Michael : Could you just start by giving our listeners a brief introduction as to who you are and what you do?
Stephen : Well, I’m a psychologist. I live in San Diego, California. And professionally speaking, for the last thirty two-thirty three years, I’ve been doing a variety of therapeutic work, coaching work related to hypnotic work.
I started out in the late seventies as a student of UC Santa Cruz and I was a student of Bandler and Grinder, I actually met them when they first got together – I was a student of Grinders. And about a year into that they went out and met Milton Erickson and I was just thoroughly taken by what they had brought back, and the next time they went I went with them and met Erickson in 1974 and became a student of his for the next six years until he died in 1980.
So a lot of my work has that as a core – Ericksonian hypnotic trance, and a number of other things have become integrated into that over the years, including a lot of stuff from Aikido and Buddhism, and some from other aspects of psychology.
Michael : From your point of view, what is hypnosis, what does the term mean to you?
Stephen :Well I think it’s important to distinguish between hypnosis and trance, most people don’t, and it leads to a lot of misunderstanding. So in order to define hypnosis I would first have to define trance.
One of the most important aspects of Erickson’s legacy was emphasising trance, not as artificial, but as naturalistic, and that is it doesn’t come from hypnotic suggestion, it comes from consciousness itself – that it’s a natural part of peoples learning states and of their consciousness. I think we could say in the most succinct way that trance is the way that occurs any time that identity is disrupted.
And of course identity might be disrupted in a number of ways, you might get traumatised, you might be at the end of an identity cycle or a learning cycle in your life.
I was just working with somebody for example, that was going through retirement – that you might call the end of a identity cycle for that person. Your identity might get disrupted because of things that happen in the world, you might get married, divorced, you might have a child, your child leaves home, a parent dies, you get ill, you get a new job, you change your residence. Those would be what we call events at the identity level, and it creates a break in the identity box, if you will, that you’ve been walking around in.
So because you need to create new identity patterns at those pivotal points, nature has supplied consciousness with this learning state that we call trance – so trance is natural. And like it or not you’re going to go into a trance at least periodically in your path.
Now the thing about trance I would say, is that it’s incomplete. It needs a human context. And so the social ritual is able to absorb it, to give it a container, connect it with some traditions or some patterns that allow something that is that coming up in trance, be made artistically into something that has human value.
So another way of saying that is what your unconscious gives you in trance is not complete, it’s only half human. so you need someway to be able to absorb it in order to be able to shift it into something that has full human value.
And that’s why I say hypnosis is one of those ritual processes if you will. If a way that you can safely create a container, and receive the unconscious and at full throttle be able to open to the more primitive, primordial consciousness. and that has some set of tools that you can gracefully, I hope, effectively guide it, into a thing that has a full human form and full human expression.
So trance is the experience, hypnosis is the social ritual to guide the experience.
Michael : And what drew you to the subject?
Stephen : Well I think I’ve had a life-long interest in altered states of consciousness. Maybe it comes in part from the Irish-Catholic blend. But also I think that I was just always intrigued – now that I look back to my childhood I was always drawn to these deeper dimensions and these non-rational states, if you will.
And then I grew up in San Francisco and came over in the late sixties, where there was a lot of trance in the air so to speak, so when I was nineteen I was already interested in altered states and meditation, and consciousness at a deeper level – and then I met Erickson and he just blew me out of the water, because he was a guy that was modelling and embodying trance and all of it’s states far beyond what I had imagined as possible. and that’s always a great thing to meet a model that’s able to embody that for you.
Michael : And how would you say that it’s helped you personally?
Stephen : Well trance is one tradition, I have other traditions like meditation, like yoga, like Aikido, and I think of these as the essential forms that help a person to become a human being – because we’re all works in progress – and consciousness is not really, as I said, a human form. So there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t use it, for example as a way to stabilise consciousness, as a way to align consciousness, as a way to calm consciousness.
And then to have those capacities, and be able to settle in, settle down and be able to let go of the instinctual fight or flight that is often governing primitive consciousness.
There’s this piece of Ericksonian work, that is personally so helpful which is, how do you transform problems, or how do you create solutions – and I really utilise a lot of Erickson’s idea on that, about how to be able to accept and utilise whatever’s there – and to be able to connect with it in a way for it to unfold into a solution – So that’s a good skill to have!
Michael : Now you may have already answered it when you were talking about your own personal experience, but what do you see as trance and hypnosis’s main uses?
Stephen : I think that it has a number of main uses, so I was just alluding to some of them. I think that we all need some tool to be able to calm and centre ourselves throughout the day – there’s a lot of stuff that goes through that gets us agitated, that gets us away from our base. So one use is to be able to centre.
Another use is to be able to understand things, and I don’t mean that intellectually, I mean that you’ll be able to perceive life on a very good level. And to be able to sit with it in your bones, if you will, and be confident with whatever’s going on in any given moment.
And thirdly I think that it gives a set of tools for being able to create experience. I would say that hypnosis is a beautiful model for how consciousness is created, not the only one but a very helpful one.
Michael : Can you just build on that, I’m not quite sure what you mean by creating experience.
Stephen : Well, you might say that one of the things that trance does is it amplifies everything – so all these subtle sub-modalities of consciousness, it amplifies them. So it helps you to be aware of not only how you’re creating a certain pattern, but how you could change the way you’re creating that pattern – for example – some of the core dimensions in creating a experience of consciousness are you have a relationship to your past, you’ve got this whole set of experiential learning that are within you.
Most of the time we feel almost like victims of our past. What you’re doing in trance is settling down, amplifying and going into that level of sub-modality, and in trance its called age regression, so you get this intimate, deep awareness of how it is you’re using your past experiences to create your present, and then you have this opportunity to generate that in a different way.
