Utilization: Concept #1

During a recent meeting of the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Phoenix, Marilia Baker turned to me and said, “Don’t you think that just as ‘suggestion’ is the golden rule of hypnosis, ‘utilization’ is the golden rule of Ericksonian hypnosis?” She then proposed that in Ericksonian hypnosis these two concepts are conjoined. Indeed, utilization itself is a suggestion that speaks to the individual’s value, to the worthiness of his or her life experiences, personal ideas, and the worthiness of one’s idiosyncratic behavior. Even more remarkably, utilization also extends its embrace to undesirable actions, or problem behavior, some of which may have been disparaged by others as “pathological” or “symptomatic”. In summary, rather than making an individual feel bad about him or herself, utilization communicates the idea that “who you are and what you are doing has real, practical value and can even be the means by which we achieve important therapeutic outcomes.”

In October 2017, I am scheduled to speak in Mazatlan, Mexico about the role of utilization in Ericksonian therapy. In this article, I will attempt to highlight some of the major concepts elaborated in this address. The first of which is the close connection, in Ericksonian hypnosis (EH), between utilization and suggestion. For example, if I start off by suggesting eye closure, but you the patient insist that you cannot close your eyes, then I can view this as resistance (i.e., the traditional approach) or as an opportunity for utilization (i.e., the utilization approach). The only adjustment needed to turn the patient’s response into a therapeutic event is that I switch from standard suggestion to a new individualized suggestion that is more in line with your subconscious needs. This is the essence of the paradigm shift created by Milton Erickson. So rather than becoming frustrated with the fact that your eyes are not closing, I can instead suggest the importance of keeping your eyes open. I can suggest that you should watch my every move, with very deep, and highly focused attention. I can suggest that, “you should not close your eyes until your subconscious mind has determined that I am the right person to help you…and that this is the right time to learn something new about yourself…and what you are capable of.” Thus, the formula for the utilization approach to hypnosis can be expressed as suggestion+utilization=EH.

If I have guessed correctly (that your subconscious need is one of security and self-protection), then compliance with suggestion will occur swiftly and automatically. For example, when Milton Erickson approached the delusional patient, who insisted he was Jesus Christ, and suggested he use his carpentry skills (Jesus was initially a carpenter) the man responded with immediate compliance. This man had been unruly in his response to authority so why did he comply with this suggestion? Erickson does not report using a hypnotic induction technique. Instead, he did something much more compelling. He recognized a subconscious need to be appreciated and to receive positive attention from others, and then he utilized the delusional ideation as a pathway that lead directly to the fulfillment of those primary needs. When you think of hypnosis this way, then you realize that the magic is not in the words you use, or the intonation of your voice, or the charms or objects waved in front of the patient’s face, or the gestures you employ—rather, the magic of hypnosis is found in the depth of understanding you have for another human being and your recognition of his or her current state of needfulness. It has less to do with magical incantations and more to do with one’s understanding and use of the total situation. In the words of Milton Erickson (1962), “When doing hypnosis, keep in mind it is not you who is the important one, it is the patient,” or more specifically, the patient’s unmet, subconscious needs become the fulcrum upon which successful suggestion rests.

My experience has been that if you can offer a person the opportunity to realize a deep subconscious need, that individual will respond with automatic and eager compliance, as if he or she is being compelled by an outside force. If you wish to have another concrete example, just think of the person who is normally shy and inhibited but at a subconscious level is yearning to be the life of the party and the center of attention. What happens to this person when he or she goes to watch a stage hypnotist conduct a show? Of course, the person will end up on stage, in a deep trance, doing all types of fun and entertaining things. Each behavior, or each hallucination, comes automatically, in response to suggestion and without censorship from the conscious mind. If the stage hypnotist actually understood what he was doing, then rather than turning a few unfortunate individuals into a commodity for the audience to scoff, he could instead make a meaningful contribution to every single person in the room. But first he would have to take the time to get to know every person on an individual basis and to look beyond their conscious agenda for something more deep and compelling. In therapy we learn to discern these types of subconscious needs and with hypnosis we create an opportunity for those needs to be fulfilled. For the conscious mind, which has not been aware of the needs or in control of the subsequent reactions, the result is utterly mysterious and seemingly magical.

There are two other important points about utilization that I wish to make. One is to describe the incredible efficiency of utilization as a problem solving strategy. The second point takes us to a new view of utilization, as much more than a therapy technique, and more than a problem solving strategy. Rather, we can appreciate utilization as a philosophical position that acts as a foundation for all of our beliefs about health and well-being. But this article has already become longer than I intended. Also, I would like this article’s readers to have some time to contemplate the meaning of what was just shared. As I said, these ideas represent a major paradigm shift. Rather than insisting that the sun revolves around the earth (i.e., in traditional hypnosis it is what the hypnotist does to the client that matters most), I am suggesting that the earth revolves around the sun (i.e., in the utilization approach it is what the client is doing and what the client needs that matters most). So I will continue my discussion of utilization in the near future.

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