By Terry Argast, Ph.D.
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 44 seconds
Juanita was a 31-year-old Marriage and Family Intern who had twice failed the oral examination for her license. She wanted hypnosis to reveal sabotaging herself so she could pass her orals. We would only have time for one session.
Juanita had no prior experience with hypnosis. I asked to get in touch with the body sensations she experiences when she was in the oral exam. She was able to do this easily. I then had her focus all of her attention on this feeling. I had her imagine that she was inside her body, inside that feeling and then I asked her to turn the feeling or sensation into a room so that when she was inside that room, she was inside the feeling. I then asked her to imagine a doorway at the end of the room, a doorway to an elevator. I had her get in the elevator and imagine it going down as she went back in time, back to a time in the past when she had the same feeling. When she got there the elevator door would open and she would share with me the contents of what she became aware of.
Juanita was responsive to this imagery and went back to the age of seven. While in trance, she told me of a scene with her mother, who was a migrant farmworker. Her mother was angry with Juanita for resisting working in the fields with her sisters and brothers. Loosely translated from Spanish, “Who do you think you are?” her mother shouted, “Do you think you are too good for us? If you don’t work (in the fields) you are not one of us (meaning she would be banished from the family).”
We had discovered the source of the sabotage. As Juanita later became aware, part of the unconscious was still trying to be connected to her past. Being licensed represented a final separation from a Hispanic identity to an Anglo identity resulting in the loss of her family forever (this must have been quite a dilemma for a seven-year-old).
Using the imagery of the older and younger Juanita in the same scene, I had the adult Juanita talk to the younger Juanita about what she was thinking and feeling. With a little convincing, the younger Juanita accepted that the older Juanita was her grown-up. I had the older Juanita quickly tell her what had happened in the years since age seven. In fact, Juanita had not seen her mother for the last ten years and had only minimal contact with her siblings. Faced with this frightening reality, I had the younger Juanita take a trip with the older Juanita to where the older Juanita now lived. Once she saw her house, the younger Juanita was able to stay in the present. We then addressed the issue of the younger Juanita painfully letting go of her mother and family, the older Juanita reassuring her that she could take care of the younger Juanita.
Finally, we developed a sensory signal of reassurance, so that whenever she felt the upsetting sensations in the body, the older Juanita would comfort her. Juanita then took her oral exam. She reported being much more comfortable and was able to manage the anxiety she felt. And, she passed!
I call this technique Rapid Age Regression. It is an adaptation of Erickson’s Crystal Ball Technique, which he used in a variety of ways. During the induction, the key is to have the focus of attention on the body sensations associated with the presenting symptom. The next step is to create a dissociation from the feeling by having them change the sensation into a room and to maintain seeing themselves as an adult.
When patients access the situation in the past, it is important to see the younger self as separate from the older self so they can keep their adult perspective and resources. Erickson emphasized the importance of this separation, not wanting the effect of the negative situation to become too intense, to prevent a collapse into the feeling, which could create future resistances.
When accessing a part of the unconscious associated with the symptoms, almost without exception that part of the unconscious is not aware of the current situation. In most cases, simply updating and reorienting the unconscious will result in a decrease in the negative affect.
Many times the adult client has no idea of how to soothe the younger self. In those cases, this technique permits the therapist to give therapeutic suggestions that the client’s conscious mind can pass on to the younger self, or make presuppositional observations that the unconscious can “overhear.” This approach indirectly bypasses both conscious awareness and potential resistance.
In 1978, Erickson told me that if you take care of the person’s symptom and the person has a need in the future, he will come back to deal with other issues. Over the past seven years, I have coached Juanita three separate times on how to deal with conflicts with co-workers, subordinates, and supervisors where this feeling was triggered. This illustrates that when there is powerful anxiety growing up, it can inhibit learning certain skills necessary to deal with adult life. Managing early feelings does not automatically lead to knowing how to deal with current situations.
Terry Argast is the clinical director for The Southern California Society for Ericksonian Psychotherapy and Hypnosis.
There are at least seven cases in the literature where Erickson used this technique: The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson, Volume IV. Edited by E. Rossi, Ph.D., 1980, New York, Irvington Publishers, Inc. (pages 79-80, 81-85, 85-87, 163-168, 397-404, 407-410, 410-412)
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 22, Issue No. 3 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
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