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1 July 2012
Hypnosis - the answer to work-based stress

As the economy once again begins to shrink and we enter the dreaded 'double dip recession' many employees are feeling the pinch from both sides. Not only are they struggling to keep up with the ever increasing cost of living but employers are squeezing every last bit of productivity from their staff in an effort to provide 'more for less'. A quick look around websites such as shows just how widespread the problem of stress in the workplace is becoming.

Many of us are aware of the Flight/Fight Response; otherwise known as the Flight/Fight/Freeze Response or Stress Response. When faced with acute danger this response is triggered and we revert to 'Survival Mode', this ensures we react quickly and without conscious thought to deal with the danger, giving us the best chance of surviving.

However, many people are not aware that this response can be triggered by day to day life, and the effect that this has on our wellbeing.

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The human mind cannot distinguish between the sharp rise in anxiety caused by the appearance of acute danger and the gradual rise in anxiety caused by modern living. If a roaring lion were to show up on your way to work you would be fully aware of your anxiety shooting through the roof, your heart rate increasing, your stomach churning, and the sudden power you had in your legs to 'run like the wind' to escape the danger. The mind has recognised the sharp increase in anxiety, has lost Intellectual control and moved into the original Primitive area of the brain. This part of the brain is only concerned with your survival; it releases the necessary chemicals to give you the strength/power to fight or run and triggers various physiological changes to allow you to deal with the danger.

So what happens when our stress levels rise gradually? Well, the first thing to understand is that it is not necessarily the events in our life that cause our anxiety/stress to rise; it's actually the way we think about things! Let’s give you an example to demonstrate: you're driving to work in the morning when you get caught up in a traffic jam. What's your thought process in these circumstances? Possibly 'oh no, I'm going to be late; the boss is going to go mad; it's going to mess up my whole day; what if I'm stuck here for ages? What's that idiot in the car in front doing? Oh no, what if I run out of petrol before I get out of this jam? This is terrible, what if I'm stuck here all morning, oh no, what am I going to do, this has ruined my whole day.....'

Now imagine someone else coming across this traffic jam on their way to work.  Let's have a look at their thought process: 'oh no, I'm going to be late for work now. Oh well, there's nothing I can do about it, I might as well put on a good CD and have myself a really good sing while I wait'. In both circumstances the car occupants are late for work. However, one arrives with their anxiety through the roof, they are upset or aggressive when they explain the reasons why and their whole day is affected by the traffic jam; the other arrives at work with their anxiety nice and low, calm and in control, explains why they were late, apologises and re-plans their day around the late start. They have had exactly the same experience, it's their thought patterns that have affected the amount of stress they experience, and so it is in life. Of course, some situations are far more difficult to deal with in a positive manner; but the important thing is to always try to look for the 'silver lining' and so keep the anxiety levels low.

When we lose this battle with our anxiety levels and they gradually reach a certain level the Primitive mind 'steps in'. The Primitive mind has an ability to recognise the danger isn’t life threatening at this stage, but it recognises that your stress levels have increased and therefore there must be danger and acts appropriately.

So what does this look like when it's chronic anxiety rather than a sharp rise in anxiety? Let's think back to our Lion to demonstrate. If you came across that Lion, would you want your Primitive mind to be thinking 'I'm sure it's ok to stay here, I expect it's already eaten'? No, of course not, you'd want it to be thinking 'Get out NOW, you his dinner!!' The Primitive mind always thinks in the worst case scenario, it has to do this to ensure our survival. Useful for when you come across Lions or something life threatening, not so useful if it's stress in your job, your bank balance. We don’t want your primitive mind feeling it’s a worst case scenario simply on meeting a traffic jam, yet when the Primitive mind steps in as a response to chronic anxiety it tends to place a 'worst case scenario' angle on everything.

The Primitive mind also obsesses about the perceived danger. If our Lion took up residence outside our front door we would want our mind to stay focused on it; we certainly wouldn't want our mind to become distracted otherwise we may forget it's there and when we open the door to go to the shop we end up in its jaws! So, the Primitive mind obsesses about problems to protect us, again great if the problem is a Lion, not so good if it's a difficult Customer or Manager, an overloaded day or the possibility of redundancy.

