Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating interviews Dr. Steven Gurgevich, a psychologist specializing in mind-body medicine using Clinical Hypnosis. He has over 41 years of experience with his private practice at Behavioral Medicine Ltd. In Tucson, Arizona. In this interview, you’ll hear how powerful your mind is and how your body does not differentiate from real or imagined experiences. Learn to use modalities like hypnosis to retrain your mind to use it as a tool to empower your mind-body connection.
Marc: Welcome, everybody. I’m Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and here we are back in The Future of Healing Online Conference. I am here with just a wonderful gentleman, practitioner, thought leader, Dr. Steven Gurgevich. Welcome, my friend!
Steven: Welcome to you, Marc. I’m glad to be here with you.
Marc: Same here. Let me brag about you for a minute or two, and then we’re going to launch in.
Dr. Steven is a psychologist specializing in mindbody medicine. He’s the Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine and Director of the MindBody Clinic with Dr. Andrew Weil’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Steven continues his 41 years of private practice at Behavioral Medicine Ltd. In Tucson, Arizona. He is a fellow, approved consultant, and faculty of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Other memberships include Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, American Psychological Association, and lots more.
You’ve been doing this work. You’ve been in the trenches on a clinical level, on a teaching level for quite some time. I’m just wondering if you can start us out how you got on the journey of hypnosis, mindbody medicine, working with patients. What happened?
Steven: Well, it was quite by accident, actually. I was 14 years old working as a stock boy in a bank in downtown Gary, Indiana. After work one day, I went upstairs above one of the department stores and there was a radio station. I wanted to see what went on in a radio station, and they had a conversation—a dialogue and I watched through a glass pane. They had a medium, a psychic, but they had a hypnotist there, sort of a creepy looking fella. The question was posed to him, “Can you hypnotize anyone?” He turned around and saw me in the glass pane watching, and he said, “Yes, I can even hypnotize him,” and he pointed at me and it just scared the heck out of me, and I ran out of there.
On my way home, I went past the public library and it scared me enough that I went in and asked the librarian, “What is this hypnosis?” I was really blessed. She pulled out a
twovolume set called Medical Hypnosis, written in the 1940’s by Lewis Wolberg at the medical institute in New York. That taught me how to produce my own anesthesia when I went to the dentist, how to overcome my needle phobia, how to improve test taking, and then it was 10 years later I was in graduate school and I started having disabling panic attacks. When the psychiatrist and psychologist that I was seeing said, “It’s only stress,” I thought, “Wow! How could you go through pharmacy and all these other undergraduate programs and never hear it mentioned,” but it led me to going back to my training in hypnosis, selfhypnosis for me, and applying it to the anxiety and panic attacks and it worked great.
I immediately changed my curriculum in graduate school and put together a lovely blend of psychology, sociology, medicine, rehabilitation to create what, at that time, was called “behavioral medicine.” That’s when biofeedback was first coming out and evolving in the early 70’s, which we call it mindbody medicine now, but I’ve been obsessed with it, the mindbody connection since.
Over the years, I’ve done biofeedback and a variety of other methods, but I still find hypnosis to be really the fast track, the easiest, the fastest, the most expedient way to access the mindbody connection for healing and for therapeutic. That’s how I got into it and I’m still into it, and yeah, still very much into it. That’s pretty much all I do.
Marc: Yeah, so I want to underline something that you just said for one moment, and I’m going to paraphrase a little bit. You said that through all the work that you’ve done in mindbody medicine, that you found that hypnosis is sort of the fastest inroad into that mindbody connection. I think in a perfect world if there was a different term or we can just kind of wash away whatever people associate when they hear the term “hypnosis,” we could all start from a great place, and yet here we are with this kind of—there’s a little bit of a cultural coloring of the term. I’m wondering if you can set us straight and explain, really, in a basic way, what exactly is hypnosis? How does it work and how do we kind of separate it out from what I think a lot of people think of when they see the Las Vegas show?
Steven: Certainly. You’re absolutely right. I mean going back to when the term was coined. The word hypnosis came from a fellow named de Cuvillers in Paris or in France. That was a time when John Elliotson, the fellow who brought the stethoscope to England, created the first hypnotic hospital, hypnosis hospital in London and the first medical journal on medical hypnosis. But very rapidly a late population latched on to it, turned it
into entertainment, much like stage hypnotists do now, and it just colored it or stained it with the illusions that stage hypnotists frequently rely upon.
