Book Reviews

A Guide to Trance Land

A Guide to Trance Land
Bill O'Hanlon
W.W. Norton.

This slim volume is a clear-cut guide to the hypnotically permissive manner of encouraging clients to uncover their own solutions.

O'Hanlon distinguishes this solution-oriented hypnotherapy from what he calls the traditional approach with its emphasis on treating the "causes" of problems and the outside-in focus of the hypnotherapist telling the client what to do to overcome her pathology.

"Ericksonian or solution-oriented hypnosis holds no such assumption of pathology, problem, damage, or deficit. Instead, we are oriented to people's abilities and resources. Therefore, we use the hypnotic process to discover and connect to [to the person's inner] resources."

This "permissive" approach is in direct contrast to the old way of conducting a session of hypnotherapy. Instead of speaking of "shoulds" and "musts" the hypnotist speaks of "perhaps" and "maybes". The idea is both to meet the client where he or she is and to allow solutions to their problems to arise from within them.

Despite the author's demarcation of his approach as being radically different to traditional hypnotherapy in practice surely most of us incorporate something of both methods?

Just the other day, for instance, when a Christian client spoke of herself as being immature, I said perhaps that's true but she is moving forward and as St. Paul said. "When I was a child . . ." and continued with the Biblical quote that was meaningful and relevant to her. Meeting the client where she is now.

O'Hanlon rightly warns (in regard to using the client's vocabulary) "it is important to be careful here and not come across as mocking or disrespectful . . ."

I certainly don't want to be "mocking or disrespectful" about this Guide but here are four items that raised my eyebrows:

1. I find the cover, with its big dog looking down at a cat, puzzling for a book about human hypnosis.

2. On almost every page there is a rubber-stamp type black-and-white image of an animal or bird. Contrary to the author's assertion that such designs make the book easier to read and memorable I find these images distracting. At first glance, the book appears to be a book about pets or for children. It is neither.

3. Some of the suggested "therapeutic" behaviors are downright comical. For example, what would you think about a hypnotherapist who bounces around, speaking into your left ear while emphasizing "you can make those changes you really want to make."

4. What have become known as NLP [Neuro-Linguistic Programming] techniques are, in my opinion, manipulative and dishonest. This one, from page 31, is both. And funny:

"The hypnotist sometimes mirrors the person's posture or movements as a way of joining and connecting. For example, when a person crosses and uncrosses his legs, the hypnotist also crosses and uncrosses her legs. Another way to match body behavior is to vary some part of your behavior when the person changes his body behavior. That is, every time he blinks, you nod."

Despite such hilarious portions of the book, the main thrust provides invaluable instruction for hypnotherapists -- particularly those hitherto inclined to bark orders at their clients.

To this end, Bill O'Hanlon provides many specific examples of what to say and how to say it. Much of this is derived from the genius of the late Milton Erickson whose (at that time) unorthodox methods of hypnotherapy have become dogma for some devotees.

Unfortunately, you can't package genius. How Erickson dealt with people arose from his unique talents. We can be inspired by him, we can imitate his respectful approach but we stifle the very essence of his permissive attitude when we seek to encapsulate his methods into rigid rules.

Nevertheless, the synthesis of the Ericksonian approach that O'Hanlon details at the end of the book is masterful.

Hypnotherapists new to the field and those previously stuck in the "traditional" mode will find these instructions enlightening. Especially the chapter, "Bad Trance/ Good Trance" with its table of "Symptomatic Trance vs. Healing Trance."