Will’s Color Spin

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Will’s Color Spin

I once explained this technique in a post entitled “5-Step Technique for Taking Control of Your Feelings and Thoughts Now,” but I affectionately refer to this technique as the “Color Spin Technique.”  I’m pretty sure Richard Bandler said that a Hindu prayer inspired him to use this approach.  It’s one of my favorite techniques, and I’ve found it to be handy in liberating my mind from any quick feeling or idea that might be unpleasant.  I usually describe it as shifting gears in my mind.  It only takes a few seconds to execute it, and now I have a wonderful demonstration to illustrate it with.

            My cousin, Will, came to Nashville so that he could take the MCAT, the entrance test that often determines what quality of medical school you could attend.  Now Will is a pretty bright guy, but he had a lot riding on this exam.  Understandably so, the more stress he was under, the more difficulty he had recalling information.  He described it as something clouding his ability to fully produce an answer, so I offered him a strategy for removing that cloud.

            It’s important to mention that not only is a really smart guy, he has also allowed me to play with his mind before.  Beyond being a wonderful and trusting hypnosis subject, he had also been practicing some mindfulness meditation in preparation for this exam.  Before I elaborate on our experience, I invite you to watch this video.

Will starts off by explaining what how his problem manifests.  As he describes his experience, I ask for as much detail as he can provide.  He talks about how high the stakes are and the onset of his stress over a period of time.  It’s very important that I get him to qualify and quantify the presenting issue.  All hypnosis is simply refocusing someone’s thoughts.  It’s important to understand from where the subject is starting.

            I ask Will to close his eyes and put his mind in a place where that same stress can manifest.  He may have even imagined that he was taking his test and got caught on a difficult question.  Then I start by asking him on a scale of 1-10 how profound that stress and fear felt.  If he can quantify his feeling somehow, he can quantify the amount of control he has or doesn’t have over it.  If you notice, after he answers “9,” I ask him to crank it up to 10.  The ironic thing about this part of the exercise is, as long as he is feeling that stress on purpose, he is already learning to control it.

            Part of what makes stress so hard to control is the fact that it’s subjective.  So the next part is all about pretending that it isn’t subjective.  I ask him where he feels that stress in his body.  We unconsciously process emotions with our bodies all the time.  That’s why people say things like “carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders” or “butterflies in his stomach.”  So I asked him where he was holding his stress.  When he answers his chest, shoulders, and head, I expected him to have a picture of these body parts in his mind already.  It didn’t seem like much of a stretch for me to assume that in that picture, the emotion took some form.  That’s why I asked what color it was.  Sometimes, people would rather answer with a vibration or a texture or a temperature.  It doesn’t matter either way, and if you are having trouble “noticing” a color, you’re always welcome to assign a color to the feeling.

            Then I have him focus his attention on his breath and imagine that he is pushing that negative energy out of his body as he exhales.  At this point, he is disassociating the feeling from his person.  After I subtly give the suggestion that that energy is spinning, I tell him to reverse the direction of the spin so he can reverse the polarity of the emotion.  As change begins to take place, it doesn’t take much for him to imagine the color changing into something he likes more.  Since it naturally changes to the more positive (after all, that is the point of the exercise), he’s happy to welcome that new feeling/color back into his body with a breath.

            After he receives that new feeling, I ask him where that stress is on a scale of 1-10 again.  If he had said “7,” I would have had him do the exercise again.  Also, had he originally given me a sound, I may have told him to imagine it getting softer and softer.  There are limitless ways to apply this technique.  If you don’t feel like you have control of a thought, create a map or a model for it in your mind.  If you can change the map, you can change the thought.  Just remember that your imagination is the most important tool your unconscious has, and it will get easier to shift gears in your mind.

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All of the Feels

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All of the Feels

Something fantastic dawned on me the other day.  We each possess an infinite spectrum of possibility for human emotion.  Think of the worst pain and despair that you have ever experienced.  Did you realize that you have the potential to experience euphoria on the same level of intensity?  Maybe it’s because, throughout the course of human evolution, all of the abilities that we have developed, from walking upright to feeling sad, we have developed because they serve some purpose.  Getting to the bottom of that purpose may be the challenge so it’s important to give yourself a time to feel.

