by Tim Brunson, PhD
Is there an alternative? There is an almost certain probability that the next time you engage a client in a well-meant hypnotherapy session that you will be using techniques whose origins are rooted in decades or even centuries old hypotheses, which since then have been either already superseded by more recent ideas, have been totally discredited by scientific methodology, or are solely derived from idealism totally devoid of any rationality. However, you have no need to worry. Your techniques are most certainly still taught in programs, which are openly promoted by "fully accredited universities" and/or international peer-based trade and professional organizations. This means that if you continue to use such obsolete methods, you're okay – after all your methods are sanctioned. How did we get into such as state? And, is there an alternative?
The current Western civilization's system of deciding the validity of operational knowledge goes back to the Dark Age, Middle Age, and early Renaissance periods. This essentially means that our academic traditions -- and thus their influence on professional practices – are rooted in ideas, which first emerged between the 12th and 14th centuries. Indeed, many of Europe's most prestigious universities claim that their origins are that old. (For instance, many scholars suggest that the University of Cambridge in England started around 1209.) Yet, we rarely question the probity of our validation systems as stake holders regularly hold on to antiquated processes despite a parade of challenging concepts, many of which have been repeatedly validated in the court of science. Most certainly, a change is long overdue.
Despite the scientific soundness of ideas, there still remain three levels of barriers, which stand in the way of the achievement of the imprimatur of credibility. These are the antiquated university systems already mentioned, peer-based associations, which tend to control and influence credentialing, and general society-wide cultural acceptance. . (Please note that I readily acknowledge the innovative scientific work of numerous individuals, who exist within these institutions. I am merely pointing out the up-hill battle that even they must fight in order to get their valid ideas accepted.)
To illustrate my point, consider the following ideas, their approximate date of origination, and the status of their acceptability.
1. Freudian psychoanalysis originated around 1899 and became generally acceptable in the 1960's. 2. Gestalt Therapy originated around 1940, but only started to become acceptable in 1970's and 80's. 3. Alternative or Complementary Medicine (also known as integrative medicine and mind/body integration) originated in the 1940's, yet is still actively resisted by the mainstream medical community. 4. Ericksonian "Hypnotherapy" originated in 1950's and is currently popular with a small group of adamant psychologists and other psychotherapists. 5. Neuro-Linguistic Programming originated in the 1960's. While adherents claim to achieve wonderful results, their collection of skills and ideas is rarely mentioned in formal university-based psychology programs or texts and is widely criticized by mainstream psychologists. 6. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) originated in the late 1980's. It is still treated with skepticism by mainstream psychologists, many of whom doubt its scientific credibility. 7. Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, Thought Field Therapy, and Emotional Freedom Techniques originated in the 1980's. They are still considered as fringe psychological treatments. Currently the American Psychological Association regularly rejects continuing education applications from the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. Regardless, these ideas are gaining considerable momentum among licensed psychologists and are regularly being featured in numerous professional books, which are released by well-established, staid publishers. 8. Although neuroplasticity was originally proposed by William James in the 1890's and somewhat resurrected in the late 1970's, it has only become widely accepted during the past decade. Innovative conference organizers – who stay on the safe side of the fringe barrier – are only beginning to publicize the idea.
What I have just presented is a progression of relevant ideas without delving into their rather various scientific deficiencies. Rather, what I wanted to show is their relative lag in acceptability. Despite exposure within the mass media – and the regular ticklers that we constantly receive through entertainment outlets – society-wide cultural acceptance is always the slowest. Indeed, it always lags behind academic and professional acceptance, which eventually occur in that order. Nevertheless, what you must realize is that this delay means that the even partially vetted ideas upon which your practice is based are actually pretty old – and often scientifically shown to be rather irrelevant – even before they are deemed acceptable methods.
You should ask why this system of perpetual institutionalized ignorance is allowed to exist. On the surface, many claim that it is for the purpose of protecting the public. (Of course, this does not deny the fact that legitimizing antiquated ideas also serves the purpose of keeping those who hold them – and refuse to stay current – with a source of employment.) However, this does not explain why academic and association groups continue to hold on to obsolete ideas or resist new ones in the face of a tremendous body of scientific research and literature to the contrary. One almost comical example was the editorial statement in Nature that neuroplasticity was false even though they were simultaneously publishing an article on the topic in which its scientific credibility was being indisputably established.
The biggest obstacle to the acceptance of new scientifically valid ideas is most likely due to how radical they are considered to be. For instance, a slight deviation in psychoanalytical theory may be readily incorporated into university textbooks. On the other hand, Quantum Physics and the Relativity Theory have been around for almost a hundred years. However, other than in the science fiction arena – and with inventions, which rely upon those ideas such as the common GPS device that may be found in our cars, aircraft, and many smart cell phones – the masses have yet to fully conceive of the life-changing implications of theoretical physics – such as parallel universes, time travel, etc.
The current clinical practice of hypnotherapy, whether accomplished by licensed medical or mental health professionals, or members of the hypnotherapy trade or profession, is based entirely upon ideas that are centuries or decades old. Some – such as the idea of subconscious reprogramming – are scientifically baseless ideas, which should have been eliminated decades ago. Yet, they remain as the primary foundation of training in topics such as guided imagery and many of the rapid techniques found in NLP. Ericksonian techniques, which are likewise rooted in the subconscious myth, are over sixty years old and taught widely to this day with absolutely no critical analysis as to their continued validity. NLP courses espouse methods that are almost equally old and generally unquestioned by their most enthusiastic practitioners. Oddly enough, many institutions still focus on providing various levels of NLP certifications as if these techniques are the latest and most relevant ones available. Even Johnny-come-lately "fringe concepts, such as neuroplasticity, EMDR, and EFT, represent decades old thinking.
