For many years, I tried to be more like Milton Erickson. This chapter is about the more difficult challenge of trying to be more like Gilligan. It is based on 22 years of teaching, practicing, and writing about hypnotic psychotherapy. It indicates how my path has diverged from Ericksonian thinking. I hope it encourages others on their own paths.
What was really astonishing about Erickson was his willingness to be himself, to accept his "deviancies" from the norm. This courage translated directly, I believe, into compassion for and acceptance of others. To follow a similar path is remarkably challenging. But this is what we stand for as therapists.
In describing where this post-Ericksonian path has led me, I'll start by honoring a few core ideas from Erickson's legacy that still light my way. I'll then raise questions about how these ideas are put into practice. The main intent is to stimulate thinking, rather than to argue about truth.
In the exceprt from the introduction Dr. Gilligan writes:
I would like to discuss in this paper what I consider to be some essential aspects of an Ericksonian approach to hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. I want to first contrast briefly the Ericksonian view of the hypnotic relationship to other more traditional views, and then to identify what I consider to be the general principles of communication in the Ericksonian approach and their application to the specific situation of hypnotic inductions. Finally, I want to comment about the need for integrity in applying these principles and techniques. Each of these topics is a major one, and in a short discussion I can convey only a general sense of their significance.
One of the hallmarks of successful and effective people is a deep sense of purpose and intention. Without this deep sense, it is easy to get lost in the infinite dramas of everyday life, to be pulled by the many forces trying to use you in one way or another. By sensing and aligning with an inner calling, it is possible to steer one’s life course in a meaningful way. One of the best models for describing this path is the “Hero’s Journey,” first described by the mythologist Joseph Campbell (1949) in his seminal book, The Hero with a thousand faces.
To realize the hero’s journey, a person needs maps, tools, and resources. So what we’d like to do in this article is briefly overview how the hero’s journey may be navigated.
One of Erickson’s greatest skills was his capacity to operate in two “realities” simultaneously: the interior world and the exterior world. His “inner work” (with a dazzling array of naturalistic trance experiences) showed the infinite possibilities of consciousness; his “outer work” (with all sorts of directives to act differently in the social world) showed many creative paths for shifting a person’s identity; and his skill at holding both worlds simultaneously gave him a special capacity as a heale
All types of events, positive and negative, may be seen as extraordinary states of consciousness, that is, experiences that take us beyond the ordinary “identity state” we tend to usually occupy.
Self-relations is especially interested in such experiences for two reasons. First, without the proper skills and relationships to such experiences, a person may become mired in suffering or distracted in endless fantasies. This is often what is happening for people seeking psychotherapy. Second, and equally important, a skillful relationship to extraordinary states of consciousness can allow deep transformation and success in creating what Self-Relations calls the “4-H club”: happiness, health, helpfulness (to others), and healing (of self and others)
Self-relations sees extraordinary states of consciousness, both pleasant and unpleasant, as essential and vital parts of a person’s developmental growth.
The attack on the Twin Towers and the consequent bombing of Afghanistan were stunning expressions of violent relationships in the new global order: the two poles of religious fundamentalism and rampant consumerism trying to destroy each other. Each side is convinced of its own righteousness; each side is committed to destructive violence as its primary relational act; and each side believes they will “win.” As the months pass, I can’t help but be reminded of Gandhi’s observation that, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Psychotherapy is in large part a conversation about our relationships to such enemies. These enemies embody what we might call “negative otherness”. It is “otherness” in that it doesn’t fit with our identity, ideals, values, hopes or plans; it’s negative in that it seems to want to negate our presence, our humanness, our integrity, our very lives. Without the presence of “negative others”—whether we think of them as internal states, behavioral patterns, external institutions, other people or groups—we would have no basis for a psychotherapy conversation. So how we think about this negative otherness, how we understand our relationship with it, how we develop our responses to them, makes a great deal of difference.
The principle and processes of sponsorship are the cornerstone of self-relations. The word “sponsorship” comes from the Latin spons, meaning, “to pledge solemnly”. So sponsorship is a vow to help a person (including one’s self) use each and every event and experience to awaken to the goodness and gifts of the self, the world, and the connections between the two. Self-relations suggests that experiences that come into a person’s life are not yet fully human; they have no human value until a person is able to “sponsor them”. Via sponsorship, experiences and behaviors that are problematic may be realized as resources and gifts. In this way, what had been framed and experienced as a problem is recognized as a “solution”.
Helping people to improve their lives is one of the world’s oldest professions. It has assumed many forms –philosophy, fortune telling, shamanic healing, religious rituals, informal relationships, psychotherapy, and so forth– but the underlying process of people seeking guidance for life changes has endured. The practice of generative coaching, that I have co-developed with Robert Dilts, is a third generation version of the more recent tradition of professional people helpers.1 This brief paper overviews generative coaching, first by briefly situating it in a historical context and then outlining the five basic steps of the approach.
The first generation of trance work is the traditional hypnosis that is still holds sway in most places. Here both the conscious mind and the unconscious mind of the client are considered to be, well, idiots. So trance work involves first â€œknocking outâ€ the conscious mind, and then talking to the unconscious mind like a 2-year old that needs to be told how to behave. So if a person comes in wanting to change a personal habit, they're told to be quiet and follow the orders of the hypnotist. To relate to a person in this way seems like the problem, not a solution. Is it any wonder that so many people are (rightfully) leery of trance and hypnosis?
Generative trance is a higher state of consciousness wherein new identities and realities may be created. This state allows consciousness to unbind itself from the fixed settings of the conscious mind and re-attune to the infinite possibilities of the creative unconscious, thereby making possible the reorganization of the mental filters underlying reality construction. This blog overviews a model of how to do this. We will start with the central premise of three interacting minds—Somatic (in the body), Cognitive (in the head), and Field (in the space around). We will then see these three minds can operate at three different levels of consciousness— Primitive, Ego, and Generative. These core distinctions of “three minds, three levels” can suggest how and why generative trance can be developed.
Life can be lived in many ways. You can make it about making money or winning at all costs, or pleasing other people, or perhaps never standing out. Or you can live your life as a great journey of consciousness, one filled with many challenges and surprises, one that makes a positive contribution to the world. I want to talk here a bit about these different paths, emphasizing that the Self-Relations approaches of Generative Self and Generative Trance are especially tools for supporting the latter path.
The great quantum physicist, Neils Bohr, used to say that there are two types of truth. In the shallow type, the opposite of a true statement is false; in the deeper type, the opposite of a true statement is equally true. In generative trance work, these two levels correspond to the conscious mind and the creative unconscious. We see the conscious mind as being tied to a specific position in a systemic field (of many positions), while the creative unconscious rests in the field (of all positions). We further see the conscious mind as being helpful when we want to repeat previous patterns, while the creative unconscious is better when new patterns or understandings are needed.