            If you haven’t seen Inside Out yet, I highly recommend it.  Aside from just being a good movie in every way, the theme of the story is the importance of all emotions.  The plot revolves around a young girl named Riley and the emotions who guide her.  Her emotions work in the control center of her mind and they are Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust.  Joy is the main character, and she is in charge of managing the other emotions in the control center. 

            During the story, Riley has to move to a new city where everything in her life changes.  Through the course of events, Joy does everything she can to keep Sadness from having anything to do with helping Riley.  Until as fate may have it, Joy and Sadness both get separated from the control room, and chaos arises in Riley’s life. Since she no longer can appropriately experience Joy or Sadness, she is left to only use Disgust, Anger, and Fear when she should be employing Sadness.  Until finally [SPOILER?] Joy and Sadness learn to work together so that they can bring balance back to Riley’s life.  The moral of the story is if you don’t give yourself a chance to be sad, you may be in danger of losing control of all of your emotions. 

            The other day I was working with a depressed client that I have helped off-and-on for over a year now.  As she was sharing her life with me, she mentioned that she had been dealing with depression for so long that it felt as if people in her life expected her to know how to “get over it” at this point.  So I felt it would be best to go about the session by giving her permission to be depressed.

            So I induced her hypnotic experience by bringing her into a comfortable trance.  During the induction, I started off giving suggestions that might lead to warm-fuzzy and secure feelings.  Then, I explained that she was going to learn how to recalibrate her emotions by taking a minute to be as sad as possible.   I even gave her specific suggestions and ideas that might elevate her level of depression in that moment.  I eventually gave her suggestions for peace and happiness before bringing her out of trance, but not until after I showed her how to put that sadness away. 

            The reason for this practice is actually quite simple.  All emotions should be experienced in their proper contexts, and in developing a proper context for experiencing her depression, she may not only learn to process her sadness but also learn to control it.  If you take a minute to be as sad as you possibly can be, you are practicing controlling sadness.  When people think of controlling their emotions, they usually first imagine someone suppressing a “negative” feeling.  The reality is that you have control over anything that you feel on purpose.

            It’s important to mention that I wouldn’t have done this with a client had I not already had a strong therapeutic relationship with them.  I knew how she responds to hypnosis, I told her before hand what we were going to do, and I knew she would trust me throughout the exercise.  After she came out of trance she even said that she could have made herself more depressed if she had wanted to, but she found the level of sadness that worked for her.  She sustained that level for just long enough, and then she was quite happy to experience peace.  At that point, her unconscious was so tired of being sad that she was eager to comply.

            The reality is that feelings are neither good nor bad.  What matters is the impact they have on you and how appropriate they are for the context.  Both of those variables may be more subjective than the feelings alone.  If you find yourself experiencing certain emotions at inappropriate times, it may be beneficial to create an appropriate context through which to explore those feelings.  A self-hypnosis or meditation practice may be the perfect tool.

            As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, don’t hesitate to let me know.

 

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My Grandfather’s Toolbox

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My Grandfather’s Toolbox

This weekend, I took on a project that my wife has been (appropriately) on my case about for months.  I set aside time to clean out my grandfather’s old Craftsman toolbox.  My grandparents recently moved into an assisted living facility, and my mom told me that, if I didn’t want my grandfather’s toolbox, she was going to get rid of it.  I felt like this toolbox would be a coveted addition to any craftsman’s shop, and for reason’s you’ll soon understand, it was an heirloom that I felt encapsulated his spirit.  So I coerced my bride into letting us keep it, and in return, I agreed to chalk-paint it, thus morphing the old, rusty toolbox into some hipster’s prized Pinterest piece.

            In the process, something really intense happened.  I began to meditate on the box, its contents, and my grandfather.  The experience brought a nostalgic serenity that carried me through my weekend.

            On the first day, I was a little goofy with the project.  Probably because when I opened up a brown paper bag from one of the drawers, the smell of his shop hit my olfactory glands like jab from Bruce Lee, and I was immediately a little kid again, playing in my granddaddy’s shop.  Everything in that box was an obscure token of him as I’ll always remember him.  There was so much sawdust in the toolbox that I had to use my leaf-blower to get it all out, but as soon as I saw the sawdust, I thought of being a little kid helping my grandma make cookies in the kitchen and jumping into his arms as he came in from his shop.

