When prospective clients call for information, I often tell them a proverb: “Give a man a fish, you feed him once. Teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” (For female clients, “Give a woman a fish, you feed her once. Teach her how to fish, you feed her for a lifetime.”). After telling clients the fishing metaphor, I add, “My goal is to teach you how to fish.” Usually this statement is an attention grabber.
Underlying the fishing metaphor is symbolism and indirect suggestions. Learning to fish is the same as learning a “process.” Above the water symbolizes the conscious mind, below, the unconscious. The metaphor evokes imagery of the hook and line breaking through the surface of water. Similarly, while fishing for new thought, new behavior or a new way of life, the conscious mind must penetrate the surface of the unconscious.
If teaching a man/woman to fish is a process, then the fish is a “product” of the process. The words “give a man/woman a fish” evoke a sensation of eating, or indirectly suggest that the conscious mind keeps stuffing unpleasant thoughts into the unconscious. This is another reason why prefer to be taught how to fish rather than being given a fish.
The metaphor also exemplifies the difference between product hypnosis and process hypnosis. Process hypnosis has several advantages over product hypnosis: In process hypnosis there is a continuous search for better inductions, post-hypnotic suggestions and metaphors. Fishermen always have some type of new fishing lure, line or location to test. Process hypnosis applies in general to the subject of hypnosis. The history of hypnosis, from Franz Mesmer to Richard Bandler and John Grindler, proves hypnosis to be an on-going process. Process hypnosis necessarily implies succeeding generations of better hypnotherapists and techniques.
Process hypnosis also applies to each therapeutic treatment in specific. Each successful hypnotherapy intervention is evidence that both the hypnotherapist and the client go through a process of living and learning. Hypnosis fails for no other reason than the abandonment of the process. If one technique doesn’t work, move on to another. If seven different techniques don’t work, then try an eighth.
Setbacks and temporary stoppages of progress are part of the hypnosis process. There is a difference between a setback and failure. A setback means progress temporarily stops. A failure is the abandonment of the process. A setback may leave a person feeling angry or frustrated, but there is still hope. A failure leaves a person feeling empty, void and with no hope of success. As long as a person believes in the process, there is still a chance.
According to the tenets of process hypnosis, no one will have the last say on hypnosis, not even the great Milton H. Erickson. Process hypnotherapists will never become bored or stagnant because they keep searching for a better method. Erickson said it’s not the fault of the client if he can’t be hypnotized; it is the responsibility of the hypnotist to find a method that will work. Inductions fail, Erickson said, because hypnotists don’t pay enough attention to their subjects. Erickson was a champion because he was ultimately aware of his process and his clients at all times.
Other schools of thought have previously focused on the process. There is “process philosophy,” which emphasizes the course of becoming instead of being, and there is “process psychology,” a clinical application of process philosophy. Process philosophy and psychology paved the way for the human potential movement. Though we have not consciously called what we do “process hypnosis,” nonetheless, unconsciously we have been living it.
Time-Line TherapyTM Lessons
The greatest benefits of time-line therapy are the releasing of negative emotions and the lessons that go along with each catharsis. A client will release anger, fear, sadness, guilt and any other negative emotion if he is being guided by a competent time-line therapist. It is important to note that the client’s release of negative emotions is contingent upon learning lessons.
Time-line therapy is chiefly a permissive technique. The client chooses the events on his time-line, the client chooses which negative emotions to release and the client chooses the lessons that he is to learn. The key words in the last sentence are “the client chooses.” Empowering the client with choice follows the Ericksonian tradition. As Erickson so eloquently puts it, “An incubator supplies a favorable environment for the hatching of eggs, but the actual hatching derives from the development of life processes within the egg.” The time-line therapist is the incubator who provides the favorable environment; the client is the one who cracks open his problem.
Time-line therapy has built-in safeguards. Time-line therapists are trained to make sure that the client starts releasing negative emotions going back to the very first event related to the problem. Time-line therapists check and recheck, insuring negative emotions have been cleared. When necessary, time-line therapists insist that the client chunk up to avoid superficial lessons. Time-line therapists future pace to verify that the client will be able to apply his lessons in the future.
The importance of the client’s lessons should not be understated. Once the client feels his negative emotions, he moves on to his lessons. After the client discovers what his lessons are, he once again feels around for negative emotions. Most of the time, the client is able to release all the negative feelings from one event in one try. Occasionally, some negative emotions remain, so the client returns to his classroom for more lessons. If the client is successful in his second attempt, then all the negative emotions have been released; if not, the hypnotherapist and the client repeat the “process” until all the negative feelings have been purged. The client uses his lessons as a cloth to wipe his negative emotions clean.
