Cognitive Hypnotherapist &
Dip CHyp, HPD, PNLP
Teaching tales in therapy....changing the unconscious
The power of books in child development
As a hypnotherapist I’m very often asked ‘What is trance?’
I usually start by explaining that it’s a natural state which occurs when a person is transitioned out of their normal state of consciousness (of being aware of their immediate surroundings) and into a state where their focus is narrowed and directed to one particular event or thought. This can happen in many different ways. It can happen by simply focusing on a memory, or it can occur when we’re completely engrossed in something we’re doing (very much like being totally focussed on a particular task, of being in flow).
A deep trance is sometimes likened to daydreaming and it can be a very vivid experience. So what are the tools of the trade for any hypnotherapist? Well, simply they are the words and tone of voice used to question and form suggestion patterns to achieve this desired state and outcome. That's it, nothing else is required.
In very much the same way a well written book is capable of achieving the same state. The more absorbed the reader becomes, the deeper the trance and the greater the potential for enjoying the book by becoming totally engrossed in it. Of course many other media formats such as music and film can achieve a trance state too, but I believe the power of words can achieve something much more. Words by themselves have the capacity to tune in to the reader’s own experiences and can help direct the reader’s imagination to create a world completely unique and personal, and this is something that film can never do.
In film we’re always presented with someone else’s vision of how a scene appears, which of course can be very realistic, spectacular and enjoyable. Yet it still determines for us what we will experience with less room for our own interpretation. While film takes us on a journey through fascinating landscapes and dramatic events within the plot, words by themselves allow the listener or reader to participate in creating a world that can become equally fascinating and (in the case of hypnosis) more absorbing. Perhaps more importantly words can draw on each person’s version of reality. The sentance ‘I felt the same emotions as I did on the first day of school’ will conjure up a unique image in every person's mind and will light the fire of different emotions all dependent on what each individual's experience meant for them. For some it may be interpreted as fun and exciting and for others it may mean anxiety and fear. Being able to utilise language in this way means that an author (or hypnotherapist) can draw on everyone's own experiences to create a totally absorbing and trance inducing reallity.
As a therapist what's most important about being absorbed into a story is the possibility it provides for change at the subconscious level. Stories and metaphors have been used in therapy for a very long time and one of the most successful therapists of all time Milton Erickson stopped hypnotising clients altogether and would instead tell them a story in a very hypnotic way. The clients would then add their own meaning to the story and would find themselves as changed people once they left the therapy room, quite naturally and without resistance.
In very much the same way a style of writing that captures our imagination and draws us into a story has the ability to change us at the subconscious level. Creative writing which is visually descriptive and involves internal thoughts and feelings engages the right side of our brain. This is where we visually create internal representations of the world, use intuition, and where we add meaning to things as we do when interpreting metaphors.
This makes the right side of our brain hugely influential at shaping our future by programming our subconscious. As a therapist this is where most suggestions are directed and why visual techniques are so powerful in directing the subconscious mind towards the things we want.
Children’s books are usually packed full of hidden meanings and metaphors and as parents and educators we try our best to help them choose books that not only will they enjoy but also books that will help them build a view of the world that’s positive and informative. Of course children want to read books that will engage their emotions. They want to feel happy, exited, they want to laugh...but they also at time want to feel a little sad and even a little frightened. It’s important that they can experience all of these things because the first thing they need to learn about reading is that it can be a hugely enjoyable.
At the same time as responsible parents and educators we need to guide them so that the books they're reading give them more positive messages rather than negative beliefs and attitudes. (A great example of this is Bilge's article on Saftirik and Harry potter/Link) Finding the right balance between what your child wants to read (if it happens to be something you think they shouldn’t read) and reading something which you feel is more wholesome is a difficult task. Many people disagree with what this balance should be, but I’d just like to highlight the point that apart from learning the technicalities of reading a child who is allowed to enjoy reading and to have a positive attitude to reading is far more likely become lifelong reader taking in a vast array of books than a child that was pushed into reading and always found it a chor.
Ultimately learning to read well, where the written word is absorbed and internalised as effortlessly as the spoken word, opens up the doorway for a reader to enter the world created within the pages of a book just as effortlessly as if they were listening to the author speak...and just as the words of a hypnotist can carry someone's mind to new imaginary places, a well written book can lead the reader to becoming more and more absorbed and into a kind of trance.
Finally as a therapist, my role is to help a client workout exactly what it is that they want and to help them work towards this (with the use of trance inducing language). And in very much the same way is it not our responsibility as parents and teachers to have a clear idea what it is that we would like our children to learn and to help them choose the right books. It's equally important that we spend a little time talking about the books they've read so that we can highlight some meanings and re-framing anything negative they got out of the book. Even when it's a book that we' rather our kids didn't read it's important to discuss them and try to get something possitive from them. Of course this means that as parents or teachers it's our responsibility to read the same books...as tough as that sounds.
Put simply and bluntly if you don’t know what your kids are reading then you’re not able to help in shaping a positive future. After all in very much the same way that we may need to restrict the number of hours they spend playing Xbox or watching junk TV, we also have to encourage them to have a good diet of books.
The first aim may be to get our kids reading, but it's followed closely by the need to get them reading books that have greater value for their development.