Sometimes a client will call me to discuss a problem behaviour or belief and it only takes a few seconds to realise that their partner has prompted the call. “My wife wants me to cut down on my drinking…” That’s fair enough, if the husband agrees, but if he doesn’t, then the premise for the therapy becomes blurred. The same goes with beliefs – “My husband thinks I have childhood issues I need to get past”. OK, maybe so, but what do you think? Defining the problem is essential when we begin therapy.

Other people’s opinions

The thing is, hypnotherapy is totally subjective. It is modeled around the client’s view of the world, not their partner’s view. Recently I completed a three session treatment, working with a young woman who reported enormous benefits from the hypnotherapy. In defining the problem to begin with, she had stated that she had anxiety. After we finished, she thanked me for changing her life. I was so pleased for her. By pure coincidence, I later discovered that my client’s fiance knew an acquaintance of mine, and had mentioned to the acquaintance about my client’s therapy. The acquaintance also reported that, according to the fiance my client needed ‘more work’.

Firstly, client sessions are confidential – even disclosing the arrangement is confidential, and so I was not in a position to discuss it. Secondly, the client had reported a dramatic improvement in symptoms, and these were evident to me also. As my client’s view of the world is the only view I can consider in therapy, I could not take her fiance’s opinions into account. Thirdly, it is possible that the fiance needed to come to terms with my client’s status and satisfaction in her progress. Perhaps he was having difficulty that she was not behaving the way that he wanted her to? According to her, she felt great. Sometimes other people play a part in defining the problem, and only create further problems by attempting to direct the course of the therapy. It becomes quite murky at this point and unless the fiance was also interested in coming in for hypnotherapy, I can only work with what I know.

I have also seen clients who have become confused about their problem, due to their partner’s opinion. The husband who told his wife that she had childhood issues to deal with is a great example. In some of these cases it is true and the partner has helped to clarify the issue for the client. Someone who cares about the client can often see what the client cannot see themselves. But in other cases, defining the problem becomes tricky when I am dealing with a partner’s influence. It always comes back to how the client experiences the problem. Allowing the client space for defining the problem, in their own experience, is the first step in these cases. Therapy cannot progress until the problem is clear.

Other professional’s opinions

I once saw a man who came in to cut down on his alcohol consumption. He was a tall, robust, ruddy character in his 70’s. Incredibly, he drank a half a bottle of scotch every evening, as well as a case of beer! Wow! It may have seemed like a silly question, but I had to ask, why is this a problem for you? He said, ‘because my doctor thinks I should cut down’. I asked again, how is it a problem for you? He said that it actually wasn’t. So then I had to interrogate him – how does it affect your sleep, your clarity of mind, your weight, your motivation, your hip pocket… He confirmed that he had the all clear from the doctor and that he was in perfect health. He slept like a baby, he was very active, his mind was clear and he was in a healthy weight range. As for the money, he had plenty.

Drilling down, the only reason this man came in to see me is to please his doctor, who suggested that he cut down. This is clearly understandable, I mean, a half a bottle of scotch and a case of beer every day? It was his doctor’s duty of care to persuade him to cut down, and it was the right thing for the doctor to do. But again, this is the thing about hypnotherapy – it is totally subjective. As long as you are not harming anyone and what you do is legal, I cannot hold judgement, and I can only work with what the problem means, for you. In the case of this ruddy drinker, I couldn’t help him because, according to him, he didn’t actually have a problem.

When an external influence tries to direct, whether for good or bad, the trajectory of the client’s therapy, it rarely works because the client themselves needs to be engaged in the process. For hypnotherapy to be most effective, I need you to be completely on board – not others, but you.

When the problem unravels

Sometimes the problem we started with, will change. And this is a natural course of progress in defining the problem. For example, I once saw a woman who wanted to lose weight. She was doing emotional eating. We worked on the information that she presented and we made some progress, but in the last session, she confessed that a dark secret from the past, buried in her unconscious mind, had emerged during the first session. She had not mentioned it because she wasn’t ready to look at it. This secret held the key to her weight issues and emotional eating. Defining the problem had become a journey in itself. We managed to change her behaviour to some degree so that some weight could come off, but if my client was ready to look at this darkness, I believe that she would have reached her ideal weight by now. Unfortunately she was not wanting to consider it, let alone discuss it. Again, you need to be engaged for the hypnotherapy to give its best results.

So, when you come for hypnotherapy, you need to be ready to address the issues holding you back, and you need to have space in your own mind for defining the problem, regardless of what others say.