I am not proposing that everything that is more than a day old is to be cavalierly thrown out. Indeed, that would be an intellectually fatal mistake. I am, however, proposing that we discard the antiquated reliance upon increasingly irrelevant "who said" institutions, which have a vested interest in maintaining obsolescence and mediocrity. Furthermore, I am promoting that we develop the mental flexibility and curiosity, which allow us to constantly re-evaluate heretofore vetted ideas. These should be periodically tested through the simple three-step scientific process in light of the emergence of other recently validated and accepted concepts. Those that survive this process should be considered to be of enduring value – at least for now. And those that fail must be relegated to the historical dustbin.
My recent focus has been on emerging trends and what they may tell us about our future. While discarding the disproven and carefully watching the intellectual, yet-to-be-fully vetted collection of ideas, what I am noticing is an increasing emphasis on our human ability to affect our neurology, behavior, and physiology. While we will continue to use the rather barbaric practices of invasive surgery and an over reliance on side-effect producing pills, even they are showing that we are having an increased ability to shape our existence. Just think of cosmetic surgery, botox injections, and the illegal use of steroids.
The rather controversial concepts embedded in the increasingly popular fringe energy medicine and energy psychology movements may eventually be more influential than even their proponents currently conceive. Modern allopathic medicine is increasingly integrating energy-based diagnostic testing devices – in the form of EKGs, EEGs, MRIs, etc. Thus, shifting from testing to intervention will not be that big of a step. We already have such interventions in the area of radiation oncology. Also, there have already been experiments aimed at accelerating the healing of bone fractures by merely manipulating magnetic fields. I am anxious for the day when transcranial energy devices can be used to repair neurological damage and correct behavior problems. Add to this the possibility of external energy mechanisms epigentically repairing DNA and thereby curing a malignant tumor or a defective kidney.
This does not, by the way, discount the ability of a person to use suggestion and imagination to alter their mind or physiology. The recent – fringe – interest in mindfulness therapy, which has been repeatedly shown to alter human immune function, and other mind/body concepts clearly show the efficacy of an alteration of thought processes. Experienced hypnotherapists – especially those who have not limited their training to Ericksonian methods – are well aware of decades old techniques such as Glove Anesthesia and the induction of Hypnotic Coma. So, deliberate use of the mind to influence the body's energetic organization is not so outlandish after all.
What I see as the basis of a system of New Hypnosis – which is heavily implied in the field of Advanced Neuro-Noetic HypnosisTM – is the deliberate and intentional use of suggestion and imagination in a way that effectively influences neurological, behavioral, and physiological systems. This will most certainly be energy-centric. It will include considerations such as consciously activating specific neural substrates – and inactivating and idling others – for the purpose of enhancing brain function. In turn, this affects the three primary areas of human existence – being healing the mind, healing the body, and the achievement of increased self-actualization. While this may seem rather radical, hypnotists have been accidently doing this for a very long time. What I am proposing is that – as we have a much better idea of the organization and nature of the human brain – it is done much more deliberately.
My New Hypnosis ideas don't stop there. Using the mind – that is, deliberately employing suggestion and imagination – to alter energy flows and balances in the body should also be considered assumptively. Again, this appears to be a radical concept. However, I wholeheartedly disagree. As mentioned earlier, the Glove Anesthesia technique has always done this. Furthermore, this concept is the basis for biofeedback and its relatively newer offshoot, neurofeedback. In those cases, the subject is encouraged to change mental functioning in a way that is detectable by various devices, which generally measure different aspects of energy such as galvanic skin currents, peripheral temperature, brain waves, and shifts in cranial hemoglobin concentrations. Note that these technicians, who are rarely formally trained in hypnotherapy, regularly use suggestion and guided imagery to facilitate transformation.
Another aspect, which I believe is absolutely critical to the emergence of this new approach to hypnotherapy, is the precondition that we assist the subject in the development what I consider to be two vital Meta-Competencies. These are the ability to enhance concentration and focus, as well as the vast improvement of their abilities to use suggestion and imagination in a deliberate way. These competencies are directly related to very specific areas of the brain, which, by the way, have been shown to be considerably enhanced by long-term meditation practices. My theory is that once these talents are further improved, the subject will have an increased capability to use their will to influence potential happiness, health, and self-actualization. Once these skills are significantly developed, specific protocols can be used to achieve the three aims. Essentially, I see that these hypnotically-related competency-based methods will eventually serve as a significant adjunct to much less barbaric energy-based medical and mental health practices.
I have absolutely no delusion that this approach will be readily accepted by the rather obsolete institutional stakeholders, who have much to lose once their ideas are finally discredited. Unfortunately, I also have no hope that society-wide, cultural acceptance will be forthcoming in any foreseeable future. Nevertheless, I see that eventually my hopes and predictions will be found to be on the right side of history – even though they are way ahead of their time. Meanwhile, should new scientific discoveries indicate that my views and opinions are similarly obsolete; I trust that I will have the requisite mental flexibility to admit my errors and embrace the inevitability of better alternatives.