This particular blog began as a response to a thread on our student forum – an extremely lively place which often receives up to a thousand visits a day from our network of students and therapists (collectively known as Questies). Someone on the thread had quoted me as describing counselling as a backward step – and you can imagine how that went down amongst the Questies who are trained counsellors! Here is where my thoughts led me:
If you’ve read my new book you’ll know this. Cognitive Hypnotherapy isn’t a therapy like other therapies, and it’s a bit difficult to explain, but easy to grasp. I used Bruce Lee as an example in the book, so I’ll continue. If you filmed him fighting and split it into distinct segments, and showed people who didn’t know him one of those segments they would probably says “He’s karate”. Show someone else another clip they’d say “He’s judo”, yet another, “He’s kung fu”. It’s only when you show the whole fight you’d see he’s doing Jeet Kune Do – using his opponents responses as his guide for which technique from which approach to use at each particular moment. It’s the same with Cog Hyp. It’s a framework to guide the same kind of choices we have to make with each client, rather than a therapy in itself.
So to put Cognitive Hypnotherapy in a list of other approaches is only accurate if you realise that everything else in that list is, potentially, part of a Cog Hyp approach. In any one session you could be ‘doing’ CBT, NLP, counselling, Parts, Gestalt etc, singly or in combination. You’re only limited by your knowledge of those options, its appropriateness for your client, and your creativity.
There are many great counsellors and psychotherapists working out there, and I think many are limited by the fact that every approach seems to develop an orthodoxy over time. All begin with certain assumptions that determine the way its practitioners work. Often in the beginning these assumptions are novel, revolutionary, and even threatening to the ‘establishment’ – as Mark Twain said, “All truth begins as heresy.” And I think that’s the problem. Every approach, from Freud onward, began as a heresy – a contrast to the established order. But, for me, the danger comes when it’s accepted as ‘truth’, because once something becomes ‘true’ it becomes set in stone. Our brains like certainty, so it becomes immensely attractive to feel you are following the ‘right’ way – and feels wrong if people don’t. Usually the approach develops guidelines to prevent people doing things ‘wrong’, which over time become rules, which over time become holy writ. The assumptions become the commandments, the originator becomes the prophet, the approach becomes the church, and the rules become the law. And other churches that aren’t your own become…
Let’s look at some of the assumptions:
I find in counselling the idea that ‘change takes time’ is often mistaken as ‘a truth’. I trained a counsellor once who used a regression technique on a client who had been stuck for months in her problem. The change in a single session was marked. I got an email from the counsellor asking “But is it ethical to let people change that fast?” My response was, “Is it ethical to stop them if they find it possible?” If you enter a therapeutic relationship using your belief about time being a necessary part of change, you are infecting your client with a limitation. I don’t agree with that – and I feel the same about a therapist who forces on a client their belief that change ‘should’ be quick. Time is just another variable. Some problems develop over years, some emerge from a moment. I think solutions can operate within exactly the same time frame, it all depends on the context and the client.
For example, in cases of bereavement, very often a counselling-type approach is necessary to pace the grief, and would be much more appropriate for many people than a technique-driven brief approach. But not all. Choosing one as your default assumption is one way, using either according to the need of the client is Cognitive Hypnotherapy.
A second assumption – and not just amongst counsellors – is that exploring your feelings about your problem is a means of resolving it. Freud would no doubt agree – but maybe not if he had access to recent science. Reconsolidation theory suggests that every time you recall a memory (ie any event that’s happened other than the one that currently is) you render it unstable – i.e. capable of change. What kind of change is going to be possible if each time you think about it you just explore the same feelings? Surely it will just become more of what it was, and you’ll feel worse about it each and every time? If memories can change – in fact, if they can’t not, then change them for the better, don’t just keep describing them. There are techniques for this available within a range of approaches. And, at the same time, in cases like bereavement, just the verbalisation of your loss [I]can[/I] be a great help. Just not forever.
By contrast, an assumption from brief strategic therapy is that, in the main, talking about their problem won’t help – only exploring evidence for their improvement will . And that can be very successful, but, again, not with everyone. Choosing one as your default assumption is one way, using either according to the need of the client is Cognitive Hypnotherapy.
As a final example, in CBT the emerging orthodoxy increasingly seems to be emphasising the need to stick to agendas set at the beginning of a session, and to remain within a fixed protocol. This is just another example of the ‘heresy becoming truth’ problem. In their desire to base their approach on evidence that it works – which I applaud – they are stifling innovation and, like a lava flow, I think the progress of their approach will slow as it loses the heat you gain from innovation. The danger is that, when it grinds to a halt under the weight of its own assumptions, the belief will be that therapy has achieved all it can, rather than what it can when confined within a particular set of assumptions.
When I describe counselling as a backward step – and I’d generally describe psychotherapies in the same way – I really mean at an organisational level, not at an individual one. It’s because, as organisations, they have become churches in the way I described earlier. They look to preserve their beliefs rather than challenge them in the light of new evidence or ideas. Their approach is more of a faith than a science, and their congregation is fed assumptions as truth, and subtly pressured to conform to them.
So I’m not saying that counselling or any form of psychotherapy doesn’t work. In fact I’m saying the opposite. All approaches work. Just not on everyone, all the time, for all problems. Which is why I am going to keep passionately crusading for a unification of the churches into something that isn’t a church at all, and keep fighting anybody who tries to make their church the official faith. If anyone only offers counselling, or CBT,or Gestalt, or EFT or EMDR, or hypnotherapy then, in my view, they’re limiting what the client might achieve. And Cognitive Hypnotherapy is just an idea of how all these approaches might be incorporated into a flexible model of therapy that responds, moment by moment, to the emerging needs of the client.
And here’s the rub. If Cognitive Hypnotherapy becomes accepted to the degree that counselling and CBT has there will be a pressure to begin to view it as another ‘truth’. It could cease to be a heresy and become another church, and another limit to the potential of our clients.
To avoid this we have to find a way of remaining an organised, permanent, heresy. At the moment the only way I can think of achieving that is by tattooing our primary assumption on the inside of the eyelids of every one of our graduates. ‘Nothing is true.’ And remembering that in 100 years everything that we currently believe is cutting edge will seem archaic.