To over-simplify philosophical approaches to treatment, some treatment models have an underlying supposition that the person is broken and needs to be fixed. These models look at behaviors, thoughts, and emotions as either functional or dysfunctional, which is another way of saying that the person’s life is working or it is broken, and needs to be fixed. The repairman (or woman) is, of course, the therapist.
Another perspective, which happens to be the one that I use, is that every behavior, thought, and emotion came into being in order to serve a positive purpose or intention. There is nothing broken, and no one needs to be “fixed”. What might need to happen is a realignment between the positive intention and the way that this intention is being met today.
As an example, we can look at the act of smoking. People who smoke (or over eat, or experience anxiety, etc.) did so with a positive intention. The original act may have provided social interaction, or feelings of independence, or served as a way of replacing one emotional state (let’s say “stress” for another one, perhaps rewarding or distracting yourself). What happens is that the person later realizes that the behavior has gotten separated from the original intention, so that now the person who smokes (or over eats, or feels stress) no longer benefits from the behavior, and instead wishes they could change the behavior. So why can’t the change be quick and easy?
The main reason is that the positive intention is usually known only to the unconscious mind, which runs the show. The conscious mind wants to make a change, while the unconscious mind faithfully continues the behavior in order to satisfy the original positive intention. The unconscious mind must be addressed in such a way that it is willing to swap out the behavior that it is still doing for another behavior that satisfies the positive intention.
I was working with a 45 year old woman who came to me with weight issues. She was 5’2″ and over 160 lbs. She had been on diets most of her life, and when she lost weight, she would quickly gain it back, and then some. While in trance, her unconscious mind informed us (both me and the woman) that she ate to protect herself, which is a valid positive intention. She had been doing this since she was 14 years old. I suggested (to her unconscious) that she might actually be better protected by paying attention to her surroundings, trusting her gut, and exercising good judgment. Her unconscious agreed that this might be better, and that these new behaviors would be tried out for a month. If after a month, her unconscious was unhappy with the switch, it could go back to over-eating. The switch was made and the over-eating disappeared. I need to add a little to the story. When out of trance, I asked the woman what happened when she was 14 years old. She looked shocked, and slowly told me that she had been molested when she was 14. It makes sense that a 14 year old girl would “protect” herself from molestation the best way that she could…. by over-eating and making herself less attractive to men. Her conscious mind had no idea why she was over-eating more than 30 years later, and she could not understand the difficulty in changing this behavior. Yet when her unconscious mind was given the opportunity to stay true to the positive intention, it willingly accepted change.
As a treatment philosophy, here are a few beliefs that I adhere to:
1. People are not broken. They work perfectly. Behind every behavior and emotion, there is a positive intent.
2. Change happens quickly and easily. The decision to change often takes time. The methodology to make the change may be either effective or less effective. When the methodology is effective, change will happen.
3. The unconscious mind is in charge. Whenever a change requires effort, willpower, or constant attention, there is a conflict between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind. In the long run, the unconscious mind always wins.
4. The unconscious mind is flexible and willing to change. You just need to ask in such a way that it understands and agrees to the change. This requires making sure that any positive intention is met by the new behavior.
Hopefully, this adds some dimension to how and why hypnosis and NLP become useful tools in helping people make the changes they want and need.
Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or to share your own story.