-ethical value is, they will tend to reject it. It is quite a skill getting people to accept these injunctions, but at the same time you need to have a sense of trust of the ethics and the efficiency of the person doing the hypnosis.

Michael : That leads very nicely onto the next question. In a hypnotic session, how would you describe the relationship between a hypnotist and a client - and if I could add to that from what you've just said - in a good hypnotic session, how would you describe the relationship?

Garner : Sure. Well essentially the hypnotist should function as a feedback mechanism for the subject. In other words the subject leads the state. So that means that the hypnotist should be able to distinguish signs of developing trance however subtle they might be, and feed them back to the subject, amplifying the effect.

Now in order to do this, you as an effective hypnotist or practitioner, need to be able to go into profound states yourself while maintaining the ability to communicate with the outside world. This is quite a skill, but its very useful, because as you go into an altered state, your subject will follow.

This is non-verbal feedback, but of course you can give verbal feedback as well, and that's very much what Erikson was doing when he used the phrase, one we all use now which is "That's right.", he was reaffirming their state.

Michael : And what would you say are some of the key elements that make up a good hypnotic session?

Garner : Well I would absolutely say as Ive said before that trust is absolutely important. People need to have trust in the practitioners knowledge and ethics. And not just because we don't want any kind of junky injunctions being given to people, but simply unconscious minds make judgements, and unconscious minds are seldom fooled, so its completely a waste of time if that trust isn't there.

Ive never met anyone who cant go into a state of hypnosis, contrary to the stories you hear. Richard always says that if people don't go into hypnosis its one of two things. Its either that they have concerns that have not yet been addressed, or you're not taking enough time with them. So trust is important.

The second thing that I would say is keep it interesting. There's an entirely unfounded belief that trance has to be slow and monotonous, and this is the official belief, and its incredibly patronising to the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is very creative, playful, and has a brilliant sense of humour - and these qualities make therapeutic suggestions much more credible, and therefore more acceptable to the unconscious mind.

So, make therapy fun, is my closing statement.

Michael : You've talked about trust and fun, please continue

Garner : Well finally I would like to say that the practitioner should have the confidence and the ability to utilize absolutely anything that happens in the session . I have a mantra that I impart onto my students when they're training with me, and that's "normalize, normalize, normalize", in other words, anything that happens should be framed as useful, and its up to the practitioner to decide why something good is happening - otherwise you get a lot of performance anxiety, you get people judging themselves. They perform much better if whatever they do, or say, or whatever is framed and perceived as something useful. Which it always will be.

Michael : Now, can you take me through some of the sequences that you might go through in a hypnotic session?

Garner : I believe that set up is very important - most of the listeners probably don't remember this, but back in the day we used to have computer disks that you used to have to set up before you could use them. And I think that this is very important, I think that peoples conscious minds need to be pre-formatted in order to accept the kind of injunctions and information that you want to give them in a certain way.

Peoples conscious minds, pre-frontal cortex, the logical-rational side, is going to get in the way if it isn't satisfied. I often spend a lot of time explaining things to people, re-framing their condition as I go. I mean, for example, I truly, truly believe that the symptom is never the problem, but its always the communication from the whole body-mind about some imbalance that needs to be readdressed. So therefore the subject needs to realise that we're not at war with these bad feelings or behaviours, but that we have to learn how to reassert them more creatively into our lives.

I also use loads of semantic primes - these words that suggest the outcome that even if we're not using them in a direct way, these are found to be very potent in influencing people.

Michael : Can you give an example?

Garner : Sometimes we call these ‘homophonic’ ambiguities in linguistics - something like the word "heal", you could be talking about dogs coming to heel or something like that, but of course the word heal has a secondary meaning. So to become aware of langauge and the other meaning of words. In Magic in Practice there's a whole section on words that harm and words that heal which is actually about how to use semantic primes. And essentially its as many words as you can think of that sound like, or represent the conditions that you would like to bring about in people.

So "peace". You can say to someone, "Comfort, trance, doesn't happen immediately. It happens piece by piece." There's a bit of ambiguity there. "And if each piece happens, the rest follows."

So you hear the difference, there's piece, and "the rest that follows", where "rest" is another one of those words with ambiguity.

Richard has a word that he uses all of the time. "Your unconscious. Now." Now that's also a prime, it primes people to be unconsciously thinking "your unconscious." and "You are unconscious."

So this is what I call semantic primes. And I must say, these days I very seldom do a formal induction, the ones that we're all trained in at the beginning, you know, I would get them to imagine that they're walking down a staircase step by step. To me, it suddenly occurred to me that if you can get people to believe that they're already in an altered state, they can hallucinate that they're walking down a staircase.

So I do is - I do a formal induction if the client really wants me to - some people really like the whole shebang, and they really respond better for it. I had some guys that had been sent to me by Paul McKenna, and they were three lads from Essex, three brothers who wanted to give up smoking. And they were big old boys and they watched Paul on television and they had seen all of that stuff.

