Book Reviews

The Handbook of Hypnotic Phenomena in Psychotherapy

The Handbook of Hypnotic Phenomena in Psychotherapy
John H. Edgette, Psy.D, and
Janet Sasson Edgette, Psy.D.
W.W. Norton.

A welcome addition to Brunner/Mazel's series of books about hypnosis, this excellent work offers the reader a thorough guide to the kind of therapy practised by the legendary Milton Erickson.

The contents are well summarized by the authors in their Introduction:

"The Handbook presents step-by-step instructions on how to elicit hypnotic phenomena such as age progression, hypnotic dreaming, hypnotic deafness, anesthesia, negative and positive hallucinations, hypermnesia, catalepsy, and others. It furthermore provides specific instruction on how to use the phenomena manifested in trance in the service of treatment. Numerous case examples address intervention in a wide range of clinical situations including anxiety disorders, trauma and abuse, dissociative disorders, depression, marital and family problems, sports and creative performance, pain, hypersensitivity to sound, psychotic symptomalogy, and more."

The authors of this book have captured the spirit, not just the form, of Erickson's genius. What distinguished his practice from other hypnotherapists was his willingness to innovate -- and his empathy with clients. His use of metaphor, for example, was exquisitely matched to the particular client. The Edgettes provide abundant case examples to illustrate this importance of going beyond mechanical techniques.

In contrast to the direct suggestion approach of traditional hypnotherapy, the Ericksonian therapist frequently employs indirect suggestion. Rather than commanding change, he or she seeks to stimulate a process of change within the client. This is done with permissive techniques that respect the individuality of each client.

The authors describe phenomena which occur naturally when a person goes into hypnosis; they then show how these phenomena can be skillfully and gently employed by the therapist to the client's everlasting benefit.

For example, experimental studies cited by the authors demonstrate how the subjective experience of time can be distorted when you are in hypnosis. The authors refer to "highly convincing accounts of imagined numerical counting that took place in a subjective time of many minutes and even hours, while objectively only 3 seconds had passed." Then the therapeutic use of time distortion by Erickson is illustrated by a case of an artist with painter's block. He was able to paint a picture in 6 hours (real time) which would usually have taken him 70 hours.

The Edgettes not only provide theoretical explanations, scientific studies, Erickson case histories, and references about hypnotic phenomena, but indications and transcripts for therapeutic use. Time distortion, for instance, can be used to calm test takers, to end procrastination, to improve athletic or musical performance, to cure retarded or premature ejaculation, to expand pain-free periods for chronic pain sufferers, to contract periods of discomfort during awkward or terrifying medical procedures.

Age regression is another technique that is used by followers of Erickson in an optimistic way that emphasizes the resources of the client. The procedure is to reconnect the client with a positive person or experience in their past. Similarly, age regression to, and manipulation of, innocuous or pleasurable events can teach the client mastery of flashbacks to traumatic events.

Symbols of age regression can elicit the phenomenon of age regression. So, asking your client to evoke the smell of chalk and the sounds of the school yard, may well enable him or her to slip into hypnosis. The importance of using symbols relevant to the particular client is inadvertently borne out by two examples in the book which mean absolutely nothing to this British reviewer: "a Lincoln log", and "a zwieback cookie."

Transcripts of actual age regression sessions bring alive the theoretical concepts discussed by the authors. Such transcripts are intended as stimuli to the reader to devise his or her own imaginative scripts tailored to particular clients.

A transcript of a group induction of future progression for therapists also incorporates age regression and time distortion. Future progression is probably Erickson's major contribution to the field of hypnotherapy. In this he echoes Alfred Adler whose philosophy so contrasted with the doom and gloom approach of Freud: "Adler, in his theory of fictional finalism, proposed that man is more motivated by his expectation of the future than by experiences of the past."

Future progression has many uses, one of which is to lift depressed clients out of their feelings of hopelessness. Habit control and sports performance are two other areas in which future progression can be helpful. The authors have also used this technique with couples and families.

This highly practical book continues with detailed discussion of dissociation, hypnotic dreaming, positive and negative hallucinations and how to use hypnotic phenomena for induction, ratification, and deepening.

After a thorough reference section, the text concludes with excellent name and subject indices. A useful book for the psychotherapist; an indispensable book for the hypnotherapist.