Storytelling is extremely powerful. When we want to understand something we can ask two different questions. “How does it work?” Or we can ask, “What’s the story?”
The difference is that an explanation will analyze, dissect, show principles, rules or laws. But a story touches us. We’re moved and excited by a story.
We stand back and examine an explanation.
We participate in a story and learn from our vicarious experience.
I have never considered myself an Ericksonian hypnotherapist. I’m very good at writing direct suggestions and doing process work, regression, parts therapy, Gestalt dialoguing and so on.
However, in working with a very challenging client I was looking for a new way to help her. She had been diagnosed with dissociative amnesia and depersonalization disorder. One psychotherapist also believed that she had a mild case of Asperger’s Disorder. I mention her diagnosis only to point out how different she was from my more typical clients who wanted to heal remembered past emotional traumas, pass the Bar Exam or reconnect with Spirit.
The very city she lived in became foreign – the buildings have “sharp edges,” she told me. She had no personal memories prior to her Mother’s death. “Hanna” had been her parent’s full time caretakers for 15 years. Although she had gradually lost her sense of Self in that time, she wasn’t aware of it until her mother’s death.
Hanna spoke a great deal about feeling lost with no Self to guide her.
Process work was pointless. Regressing to the past was a waste of time as she was unable to access any memories. We would both end up feeling frustrated.
She disagreed consciously with any direct suggestions that I used although she was a good trance subject.
It didn’t take me long to start looking for new avenues. I had already paved the way with a study that I conducted a few years ago. I couldn’t see how reading a targeted story could make significant change or make change as quickly as process work.
However, I was curious so I tested metaphors on a group of clients and asked them to keep track of their progress by charting their negative emotions. They rated the intensity of their emotions before and after the story. In every case, their intensity dropped dramatically and stayed down.
So when this client challenged the way I worked, I was ready. Having said that, I didn’t see myself writing stories for her spontaneously. My approach would take some planning ahead.
I would get an intuitive idea during my meditation and then sit in front of the computer to write. The stories almost wrote themselves. Rather than worrying about using Ericksonian language patterns I would ask myself, “where does this story need to start?” Then, “where does it need to go next to help Hanna?” With each story I had a goal, it might be to improve self-esteem or self-worth.
For example, I wrote about buried treasure to instruct Hanna’s subconscious mind to uncover her many gifts and talents.
To help fill the emptiness that Hanna felt I wrote a story about filling holes in the garden. The Beaver’s Dam talks about opening up the walls of a dam to address the wall that her subconscious mind has built to hide her memories. In a similar vein The Gatekeeper also addresses uncovering that which has been hidden.
To address her lack of self-esteem I wrote a story about a cracked ceramic vase and in another story described a magical island where the very fruit on the trees have healing properties.
I also taught her the Emotional Freedom Techniques and numerous acupressure techniques for stress reduction. She very willingly journaled daily in an effort to make sense of her now very barren existence. We discussed the impact of negative self-talk and then wrote affirmations together that she used daily.
We worked together for well over a year, with Hanna flying in for her monthly appointments. One month she was extremely grateful that I was willing to continue working with her and the next visit she told me that she was giving up. Having made her decision she reported feeling relieved.
I was relieved as well since we certainly hadn’t made much progress. She was less stressed and appreciated the support but no memories had surfaced and her self-esteem and self-worth still seemed to be very low.
Fast forward a few months. I received a call from her new psychiatrist requesting a copy of Hanna’s file. In the course of our conversation he shared that Hanna was having memories surface, although she was quick to describe them as “intellectual memories.” His assessment was that the hypnotherapy was working. At a snail’s pace, but it was working. He is considering sending her back to me to continue our work, if and when she is ready.
I think the point of this interesting case is this: magical things can happen when we rely on our intuition and spiritual guidance. As long as I stayed open when listening to Hanna I would have a new idea about another story or new direction to go.
Sylvia Hartmann has written a wonderful metaphor about an egg. She asks the listener to think about an egg. It just lies there. It doesn’t DO anything. It doesn’t change shape, it doesn’t change color. And yet, and if you could look inside that egg, you might become aware of the immense change that’s taking place INSIDE the egg…
The same is true for Hanna. Even though her progress was almost undetectable, there was change going on deep within.
Katherine Zimmerman is an internationally-known author and speaker, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Reiki Master, and EFT Practitioner with a private practice. She is the Director of the California Hypnotherapy Academy offering CE courses and an independent study program.
Copyright 2016 Katherine Zimmerman
The metaphors mentioned in this article are available in Hypnotherapy Scripts, Vol. 4