So that’s the biggest obstacle or the first obstacle I have to deal with everyone is how they’ve been colored—the word has been colored. The myths and misconceptions about hypnosis are that it’s done to somebody. Somebody gets hypnotized. I tell the patients I work with, “Hey, I’ve been doing this for 41, going on 42 years now. I’ve never hypnotized anyone anymore so than I could have meditated them or yoga’d them.” It’s not done to somebody. All hypnosis is really selfhypnosis.
I know when people ask Belleruth Naparstek and myself, “Well, what’s the difference between hypnosis and guided imagery?” I really admire her for using that word instead of hypnosis because she doesn’t have to swim against as much current as I do with the word hypnosis. We’ll both say there’s no difference. They’re the same thing.
Any of the mindbody methods that rely on thoughts and images and pictures to send messages of our intentions through our subconscious or bodymind or mindbody, moreover. That’s it. There’s no going under. There’s no loss of consciousness, no loss of control. In fact, it’s a heightened form of control and it’s not done to anyone. But it is a relaxed or passive form of concentration almost identical to a daydream. But when we’re in a daydream, we might be staring with our eyes open. We’re seeing, but we’re not looking. We’re hearing, but we’re not necessarily listening and we can stare with all of our senses. That’s why it’s so valuable for pain, where we’re helping people with pain problems because if they can stare with the tactile kinesthetic sense of feeling touch, you don’t feel parts of the body that may be having a procedure or undergoing a healing after a bad injury or burn.
The reality is that when somebody is doing hypnosis, even when they’re in a deep state of hypnosis, they’re fully aware of where they are, what they’re doing, but they’re more absorbed within their own thoughts and ideas, which are carefully crafted to be images and ideas for healing, comfort, performance. As I tell them, “Your thoughts are things. You can’t see them, but you know you have them and those thoughts are sending—are resonating throughout this community of 10 trillion cells, living cells of the body, so that they begin thinking the same intention, the same message.” That’s pretty much, in a nutshell, my quick version of, “Here’s what hypnosis really is.”
Marc: Yeah, and I love that nutshell. I’m wondering if there’s some useful, simple science that can help us understand what the mechanism might be, just for the mind to chew on here. How does science say this works? Or how might it hypothesize that hypnosis works?
Steven: Well, there are a lot of competing theories about that, and I would say 40 years ago we thought it was one thing. It turns out to be another, but we now have functional PET scans, functional MRIs that show that there’s activity going on in different locations within the brain that are very, very consistent with what the suggestion is. If you’re suggesting to somebody that they’re turning off their right foot so they don’t feel anything or their right foot is asleep, you can touch their right foot and the part of the brain where the right foot would ordinary light up on touch doesn’t light up.
Or you can tell somebody you’re touching their right foot with a nail, and it’s a real sharp nail, and even though you’re not touching them at all, the brain lights up as if they were being touched. For me, what it did was validate something I’ve been saying to people for years is that this mind of our body, we’ll call it a subconscious because it’s beneath our thinking level of awareness, this mind of body or bodymind cannot tell the difference between what is real and what we imagine.
Think of the times when you’ve been frightened by something or worried about something, and it turned out the thing that you were afraid of wasn’t scary at all. It wasn’t what you thought it was, but your body reacted as if it was real because that mind of body isn’t the thinking mind, but it does resonate or vibrate to those thoughts and intentions that we have consciously in mind.
Marc: What you just said to me is so profound and that is that the brain isn’t distinguishing between the real and the unreal, but it’s operating as if it’s real.
Marc: That’s phenomenal!
Steven: I worked parttime at one of the IBM plants here in Tucson, Arizona and typically they were stressrelated disorders, and the physicians in the department would send the engineers to me to teach them some relaxation techniques with hypnosis for stress. The male engineers, in particular, the male engineers were the ones that really—and
having gone to Purdue University, I’m familiar with working with engineers and come from that background. The first thing I’d have to do with them as they’re telling me, “I don’t know why I’m talking to you. I’ve got bronchitis or I’ve got irritable bowel syndrome or I have headaches.” I’d say, “Now let’s just go sit outside. It’s June in Tucson. Temperatures are 105. We’ll sit under a shade tree.” It’s a dry heat, so in the shade, it’s still 105, but it’s hot, but not unbearable. I’ll have them close their eyes, and with their eyes closed, I’ll have them imagine, “You’re back in Poughkeepsie or Rochester, New York. It’s winter. It’s the coldest day you’ve ever felt. You came to work in a sports jacket. By the time you get off work, a blizzard is moving through New York State.”
