Hypnosis Again. Erickson.
Time to revist hypnosis. A bit of a passion of mine, and having dabbled with it for the past few years also something I now 'use' every day.
I scare quote the use because hypnosis really isn't at all what people think it is. It's not even what people who are skilled in its use think it is, in my opinion. As far as skilled hypnotists go, if we had to construct a world ranking, then Milton Erickson would be first and daylight, as they say, would be a long way back in second place. He's now dead, but the range of his understanding and technique was Bradmanesque, if you'll forgive the cricketing reference. And in fact most of the modern theories about hypnosis descend from Erickosn's work and study, because he dissected the phenomenon in an academic context as well as working in the field extensively. And really he made it possible in many ways for there to be a 'field' to work in.
Probably the major break Erickson established with hypnostists before him was in establishing the fundamental linkages between hypnotic phenomena and everyday life. In its infancy hypnosis was mired in ideas of occult states and mysticism. In fact the history is compelling reading, for example Mesmer's collision with the scientific establishment of the day, who basically thought he was a pervert corrupting the good morals of women. Back then to be hypnotised meant to have your will and control taken from you, Svengali-like.
Erickson realised that hypnotic 'states' (and there's a debate about whether hypnosis represents a state at all) are refined or amplified forms of experiences we already all have, every day. So for example a day dream is a hypnotic experience. As are things like humming a tune you'd heard on the radio a few minutes ago, or post-traumatic stress. By understanding that what we see in hypnosis is merely a restricted and sometimes amplified version of everyday experience, Erickson was able to devise what is sometimes called 'indirect hypnosis', or 'conversational hypnosis', meaning hypnosis without the aid of the usual induction techniques like swinging watches and people closing their eyes and being asked to relax etc. And in fact the whole idea of induction i.e. 'putting somebody into a trance', is on shaky ground as a result of the Ericksonian method and discoveries.
To this much wider experiential understanding of hypnosis you can add Erickson's superb sense of humour. Below is an extract from an interview with Erickosn, to give you a sense of both the humour and humanity of the man.
INTERVIEWER: Suppose someone called you and said there was a kid, nineteen or twenty years old, who has been a very good boy, but all of a sudden this week he started walking around the neighborhood carrying a large cross. The neighbors are upset and the family's upset, and would you do something about it. How would you think about that as a problem? Some kind of bizarre behavior like that.
ERICKSON: Well, if the kid came in to see me, the first thing I would do would be to want to examine the cross. And I would want to improve it in a very minor way. As soon as I got the slightest minor change in it, the way would be open for a larger change. And pretty soon I could deal with the advantages of a different cross - he ought to have at least two. He ought to have at least three so be could make a choice each day of which one. It's pretty hard to express a psychotic pattern of behavior over an ever increasing number of crosses.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a modern derivative of hypnosis, which owes a lot to the detailed work Bandler and Grinder did with Erickson. Their works are a brilliant, entertaining read, such as their Frogs Into Princes, and Trance-Formations. (They don't speak to each other any more I believe, which is always the way of things.) Much of modern stage hypnotism or TV hypnotism derives from training in NLP. Due to Bandler and Grinder's work in what they call modelling, which is their way of capturing the genius of geniuses and making it teachable, NLP is a very clear and powerful tool to learn how to do a lot of what Erickson did, and in some ways more. But in other ways less.
Having said all of that, I still think hypnosis is misconceived. It works - all the stupid sceptics associations (is there any greater fundamentalist in the world than the average card-carrying sceptic and their Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill Panglossian view of what science is and does?) and their attempts to debunk it miss the point that they're attacking a straw man, i.e. the old Svengali model - and is very powerful. But it isn't a state, and can all be explained even more easily than Erickson was able to. That'll have to wait for next time.