Is hypnosis a one-hit wonder, dog and pony show? Is it merely about temporarily getting rid of an unwanted behaviour?
The drug of choice might be food or cigarettes (two issues hypnosis has been shown to be highly effective in helping with.) It might be an addiction to alcohol, marijuana, or crack cocaine. Or gambling, internet pornography, work even. But when someone boasts a single-session success dealing with issues of addiction to drugs and alcohol, I can’t help but wonder, "What the f**k?"
Is hypnosis simply about hitting the symptom out of the ballpark? Or might it be about guiding a tortured human soul to their healing? Are we merely offering temporary relief? Or real and lasting change? These are important questions for a serious hypnotherapist to ask him or herself.
Addiction to any substance serves a psychological purpose. Addiction is the subconscious mind’s solution to an underlying problem. Even though a person doesn’t like what they’re doing, they can’t stop. That’s because, subconsciously, the substance of choice is a GOOD thing. It just happens to have some nasty side-effects. And it's usually the side-effects that motivate a person to seek help. Their liver starts shutting down. Or they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. Or divorce or . . .
I have known addicts. I know addiction counsellors and rehab facilitators. And I have done my fair share of research into addictive behaviours.
The addicted are the afflicted.
They are struggling souls. Most have been in and out of treatment multiple times. Most are suffering the after-effects of having survived tortured childhoods. The worst cases involve violence and abuse. Their stories are the stuff most people never want to know about. But the single-session hypnosis miracle is a myth. Sure it happens. I experienced one myself. But most people are going to need a process.
That’s because the symptoms are merely symptoms – they’re not The Problem. Being overweight isn’t the problem. What’s driving the person to overeat is the problem. That’s why diets don’t work. Changing the behaviour doesn’t satisfy the drive to overeat. Drinking isn’t the problem. What’s driving the person to drink is the problem. That’s why the rate of recidivism is so high for most recovery programs. They fail to address the actual cause of the behaviour.
And so it goes . . .
The internal drive is powerful.
The fact that a person consciously wants to stop doing what they’re doing but cannot doesn’t indicate a weakness of will. It simply shows that the internal drive is more powerful than conscious willpower. It's because they are not consciously aware of that drive that they are powerless to change it.
This is what makes hypnosis the treatment of choice for addiction. But to be successful working with addictive behaviors, you must be realistic about what it’s going to take to resolve the issue. It’s simply unreasonable to expect that a lifetime of pain, and suffering, and (self) abuse can be resolved in a handful of therapeutic minutes. While the behaviour is easy enough to spot, what’s driving it is not.
That’s the problem. The behaviour is the result of a life experience that’s specific to the individual client. No two “addictions” are alike. That’s because no two clients are alike. To be successful working with these deeply-rooted issues, you must-must-must be client-centred. Not issue-centered.
If you only address the symptoms you may be successful. But the results will likely be short-lived. To get lasting results the objective must be to identify and release the underlying need for that behaviour. That requires a recognition that the behaviour is not the problem. It’s a Subconscious Solution to a deeper, more personal problem.
The behaviour is meant to be helpful. It’s a subconscious strategy that developed to satisfy a very important need. Your job as a therapist is to identify what that need is. Then you can find healthier ways to satisfy it. Satisfy the underlying need and the the behaviour will no longer serves any purpose. That’s the healing.
When a hypnotist proclaims their prowess at single session miracles, I cringe. When they assert a 100% success rate for their protocol, I have to wonder, “Who’s zoomin’ who?” Okay, it’s true that under the right conditions a person can quit smoking in a single session. But do they remain non-smokers?
Most hypnosis practitioners will never know because very few ever bother to follow up once the client leaves the office. They're onto the next client. When the client experiences a recurrence they're unlikely to come back. They'll either think the hypnosis failed (which isn't true - it's just that the job isn't done yet). Or they'll conclude that they failed. Frankly, I don't know which is worse.
It’s possible to make significant progress in a single session. After all, hypnosis gives us access to the part of the Mind that is generating the problem. That gives you a leg-up on most other approaches. For example, some individuals are natural risk-takers. They enjoy “extreme sports.” These clients will readily dive into uncomfortable feelings, shamelessly face what’s hiding in the deepest part of them, and do the work necessary to break free of the control the substance has had over them.
Most, however, will not.
It's all about trust.