As they’re imagining and I’m coaching them with their eyes closed, this cold, this bitter cold, when I see goose bumps on their arms, I ask them, “Open your eyes, look at your arms, and tell me did those goose bumps come from 105degree shade where we’re sitting or did it come from what you put in your mind?” Usually, that’s all it takes. Then they got it. That’s why biofeedback is so helpful for the nonbeliever because it shows them if you think of someone who makes you angry, you see changes in heart rate, muscle tension, other measures that we can sense or measure with equipment. Does that answer your question?
Marc: Absolutely. On a practical level, I go to someone who practices clinical/medical hypnosis. What might some of the techniques look like?
Steven: Well, first off, they would probably want to do an assessment and they would do that probably pretty quickly with you by talking with you to make sure that there’s not something that would say, “This is not somebody to do—this is somebody where you don’t want to do hypnosis.” People with serious or severe mental disorders, you want to treat them very carefully and you don’t want to dive into doing hypnosis with them or refer them to somebody who deals with that. But if they basically just have some kind of functional complaint, irritable bowel, for example, asthma, it might be first answering their questions, dispelling the myths and misconceptions we talked about just a few minutes ago, and then having them just basically learn to get a feel for what it’s like when they deliberately, intentionally produce a daydream.
They might be sitting in a chair in my office and I’ll have them close their eyes and maybe notice their breath for a while. Then I’ll suggest, “Perhaps you might discover that if you think about your arms becoming heavy and relaxed, they may become
heavy. As I’m talking about how heavy your arms are becoming as they relax, for you, they might be becoming weightless or floating.” You’ll discover what changes first as you begin directing your attention inward, for that is giving a power to the message that your mindbody is listening to within your own thoughts and ideas.
I might suggest you’re on a beach and it’s a warm, sandy beach with a safe, gentle sunlight, but you might be picturing an alpine meadow up in the mountains because that’s more comforting to you, and you don’t like beaches and sand. They first discover that they’re totally in control of the experience. My role is only to be a guide, a guide that basically knows how to be a good guide to help them have an experience that gives them the experience of physical alterations, alterations in perception, that cause physiological changes in their body consistent with their goals. That would be—pretty much goes on—what happens within the first session within my office.
Then often, by the end of the session, I’ll make it more of a—once I know more personal information, it’ll be more formalized in that I’ll teach them a very specific—maybe we’ll call it a hypnotic induction method or hypnotic induction technique such as stare at a spot on the wall or follow your breathing or releasing thumb and finger with a breath. They’re allas I tell the patients, they’re all just starting points. That’s another word for hypnotic induction methods. They’re starting points on a gentle journey into the center of yourself.
Then I’ll record the entire 25, 30minute experience so they can take it home and rehearse and practice, because we know that it takes about 21 days or more to create a habit. We do know—your earlier question you asked about what’s the mechanism going on. We do know there’s a neuroplasticity effect. People that repeat any activity develop a new learned pattern within brain, new circuit, so to speak and brain is being created that, in many cases, we want to use to replace a previous pattern of discomfort or illness or some abhorrent symptom.
They’ll take that home and for 21 days they’re basically rehearsing. If we rehearse anything, pretty soon the mindbody just does it. You drive home from work and you don’t tell your feet what to do. They work the pedals for you. You ride a bicycle. You don’t have to tell your hands how to hold the handlebars or steer it or use a pencil or a keyboard. This mindbody knowledge or wisdom comes about from rehearsal.
We learn hypnosis through the experience of hypnosis. A book won’t do it. You have to have the experience because that’s what it’s learned from. You can give somebody an encyclopedia on bicycle riding. It won’t teach them to ride a bike. Same thing with an encyclopedia on sodium chloride, table salt. But if you put some of that salt on their tongue, they know it forever. The same thing with hypnosis. If you have that experience of what it’s like to be so in control from within, it’s very empowering. It’s very motivating to use it and apply it, particularly when you can see results so rapidly. That’s pretty much what goes on in an office or in a clinic where some practitioners using hypnosis for—to introduce hypnosis for possible therapeutic modality.
