Ben was referred to me by a local hospital for treatment of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) behavioral disorder. Due to aging, a part of his brain had degenerated, resulting in loss of muscular control during REM sleep. Both Ben and his wife were fearful that because he had wild body movements while sleeping, he would inadvertently kick or hit her, or that he would injure himself. After nearly 50 years of marriage and sharing a bed, Ben’s wife had resorted to sleeping in the guest room.
Ben was a lively and interesting 70-year old, who had recently retired from his job in a factory where he worked as a master toolmaker. He was looking forward to enjoying his retirement. Ben had a keen sense of history and a strong interest in Native American culture, and he read many books on the subject. We enjoyed talking about this because I share the interest. Ben longed to visit ancient Native American sites and national parks and he purchased a Winnebago for this purpose. He said he was ready to go, but the extremely narrow single bed he would have to bring along, and his symptoms of the REM disorder, made him hesitant about traveling.
For his entire life, Ben had used his hands and mind to produce tools, so it was understandable that he was looking for a simple, concrete solution to his problem. The fact that he felt his disorder was beyond his control, upset and embarrassed him. His mechanical engineering training and tactile problem-solving skills that served him well in his professional life, gave him the air of someone reluctant to consider hypnosis as a tool for achieving wellness.
Matching, pacing, and leading are the cornerstones of good hypnosis. Because of my conversations with Ben about Native Americans, in which I spoke of “trance healing ceremonies” and their similarity to modern day hypnosis, he gradually became open to using hypnosis to help with his REM symptoms.
As part of my early hypnotic training with Steven Heller, I learned of Erickson’s technique for creating an unconscious generative suggestion for a patient. Erickson demonstrated this therapeutic intervention in a case he called “The February Man.” In trance, he created a positive male character for his female patient who had an emotionally impoverished childhood. This character who appeared in her dreams, valued her by leaving encouraging notes and bringing gifts on her birthday and holidays, which helped her to developmentally progress. (Interestingly, for the past 44 years, Erickson has appeared in my dreams, sometimes offering me helpful advice.)
I decided that with Ben I could create a post-hypnotic suggestion that would happen during his sleep cycle, which would interrupt the REM pattern and disrupt the threatening behavior. There are many references in experimental hypnosis literature that show the success of this type of suggestion. I also had success, as Ben would wake up briefly before flailing, and then fall peacefully back asleep.
There’s a Three Stooges sketch where Curley, Moe, and Larry are in one bed. Larry begins to snore, and Moe hits him and says, “Wake up and go to sleep.” Larry wakes up briefly, and then falls back to sleep. Then Curley begins to snore and a frustrated Moe hits him and says, “Wake up and go to sleep.” Curley is groggy and falls back to sleep, and Moe just smiles. However, like most Stooge antics, it soon turns chaotic. Curley and Larry begin to snore and Moe goes from one to the other slapping and shouting, “Wake up and go to sleep!” In my next session with Ben, I discussed the idea of a generative suggestion and the Three Stooges episode. He remembered it well, and we were both had a good laugh. I suggested to Ben that we put Moe in his unconscious dream world to wake him up right before any sleep behavioral disorders occurred, and he agreed.
The next week Ben and his wife came to his session together and reported that his violent sleep behavior had not happened the prior week, and then asked me if it would be alright if they attempted to sleep together. I said yes.
I continued to see Ben throughout that summer as he and his wife worked together on getting ready for their road trip. I repeated the induction with Ben each week, and his wife called me several times to say that they were sleeping peacefully together. After the couple left on their adventure out West, I had Ben check in with me every week for five weeks. In his words, “We followed the blueprints, installed the boilerplate, and the new circuitry was working well.”Commentary By Eric Greenleaf, PhD
In a letter, Dr. Erickson once wrote, “Concerning my views about dreams, I can state quite simply that they are the substance that paves the way to the goals of achievement. Such goals are reached more rapidly if a dreamboat is available.” (Seminars of MHE #1, 1962) David Norton’s keen understanding of the blueprints of hypnotic suggestion and his workmanlike installation of the boilerplate, allowed the new circuits to hum, and the dreamboat to sail on. The contrast of the Stooges’ hilarious lack of workmanship with Ben’s own careful and effective craftsmanship was speedily effective, but was only hinted at through laughter. Like all expert craftsmanship, David’s work with this patient might look easy, but it was dreamily inspired.