How long does it take until all the suggestions that we gave a client and all the changes that we initiated in a session have shown results or show results? This is a question that probably a number of hypnotists wonder, how that works.
Welcome to the fifth episode of HypnoTalks Questions & Answers with Axel Hombach and Dr John Butler. This time we are going to deal with this question, how effective suggestions are, how long it takes until they show results. This is based upon a question of a colleague that we found in one of the Facebook foras, which is worth discussing because here a lot of conceptions and misconceptions can be cleared.
I’m currently online, as you have probably guessed, with dr. John Butler and we are going to tackle this question. My name is Axel Hombach, I’m the leading hypnotist and head of the Hypnose Zentrum Köln. As I said, I’m currently online with Dr John Butler of the HTI, which is the Hypnotherapy Training International, the leading school of hypnotherapy and hypnosis internationally. Let’s say hello to John.
Good morning John!
Dr John Butler
Good morning Axel!
Now, you’ve heard the introduction, we’ve already talked a little bit about that. I’m now going to read to you the full text of the question and then let’s see where it leads us.
Our colleague asks:
How long does it take in your experience for all the changes that were initiated or dealt with in a session to be completed?
On one hand it’s clear that a lot happens immediately, but again and again I have clients telling me that then, after three months a lot happens again, and a lot has happened in these three months after the session.
What are your experiences?
John, I think, on the surface it seems to be an easy question, but when we look deeper into it, it has several layers and covers also topics that we’ve already touched in other episodes. Like: What is the readiness for change in a client? Have we managed to optimize that? Or, does the client have secondary gains? Or, how is the client’s will to fail?
I remember for example from your trainings that I attended, that you mentioned that many clients come to our sessions because they want to fail, for whatever reason, and we need to change that. Then, other layers of the questions involve: How do you structure the suggestions? Are they optimized for the client? Then also, how can we know what the client exactly needs?
So, this is a big bunch of various aspects of this questions. And, with your experience of now almost 40 years, how would you say can we help our colleague with this question?
Dr John Butler
Thank you Axel. It’s a very interesting question. I think there’s several major aspects to the question that I would like to quickly answer based on my experience and my studies as well of other people’s work and the research such as it exists out there on the whole processes of change. Because, it’s a very mysterious process, yet, at this point in the study of psychology. We know certainly a good deal about motivation and we know certainly about how the subconscious mind can respond very differently to the same suggestions, maybe at different times, for that individual or very different between different people. And, it does require us to take a much more nuanced and complex view of the subconscious than that old oversimplified view of the passive subconscious responding automatically like an automaton to the suggestions coming from the therapist. We know it’s much more complex. And, I think the person who wrote that question has recognized that, that person was responding and changing right down the line later on. And, at that point it’s often their own choices, their own reinforcement of their behavior and changes that they are already making and it’s little to do with a therapist. But to start with, very quickly, what do we know about how we learn, how we make changes in the brain? Well, with modern neurology we can see that synaptic changes are very quick. There are observable changes in milliseconds happening at the synaptic level, but it can take days for weeks to weeks for these to become stable and be established, become permanent, and old patterns become unreinforced, that are unreinforced, and begin to deteriorate and degenerate.
Some level of memory things of course are held back in the subconscious, if we think in those terms. But, of course, we’re talking about the brain here, and how it’s responding to hypnosis. When we look at those modern studies and responding to suggestions is very complex. I’ve often said we don’t, our clients don’t, respond simply to our suggestions, they respond to their own responses. And, what I’m getting out here is, that there’s an inner complexity going on, and they can respond to some of our suggestions very effectively, but seemingly reject or neglect to respond to any great extent to other suggestions, because they’re not ready for them. They’re not committed to them. And, it’s only when those suggestions become part of the clients own worldview, as it were, they will then take them in and become self reinforcing with them. I think the old model, which there’s some value to this, that it’s like a garden, the mind. We plant the seeds and depending on the soil, the quality of the soil, and how well those seeds are nurtured, we can see changes then accordingly.
You mentioned about readiness for change, commitment to change, which is so crucial, because your suggestions have to take that into account in dealing with what emerges, in dealing what the client is bringing to you. Your suggestions, for example for somebody who’s getting ready to change but is still very hesitant and fearful perhaps, your suggestions are emphasizing much more about how much they want change, how beneficial it is for them, and all the pluses that they are going to get from those changes. Now, as opposed to somebody who is already there in that commitment stage, and your suggestions are more geared to carrying out the change.
