By Ron Soderquist, MFT
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 11 seconds.
Anxious parents called, each in turn, about their 17-year-old daughter Bev, who for the past six months had obsessively washed her hands three to four hours a day. Both parents reported they had “tried everything.” including counseling and drugs. They were so desperate they were now exploring hypnosis, about which they were skeptical. Somewhat worn down by their forceful skepticism, I said to the anxious mother, “Look, because you are desperate and because you worry that once again you will be throwing money away, I will offer you a complimentary consultation. I will evaluate your daughter’s symptoms and only schedule a therapy session if I believe I can help her.” With this assurance, she made an appointment.
As the family members settled into their chairs at our first meeting, they all appeared relaxed. They communicated with ease, and there were no overtones of hostility. Turning to the girl, I asked about her school and extracurricular activities. She immediately replied, “I have studied piano for many years and enjoy it very much.” I myself play both classical and ragtime piano, so this was a natural opening for building rapport between us.
When I asked about her favorite composer, she quickly said, “Chopin.” Because Chopin is also my favorite, we were now in perfect sync. We agreed we both loved Chopin’s Nocturnes and we both had played most of them. I asked about her favorite and she hummed the melody. I said, “When I practice a nocturne in the evening I often can hear that melody in my head all next day,” and she nodded in agreement. “You can hear that melody right now, can’t you?” I said. She smiled and slipped into a nice little trance. As she did so, I ventured, “Perhaps, when you get the urge to wash your hands, you might enjoy turning on that nocturne instead.” I observed her trance deepen as she considered this, and then she nodded her head and said quietly and confidently, “I can do that.”
After some further rehearsal, and talk about other matters, I concluded the session. I didn’t suggest another session. The mother wondered, “Do we need to make an appointment for Bev?” I looked at Bev as I said, “Perhaps she has already found a solution,” and Bev nodded her head.
A week later the mother called to say Bev was doing fine. I might have held back and scheduled a regular appointment with a fee. But I just couldn’t help myself. It was too much fun just to do it. And while there was no fee, I did get a good story, and the mother soon referred to a friend.”
By Eric Greenleaf, PhD
I immediately liked several aspects of this case and of Ron’s manner with the family and with his young patient. The family’s desperation motivated both Ron to take the case pro bono and the family to agree to let him try therapy with their daughter. Ron bypassed the problem [what Erickson called “drifting rapidly away”] and landed on the keyboard, where his patient could shine as a person and had the resources to address her own solution. Then, as an advanced therapist, he spoke as and of himself: “When I practice a nocturne in the evening I often can hear that melody in my head all next day,” before noting that his patient “can hear that melody right now, can’t you?” Mutual, trance experience can be both more natural and more direct than other hypnotic inductions.
Ron aptly and gently held the mother back from re-establishing the symptom, saying, “Perhaps she has already found a solution,” as indeed, with his help, she had. When the patient is the expert and the therapist is himself, lasting hypnotic therapy can be both brief and effective. I think Dr. Erickson would have been pleased with this case, would he not?”