So how can Hypnosis help this ever-increasing problem? A good Hypnotherapist will explain to a client exactly how our mind works in creating stress and the effect this can have on the individual and their psychological and physiological wellbeing. They would help to ensure a re-think to more positive state of thought and use Hypnosis to let the subconscious mind know this, i.e. help it recognise the danger isn’t life threatening.

Hypnosis is a state of concentrated distraction, similar to daydreaming, that allows suggestions to be put to the subconscious to ensure it is working to the same agenda as the conscious mind. Overall anxiety is reduced, making room for a more positive outlook that ensures those anxiety levels are kept low and reducing the need for the negative, obsessive Primitive mind to 'step in'.  A Solution Focused Hypnotherapist will talk about how you would like things to be rather than looking at why things are the way they are, they use Hypnosis to access and optimise all the resources you already have at your disposal subconsciously to allow change to happen. In most cases the client is able to move forward quickly and positively to a new, less stressful future that uses the Intellectual mind rather than the Primitive mind. The Intellectual mind being the one that allows calm, logical, rational, positive, goal-orientated thinking to happen!

Reproduced by kind permission of Kerri Formoso

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Hypnotherapy - Demystifying the Mystery

As life in general becomes more stressful, and our opportunities for 'de-stressing' seem to be diminishing, more and more people are suffering the types of conditions Hypnotherapy can sometimes exceed in relieving; anxiety/stress, depression, IBS, sleep problems, addictions, eating disorders, to name just a few.  Yet many suffering from these conditions do not seek the help of a Hypnotherapist, preferring often to turn to medication whether the results are what they hoped for or not.

One of the main reasons for Hypnotherapy not being sought is that it still remains a mystery for many.  One perception is that this type of therapy IS mysterious, somehow magical, and that the Hypnotherapist can somehow take over your mind and make you do things against your will.  Unfortunately this misconception is often shared by the media who love nothing more than a juicy Hypnosis story that appears to uphold these incorrect beliefs.

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The first step to demystifying Hypnotherapy is to understand that Hypnosis is a completely natural state.  We actually go into a Hypnotic state several times a day, in fact there is evidence to suggest we spend large parts of our day in this natural state!  How many times have you got to work in your car and had no recollection of driving there? (Of course, you would have been immediately aware had another car suddenly pulled out on you).  How many times have you been preparing a meal, listening to the radio, thinking about your day, with only half an ear on the story your child is telling you about what happened in school that day? However, if your child suddenly announced little 'Johnny' had punched them in the tummy you would become immediately fully aware of the story.  How many times does your mind wander to what you would do if you became the winner of the enormous Euro Millions Jackpot?

In all these instances you were in a Hypnotic trance!  The only difference between this and the state you enter when receiving Hypnotherapy is possibly the depth of trance, and the content.  During Hypnotherapy the Hypnotherapist guides you through a relaxation process similar to that practiced in yoga or meditation, and then will usually encourage you to imagine pleasant places or images - my favourites are a sun drenched white beach with palm trees and a hammock, with the ocean sparkling like a million diamonds as the sun glances off the tops of the waves as they gently lap the edge of the sand; or a country garden, lush and green where your feet sink into the moist, springy grass, the song of distant birds fill your ears and the fragrance of hundreds upon hundreds of beautifully coloured flowers fill your entire being......As your mind fills with these wonderful images the Hypnotherapist continues to talk to you about your goals, your hopes, your dreams, reminding you of the beliefs your 'real self' has - rather than the self-doubt or negative belief system many people habitually live with.  Quite often the Hypnotherapist will tell you a nice story - much like the ones we were told as children when parents and teachers wanted to teach us not to 'cry wolf', or to 'work hard or you may end up living in a house that could get blown away by a wolf', or to not 'talk to wolves in the forest' (funny how so many wolves appear in these stories, as adults we tend to have our own wolves to deal with in day to day life!)

