With an increasing emphasis within the psychotherapy profession to pay more attention to what’s right with people rather than what’s wrong with them, the very first lesson one learns when studying hypnosis takes on a new significance:
What you focus on you amplify.
Do we as mental health professionals want to focus on pathology or wellness? Is the goal of treatment to decrease pathology or weakness, or to expand strength? These are not merely semantic issues. On the contrary, how one responds to a client’s distress and organizes therapeutic intervention is broadly based on whether one strives to identify and address client weaknesses or strengths.
In this sense, hypnosis can be thought of as the original positive psychology. Indeed, well before the term “Positive Psychology” was coined, pioneering psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson, M.D., as early as the 1940s, was writing about the need to pay more attention to and thereby amplify peoples’ strengths.
Erickson is often described as the most creative and influential clinician (as opposed to theorist) of the 20th century, and it is hardly a coincidence that so many of his innovative contributions directly involved insightful applications of clinical hypnosis.
Anyone who practices clinical hypnosis does so with the firmly entrenched and therapeutically invaluable belief that people have many more abilities than they consciously realize. Hypnosis engenders an entirely optimistic appraisal of people such that therapy gets organized around the belief that people can discover and develop the very resources within themselves they need to improve.
Hypnosis creates an amplified, energized, high-powered context for people to explore, discover, and use more of their innate abilities.
Hypnosis isn’t the therapy, and hypnosis itself cures nothing. Rather, hypnosis is the vehicle for empowering people with the abilities and realizations that ultimately can help them. It isn’t the experience of hypnosis itself that’s therapeutic, it’s what happens during hypnosis in terms of developing new and helpful associations. The study of hypnosis, then, involves a process of discovering what latent capacities are accessible in the experience of hypnosis, and how to bring them forth at the times and places they will best serve the client. It truly is a positive psychology in practice.