            One of the first things that came to mind while cleaning his toolbox was the fact that he grew up in poverty during the Great Depression.  He once told my father a story about the conditions being so bad that he would wake up on a cold morning to find an icicle forming on his bedpost.  This experience made him not only a bit tight with money but also a bit of a pack rat.  So I would have a good laugh at some of the items because I would pull them out and ask myself “What could he possibly have used this for?”  I realized how much I was like him when I had the thought “I don’t know what I need with a half-melted down bag of buckshot, but I think I’ll hang on to it.”

            My grandfather grew up farming, but his family lost their farm in the Depression.  During World War II, he served in the Army.  After he got out, he finished college and went to medical school.  Throughout his medical career, he reacquired farmland and worked on it with his family.  When he retired from medicine, he continued farming, but he also took up woodworking.  He spent most of his retirement, up until about ten years ago, switching between his farm and his woodshop. 

            He enjoyed mixing his love of woodworking with his love of his grandchildren.  As I was cleaning out his drawers, I found a bunch of metal pieces and wires to make lamps.  It enabled me to meditate on his love for my sisters, my cousins, and myself.  I thought of the lamp that he made that I used as a nightlight when I was young and how much comfort it brought me as a child.

            More than anything though, I enjoyed meditating on his work ethic.  He had a wonderful support system that loved and believed in him throughout his live.  Aside from that support, he was genuinely the closest thing to a “self-made man” that I think I’ll ever encounter.  I feel like his work ethic is abundantly clear when you realize that even his hobbies would be considered work to most people.

            Speaking of work, I had some cleaning to do.  The older I get, the more satisfying cleaning is.  It’s probably because cleaning is about the only thing that I get to do on a regular basis that yield’s instant gratification.  I can’t often see the fruits of my labor in direct proportion to my energy output.  So cleaning has become a meditative exercise on it’s own. 

Naturally, my hands would get dirty as I cleaned.  As I would study my hands, I would think about his.  I wish I could begin to comprehend what he accomplished with those hands.  He had the hands of a farmer, a carpenter, and a surgeon.  As a child, I remembered wondering why his hands were so rough, yet how it was that he was able to handle me with so much love and gentleness.

On the first day, I was sorting through everything and painting the exterior.  On the second day, I was wiping out the drawers and finishing the paint, but as I cleaned the drawers, I didn’t have music or television on.  I just imagined my grandfather getting a brand new toolbox, and I enjoyed every moment that I brought it closer to its original glory.  Mind you, this toolbox had been sitting in a garage in Memphis for 30 years, at the very least.  So despite the fact that I could never possibly rid it of all of its dust and corrosion, I was still able to abstract more joy from this hand-me-down than I could have imagined, because of it’s history.

Now, he’s slowed down considerably.  He’ll be 90-years-old this coming February.  I’m grateful for the example of hard work and ambition that I have known him to be, and I’m grateful for all of the tokens of his love that he has shared with me.  Every moment that I am able to spend with him and my grandmother is precious, and I am lucky to have so many tokens of their love.  Their spirit will abide with these gifts long after they’re gone.

We went with "Smoky Teal"

We went with "Smoky Teal"

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How Hypnosis Conquered a Snake Phobia

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How Hypnosis Conquered a Snake Phobia

Earlier this week, my beloved apprentices and I shared the first project from our new YouTube channel, Your Mindful Place.  Most of what I do with hypnosis is rather subjective, because it’s hard to consistently measure something like stress or anxiety.  Since hypnosis is so foreign to many people, we thought it might beneficial to come up with ways to demonstrate hypnosis’ power on video.  We figured conquering a phobia was going to be one of the easiest ways to do just that.

            My apprentice, Charity, had been horrified of snakes as long as she could remember.  She was telling my wife the other day that she loves running, but her phobia got so severe that it would keep her from going through parks.  She was tired of the power that the phobia had taken over her life, so she was happy to volunteer herself for the project.