Other dimension for creating an experience of the world would be time, and time distortion would be that hypnotic phenomenon where you can really get to enter into the really subtle patterns of how time is used to create a world of experience and then you can be able to change that. One’s sense of the future, is very influential in how you create your experience, self fulfilling prophecy – that would be another dimension that gets amplified and you’re able to focus on it in trance so that you’re able to really tune to how to move your creation of the “future” to create your identity.
Those are a few examples.
Michael : Are there any cautions that you would give to anybody that was thinking of going to see a hypnotist or going on a hypnosis training session.
Stephen : There’s a big controversy about this question and I’m a licensed psychologist, and there are some in my field who say ‘hypnosis is so dangerous that only licensed people should be able to use it” and I think what they’re failing to see is that we could use trance for many, many different things in our lives, we could use trance to help others for many, many different things.
So the usual principle is to only use it in the ways that you are properly trained so if somebody clearly has – maybe they’re working through some severe trauma, you don’t want somebody that’s not been trained to deal with trauma to work with that person hypnotically.
I see this because there’s a lot of coaches who are interested in trance and I think that there are a lot of good places that people who can use trance would be able to help a person.
But they will operate as so far as their training as a coach – what to do, how to deal with it. Here’s the thing, a lot of people have created this idea that the unconscious is a very dangerous thing, and it’s not an oversimplification to say that the quality of the unconscious is related to your function to relate to it each moment – so if you can approach it in a friendly, respectable way, not trying to dominate it, but not being afraid of it, then you will find out what the natural limits are, because you’re really interested in helping a person discover their own way.
Its not a process of the hypnotist controlling or suggesting something in some way, it’s really a process of – in a sense, all hypnosis is self hypnosis. So you’re saying ‘lets create this safe contact where you will be able to tap into a lot of resources and potentials that you don’t sense are there when you’re in your normal working state. And I can support you in that as long as I’m trained to do that – what I’m trained for, I think we can use effectively.’
Michael : What are some of the characteristics of a good hypnotic subject?
Stephen : Willingness to learn, I think that’s what it’s all about. Let me just say a little bit more about that – there’s presupposition that within each moment there are these possibilities for each person to open up to a space beyond their previous experience. That’s called learning.
So it is innate within consciousness, it is there in each moment and this notion of willingness to learn is crucial and as a practitioner what you need to do is how to create contexts where people feel safe and connected with themselves so they’re open to learning, and that’s a sort of technical skill that one has to learn about how to connect with people so that you can support them in opening up to their possibilities. And some ways are better than others.
Michael : Again, you may have already answered the next question: What do you think makes a good hypnotist or hypnosis trainer?
Stephen : I would say that the bottom level, the ground level, of all good hypnotic work is connection. So before you’re thinking about technique, before you’re thinking about outcome, you’re looking to first connect with the self. Unfortunately, like in a lot of therapy there’s an inherent tradition to focus more on the client than on your consciousness as a practitioner.
So I think you have to ground your centre, and be able to align yourself with all the subtle patterning within yourself that’s your base. And then you need do the same thing and make a connection with your client. And that is what creates the journey of the unconscious. It is this connection within yourself and between you and the client, that forms the basis, that then will guide you to sensing what techniques will be effective.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to train rigorously in your technique, but a core part of Ericksonian work is that technique comes from within and connection.
Then the creative unconscious is relation of connection, so you’re ability to be able to establish and maintain that is the most important part of what you do as a practitioner.
Michael : Now before I ask for your contact details, is there anything else you’d like to mention about what we’ve talked about, and what you’re doing at the moment? Are there any more points about hypnosis or trance that you’d like to mention?
Stephen : I think that it’s practice, and trance should never be thought of as broken up in the singular. There are many, many types of trances, some positive, some negative, some low quality, some very high quality. So really the work that I do is really focused on what we call the generative trance – what is means in essence is to create a trance that constitutes a higher state of consciousness, and I don’t mean that in a lofty way or a dissociated way, but in a way that you are able to create a state of consciousness that goes beneath the performance mind, it goes beneath all the soap opera of the mind, it also extends beyond it.
So whatever you’re working with, you’re not attached to it, you’re not identifying to it, you’re really sitting and opening to a consciousness that is beyond that, if you will.
And I hope that doesn’t sound too California-ish because I mean it in a very practical way. But like anything, if you’re going to be a really good musician, if you’re going to be a really good business man, it’s going to take a lot of practice – so basically you’re as neat as your practice is.
And also you get this sense that everyday I’m really interested in opening a little further and be able to enjoy this little mystery called life, but it’s a big practice.
And sometimes people say to me ‘Jeez, it sounds like your asking a lot!” well, watching TV every day is a lot, that’s a practice. Being depressed every day is asking a lot, that’s a practice. So we’re trying to get clear – choose your practices carefully because they’re the core basis for the quality of your life.
I’m saying here is a really nice tradition that you can practice that will give you increases in what I call the Four H club, and the four H’s are an increase in Happiness, increases in Health, increases in your capacity to Heal yourself and others, and increases in you capacity to be Helpful, that is your work in the world. So I think it’s a great tradition for doing that.
Michael : Now changing the subject, is there anything that you would like to bring to our listeners attention that you’re doing in the near or medium term future or any products you’ve got, or anything that you’d like to mention to bring people up to date with what you’re doing out there.
Stephen : Well, the main place that people can get information is from the website which is www.stevengilligan.com , that’s right. And I do a lot of training, I’m on the road for 180 days of the year, I also work at home for about another thirty. I do trance camp, which you went to, in the San Diego area every July. I also do a lot of other work, I’m in Europe three times a year, so I really think the best thing to get the information on the training, the books and the products, is to check out the website.
Michael :Excellent. Well thank you very much for your time.
Stephen : My pleasure Michael, happy holidays
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