I had the pleasure of attending a Royal Society of Medicine lecture on suggestion recently which encouraged us to examine all the ways in which our belief systems are influenced, this can surely help us with the work we do with our clients. Dr Deeley examined the idea of cultural suggestion. Cultural suggestion and cultural belief were so clearly displayed in the public outpouring of grief over the death of Queen Elizabeth the Second in the UK. One observer of the events in London at the time of the lying in state, who was not British, said to me it was like watching a goddess cult, so extreme was the veneration and grief on display, yet to those who grew up during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, there was an instinctive emotional response to her passing, unquestioned and accepted. It is only when we try to take an objective view, we can see how this might be perceived.
We are therefore not just a product of our genes, our nurturing at home, but the cultural influences we experience from school, religious worship, media inputs, our workplace and no doubt much more. All of these aspects need to be carefully examined to see how they might be impacting/influencing mental and indeed physical health. To quote Dr Deeley “we have a highly edited subjective version of the world” we need to understand that world to help our clients. We also need to consider, the suggestive effects in hypnosis will be affected by the individual’s understanding of the process and their belief in it. If a client comes to you as a recommendation from someone whom you have helped, one already knows they will be halfway to recovery as their belief in the therapy is heightened. Conversely there are those for whom there is a fear of being controlled, this fear may be heightened by their life experience, just the mention of suggestion in such cases may lead to high levels of resistance. Concerns about this kind of resistance has led to a new description for suggestion in research to get a more real response, which is “phenomenological control”, seen in the work of Peter Lush. The belief being that someone who might resist the idea of being tested for suggestibility and put-up defences, will not do so if they are told they are being tested for phenomenological control. I wonder if this term will find its way into our clinical work to help remove that level of resistance within client work as well as in research trials? Only time will tell. The term hypnosis itself carries with it perceptions that can in some cases enhance its impact and in others deter. There is a magical almost mystical interpretation for some, to explain the nuts and bolts of the process to them, demystifying it, may damage your results, for another, only a deeper understanding of the science behind it will allow them to open up to the benefits of the process. With this in mind, the ongoing discussions about changing the names of hypnotherapy and medical hypnosis, would potentially bring gains and losses.
Whenever I am considering the influence of suggestion and belief, I think of Descartes “I think therefore I am” and turn it around to be “How I think dictates who I am”. That is our work as hypnotherapists, to see how people think, how did that happen and help them to change it through the use of suggestion, as suggestion put it there in the first place, it can take it away again!