Generally the belief is held by the general public that for Hypnosis to work the subject must be in a near sleep state - it would therefore surprise the majority to learn that the University of Liege in Belgium have carried out many operations using Hypnosis instead of general anaesthetic and the patients are fully aware of their surroundings and the people around them at all times!  It is only necessary for the subject to be in a relaxed, focussed state (i.e. Hypnotised), for the treatment to be successful.

Mystery solved!!  Hypnotherapy is the client relaxing; listening to gentle music; imagining pleasant images and listening whilst the Hypnotherapist makes positive suggestions to you and often tells you a story!

Generally speaking, a good Hypnotherapist will also de-mystify the mind as well by explaining how it works to the client.  An understanding of how and why we develop the problems/conditions/addictions etc that we have is often a huge relief.  “I'm so glad you explained that to me - I no longer feel like some kind of freak/abnormal/silly for having my problem now that I know this” are often repeated comments made by clients.  This by itself is a great step towards resolving the issue and making sure it stays resolved.

When visiting a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist a typical session is usually made up of half talk, half Hypnosis.  The talking part explores what you would like to achieve, how you would like to achieve this, what skills/knowledge/abilities you already have awareness of that will help you achieve your goals and the life you'd prefer for yourself.  We then use Hypnosis to make sure your subconscious is working to the same agenda that your conscious mind is, by making the suggestions you, as the client, have come up with during the talking part.

Is this Mysterious? Magical? Mind Controlling?  Of course's what we do every day of our lives but done in a more focused, productive way.

... Of course, many that have experienced Hypnotherapy would say the results are Magical... but I'll let you make your own mind up about that since only YOU can be the boss of your own mind!

Article reproduced by kind permission of Kerri Formoso HPD DHP (

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The Solution Focused Approach to Hypnotherapy

by Kay Cook

Milton H Erickson: The Inspiration

The history to solution focused therapy is a fascinating one and many people do not realise that it was inspired by the work of the very famous American psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Milton H Erickson.  The life story of this gentleman is a huge inspiration and is of its own accord an illustration of the power of a solution focused mind.  Erickson battled the paralysing affects of polio not once but twice having very unusually contracted the condition twice, the first time when he was a high school graduate.  

When he heard the doctor tell his mother “the boy will be dead by morning” Erickson mustered an instinctive solution focused response to the news. He became infuriated but quickly calmed himself and requested his mother to move a piece of furniture to enable him to see the view from the window better.  If his demise really was imminent he was certainly going to enjoy the best possible view!

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Erickson regarded the time he spent confined to bed with only the senses of sight and hearing to entertain him as an education.  He learnt to be an observer of human movement, intention, thought, expression and achievement.  This close observation awakened in him the interest and understanding of unconscious patterns which were to become his future.

He would lay in bed visualising what it would be like to walk, noting the smallest of mechanics which were the cogs in the machine of the act of walking.  Unwittingly he activated the rehearsal room of his mind as he went over and over the small changes which would be the beginning of standing and of walking, skills which he went on to regain.  

Even then Erickson was sowing the seeds of utilisation by locating inner resources gathered in other times and other experiences and applying them in this new context.  He qualified as a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist rapidly acquiring a reputation for what came to be known as his “teaching tales” and metaphors.  He would often succeed therapeutically with cases where his colleagues had failed to create positive change. 

Naturally Erickson’s work was observed by many therapists who sought to recreate his success.  Grindler and Bandler were inspired by some aspects of his work and created NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming).  Most hypnotherapists today incorporate some NLP techniques in their work.  

Solution Focused Brief Therapy: The Beginning

Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg (a married couple) became the originators of Solution Focused Brief Therapy when they created the Brief Therapy Centre in Malwaukee, USA.  They were soon joined by Yvonne Dolan and others.  The solution focused approach was radical in that it was solution rather than problem focused; thus clients were enabled to move from a problem centred mindset to a solution focused mindset.  The approach is client centred, non-judgemental and solutions are often not linked to the problem in a direct way.  For example, a client who found playing tennis improved her ability to concentrate as work and her social life!