So when they came to see me, I knew they were coming one after the other to come and stop smoking. So the first one sat down and I said "So, whats your name?" and he went, already, into trance. So I said "Oi! We haven't started yet!" and pulled him back up. And every time that I spoke he went back up into trance - so I thought we'll do this and move onto the next one. It was kind of like McDonald's trace.

And they all did the same thing, because their expectation was so high of what hypnosis really was. But for my, by definition, getting someone to go inside and think about stuff, his consciousness was altering anyway.

So Ive learned very much from deep and naturally occurring trance states.

But what I tend to do - I'm very partial to what I call an outside-in approach, which is where you conversationally bring a person attention in from the outside world into the interior world, and one of the easiest ways of doing that is by noticing or commenting on, inarguably true, two or three true facts - what Erickson calls Truisms - followed by a hypnotic injunction.

For example you could say to someone "You've come here." Which is one clearly, because they've come. "Because you've been struggling with a particular problem," That's two. "And have decided to do something about it." That's three.

And then you say - "and you can let your attention go inside, and start to relax.".

So they're three real facts and one hypnotic injunction, and by repeating this pattern you can achieve profound trance states.

Although I should say that the depth of trance in not automatically a requirement for therapeutic change. This is a fallacy. I don't want my clients to be always so dissociated that they cant respond - so when people are in a sufficiently relaxed and receptive state, then I can become increasingly direct with them over what they can do, what they can do instead of what they've been doing unsuccessfully so far.

And they need to know what to do. And again that's another fallacy that Erickson was very non-directive. Its only true of his inductions. As people went into trance he became more and more and more directive, he told people what he wanted them to do.

And Ive trained with many different hypnotists, but I think with Richard, the things Ive acquired from him are particularly useful. The first is persistence. He taught me to never, never, never give up. And the second is to layer my work. Why give an injunction on way when you can give it five different ways and increase your chances?

And then that became when we were working on his book, that there was a thing called hypnosis which is what other people did - and then there was hypno-ranting which is what we did.

Michael : I like that, hypno-ranting. OK. Anything more of the sequence of a good session?

Garner : Well when you've got the injunction, that direct injunction in place, I think the most important thing is to let people know that they should start now, that's often the case. That's very important.

The second thing that is very important is the therapist or the hypnotist has to transfer, to bridge or to map the new behaviour out of the room and into the outside world
- otherwise we get something called state specific learning. You'll see all sorts of brilliant changes when the person is sitting there, but they'll stay in the room unless its bridged out.

That's what I meant when I said we should have lots of rehearsal and we can do lots of rehearsal and future-pacing. And that allows the people to carry the new behaviour, the responses out into the outer world.

And then largely when you bring people back - sometimes people don't want to come back because its so comfortable. If you're new to the game, don't panic. They're just enjoying themselves, there's no such thing as somebody staying in trance forever.You just need to be a little flexible, and if necessary, prod them and then they will come around.

Its largely to reassure them, especially with newcomers, is what experience they believe they are having. Because they might say "Ive heard every word I think you said" IE, "I don't think I was in trance."

Or the other one is "I didn't hear anything that you said"

And the thing is to realise that people are simply asking for reassurance. I usually say to people, I use Richards thing "We do have a state where people don't hear anything or see anything or feel anything, and that's called death, and we try and avoid that one as much as possible."

And of course people are listening even when they're away, and they need to know that its OK. that what they've done is OK, because as a hypnotist its your job to measure and to calibrate their response so that their response is unique.

And then you send them off, hopefully happy, with a double bind, I like double binds. I say to people "now the important thing is that I don't want you to get better too quickly. So in the next couple of days, you might find that things are up and down, but after that-"

And then you give them the injunction. and this gives them lots and lots and lots of reassurance and a lot of hand-holding so to speak, because its a new experience for them. And they are looking for magic, so often you have to normalise the experience, so they're not just suddenly going to be different people when they come out. That's the other thing that TV hypnosis creates, the illusion that we're going to go close our eyes, open our eyes and life is going to be completely different.

So you need reassure people that they are going to get used to the new behaviours and practice those new behaviours. You get that by them and they're home and dry.

Michael : Excellent. Moving on from that, you've talked about what you would do, if you were going to chose a hypnotist to work with yourself, how would you know who to chose?

Garner : Good question. It's difficult, I agree. There are really, as I said earlier on, some really incompetent hypnotherapists out there, and that creates problems for everyone. Id certainly begin, myself, with asking what sort of problems that he deals with normally. And then I'd be very much cautious if the answer was "everything". You often get this.

Now this is often a sign of somebody that has had very little experience. They've got their new license and their new training and they hang out their shingle saying "we do everything."

But as your experience grows you tend to specialise, you tend to find areas that you prefer or that you're better at or that you enjoy more. So even if you're confident of the wide range of issues that you're dealing with, you want to be careful of if they're selling snake oil. It normally means that they don't have loads of experience.

I would be very well disposed to someone that is willing to spend some time on the phone with me, with any concerns or questions that I might have, but Id be particularly cautious of someone that tells me that I need to pay for ten sessions in advance, just off the basis of the telephone conversation.

