Cathy was a 55–year-old single client of a colleague. Her initial complaint was that, although she was very competent in her work, she repeatedly raged at her boss and at co- workers. It soon emerged that she had a history of sexual abuse from her father, and had a very difficult time separating her own experience from others. Hence, it was hard for her to know her own needs, and defend herself from the expectations and intrusions from others. She showed what is often called “co-dependence,” or “enmeshment.” My colleague had done a lot of work with her intermittently over a period of several years, and she had made a lot of progress, but they had reached a plateau.
Cathy’s sense of herself was still wobbly and unclear, and she often felt numb, as if she were “just going through the motions,” and she wanted to feel “solid in my skin.” My colleague knew that one of my specialties was working with self-concept, so she asked me to do a session with Cathy while she observed.
When we first sat down, Cathy was obviously very anxious about what might happen, and her attention was intently on me, rather than on herself, and what she wanted from our session. When I asked her what she was experiencing right now, she said that she was scared. When I asked her what she was scared of, she said, “You’re so big! You’re towering over me.” (Later she said, “At that moment I felt like a child; there I was, this little person with this big giant man towering over me, and all the bad memories of my father’s abuse just rushed in!”)
I immediately got out of my chair, which was a little higher than the couch she was sitting on, and sat down on the floor, at which time her whole body visibly relaxed. (Later, she told me, “If you hadn’t sat down on the floor, I can’t imagine how that session would have gone.”)
As she told me about her outcomes for the session, she repeatedly said, “Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.” Knowing that what someone says is often literal, rather than metaphoric, I asked her to pause and take a step backward into herself. This was one of those times when I fervently wished that I was recording the session on video, because her transformation was so profound—I wish change was always so easy! We spent some time consolidating this new way of being in her body. But that moment when she stepped back into herself was the key that opened a door. In the absence of video, I offer Cathy’s report a year and a half later:
“When you said to ‘Take a step backward’—WOW, I can still feel it—I literally stepped back into my body, back inside my skin, and I felt so different. At first it kind of scared me – it was unsettling because it was so unfamiliar. I felt ‘connected,’ I felt ‘whole’ in a way I hadn’t known was possible. When I took a walk right after that session, I felt ‘in my body’ so intense-I felt my skin and bones, a tingling sensation all over, even the movement of my blood through my veins, and all my ‘borders,’ my ‘edges’—where my body ends, and everything outside me begins.”
“Before this, the world was kind of a ‘soupy’ place for me. I felt ‘the same as’ others. I thought everyone saw the world the same as I do, and I rarely made distinct choices—I just kind of shuffled along with the crowd. I’ve spent the majority of my life ‘a head of myself,’ in my head and in the future, rather than in my body in the present. I was making life choices based on experiences and beliefs I’d accepted as ‘law’ long ago and far away. I now know in my bones that I can choose, that I make choices every minute, and I no longer live from a place of fear. I know now when it’s appropriate to be afraid, and when it’s not. Since then I have become increasingly aware of who I am, what I want, where I stand in relation to others, and not being swayed by what others around me say or want—and this continues to grow. It’s all still amazing to me. And when I sometimes ‘get ahead of myself’ now, I notice it, and I just take a step backward—back to myself!”
It’s very important to recognize that all of Cathy’s insights were the result (not the cause) of taking the action of stepping back into herself, and her own life.
Dr. Jim, a sweet-faced, middle-aged man, arrived, referred for treatment of anxiety by a previous hypnosis patient. When I ask him what form the anxiety takes, he says he is a good doctor with a healthy practice, confident in his skills and in his marriage relationship. He describes his wife, Beth, in loving terms. He wants to please her.
His wife had convinced him to take dancing lessons with her so they could enjoy learning together, and he consented. She is a very adept, fluid, and comfortable dancer. He had to work hard at the lessons to be a good partner, and his lessons went well. But, like all beginners, he sometimes stumbled.
She was very patient with him, never criticized him, but she looked at him with an expression: a mother’s glance at her beloved but clumsy child. This glance freezes him, irritates him, and makes him very, very nervous
I did trance work with him, beginning with a permissive trance of the form, “Some people really enjoy becoming hypnotized by following the pleasing sensations in their bodies…” He easily went into trance and enjoyed it. Then I invited him into a trance tailored to include images and experiences of confidence and comfort in the areas of his life in which he felt quite at ease. These trances helped him get through times where he stumbled, lost the beat, or lost his balance. He found that he would laugh about stumbling and continue to dance, unaffected by his wife’s loving look.
As his dance life improved in classes, Beth encouraged him to take her to the group dance parties run by the dancing school teachers. There, his anxiety returned full force, because a particularly attractive female teacher, Jennifer, a superb dancer, attended. He thought she noticed him and could easily see all his flaws.
In trance, I had Dr. Jim imagine going to the dance party: I had him imagine what shoes he’d wear, what jacket. I had him imagine arriving in the car, and walking up the long flight of stairs to the studio. He could see the other couples arriving with their dance clothes on. After the trance he said, with evident pleasure, “I was dancing with Jennifer! I knew what to do. It was comfortable and fun.”
In an Ericksonian manner I refrained from prospecting for couples” “issues” to “explain” the problem. Instead, I concentrated on helping Dr Jim to use his resources and feelings, conscious and unconscious, to reach his goal of dancing happily with his wife.
I constructed a trance in which he imagined dancing with Jennifer at the party, with style and ease. When he reached the party he was to imagine walking directly over to Jennifer and asking her to dance. Beth wasn’t a part of that trance.
