Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Transformation Via Trance Formation: Using Hypnosis to Accelerate Change

Milton Erickson, M.D. was a pioneer of brief approaches to psychotherapy, making use of hypnosis techniques to accelerate change.  "You use hypnosis not as a cure," he observed, "but as a favorable climate in which to learn."  His work stood traditional therapy on its head.  Instead of using insight as a means to promote change, he employed hypnosis to directly instill new behavior patterns.  "Change will lead to insight," he insisted, "more often that insight will lead to change."

Recent neuroscience research into hypnosis suggests that it represents a distinctive state of consciousness.  Specifically, hypnosis is associated with activation of attention and deactivation of "default mode" functions such as self-awareness and semantic thought.  It is as if the person in a hypnotic induction intensifies their focus at the same time that they shut off their active reasoning.  This has made hypnosis particularly useful as a treatment for pain, as it enables us to process the experience differently, where we no longer identify with the discomfort.

One of Erickson's most provocative ideas is that hypnosis is a naturally occurring state of consciousness and does not require formal induction processes.  Indeed, in his therapy, Erickson commonly told stories, often of a complex and even confusing nature, that held listeners' attention and helped them think differently about their problems.  His goal was to allow change to occur naturally and indirectly by changing people's views of their problems, including the language they used to describe their experience.

A classic Ericksonian therapy described by Jay Haley was his single session treatment of a patient's insomnia.  He encouraged the insomniac to get out of bed when he couldn't sleep and meticulously scrub his apartment floor with a toothbrush to get the floor perfectly clean.  When the patient had tried to make himself sleep, of course, his efforts only heightened his awareness of his problem.  When he scrubbed the floor, however, he became so bored with the task--and so focused away from his problem--that his natural tiredness took over.

When we become absorbed in a task, we enter a state very similar to hypnotic trance.  It appears that the flow state associated with creativity--the state of being "in the zone" familiar to traders--is actually a form of trance.  Just as cancer patients can disconnect from their pain through the focused attention of hypnosis, it may be possible for any of us to disconnect from unwanted behavior patterns by shifting our conscious state.  Similarly, we may best acquire desired patterns--including the patterns of markets--when we are in a flow state of enhanced cognitive processing.

Traditional therapies and coaching interventions have tended to emphasize verbal communication and conscious reflection on one's problems.  It may well be the case, however, that change occurs most efficiently when we are in an alternative mode of processing that facilitates the internalization of new patterns.  Staying in a single state of consciousness keeps us locked in our routine modes of viewing and doing.  What Erickson realized is that it takes a gear shift of consciousness to help people process experience in new ways.  Trance formation may be the hidden key to transformation:  first we change, then we achieve insight.

Further Reading:  Why Controlling Emotions Should Not Be a Goal of Trading Psychology