During time-line therapy, the client learns lessons that are valuable for his future. For this reason, time-line therapy is about teaching a client how to fish instead of just feeding him a fish. Because lessons are such a valuable part of time-line therapy, I wondered if we could instill a client’s lessons with something other than future pacing? Enter Milton Erickson.
Erickson’s Double and Triple Binds
Erickson first learned the art of the double bind from his father. Erickson’s father would frequently ask, “Do you want to feed the chickens first or the hogs, and then do you want to fill the wood box or pump the water for the cows first.” Erickson’s father gave him a choice of which chore to do first; however, Erickson was not free to leave the chores undone. Erickson admitted that he consented to do the chores primarily because he chose the order in which he did them.
The secret of the double bind is that it provides an illusion of a free choice between two possibilities. Sometimes a client desires neither of the two choices, though both are to his benefit. Some examples of double binds: “Are you going to buy the outfit you want before or after you lose twenty pounds?” “Will you stop smoking before or after you get over your resentment?” “Will your spouse be the first person to notice how you changed or will it be your best friend?” In all three double bind examples there is a choice between two possibilities. There is a choice between buying an outfit before or after losing twenty pounds, there is a choice between quitting smoking before or after resolving resentment, and there is a choice between who recognizes the change first. What isn’t left to choice is losing twenty pounds, quitting smoking and changing.
Here are some more of Erickson’s effective double and triple binds:
Would you like to experience a light, medium or deep trance?
Would you like to go into a trance now or later?
Would you like to go into a trance standing up or sitting down?
Which of you would like to be the first in your group to experience a trance?
Do you want your eyes opened or closed when you experience your trance?
On one level, the double and triple binds give the client a choice of when or how to go into a trance. On another level the client unconsciously consents to enter into a trance. Erickson’s double and triple binds are also classic examples of two-level communication, communication that speaks to both the conscious and unconscious minds at the same time. “Would you like to experience a light, medium or deep trance is a triple bind because the client is given three choices. In the next section, we’ll examine when to apply double and triple binds to time-line therapy lessons.
Applying Double Binds to Time-Line Therapy™
Erickson was fond of trying new techniques on unsuspecting subjects. Because his work was so subtle, Erickson’s subjects didn’t know when he failed. Erickson called his method “natural field experiments.” I tried some natural field experiments in my clinical practice. I applied double and triple binds in the course of time-line therapy. My clients’ verbal responses, facial gestures, skin color and body posture indicated that the double and triple binds were effective. The body cues indicated the double and triple binds were instrumental in helping the client release negative emotions.
Here is a sample of some of my double and triple binds:
Will you apply your lesson of __________ daily, weekly or monthly?
Will you apply your lesson of __________ consciously or unconsciously?
Will you apply your lesson of __________ automatically or will you have to remember to do it?
Will your lesson of ____________ help you more with your past, your present or your future?
Who will your lesson of ____________ help you most with? Your spouse, parents or co-workers?
Who will notice that you learned your lesson of _________ the most? Your spouse, your parents or your friends?
Can you apply your lesson of ___________ once, twice or numerous times?
Will your lesson of ____________ help you more at work or at home?
Will your lesson of __________ lead to one, two or several other lessons?
Will you need to review your lesson of _________ one time, five times or not at all?
You can put your client’s lesson in the above blanks. For example, suppose a client’s negative emotion is anger and his lesson is forgiveness. You can ask a question that places his forgiveness in a double or triple bind. “Will you apply your lesson of forgiveness daily, weekly or monthly?” If the client says daily, then you can add yet another triple bind. “Will you apply your lessons of forgiveness one time, two times or five times a day.” You can also triple bind weekly and monthly lessons: “Will you apply your lesson of forgiveness one day, two days or three days a week? Will you apply your lesson of forgiveness three days, six days or nine days a month?”
Double and triple binds are an effective way to use two-level communication during the course of time-line therapy. In two-level communication, the conscious mind gets a choice, the unconscious mind does not. In the forgiveness triple bind, the client’s conscious mind is allowed to choose how often to apply the lesson of forgiveness; however, the unconscious mind has agreed to forgive as soon as the conscious mind makes it’s choice of how often.
Double and triple binds work well with time-line therapy for three reasons:
1. Double and triple binds are a permissive technique at the conscious level. The client is always given a choice in every double or triple bind.
2. Double and triple binds enable time-line therapy to remain a “content-free therapy.” Double and triple binds require one- or two-word answers. Therefore, the client responds to double and triple binds without going into any specific content. 3. Double and triple binds enable time-line therapy to remain “brief.” In my experience double and triple binds may actually shorten time-line therapy because the client unconsciously processes his lessons and releases negative emotions more quickly.