Both Steven Leeds and I feel very fortunate to have studied with hypnotherapist and psychologist, Stephen Gilligan, PhD. Stephen had been a student of Dr. Milton Erickson’s from 1974-1980. He was one of the students who directly modeled Erickson and proceeded to take what he learned and evolve beyond his mentor’s teachings. Now 36 years later Stephen continues to train the fundamentals of Ericksonian hypnosis around the world. These fundamentals are no longer about formal trance, but what he calls the Relational Self. His book, The Courage to Love, beautifully describes where his hypnotic journey has taken him and his teachings . All of the hypnosis training courses that we teach at the NLP Center of New York are deeply grounded in both the work of Milton Erickson’s work and Stephen Gilligan.
I would like to highlight two processes that he discussed in his one day workshop in Arizona at the Ericksonian conference this past December 2011. Stephen emphasized becoming more in touch with one’s body, and he described this as the felt sense. He reminded the class that he does not ask his clients to do anything he wouldn’t do. The first step is to greet and chat with your client. He recommends to keep that brief. The second step is ask the client to take a moment to settle and become centered. When you help the client center, remind them of their resources including people and places where they feel safe. Stephen asked, “Who are the people who support you? Where do you go to feel safe? When it was really bad, where did you go? Who are the people who are holding you? Who are the people who allow the critic to be suspended?” The third step is to ask the client to briefly state what it is that they want. Stephen emphasized the importance of keeping the goal brief, if possible keep it close to five words, otherwise there will be a long story that in itself becomes another trance for the client and the hypnotherapist. Here is an example of a demonstration in the workshop when he asked the client what was it that they wanted as an outcome.
Stephen asks, “What are you hoping to accomplish?” “To be calm and confident when I give my presentation.” Stephen then suggests, “Relax and drop down, begin to shift more than anything else, to breathe. Now from this place, begin to connect to the place of wellbeing. Perhaps we could both recall a time of wellbeing, music, a walk, being with a loved one. So many experiences of wellbeing can begin to surface. As they surface where in your body do you feel the core, the center. Take a hand place it where you feel the center. Feel the quality of connection. That begins to open outwards, as you open outwards, take a second step. Take the positive resource people, places, experiences that really support, really can give you a nice sense of guidance. Be aware in the space around you. Where they can be?”
He then asks the client to reorient and asks what technique helped you? For example; the client said that friends are helpful resources.
After doing a brief process Stephen suggest using a scaling process. Scaling is a quantitative way to help a client label their experiences with numbers. You can ask any scale question, in this case Stephen asked, “From a 1-10 scale, how much do you believe in the goal? As you connect to the center, what number at this moment, what comes to you, just let it come, how much do you feel connected to that relaxed center.” If a person feels a “two”, utilize that as feedback. You utilize whatever they feel and help them learn to utilize it. In addition he said, “The scaling looks at your own self tracking. It is good subjective tool to teach the client. It helps them to identify the changes when you describe their “problem.” He says to the client, “What do you need to do to lift up your positive connection to center, 5, 6, 7, it doesn’t need to be a 10.”
A comment I have about scaling is that for some clients who are more cerebral, quantifying their experience is very comfortable for them and sometimes keeps them from feeling the experience. However, for the client who is immersed in his feelings, it can be helpful to ground them by developing their left hemisphere by identifying with numbers.
Another process that I found very intriguing was something Stephen referred to as the “Trance Dance of a Symptom/Goal.” Since my first graduate degree was in dance/movement therapy I was intrigued as to how he would put movement into his therapeutic explorations.
Stephen explained that the use of the trance dance of a symptom or goal was utilized when he hears the client say, “I want X, but Y interferes.” Basically he is describing when a client is in conflict with them self. The demonstration in the workshop was with a client who wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend but he was working all the time and didn’t have time for their relationship.
Stephen spoke about creating a communication, like music between the two parts. He suggested that a part may be seen as a problem rather than a resource because it is not being seen for its “music.” In this case, “music” is the positive intention. He explores with the demonstration client what could be the positive intention of each part. When he explores he is very respectful to the parts that show up. He speaks to each part and he literally welcomes each part. He asks the demonstration client, “How much do you want X?” Then he tells the group, “Whenever someone touches something interesting, say, I see that, that is interesting. Let’s stay with that for a few minutes. I would like to say to that part of you, “Welcome.” Then Stephen also welcomes the “workaholic” and says, “I am sure what you are doing has tremendous integrity.” Stephen again tells the group, “Whatever gets touched, you say welcome to it.”
Now he begins the movement experience by asking the demonstration client to identify the somatic models for each side. Soma refers to the body. He speaks to the “workaholic” side first and asks him to step into a posture and movement that would represent the “workaholic.” Stephen sees the symptom as an attempt to create something meaningful and wants to create positive conditions, which begins with the centering, slow repetition of the movement of the “workaholic.” He then asks about representing the other somatic model, the positive connection with the demonstration client’s “romantic self,” the part of him that valued spending time with his girlfriend. Stephen encourages the demonstration client to not just do the posture, but also the movement. He explains that his goal is to strip away the verbal explanations and get down to the archetypal body movement.
He then asks the unconscious to teach the client what his body is teaching him. Here is a sampling of what he said to the client while the client was in trance. “Your unconscious is trying to teach you something meaningful. First practice and then we will do it again. Settle in, settle down, your unconscious is trying to teach you something, something creative, create a place of honor, learning, so you can receive and creatively live. When you are ready, very, very slowly do movement. Start with either part, almost like a hand levitation, you don’t have a to go into a traditional trance, just a learning space. Consciously moving, and then every other second unconsciously, back and forth, breathe through your spine. Find the other movement. There are so many experiences flowing into new ways of working. There are new understandings, allowing basic connection between the two sides, breathing. Every man and every woman can enjoy and establish a place of comfort. Life is calling you forward. Take a few moments to complete that. So what did you experience there?”
While Stephen was speaking the demonstration client was moving both of his arms in small graceful movements. The exercise is designed to go back and forth from each side. The exploration leads to a sense of wholeness. There is no discussion about what the demonstration client will do, but there is a feeling of integration from the process. Ultimately the goal, which Stephen said was critical to the Ericksonian tradition was to create acceptance and engagement with whatever shows up in the clients experience. This was apparent in the demonstration.