So, our suggestions have to be very well structured, personalized, not just relying on the standard script alone. And they suggest you’re taking into account alibis, secondary gains, the need to take responsibility, constructive use of the rewards and punishment and so on, and the therapeutic relationship generating that therapeutic context for change. All of those are huge factors, affecting how the client is responding to the specific words that we give them. And if you think about it, we can be sometimes a bit arrogant and assume the clients are only responding to us. But, when they go home, there are significant others who may have much more effect on that client’s life, on their minds, than we have.
Now, all of that being said, a good therapist is looking out for those factors, carefully looking with how the suggestions are working with the client. And, we do see these complex reactions, as the writer of that question has mentioned, which again shows very clearly the client is a very active participant in the change. Erikson said, the client must have their own learning. The answer is in the subconscious, their answers, but they have to be helped to get there. And, we are not the ones running the show, as much as we might like to think so at times. We can’t just set a goal for a client and say: „Well, that’s it. Now I’ve made up my mind about what your goal is.“ We’re moving the client along a path, a continuum towards beneficial outcomes, that they’ve determined, and that we’ve examined with them. And, we are helping them to learn to make their changes. And, when those ideas have been implanted well in the mind, frankly, I think what we’ve created is a bridge to the new change, the new behaviors, the new thoughts, feelings and actions. And, it’s not that the therapist is sitting in the person’s brain for 20 to 30 years and controlling and influencing the client in that way. We certainly have put in the memory which might, in some instances have gone in, being accepted very powerfully, and produce strong effects. But it’s the clients own self reinforcement that is the most important key to long-term success that they’ve absorbed those suggestions and have internalized them and they’re responding at different levels of their minds, which were calling subconscious, which they don’t really understand usually a great deal about.
And frankly, the therapists, we’re not omnipotent we don’t know, and if we believe, we’re doing at all, we’ve been very misled in our trainings. Good therapists know that the client’s understanding and participation is critical. You see that in the work of Dave Elman, Gild Boyne and many many others. In Erickson as well. And, they are all emphasizing that much of our chang is complex and mysterious, and the short-term effects of therapy, which are often very automatic, and often just, you know, have a large placebo element. Well, they can be very helpful. They’re not the most important often in the long term. Now, they set the ball rolling, so they, as I say, can be very important. But, for long-term success the client has to have the necessary learning where old programs, beliefs, etc., which battle with the new positive suggestions, which may cause the client to go up and down then, and backslide at times. Those battles are actually very useful because they’re part of their learning. And, as a therapist working with the clients in this dynamic two-person approach of therapy, is helping the client understand and overcome their obstacles, their fears, and so on.
A therapist that only want to do one session therapy, which might be very short-lived in its effects. Now, for some people I have to say, gearing them up for a one session therapy, if that was all that was available or decided by the therapist and the client together, that could be very powerful. But for other clients it’s just not going to be appropriate. I have to say as well as, that if you listen to the work of Dave Elman clearly in his recordings.
Yes, I wanted to just mention Dave Allen who seems to be very opposed to the one session approach.
Well, I think I still that’s a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation even. If you listen to his recordings, which we have, I certainly have heard him say it, and it always stuck in my mind. He said: „Hypnotherapy, hypno-analysis for example, it’s not a one-shot therapy. It is not a one session therapy“, he said „I don’t believe…“, and this is virtually quoting him directly, he said „I don’t believe a session of hypnotize has ever cured anybody but it can do him a great deal of good“
In other words he’s saying that just finding a trauma or a very powerful sensitizing event on its own, is not a cure. There’s work to be done. There’s understanding, reinforcement, a series of processes the client is going through in their mind as they change. You know when they’ve got more complex problems, I mean we’re not talking about a smoker here. And so, magically finding the only powerful trauma, which comes from the kind of Freudian view of the unconscious, which is really out of date by now for a long time but still exists in the hypnotherapist minds a lot of them anyway, or finding the right depth of trance. These are simplistic out-of-date ideas that really haven’t produced the results often that are claimed, but they’re good marketing tools.
Now, if you take the smoker example, many smokers, if they have a great dippity in giving up, and I’ve done most of my smokers on a one or two sessions, the majority on one session for over thirty years, but I never say or guarantee that it’ll be the one session. I say „Let’s see we’re aiming for a one session“,“ best, quickest, possible result of course but we don’t say it to the client. But you know that they may go through different difficulties. They may give up the tobacco, but then be eating too much, drinking too much alcohol, and so on. And interestingly, when they come back and if they’ve had a lot of stress in their lives and they’ve cut down a lot and they’ve gone days without smoking but then they relapsed a little, which is their decision, their choice, remember, well, then you need to look into that.