Marc: Dr. Steven, as you were speaking, I was thinking how on one level, it sounds like what you’re doing, what we’re doing with these techniques is giving people another way to train them to use the process of mind. Nobody ever really necessarily sat me down and said, “Okay, Marc. Here’s how you use your mind as a tool. Here are some of the tricks you can do.” I sort of de facto learned, “Here’s how you do math,” or maybe, “Here’s how you memorize things so you can take a test and do well,” but you’re basically teaching tools and techniques that allow people to start to harness the power of the mind in ways that they just probably never tried before.
Steven: That’s right. Every one of us has talents, skills, gifts within us that are undiscovered. If you ask somebody, “Do you play the clarinet?” Their first response might be, “No, I don’t.” But that person with a little bit of rehearsal and some guidance can learn to play the clarinet. The talent is within them. Do you know how to lower your blood pressure? Do you know how to increase the peristalsis or wave through the elementary canal, the digestive tract? No. Well, I’ll show you. I’ll teach you so that you can slow it down or speed it up, depending on what the issue is, diarrhea or constipation.
Every one of us has talents and abilities that are undiscovered, and it really is empowering. I guess that’s what got me so hooked on it. It’s not just individuals that have an illness that it’s beneficial for, but some of the performers, musicians, opera singers, baseball players, athletes. It’s delightful to work with them because their motivation is so high. They want to do better. They want to do well and they want to do it even better than before, so they’re highly motivated. They’re not looking for something out there to do it for them like a pill or a diet or something. They’ve learned to rely on themselves, and that’s what’s happening with the hypnosis. It’s very empowering. We teach it to somebody and it’s like teaching them how to ride a bike.
Once you know how to ride a bike, the next question is, “Where do you want to go? Where would you like to be comfortable going?”
Marc: Okay, so on that note, where do we want to go? I know one of the sort of tools in your toolkit when it comes to hypnosis has been looking at people’s relationship with food and their body. Things like weight and things like the habits that we have around eating, and I know you’ve even written a very interesting book on the topic. I’m just wondering if you can just share some of your experience in the field of the usefulness of clinical hypnosis when it comes to things like working with weight, when it comes to pieces like working with my unwanted habits with food.
Steven: Mmhmm. I’d be happy to. I think it’s very helpful for individuals that are struggling with some type of weight or eating behavior that they don’t like. So much of our eating we just take for granted. People aren’t trained to eat. They learn to eat based on the family they come from and where they went to school, and sort of by default, what they had time to eat, when they had time to eat, and what they could afford to eat and without necessarily being mindful of making good, wise choices about nutrition. Certainly the medical students and residents I work with, I mean they have a voracious appetite for nutrition because they barely get an hour of it in the whole medical school training.
But getting back to your question. There are several ways that hypnosis is useful for people with weight problems, eating problems. One is to once you’ve taught them how to do hypnosis or they learn how to do it, whether it’s through one of our books or audio recording, then you want to help them look at, “Okay, what am I eating? Why am I eating? Where are some of the problems? Is it what I’m eating, why I’m eating?” Sometimes people are eating out of emotion.
I think one of the first early papers I did 35 years ago was about women using hypnotherapy for obesity. What we found was that onethird of the women had had some kind of uncomfortable sexual experience. Somebody had taken advantage of them and the weight they put on after that became a form of protection. It insulated them so that their attractiveness didn’t invite that to ever happen again.
Another third of them had experiences of loneliness. Somebody left. Mom went back to work. I remember one nurse—when I first began, in the first session of hypnosis, I asked her the question or I asked her mindbody the question, “Perhaps a part of you knows what purpose eating those sweet foods does for you.” She just lit up and
opened her eyes and said, “Oh, my god! I just had a vivid experience of the first day my mom went back to work as a nurse. I was 8 or 9 years old. I came home from school. I opened the door and Mom wasn’t there. There on the kitchen table was a note that said, “Honey, there’s some vanilla pudding in the refrigerator for you. I’ll be home in about 30 minutes.” She said, “I can still remember how good it tasted.” Sometimes people are nourishing their emotions with food and not realizing that that’s what they’re doing or they may even know they’re doing it, but they don’t know how to stop or put it on a different—take a different track.
