Hypnosis, Ericksonian Hypnotherapy
and Aikido – Part 4

Note: This is part 4 of 5 of the original article published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis – Volume 34, November 4, April 1992 by Michael Samko, Ph.D and Rod Windle, Ph.D

Erickson, Therapist, Trance and Centering

In observing Erickson at work, often many of his physiological responses were synchronous with those of his patients. Erickson’s body, voice, and breathing would change as hypnotic induction progressed. His eyes could appear trance-like and unfocused during teaching sessions as well. Students described the sensation that he was looking through them. Like the Aikido master, Erickson used specific states of mind and body to become tuned into the subtleties of perception. Erickson, discussing the therapist trance with Rossi, recollects:

In doing experimental hypnotic work with a subject in the laboratory, I would notice what we were all alone. The only thing present was the subject, the physical apparatus I was using to graph their behavior and myself… I discovered I was in a trance with my subject… At the present time, if I have any doubts about my capacity to see the important things, I go into trance. When there’s a crucial issue with a patient and I don’t want to miss any of the clues, I go into trance. (Erickson & Rossi, 1977, p. 42)

Stephen Gilligan (1987) outlines a procedure for the development of shared or therapist trance. He includes a section on eye contact that is similar to the Aikidoist’s soft eyes, speaks of the need to breathe regularly and without constriction, covers the need to release internal tension, and, in general, covers many aspects of the Aikido centered state.

Other therapists, such as Rogers (1961), Freud (1915), and Deikman (1982), have occasionally addressed the issue of the therapist’s internal state, sometimes in ways that have similarity to the centered state and sometimes in ways that sound quite different. However, the state-specific mental or physical attributes of the therapist have not been a major focus of study or concern.

Essential Components of Aikido: Blending

Blending has been described briefly as the flowing together of the Aikidoist’s energy (ki) with that of the attacker. Blending in Aikido is very similar to utilization in trance induction or therapy.

Haley (1967) defined Erickson’s concept of utilization as an initial acceptance and ready cooperation with the patient’s presenting behavior, no matter how adverse the behavior might appear. Therapy thus becomes a process of accepting the patient’s way of functioning (though not necessarily agreeing with it) and simultaneously helping the patient forge a new direction. An apt metaphor that describes this process is diverting a river or stream so the river’s own force is used to cut a new channel. Haley quotes from Erickson’s “A Hypnotic Technique for Resistant Patients”.

There are many types of difficult patients who seek psychotherapy and yet are openly hostile, antagonistic, resistant, defensive and present every appearance of being unwilling to accept the therapy they have come to seek . . . such resistance should be openly accepted, in fact, graciously accepted, since it is a vitally important communication of a part of their problems and often can be used as an opening into their defenses. This is something which the patient does not realize; rather, he may be distressed emotionally since he often interprets his behavior as uncontrollable, unpleasant, and uncooperative rather than as an informative exposition of his important needs. The therapist who is aware of this, particularly if well skilled in hypnotherapy, can easily and often quickly transform these often seemingly uncooperative forms of behavior into good rapport, a feeling of being understood and an attitude of hopeful expectancy of successfully achieving the goals being sought. (Haley, 1967, p.536)

In Aikido blending, the energy of an opponent’s attack is never resisted or rejected. The Aikidoist takes the mental position of welcoming the attack, both as an opportunity to restore harmony and as a chance to practice the art. An important reframing takes place in the mind of the Aikidoist: The usual notion of an attack being frightening or dangerous is replaced by an acceptance and appreciation, like that described in the preceding quotation. In both cases, the practitioner views resistance not as a problem one wishes would go away, but rather as essential “raw energy” that can lead to ultimate solutions.

This acceptance of resistance means that one must remain flexible to adapt to what is occurring. Rigidity in an Aikidoist’s blending process only serves to limit the range of response. Incomplete blending in Aikido will result in flawed technique, because it does not completely utilize the attacker’s energy in the throw. An induction or therapeutic intervention may likewise be flawed if it does not involve utilization of the patient’s own inner abilities and needs; the intervention may turn into a clash of goals at some point in therapy. Similarly, Ericksonian practitioners hold that production of hypnotic trance is most efficient if the mental processes, images, and timings of the patient are utilized, rather than having images described or being told what to do.


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