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Less is more or the hypnotic effect of keeping things simple

Posted Sep 13 2010 1:00am

I was at the cinema on Friday night with my sister and found myself responding with frustration to one of the ads (for a Muller yoghurt, I think… or some such yoghurt-based product).

You might have seen the advert I’m thinking about. It starts with a rather beautiful cow, standing on an empty beach, and the voice over says ‘This is Molly. She’s always dreamed of being a horse.’

(Or the cow might be called Mary – I can’t remember.) The point is that this is such a hypnotic concept, isn’t it? A cow that has always dreamed of being a horse.

Just the idea of this cow having an inner world that might be rather like our human one, with dreams and longings and aspirations, is powerfully hypnotic. It gets our attention and we start translating that experience into our own wanting and yearning and longing and what that might mean for us.

And then Molly, or Mary, begins to canter along the beach, her hooves splashing through the shallow water, her body rippling, her udders swinging, whilst the soundtrack surges to something that stirs our own sense that, hey, perhaps we too could do anything we dream of… (And also, isn’t it a bit funny too? What do we ourselves  dream of that is a bit funny or even ridiculous?)

And all that is going on beautifully, we’re engaging with it all and then…

WHAM! The voice over starts talking about other stuff, starts spelling out to us what is going on and what might actually happen and telling us what to think. The camera cuts to a girl with beautiful red hair and a far-off expression who just happens to be poised perfectly on a rock eating a spoonful of yoghurt.

At this point, for me, the ad’s hypnotic effect just ebbs away. I’m being told what to think. It’s overdone. It’s ruined.

I sat in the cinema thinking, ‘Why didn’t you just leave us with this delightful Molly (or Mary) cantering on the beach? Why did you overcomplicate it?’

And the flow of my own thoughts began to move to how true this is of life in general, of what I do as a therapist, making use of hypnosis and hypnotic principles, to help people to experience changes in their own inner states and private worlds.

I know that if I try to do too much in a session, it won’t be as effective as if I keep things simple.

I meet people from time to time who seem very pleased and proud that they know sixteen different NLP techniques for a phobia ‘cure’ (and how I hate that word ‘cure,’ as if there is something ‘wrong’ with the person in the first place, which they have to be somehow ‘cured’ from rather than just some unhelpful habit or way of thinking they’ve got into that it might be helpful for them to unlearn).

Yes, we may know five techniques for helping people to see things from a different point of view but, probably, we only need one – and that is the one that is right for that particular client at that particular time.

You know, I think it is so easy to overlook sometimes that the most powerful and effective ways of working with our clients might often be the simplest.

For example, you could use an all-singing, all-dancing method with all kinds of complicated visualisations for helping someone to let go of their spider phobia but, first of all, why not just take them through a very simple desensitisation process and find out what happens?

And, even more hypnotically, why not allow them to really own that process as their process rather than showing-off your language patterns and your fifteen complicated techniques?

And I think that if we have a a cow-who-wants-to-be-a-horse for a client, we need to help them to check out whether wanting to be a horse is the most helpful wanting that they can be doing right now. And, if it isn’t, why not help them to find the experience that is most helpful for them, right here, in the here and now, and how they can begin to connect with that and allow it? In their way, a way that makes sense to them.

Then we need to get out of their way.

Oh, but eat lots of yoghurt too. It’s supposed to be good for you.

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