Another third of them had illnesses where they were encouraged to eat. The idea being, and particularly of my generation when all the children were almost force fed. You couldn’t have a skinny child and a healthy child. You wanted your kid to be plump so they could survive whatever might come along their way, tuberculosis or something. If children were sick, food became associated with survival. “You’ve got to eat. You’ve got to eat. You’ll get better if you eat. You’ve got to eat for me.”
Oftentimes, a parent had nothing left to offer to comfort their child during an illness or a trauma other than something to eat that was pleasant. By giving them that pleasant food, the child then sees their parent’s face with a sigh of relief that they’ve now done all they could do to make their children comfortable. They associate that with comfort as well as doing the right thing.
Those thirds broke out that way: illness, emotions, and trauma. Some people, that’s the nature of why they’re eating the wrong stuff. For others, it might just be poor learning habits. They grew up in America eating a highfat, salty, highsugary stuff and they fell prey to the advertising in America that is over sweetening with high fructose corn syrup and god knows what else, or even worse, aspartame, I guess, some of the artificial sweeteners that we know cause weight gain.
Working with people with weight problems means looking at why you’re eating. What’s behind—what hidden motivations are there for eating? Then looking at what are the obstacles to changing? And helping them change so that they can start moving into having a love affair with food, and that’s exactly what we did in that one book I wrote with my wife, The SelfHypnosis Diet. We have a chapter on creating a love affair with food, the taste, the textures, the flavors, what you’re eating because you can have the most passionate love affair in the world with your food if you’re making wise choices. Vegetables, fruits, things that conform to a healthy pyramid of—regime of eating.
Then also being able to discover that, “I’m now nourishing myself with positive thoughts and ideas. I threw my scale away. I don’t need that anymore. I’m now looking at exercising more.” In fact, we use the hypnosis to remove the barriers and blocks so they can fall in love with physical activity, even if it’s chair yoga. That’s fine. In fact, my wife became a yoga instructor and combined the two. She’s a nutritionist by training, but now she combines yoga with the eating to help people get moving—or moving their body or at least getting connected back to their body. The hypnosis is a lovely way of making that mindbody connection as well and making the associations that let them discover.
There are these hormones ghrelin and leptin that can manage appetite satiation and you can do things emotionally, mentally in your mind that have an influence on the endocrine system and the neuroendocrine system. For me, it just keeps getting more and more exciting as we learn more and more about what are all the other mechanisms we’re tapping into. That’s, in brief, what I usually work with or what we work with with weight and mindbody.
Marc: So really, it’s less that the hypnosis is being used to try to fix someone, like taking a diet pill and more it’s this—it sounds like the vehicle for exploration, on the one hand.
Steven: Right. Yeah, empowering them to go ahead and look at what are the obstacles and remove them. Because those obstacles aren’t out there. The obstacles are all within. As I tell people regarding hypnosis, everything you need to do this is already within you. You don’t need anything from the outside. This is an insideout job. I think with our eating, if we don’t make wise choices, if we don’t move our body, if we don’t pay attention to healthy nutrition, it’s like trying to swim up a waterfall. We have to make that—I love what you call your institute. The Psychology of Eating is a perfect term. We have to match the psychology of eating with the nutritional choices that people are making and creating the patterns of eating and nutrition that allow them to have I guess what you’d call their perfect weight or the ideal weight that’s healthy, happy, and lets them live a good, healthy life.
Marc: Let me ask you this question, Dr. Steven. In your decades of doing this work, has there been anything that’s surprised you in the realm of pleasant surprise or wow surprise? What’s really caught your attention over the years?
Steven: It happens every week, Marc. I mean every week. Every week something is happening that just knocks me over, that, “Wow! That’s amazing!” Let me pull one out from weight, go back to weight.
I saw a woman who she was 30. Let’s say 34 years old. She’s probably close to 300 pounds, and she’s had the weight for about 12 years. She has a couple children and she’s worried about her heart now. She’s, I guess, desperate enough to explore seeing a psychologist. It’s this first second session. The first session I took a history and had her come back with some photographs of herself before she gained weight. She was a model, a professional model. She had just got scholarship to a modeling school in, I think, Wisconsin and she was the first student to arrive for the new semester.