            I’m fully aware that using people who are close to me compromises the integrity of the project.  Anyone could watch the video and say, “She was just pretending to be afraid because she’s his friend.”  So I wanted to be sure to explain my reasoning.  As a therapist, I feel it’s crucial that I make ethics a priority.  There are clients that I’ve had that I may feel comfortable enough to ask to help me with future projects, but for the most part, I’d rather not risk weakening the therapeutic alliances that I have already established by making my clients question my motives or the confidentiality of their treatment.  That being said, if you would like hypnosis to help you over-come a struggle, and you think it would make a good demonstration for camera, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.  You could get a free therapeutic experience out of the deal.

            We did our best not to over-prepare Charity for the experiment.  We wanted her to know it was coming, so as not to traumatize her, but we also didn’t want her to be over-prepared for the process.  It was important to get a genuine reaction out of her.  So we allowed her to know what was coming, but we didn’t let her know when.

            When she first walked to the door, I was holding the snake out of view, and our friend and producer, Brittany, was holding the camera.  When Charity saw Brittany (who happens to own the snake) with the camera, she immediately knew what was happening, and didn’t want to come into the house.  Luckily, my other apprentice (and Charity’s boyfriend), London, was there to calm her down and help her understand that it was time to conquer that feeling.

            It was crucial that I had her trust the whole time.  While I wanted to challenge her, it was important that it didn’t seem like I was rushing her.  Charity needed to know that she was going to hold the snake because she was ready and not because I forced her to do so. 

            The first thing that we did was work to measure the way that she felt.  All emotions are subjective experiences.  That’s part of what makes them so difficult to manage.  So I gave Charity a few means to objectify her fear in hopes that she would be able to see her progress as well.  In the video, I ask her how her fear is on a scale of 1-10 (she understood that 1 meant cool as a cucumber and 10 meant full blown panic).  I asked her where she felt her fear in her body, and I asked her if that feeling had a color or a temperature.  All of these variables gave her and me a more comprehensive understanding of what was going on within her mind.

            Now, the entire video was filmed over the course of two hours, and Charity went from not wanting to come into the house to holding the snake in an hour and a half’s time.  We wanted to include enough hypnotic work to give everyone a basic understanding of what was going on, but it would have been too much footage to sit through.  Also, I can’t give away all my methods on one video.  I would like to fill in the gaps, though.

            After I had her objectify her fear, I did the “Color Spin Technique” with her, and brought the snake within closer proximity to her.  Then, I had Charity close her eyes and I gave her a few other suggestions that made her more comfortable.  I brought her back and told her to remember that comfort, and still giving hypnotic suggestions, she touched the snake for just a moment.  I may have been sure to pace her, but it was really important not to rush her.

            Eventually, I proceeded to do some deeper trance work with her, much of which you saw in the video.  In the visualization that I led her though, she stood on a train track where she had to withstand the force of freight train after freight train that was loaded full of her fear.  The point of this illustration was to give her a means to learn to withstand that fear, and in the process, your unconscious learns to sever the connection between the fear and it’s stimulus. 

            Another technique I used is known as anchoring.  When I gave Charity a suggestion that specifically alluded to her inner-power, I touched her forehead.  When I gave her a suggestion that alluded to her comfort, I touched her knee.  These touches created pneumonic associations to the suggestions I was giving; or if you’d like, you could think of the touches as bullet points in an outline.

            The most helpful tool I used for Charity was her mind-body connection.  Charity happens to be a yoga instructor, so I used that to our advantage.  Whenever she was most afraid she would shrug her shoulders, scrunch her face, and hold her arms close to her body.  She was also moving further and further to the end of the couch.  As soon as I pointed this out to her, I suggested that she control her feeling of fear by controlling her feelings within her body.  When she would relax her body, the fear would almost immediately dissipate. 

            After she learned to hold onto that relaxed feeling in her body she was able to go from touching the snake, to petting the snake, to holding part of the snake, to holding the whole snake herself.  By the time we were done filming, she still wanted to play with this new, fascinating creature.  Now, you’ll catch her doodling snakes or researching pythons for sale.  Not only does charity now have power over something that disturbed her, she has a new interest.  We couldn’t be more excited about how this project ended.

            Most phobias are treated with some combination of relaxation exorcises and progressive desensitization.  Charity’s hypnotic abilities defiantly exhilarated her ability to learn.  I hope this inspires others to conquer fears of their own.