The Brief Therapy Centre dealt mainly with family problems which had often become very complex over time.  It was a revelation for the therapist to be able to ask each family member present what they would see as improvement, how would they recognise that improvement and what changes those small changes which were the beginnings of improvement would bring to others close to them.  In this way the Client would shift from problem formation mode into solution formation mode. 

The originators of The Brief Therapy Centre used the therapy for a wide range of problems including depression, behavioural problems, addiction, family and relationship problems, anxiety, self-harm, phobia and stress related issues.  Solution focused Brief Therapy spread to Europe and the UK with BRIEF being formed in London.

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy

When hypnotherapists began to be trained in the Solution Focused Approach the circle of inspiration had really turned full circle linking back to Milton H Erickson the hypnotherapist who inspired Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg!  

Within the last ten years the number of hypnotherapists who have been trained in this approach in the UK has greatly increased.  The approach is flexible and is as applicable to working with anxiety, phobia or depression as it is to exam performance or public speaking.  Indeed the approach has been used successfully to maximise sporting performance both at the recreational and world championship level.   I trained in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy at the Clifton Practice in Bristol in 2006 knowing the approach would be compatible with the evolutionary understanding of the mind which had interested me for many years.  

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy: What to expect

a) Time spent discussing problem formation to be limited to understanding the difference between operating in problem formation mode and solution formation mode.

b) The formation or origin of a problem to be explained in terms of how the brain works.  The influence of thinking styles will be discussed.

c)  The therapist presumes you have inner strengths, potential, resources, creativity and life skills which you are not yet utilising.

d) Hypnotherapy is used in every session to lower anxiety, help you into solution focused mode and create the changes you identify at subconscious level with greater ease and rapidity.  A CD is usually provided for use at home.

e) In second and subsequent sessions the therapist will ask you what has been different, what has been better even in very small ways and what might other people have noticed.

f)  Creativity is increased and positive happy memories are accessed spontaneously and far more often.

g) Playfulness, lightness, laughter and creativity to be present.

h) Therapy is non-judgemental, encourages mindfulness and is respectful of your own wisdom.

j) Homework experiments are suggested by therapist with clients being invited to add their own.  If a client wishes to substitute their own homework experiment for the one suggested that is welcomed. 

k) NLP techniques will be used by most therapists in some circumstances particularly where phobic or compulsive responses are present.

The Solution Focused Mind

Before we look at how and why this is so let us take a moment to look at why the problem focused mind is so unhelpful.   

The Problem with a Problem Focused Mind 

When we feel threatened we run the ancient fight, flight or freeze response which kept our ancestors safe and is a valuable response in dangerous situations but this response is our “emergency button“.  When we perceive a non-dangerous threat in modern life we still press our emergency button if our anxiety is at a high enough level when the  following will occur:-

a) Our left brain capacity including our language faculty is greatly diminished and is calibrated to search for anything else which could go wrong (akin to a stone age man looking for more dangers).

b) The creative potential of the right brain is calibrated towards spotting more threats becoming ever more hypervigilant and creating more anxiety.  Pattern matches to memories where an emotional not a logical match are made.  This system of illogical pattern matching is very active in sowing the seeds of phobic responses or simply those times when we say to ourselves “I can‘t“.  Evolutionary this emotional matching system is useful.  For example, when a child burns itself for the first time it learns to be cautious around all sources of heat not just the one which caused the burn. It is emotional matching and feeling anxious too close to heat which allows the child to learn without the need for repeat burns.  It is easy to see how helpful this response is in dealing with physical danger but how unhelpful when dealing with most 21st century threats.

c)  In this mode the subconscious mind does what it did to keep our ancestors safe - it will reference back making an emotional match to the past.  In this mode we are recycling a program and are not innovative thinkers - for innovative thinking we need to be in solution focused mode.  