She said she was greeted by the janitor because there was no one else there. She came so early and he opened the door, and he showed her to her room. In the course of doing hypnosis 20 minutes later, when the question was sort of posed to her subconscious, “Is there a reason for this weight? Is it serving a good purpose?” She spontaneously started describing that this same kindly janitor came up and raped her. That trauma being raped led to her putting on weight from that day forward, until by the end of the second semester, she basically had to leave the modeling school because she was just becoming obese. Those kinds of things, to me, uncovering, exploring and uncovering something that can make all the difference in the world always wows me.
A woman I was working with, one of the most charming women I think I’ve ever worked with, bright and my mission—I was told by the people at our integrative medicine program, “You’ve got to convince her to have this surgery to remove an adrenal gland. There’s a cancerous tumor in it.” It was well documented with studies, imaging, whatnot.
She was very adamant that, “I’m not going to have that surgery. It’s too drastic. I’m not going to go through that. I don’t think I need it. Intuitively, I don’t think that’s what I need.” She closed her eyes. We were going to do some hypnosis, and I asked her just casually saying, “What’s the name of the tumor? What’s the tumor’s name?” Like a kneejerk reaction, she just said, “Henry.” I said, “Well, ask Henry what he’s there for.” She said, “To save my life.” I said, “How is Henry going to save your life?” “By getting me out here to this program to meet Dr. Weil and to change my life,” and she had moved from Belgium, where she was heading up a world banking organization. A very high, powerful position for a young 38yearold or 37yearold woman.
The next time she went for—I told her, “Tell Henry thank you. You got the message.” The next time she went for a scan, they’re all ready to do surgery. There’s no tumor. There’s nothing imaged anymore. Those always wow me. there are several cases where people will develop a physical structure in their body, and after doing some hypnosis, it’s gone, whether it be warts or internal warts. A little 5yearold we worked with that had warts on her vocal chords. One session, probably no longer than 10 minutes total, and the next time she went to be examined, they just anesthetized her thinking, “Well, we’re going to scrape the warts off her vocal chords again. We do it every month.” There were no more warts on her vocal chords, and that was probably 17 years ago.
Steven: Those are the kinds of things that wow me all the time. I never know what people are going to achieve and accomplish, but I always insist they’ve got to take all the credit for what they do with their hypnosis because it really all is selfhypnosis. All hypnosis is selfhypnosis.
Marc: The word miraculous kept coming to my mind. Often in the culture, we’ll use the term miraculous healing when we can’t describe exactly the mechanism of what happened. Some of these stories feel miraculous, but really, what I hear underneath is, “Well, not really because there’s a wisdom. There’s a science behind it. There’s a psychology behind it. There’s a mindbody science behind it that makes sense.”
Steven: Right and this is not new stuff. I mean this goes back to ancient China. It goes back to—you can find it in the hieroglyphics. You can find it in the sleep healing temples of Asclepius in ancient Greece. These sleep healing temples where people would recline on a little stone inclined bench called an, oddly enough, klini, klinI, klini. That’s where we get our word clinic from, a place of healing. They would just go into a reverie in this darkened little room and Asclepius would come in and say something like, “You can eat anything you want now. Your stomach is healed,” or “I’m going to take your headaches with me, so let me have them and I’ll take them away now.” it’s just a suggestion because after Mesmer was run out of town in the early 1800’s in France, some British surgeons and doctors studied his data, which he fortunately did keep good notes and records. They found that he wasn’t—the commission that looked at his work said that he wasn’t doing medicine. He wasn’t letting any blood. He wasn’t using
leeches. He wasn’t using pulse stasis. He was using what he called “organic” or “animal magnetism.” He was offering suggestions with words while he was passing magnets around somebody.
They found that even though his methods weren’t what they called “modern medicine” at that time, his results were far greater than anyone else was getting. That led them to then look at how this mindbody healing was happening. The word hypnosis was misnamed. Hypnos from the god of sleep, but it’s not sleep at all. It’s a waking state phenomenon. This is not new stuff. It’s been around a long, long time and it’s a part of our nature. This is not something out there that we have to go get. It’s something we have to be motivated to learn because we’ve already got what we need within us to use it.
Marc: Dr. Steven, I want to ask you a question about language because you mentioned early on, “Okay, when you work with a patient, you might go over a certain script with them, or if you’re making certain suggestions,” I just started noticing you chose your words carefully, even just saying, “I’m making a suggestion.” Just the way you use language, it sounds like it’s important in this experience called hypnosis or selfhypnosis. I’m just wondering if you can say a few words about that.
