By, Dave Norton, LPC
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 56 seconds.
A private girl’s school near my office referred a sophomore named Lana to my practice because of missed classes and academic problems.
Normally when a girl this age comes to a professional for the first time, she pays attention to her appearance. But Lana’s hair was disheveled, her sweatsuit looked like it needed a trip to the washing machine, and her sneakers were worn. Her clothing was too big, meant to camouflage her weight. She was definitely not comfortable in her skin. If one looked closer, underneath all this baggage was an attractive, intelligent young lady.
Based on her general appearance I assumed several things: I intuited that Lana was depressed. I asked myself, “Why does she keep her appearance repulsive?” Had someone hurt her in the past; met with abuse or neglect a creative element in her personality? Her repulsive appearance, no doubt, was to keep herself isolated enough to deflect any more harm.
Fortunately, Lana was enthusiastic about hypnosis and wanted to experience it. Hilgard wrote that one of the important components of trance is “original task motivation instruction.” In Ericksonian hypnosis, a key element of therapeutic trance induction is pacing and leading. My procedure was informed by both philosophies.
I began by asking Lana, “What about hypnosis makes you enthusiastic?” Her response was that she had heard wonderful things about hypnosis and that the experience of trance, in addition to being relaxing, seemed mysterious and exotic. She felt hypnosis helped people to make dramatic changes in short periods of time, like quitting a lifelong habit of smoking in one session. I wholeheartedly agreed. As I mirrored this back to Lana, I repeated the words “relaxing” “mysterious” and “exotic” in pace with each of her exhale breaths. I began to add words suggesting comfort, sleep, and dreamlike feelings.
I also suggested that her unconscious mind probably knew why she was having these current problems. It would be nice if her unconscious gave her a dream during the next few days that would illuminate the source of these problems and offer a solution that would alter the way she looked at this aspect of her past. Her enlightenment would provide a new perspective on how she would see herself in the future. I told her to keep this in the back of her mind.
I finished our trance session by telling Lana a story about how I always made myself go to all of my college classes whether they were interesting or boring because there might be at least one useful thing from them that I could take away with me.
Two days later, Lana sent me the following email: “During our session, you told me to keep one thing in the back of my mind. Ever since I can remember, I have struggled with my weight. The memory that came to mind during our trance was one of myself at about eight or nine years old at school. A boy I’ve known most of my life was standing next to me and said, “You look like you are pregnant because you are so fat!” Every time I think about my weight struggle, this memory seems to pop into my mind. It was definitely an embarrassing and upsetting moment in my life.
After our session, I felt very sleepy and ended up going to bed quite early. I had a dream that I was standing in my house trying on a prom dress that I had bought with the intention of altering it to fit. I still own the dress, but I never got to wear it to my prom because it didn’t fully zip in the back and the seamstress couldn’t alter it. In the dream, I put the dress on simply to see if it would fit me. At first it would not zip, and then little by little I was showing my mom how it now fits me perfectly! When I woke up this morning, it didn’t immediately occur to me why I had this dream until right before I was leaving my room to go to class.”
A follow-up call to the school’s counseling center a month later revealed that Lana had achieved perfect attendance at her classes and had joined the school swim team. She was finally “fitting in”!
Because Lana had to take a taxi to get to our appointments, I knew I would not see her for more than a few sessions. I would have liked to spend more time discussing relationships, developmental delay issues, and her depression. I decided to use Erickson’s approach to accessing unconscious resources because this has proved successful in my work in the past. Although I anticipated success, receiving Lana’s email was a delight. How’s that for the unconscious as a helper!