People often ask me how long its going to take, and I say that I really cant answer that, but what I can guarantee is that we'll work to the minimal number of sessions that we can possibly do, and they're very client-directed. I'll take the feedback from them.

So I want that kind of confidence. It honestly doesn't make any sense to ask where they trained or are they registered because there's no official registration or training body in this country, much are out there that would like to be perceived as such.

Michael : Can I ask you a side question on that? Do you think that its actually possible to have an effective body that did that sort of thing?

Garner : It's very difficult, because what tends to happen then is that they become self-funding. You get situations where you have bodies then that say "You cant register with us unless you've done our training or follow our methods." This happened in mainstream psychology and psychiatry a lot.

I was invited by a well-known - I wont mention the name - but a well known medical and dental hypnosis trainer many years ago to give a talk - and they said "you have to come in the back door." And I asked what that meant, and they said "Well, we're not allowed to really talk to people, or be talked to by people who have not trained with us."

And I said "Well, how do you ever learn anything new?"

And that hadn't occurred to them. The important thing is that it can limit creativity and limit flexibility. So I'm not a great lover of registering bodies. The only reason that I believe - for example the Society for Medical NLP - is to give people a kind of fellowship or a guild that they can belong to.

But what I would like to say about selecting a practitioner, is that word of mouth is the best way of doing it. Go to people you know and find people that have been to someone and find out what their response is. Ive made a policy never to advertise, and happily for me I'm never short of clients - because if people do like what they've done they will pass it on.

So word of mouth can be the most trustworthy way of choosing a therapist.

Michael : OK. There again, building on what you've said up until now, what do you see as the future for hypnosis? Or altered states or whatever you chose to use?

Garner : Well Michael, I see hypnosis and all of that stuff as a technology, and a large part of our evolution at this point depends on how we successfully harness the technology that we have. We unfortunately, currently function in an evidence-based world, certainly in the medical field or the health professions - which is really about how to measure things to fulfil accountants, to to paperwork, than it is to fulfil patients and clients.

So I think there will be a while where its still regarded with suspicion by many people in the mainstream. But on the other hand, those of us who are in the business, we much continue to persevere, encourage and demonstrate to the people who are prepared to listen - and also to encourage our patients and clients to talk to their health professionals when they're satisfied with the results that we've achieved together.

That's really how Ive become accepted as a trainer of health professionals - I'm not a doctor - and that wouldn't have meant anything other than that Id been through medical school. It wouldn't make me a better teacher of NLP or hypnosis if I were a doctor.

But what happened was that an increasing number of doctors that had referred patients to me had become curious of what the patients had experienced and why they seemed to be better after they had been through a process different from the ones that they understood.

So the future is create an integration with medicine - to reintegrate it. Because it once was very much part of medicine, part of health. But I think that the future is also to push the boundaries - I think that people who are really interested in it - Richard said that he always pushed what Erickson said was possible, he would push to the Nth degree. Not because he wanted to disprove it, but because he wants to find out if there are limits - and twenty, thirty, forty years later he still hasn't found them.

Michael
: OK, what would you like to emphasise? Think about the things that we've talked about, do you think that there is anything about hypnosis that you've left out? Or do you think that there is something in particular that you would like to emphasise because you think that it is a potentially, particularly useful, or worth knowing for the people that are listening to this?

Garner : I think that I could probably go on talking about hypnosis forever, its one of my favourite subjects. But what I would like to emphasise is something that Ive already said, and that is that we learn to regard everyone in distress as in an altered state, and therefore
in a potentially suggestible state and adjust our behaviour accordingly.

And in medicine they have this saying "First do no harm." And I thin kits possible to do harm by using language injudiciously when a person is in a highly suggestive state. I would say that that's probably the most important thing that I have to emphasise.

Michael : And if you can - either if there's anything that you would like to bring to our listeners attention, anything that you would like to plug, and or remind us of your contact details.

Garner : I'd like once again to suggest, obviously, that listeners have a read of Magic in Practice because there's quite a lot there about naturally occurring trance states and why its important for health practitioners to be able to identify them.

Do read Richards new book which is entitled entitled "Dr Richard Bandler's Guide to Trace-Formation"

And that's a very practical book, but its also very interesting because this design for people who have never been exposed to hypnosis or NLP before, so he wanted some of the old patterns and some new patterns as well. So get a copy of that.

And please visit our website - there's much on there about our training courses, including NLP training and hypnosis. The main site for Medical NLP is
Index.

And we have a site running in tandem with Magic in Practice which is
http://www.magicinpractice.com and by joining that people can then participate in discussions, ask questions, and send me any emails that they'd like to send.

Michael : Is your email on those sites?

Garner : Yes, the email is on the site, but they can always get me through my personal email which is
garner@garnerthomson.co.uk

Michael : Garner, thank you very much indeed for spending your time with us this morning.

Garner : Michael, thank you very much for inviting me. I really appreciate it, and enjoyed it. Thanks a lot.   


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