Many clients have deeply rooted trust issues. This is doubly true for clients with addiction problems. The behaviour is a well-practiced avoidance strategy. And you’re asking them to dive into shark-infested waters.
Bottom line: It can take multiple sessions just to establish sufficient rapport for them to be completely truthful with you. Addicts are notorious liars. Sure, they may like you, but that doesn’t mean they trust you. When a person learns you can’t trust anyone, there’s no exclusion clause for therapists. So don’t take it personally.
Many clients suffer with feelings of hopelessness. Many are medicated. And that, in itself, can be a problem. Most are burdened with thoughts that continually erode their already devalued sense of self-worth. And clients who present with a single issue often have multiple symptoms, which means multiple aspects calling for resolution. That makes for complexity - which can take time.
Complex issues take time
Every symptom has an underlying cause. It has a reason for being. When there are multiple symptoms, there are often multiple causes. Each symptom is a call for help. It's calling for resolution. This brings complexity. This is true of any issue but especially so for addictions.
We have all been socialized to get the best “deal”. We feel virtuous when we strive to get more for less. Who wouldn’t want to get rid of the obstacles overnight? This is what makes pharmaceutical solutions so seductive. Just take the pill and forget about it. Result? As a society, we’re getting sicker.
We’ve been socialized to give little to no credence to our feelings. We all learned pretty early on how substances can be used to mask how we feel. Feel sad? Have a cookie. Is it any wonder we so readily accepted medication as a way to eradicate normal, human emotions?
The quick-fix mentality is main stream
This mentality is daily reinforced by the pharmaceutical industry that promises us a pill for whatever ails us.
Can’t sleep? Take a pill.
Can’t poop? Take a pill.
Can’t breathe? Take a pill.
Pretty soon we’ll need a pill just to get through the day. Or several.
I’ve had clients bring me a whole shopping list of medications they were taking. They were habituated to what should have been a short-term solution.
Have you seen the movie, Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale? Watch the trailer here.
We've all been conditioned
We have all been programmed to want the quick fix. That’s why we grab the cigarette, the sugary soda, the vodka, the crack cocaine, the Prozac . . . And we’re willing to pay for it. But the reality is, all the quick-fix solutions can ever offer is a short-term solution. All they do is mask the symptoms. If that’s the best we can do as hypnotherapists then we’re part of the problem – NOT the solution.
Symptoms management approaches are akin to unplugging the smoke detector in your house. The smoke detector is like the canary in the coal mine. It's there to warn you. When it starts sounding the alarm it’s because there’s something going on that you need to look at! Something it's something that's not visible to the conscious mind. It could be the equivalent of carbon monoxide. You can open all the doors and windows. But if you don't find out where it's coming from, you've still got a potentially deadly problem!
Even if you are successful in convincing a person that all it takes is a single session to get rid of the behaviour, if you fail to address the underlying drives, the problem is still there. Worse, avoiding the underlying cause of the problem just reinforces the drive to distract. Remember, the purpose of the behaviour, in the first place, was to avoid having to face and feel the REAL problem.
The Symptom Imperative
The Subconscious Mind's Prime Directive is to protect. It must fulfill its Prime Directive. If you remove the behaviour, you leave it no choice. It will be left with no choice but to do one of two things.
- Reinstate the problem
- Convert the problem
Either it will reinstate the original behaviour (a.k.a. recidivism) ... OR the behaviour will cleverly be replaced. (a.k.a. symptoms conversion.) Either a new behaviour (which is often tougher to get rid of) will replace the original symptom (e.g., eating replaces smoking) . . . OR the symptoms will morph into something entirely different. Often this takes the form of a physical ailment.
This is the Symptom Imperative. For more on this read Dr. John Sarno’s The Divided Mind.
Physical conditions are more "real" than behavioural issues. This makes them harder to get rid of. When a person has been diagnosed with a medical condition, find out what other, lesser conditions preceded it. Stephen Parkhill, author of Answer Cancer, said, "Nobody gets cancer first."
People are not their symptoms. Symptoms are the result of life experiences. As such, regression-to-cause hypnosis is an effective strategy for resolving the underlying problem. But it’s not a quick fix. It’s a process of guiding a human soul, one step at a time, from darkness into light.
That can take time. Sure, sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes the client is ripe and ready to allow change to happen. Healing really can happen in a heartbeat. But most people are going to need a process to be ready to let it happen.