Steven: Yeah, actually, I could probably say a lot on that. I was so blessed that in the early 1970’s, middle 1970’s, I had an opportunity to visit and spend some time with one of my teachers, a fellow named Milton Erickson.
Marc: Woo! That’s great!
Steven: Milton Erickson was, because he had polio in high school and then later I believe in his 50’s that affected his speech, he became a master of observation and using words carefully. We think of Ericksonian hypnosis and Ericksonian techniques because of the language. One thing we know is that like all of us above the age of 9 or 10 use two basic forms of language to think with. Figurative language, where we use figures of speech and literal language, where we’re talking about something that is concrete. I use the example in my office of a cup. If you have a cup, it occupies space. It has weight. It’s literally concretely a solid. It’s a thing. It’s matter and it’s a cup. We call it a cup.
But something like a try. I can’t show somebody a try and say, “Here’s a try. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s how big it is.” A try or the word try is a figure of speech, the same as the word not. Not. It’s a figure of speech. We know what we mean when we use them, but our mindbody—again, once we’re 9 or 10, our thinking mind uses them all the time. I’ll try to be on time. I’ll try to get my shoes tied. Figures of speech like Mom coming through the kitchen saying, “Oh, man! This headache is killing me!” The teenager says, “Hey, take a couple ibuprofen, chill out.” Chillax as you hear them nowadays. The 5yearold might say, “Don’t die, Mommy.” Because they take it literally. The 5yearold is not doing that figurative, abstract thinking yet, so the child takes it very literally.
The book was read. Does that mean the book was read or does it mean the book was the color red? The book was read. The careful choice of words is because the mindbody, that subconscious that is the mind of our body only processes with one language and that’s literal language. The word try or any word is going to be put into a literal form or the mindbody is going to literalize it as best it can. Try doesn’t mean do. Try means put on trial. See if it’s this or see if it’s that.
I remember one study that impressed me immensely back in the early 70’s was somebody had given a group ofrandomly assigned group of patients with urticarial/hives a prescription for a topical steroid and told, “Try this for two weeks.” Another group randomly assigned from the same pool, same prescription, but told, “Use this or do this for two weeks.” The group that tried it had half the success of the group that used it. The mindbody takes everything literally, so the words have to be very carefully chosen. That’s also the beauty of imagination and imagery or visualization, because if we can picture it and imagine it, there’s no semantic difficulty. It’s already in literal form.
It’s sort of like the idea of when you pray. Pray believing that you’ve already received the answer to the prayer. The prayer has already been answered for you. Move ahead into the future and put yourself in the environment of, “It’s already done. It’s already happened. You have what you want. What would it feel like? What would it be like?” That’s a very powerful message to the mindbody.
You’re right. The words are a very, very important part of it and it takes a while to train people to use them, and that’s pretty much why I record their sessions when I’m speaking, because I’m looking to very carefully craft very succinct, concise
suggestions that don’t leave room for any failure, that really are going to open the door to having something change.
Marc: Dr. Steven, it feels like what you’re describing, on one level, is that there’s a place where we’re in constant selfhypnosis because I’m in constantly dialogue with myself. I am talking. I’m using language even if I’m sitting somewhere being quiet. There are oftentimes there’s a little chitchat going on in there. What I’m kind of getting from this conversation is it’s probably useful to see and notice the conversation that I often have with myself or even with anybody when I start to talk about how I’m doing, my state of being, my relationship with food, whatever it is. It seems like I can hypnotize myself in a direction that I might not want to go in.
Steven: Yeah, somebody else might say maybe that usual state that you’re in and the way you talk to yourself, some people are more optimistic. Some are more pessimistic. Some feel a sense of entitlement. Some people have a pattern of how they ordinarily think. Maybe that’s the program that’s running now and that’s maybe the trance they’re in.
With hypnosis, all we’re doing is changing those patterns. We’re just changing those patterns so that we don’t get the results that those patterns produce, and we get the results another pattern will produce.
I see it in all kinds of fields. One of my best friends was a professional musician, a guitarist named Howard Robertson. When he was crafting the curriculum for what, at that time, was called the Guitar Institute of Technology—now the Musician’s Institute in L.A., we put together some ideas on how to show somebody some things with music and the guitar, and then within 10 minutes, have them put their instrument down, close their eyes, and rehearse it mentally and then come back to it and just inventing techniques to put that subconscious to work as if it’s already been achieved. The rate of learning is impressive.