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A Hypnotherapist Reflects on the Hypnotist Principal

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A Hypnotherapist Reflects on the Hypnotist Principal

Since I began this blog, I have often attempted to keep my subject matter relevant to current events.  I noticed a story earlier today that was trending about hypnosis that I thought might be good to address.  Of course, no news is good news, so forgive me if the post comes across as at all defensive. 

            Earlier this week, a Florida school board reached a settlement with 3 families of students who had passed away shortly after they had each been hypnotized by their principal, George Kenney.  Two students committed suicide after a hypnosis session with Kenny (one the day after the session), and another student died in a car crash shortly after Kenney taught him self-hypnosis.  These events took place in 2011, and Kenney was put on leave before resigning in 2012.  The school board reached a $600,000 settlement, $200,000 for each family.

            I’ve read several news articles and done some research on hypnosis laws in Florida, and I thought I would briefly share what I have gleaned.  The investigation reported that Kenney had practiced hypnosis on at least 75 students and faculty members on issues like test taking anxiety, athletic performance, and anger management, most commonly.  Kenney claims that the students he hypnotized gave parental consent, including the 2 students who committed suicide (apparently even one of the students had a parent present during the session).  Kenney would often do presentations for classes and groups of students on the topic of hypnosis.  However, the principal’s superior claims that Kenney was ordered to stop doing hypnotherapy sessions with students.  Kenney’s lawyers claim that he was recommended that he quit hypnotizing students, but that no formal or written order was issued.  Kenney pleaded no contest, but was charged with two misdemeanors, including practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license.  He had to serve one year of probation and eventually, lost his teaching license.

            I feel like it’s important to note that, to many, Kenney was a respected member of the community.  The senior class tried to petition to have him come to their graduation, and the student body attempted to petition to have him reinstated as principal.  It’s easy for us to read a small news clip from across the country and make a judgment, but this man seemed to be loved by his school.

            It’s also important to note that while Kenney was charged with practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license, there was no evidence or reason to believe that the hypnosis played a role in causing the deaths, despite what the families’ lawyer would have you believe.  The families’ lawyer claimed that Kenney was manipulating young, impressionable minds (as if that’s not what school was all about; that’s how learning works), and the families held him responsible.  However, Kenney claimed that he had no knowledge that the 2 students had any interest in suicide, and there’s no way of proving that self-hypnosis would have anything to do with a car wreck.

            Now, don’t mistake me as speaking against the school board’s ruling.  Every state has different regulations as to how hypnosis can be practiced.  Florida requires that anyone who performs hypnosis in a therapeutic capacity be licensed by the state in some respective health field.  Most courts might agree that being a high school principal doesn’t constitute as being a health service provider.  Add on the fact that the victims in question were minors, and you have a losing case or settlement on your hands.

            That’s still not enough to hold Kenney responsible for these teenager’s deaths.  I’m not ruling out the possibility that hypnosis could be the catalyst for a death, weather accidental or self-inflicted.  Enough study of the human mind has lead me to believe that under the right (or wrong) circumstances, anyone could be coerced into doing anything, so I don’t like to rule out the possibility completely.  However, I will say that’s an incredibly difficult hypnotic suggestion to make on purpose (or much less, by accident), and I can’t imagine what motive Kenney would have had for giving such a devious suggestion. 

            Furthermore, I feel like it should be acknowledged that accidents and suicides are two of the most common causes of deaths for teenagers.  It seems like at least 96% of people he has hypnotized haven’t died yet.  On the contrary, the majority of the people he hypnotized seemed to learn a useful skill.

            The school board settling was a reasonable decision, given the laws in Florida.  It’s also important to be compassionate to the families who blame Kenney for the deaths of the three students.  It’s not uncommon that families look for a target for their blame in the midst of their grief.  I wish I could say that I was surprised that hypnosis was the target of blame, but unfortunately, it is still so unknown and misunderstood that it doesn’t surprised me to see the subject as a scapegoat.  Still, it’s a natural, uncomplicated process, and a good man’s reputation is ruined for trying to share it with others.  I guess you’ll just have to put up with these mini-rants until the world knows better!

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