And interesting, they might, as it’s in that question, they might say „Well, it’s very interesting. Even though I only had one session therapy with you, I’m sleeping much better“, because they’ve learned the power of relaxation and had some good suggestions for being relaxed, and now they’re getting deeper better quality sleep. So, even in the simpler problems, the reactions and responses to suggestions are multi-level. They’re complex in their effects and in their long-term effectiveness. Mostly I believe that creating this bridge to their new behavior, which causes the client then to become self reinforcing in their change, is really the best and simplest way to look at this complex issue of good programming, which itself is a great art to produce the very best suggestions for the client. It’s known that Milton Erickson could sometimes spend two days developing the best programming script for a client.
Okay John, because we are already coming to an end with our time. From what you say, if I were to summarize that, considering the neurological changes that you mentioned, in the beginning, that when we have a session with our clients and give them our suggestion based on their assumed needs, then our suggestions, which are basically offers that we give them, they already have an immediate response and in the brain new synapses are building up, new connections are being generated. And so it can happen that there is this immediate change that we then realize that perhaps the smoker doesn’t smoke for a few days, because there’s new fresh energy in this synaptic bonds. But, what then happens is that this needs to stabilize. Depending on the environment in which this client then is after our session, that then is partly responsible how strong these new synaptic bonds become and how long-lasting the effect is.
On the other side, because the question said that a lot in the three months after the session, or a lot happens after three months, that sometimes it takes a lot of time for the synapses to balance themselves out. Which becomes stronger than the other bonds? And, are the oldest deteriorating, un-connecting, and are the new ones becoming reinforced?
All this is a very delicate environment in which that happens. And, so that’s the crucial time that after some time everything can be back to the old situation or the new synapses can take hold and the new behavior can establish itself as the new behavior, the dominant behavior.
Would that be from your point of view reasonably summarized?
Dr John Butler
Yes Axel. That’s, I think, a good summary of a very complex answer, or long answer I’ve given, to a complex question. The old hypnotist of course, you say, allow about three weeks to get the full, fuller effects of the suggestions.
Really! that was the old hypnotists?
Dr John Butler
Yeah! But, at least they were recognizing that it takes time for them to become stabilized and reinforced while the old ones, the old, let’s call them the negative, unwanted, synaptic connections are becoming dormant. Now, they’re not disappeared completely, because that person has a memory of being for example a smoker, and in a stressful situation in the early days after giving up, it might be that they slip into that pattern again. And now, the new powerful positive good suggestion we’ve given them, those synaptic connections have become dormant. So we have to reinforce the new ones, the good ones, again. So it is a very, as you say, delicate process sometimes and sometimes change is very quick, very dramatic. That’s wonderful and it may be permanent. But also in other cases, as you know, there’s a quite a good bit of work to be done in working with those levels of their mind and the regression, the hypno-analysis or analytical hypnotherapy, as we prefer to call it, is very, very necessary, too.
I remember from one of Gil Boyne videos, I think it’s Bud, where he says „We are not bringing our client from A to B. We set him on his way to the place where he wants to be“.
Dr John Butler
Absolutely! We’re moving along the path and that’s his journey, his learning. We don’t take that from him, we certainly want them to have that learning and growth and great“ successes for himself or herself.
So, coming to an end now. John, any last words for our listeners?
Dr John Butler
Today, well, first of all Axel, thanking everybody who’s given us questions but please keep them coming. We’re delighted to have these informal discussions and I’m always delight to speak about hypnotherapy. It’s a passion of mine of course. And I know a lot of people out there very passionate about it.
And we ask the questions that we’re getting are really, very good questions. And, they go deep into the subject matter. They’re not superficial and they require us to think deeply about our work, so that we can understand the marvelous complexities and possibilities of the human mind and use them and see that complexity, you know, in a very positive way, great learning that we can understand about the mind, as we progress in our learning, if we are progressing. And, also help other people with their goals they’re learning. So, that’s terrific, a terrific work to be doing.
So, thank you Axel, and thanks to everybody.
And thank you John for your insight and let’s then in a week continue with our sixths episode.
Have a great day John, and bye for now!
Dr John Butler
Thank you Axel, looking forward to that. Bye for now.