”What kind of dances will you be doing with Jennifer? Hear the music, and take the steps that you need to take for that dance. Your partner, Jennifer, moves easily with you. I wonder, is it a waltz or a fox trot? Will you be twirling your partner, or will you separate and come back together? What about dancing a jitterbug with all that energy, motion, and fun?” The trances were minimal with long pauses. When Dr Jim was dancing with Jennifer he had a big smile on his face. There wasn’t much I had to say. I just listened to the music in my own mind and watched the smiles of confidence and pleasure bloom on his face.
At the end of these trances he said that he was relaxed and pleased that he was able to dance with Jennifer. In the trance she complimented him on his dancing. I asked him if he would feel comfortable returning to the dance parties with Beth when Jennifer was there too. He asked for a few more trance lessons dancing with Jennifer before he felt ready. After these trances, he came in and told me that he’d been to another dance party, dancing with Beth. He wasn’t intimidated by Jennifer’s presence. And, Beth complimented his dancing. Dr. Jim said, “Dancing with Beth is so easy and wonderful now!” Hypnosis dance class took seven lessons.
Implication is one of the most common ways that we unconsciously make meaning out of events in everyday life. A speaker’s statement implies something that the listener infers. Erickson used implication extensively and deliberately, as shown in the following examples (some paraphrased) with the implication in parentheses:
“You don’t want to discuss your problems in that chair. You certainly don’t want to discuss them standing up. But if you move your chair to the other side of the room, that would give you a different view of the situation, wouldn’t it? (From this different position you will want to discuss your problems.)
“I certainly don’t expect that you’ll stop wetting the bed this week, or next week, or this month.” (I certainly expect that you will stop sometime.)
“Your conscious mind will probably be very confused about what I’m saying.” (Your unconscious mind will understand completely.)
Examining these examples, we can begin to generalize about the structure of implication.There is a presumption of a categorical mental division that is usually an “either/or”–here/there, now/later, conscious/unconscious, This categorical division can exist in space, time, or events (matter and/or process). A statement that is made about one half of the either/or division (often using negation) implies that the opposite will be true of the other.
(Look back to verify that these three elements exist in each example above.) Since implication is often confused with presupposition (which Erickson also used extensively) it is useful to contrast the two. Presuppositions have been well studied by linguists, and 29 different “syntactic environments” for presuppositions in English have been identified. (See the Appendix to Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M. D. Volume I, [pp. 257-261]. However, implications have not been studied, even though Erickson made extensive use of them, so this is a very useful area to examine in much more detail.Presuppositions Can be identified unambiguously by examining a statement in written form. The simplest way to identify presuppositions is to negate the entire state- ment, and notice what is still
For example, “I’m glad that you have the ability to change quickly and easily.” Negated, this becomes, “I’m not glad that you have the ability to change quickly and easily.” Only gladness is negated, the rest of the sentence “You have the ability to change quickly and easily” remains true.Are usually passively accepted Are usually processed and responded to unconsciously, yet can be identified consciously and “You are presupposing that I have the ability to change quickly and easily, and I disagree.” Implications Can’t be identified unambiguously by examining a verbal
For example: “Of course, it’s difficult to change quickly and easily in your everyday life.” (It will be easy to change quickly and easily here in my office.)Are generated by the listener inferring, using their assumptions and worldview. Are almost always processed and responded to unconsciously. Although they can be identified consciously, they can’t be challenged in the same way that presuppositions can, because they do not exist in the statement. If a client were to say, “Are you saying that I can change quickly and easily here in your office?” it is easy to reply, “No, I only said that it is difficult to change quickly and easily in your everyday life, isn’t that true?”
Summary: Implications are much subtler than presuppositions, they are generated actively by the listener’s process of inference, they are typically processed entirely unconsciously, and they can’t be challenged.Creating and Delivering Implications (an algorithm) Outcome Identify your outcome for the client, what you want to have happen. (Example: The client will talk freely about their problem.) Opposite Think of the opposite of this outcome (not talking freely; keeping information secret, ) Either/or Category Use space, time, or events (matter/process) as a way to divide the world into two categories (here/there, now/later, conscious/unconscious). Sentence Apply the opposite of your outcome to the contextual category that is not present (there, then, other) and create a sentence that will imply the outcome that you want the client to infer. Space
“In your life outside this office, I’m sure that you would feel uncomfortable talking about private matters.” (Here in the office, you can feel comfortable talking about anything.)
“If you were talking to someone at work, there would be many things that you would not want to discuss at all.” (Here you can talk about anything.)Time
“In the first session with me, there were undoubtedly certain matters that you were not comfortable disclosing.” (In this session, you can feel comfortable disclosing anything.)
“In your previous therapy, you may have been unwilling to talk about certain events that were relevant to your problem.” (Now you are willing to talk about these events.)Events
“I want you to carefully think about which matters are not relevant to the problem, and that you would like to keep entirely to yourself.” (You can talk freely about anything that is relevant to the problem.)
“In your normal waking state, of course there are topics that you would be very reluctant to discuss with me.” (In trance, you can easily discuss any topic.)
Another way of thinking about this process is that the client’s concern, objection, or reluctance is completely acknowledged, at the same time that it is placed in a different context (place, time, or event) where it won’t interfere with your outcome. Implications can also be delivered nonverbally, which Erickson did extensively, and that is the subject of another paper.