I mean most people are familiar with the studies that were first done or published at the University of Wisconsin of taking three groups of people to shoot free throws—basketball. Each person in the group shot 25 free throws and they recorded their average or their score. The first group was told, “During the week, the gym will be open. Come shoot 25 free throws every day and do your best to make them.” The second group was told, “Come back next Saturday. Don’t do anything during the week.” The third group was told, “Go home and during the week, sit in a chair, close your eyes, and imagine you’re right here on this line looking at that basket, and you
shoot 25 free throws in imagination and every one is good. It could bounce in, swish through, whatever, but it’s good.”
When they came back the next Saturday, the group that physically practiced improved by 28%. The group that did nothing was unchanged, and the group that just mentally rehearsed improved by 27%, only 1% different. That mental rehearsal really is helping you create new patterns in mind. I believe it’s a neuroplastic effect of creating a new circuit in the brain and nervous system that replaces the old circuit, so that rather than get the results of what the previous program running was, we’ve now got this new one. I guess it is, like you said, it’s like hypnotizing yourself to have a new program running reprogramming your brain that way.
Marc: To me, this is such an empowering conversation because it keeps pointing to how what goes on in our inner world is so potent and more potent than we could have ever known, perhaps, and potent in a positive way if we use it in that way. I think we need that as a world in a big way.
Steven: Absolutely. For me, it’s a great joy to be training physicians and psychologists and social workers, other therapists in techniques of clinical hypnosis so that they’ll be doing it and using it, because sometimes—even though I say all hypnosis is selfhypnosis, sometimes it’s somebody else saying something that makes all the difference in the world. One of the docs in our integrative medicine fellowship training program had gone through three levels of training with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, but she was always afraid to use it because she was afraid she’d say the wrong thing.
The week before she came out here for what we call a residential week of training, she said she had a man literally dying on the operating table. He was bleeding in his belly. They couldn’t find the ruptured vessel, and as fast as they pumped blood into him, it was coming out. She said he was literally dying, and she said, “I didn’t know what to do and I was desperate so I just said to him—” and these are the words something like what she said. She said, “Mr. Taylor.” He’s under anesthesia, out of it. She said, “Mr. Taylor, I’ve got a problem and I need your help. There’s a vessel in your belly that’s bleeding and I need to find it, so turn off the bleeding.”
She said the bleeding stopped and this is something that routinely we do use hypnosis for to alter blood flow. The bleeding stopped. They suctioned him out, found the
vessel, she sewed it back together, pumped him full of blood, and she said later that night when she visited him in his room he asked her—he said, “Was there some problem during my surgery?” She said, “There was, but you helped me fix it.”
Steven: Sometimes it’s things that others might say to us or offer to us at the right time, with the right words, and our body responds even if we are in a coma or if we’re under anesthesia—patients. The mindbody is still responding oftentimes to what’s being said.
Marc: Beautiful story. Let’s call that the cherry on the cake of a great conversation and very enlightening for me and I’m sure for a lot of people tuning in. Dr. Steven, I would love if you could share with us how people can learn more, stay in touch with you and your world, understand what you’re up to, what should we know?
Steven: First of all, I’d like to say if you’re looking for somebody who’s qualified in hypnosis to work with, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis has a website, asch, their acronym, American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, asch.net and they have a “find a practitioner.” Most of the members of the other legitimate professional associations are all members of that one as well, including internationally. I would say that’s where you want to find your therapist if you need one.
For me, I have a website called healingwithhypnosis.com. on my website, I have some free downloads for experiencing hypnosis to remember dreams, to remove holiday stress, a few others, as well as a variety of topics and some of the books that I’ve written. Healingwithhypnosis.com.
Marc: Great! Dr. Steven, thank you so much. This has been so enlivening and enlightening and I’m glad you and I finally got to meet. I’ve kind of had my eye on you and your work for a while, and I’m just thrilled and really thrilled that you’re out there teaching this and imparting this wisdom to practitioners so it can really get out there. Thank you.
Steven: Thank you, Marc. I’ve always admired the Psychology of Eating, what you’ve put together, and it’s a real delight to finally team up with you and participate together.
Steven: Thank you.
Marc: Thanks so much! Thanks everybody for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David, on behalf of The Future of Healing Online Conference. Lots more to come, as always, my friends. Take care.