The benefits of The Solution Focused Mind

a) Our left brain intellectual and language capacity are fully available to us and are calibrated to deal with problems and make the most of life.  We can train the left brain to take control in this way which includes the capacity to put itself in standby mode whilst we do something purely creative.  We deal with things instead of sweeping them under the carpet.  In solution focused hypnotherapy we greatly increase this capacity.  

b) The holistic mind: The full creative positively focused potential of the right brain is available to us and working in synergy with the left brain.  The left brain is able to go into positive standby mode whenever the positively focused imagination of the right brain is the better resource to problem solve or enjoy life.  Anxiety levels are kept low ensuring our automatic thoughts are positive ones!

c) The subconscious mind will create and keep updating new positive reactions and thoughts to help us as we live our lives.  Our thoughts are both realistic and inspiring.  The mind working in synergy in this way can be awesome machine.


We produce lots of wonderful serotonin which allows us to feel we are equal to and coping with the challenges of life.  There are hundreds of neurotransmitters but it would seem that serotonin is the “key in the door” of positive neurotransmission.  Major players in the neurotransmission cycle are serotonin, noradrenalin and dopamine.  Serotonin helps us to cope with life, noradrenalin is a motivating factor so we create successful action and when we feel successful we create dopamine which leads to more serotonin - so as you can see solution focusing is an important tool within therapy but also a skill for life.  

When our neurotransmission operates properly we cope with life better and this also has physical benefits. When we generate the proper chemicals we deal with long term conditions including chronic pain better and we sleep better.  Our parasympathetic nervous system is in control which means we are calmer physically with lower blood pressure, better immune function, better digestion and many other improved functions.  Evolutionarily we are meant to have our parasympathetic nervous system in control most of the time as our bodies work better and age more slowly that way - to do that in modern life we need to focus on solutions.  The sympathetic nervous system is there to be activated by our emergency button in dangerous situations - it was designed for infrequent use and rapid resolution with a return to intellectual and parasympathetic nervous system control.  By focusing on the solution we are creating the equivalent of that rapid resolution!”

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and Neuroscience:  Some Supportive Research

Day dreaming is what the brain gets up to when it is not occupied by anything in particular.  Marcus Rachie, a neuroscientist at Washington University, St Louis has carried out a lot of research into this area.  It had been established that the brain uses a huge amount of energy in proportion to its dimension using even more than the heart and he wanted to know what caused such a high usage.

He carried out studies into this area of the brain which utilised so much energy which fires up whenever the brain is otherwise unoccupied.  In doing so he discovered a new functional system within the brain - default mode. 

Guilio Tononi of The University of Wisconsin-Madison was very excited by this stating “it’s not very frequent that a new functional system is identified in the brain…”   Some neuroscientist assign the his new functional system the role of selecting memories and mulling over future possibilities and combining them into a personal narrative.  

Rachie also used PET to find brain areas associated with words and noted that these areas active at rest became quiet as soon as the person began physical activity.  In 1997 these results were collaborated by Gordon Shulman and he and Rachie published a joint paper in 2001 positing they had discovered a hitherto unrecognised default mode which the brain only sets aside when it focuses on something else.  This work led Rachie to speculate that the default network might provide the brain with an “inner rehearsal” for future actions and choices.  This concept fits in very nicely with the model of the mind that we work from as SFBTHyp in which the imagination is the rehearsal room of life.  In SFBTHyp we assist the client to operate the power of choice by setting the default mode to work in solution focused mode.      

As far as hypnosis goes the work of Woolley went further positing that brain studies including PET and EEG’s have shown the involvement of the anterior cingulated cortex, the thalamus and brainstem (ponto-mesencephalic) to be involved in the production of hypnotic experiences.  The anterior cingulated cortex is active in novelty detection and dissociation from sensory input.  Woolley notes “A conceptual framework has been proposed which integrates neurophysiology, systems thinking and psychology, as complementary factors in hypnosis (citing Hasegawa and Jameson 2002)”.  As hypnotherapists we have long since understood that hypnosis is both associative and disassociative allowing us to let go of unwanted response patterns and to install new preferred responses, it is good that we now understand how this operates within the brain. 

Written by and copyright belonging to Kay Cook Solution Focused Hypnotherapist of Bath

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New AfSFH Website

The new AfSFH website has been officially launched!

Over the coming months we will quickly add content to this site, including further information on Solution Focused Hypnotherapy; member benefits for hypnotherapists; informative articles and much more.

Please revisit soon!

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