Adapting Ecstatic Trance to Psychotherapy
Ecstatic trance differs from hypnotic trance in that it is induced not through verbal suggestions but by stimulation to the nervous system with the rapid beating of a drum and specific body postures. The ritual developed by Felicitas Goodman to induce ecstatic trance is shamanic and would appear quite foreign to many people coming to a psychologist for psychotherapy. Yet I find the combination of these practices to be very powerful in the process of therapy and in personal growth beyond therapy. Thus the procedures presented in this book are initially a hybrid of hypnosis and ecstatic trance; the rituals of ecstatic trance are gradually introduced in a way that gently opens the person to understanding the value and power of this practice.
Combining Analytical Hypnotherapy with Ecstatic Trance Work
In this book, hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness to access the unconscious mind is used as a bridge in teaching ecstatic trance. Some people who experience ecstatic trance for the first time are disappointed by the shallow or limited nature of their experience. The hypnotic verbal suggestions used along with ecstatic trance can bring a person into a deep, full ecstatic experience. Then, with this initial deeper and fuller experience, future experience with ecstatic trance will be deeper with fewer, and then no, verbal suggestions.
To create this hybrid approach ecstatic trance postures are used in combination with various hypnotic suggestions. In hypnosis the client feels a deep sense of affective affirmation and rapport with the therapist through the hypnotic suggestions of a yes-set. A yes-set is a mental sequence of answering, “Yes,” to suggestions made by the therapist. The therapist’s words accurately recognize what the client is experiencing. For example, if the client is leaning back against the back of a chair, a beginning yes-set suggestion might be, “As you sit, feel the warmth on your back as it rests against the back of the chair.” This comment, something for which the client answers, “Yes, that’s right,” might be an early comment in inducing trance. As this hypnotic yes-set language continues, the suggestions become more relevant to the client’s feelings and emotions that he or she brought to therapy. For example, “You are feeling a lot of anxiety that your wife might leave you because of your anger,” or “It is very depressing that your job feels so meaningless.”
As the client’s answer of “yes” becomes a habit, the therapist is able to make suggestions that become more divergent from the client’s current reality. For example, “Take your feeling of anxiety back through time, and as you see the time go by--days, months, seasons, years--something in your life will stand out and catch your attention. When this something catches your attention, lift the index finger of your left hand.” With this ideo-motor signaling of lifting the finger, I can ask, “What are you now experiencing?” The process may be repeated several times, taking the person back to the initial incident that triggered the anxiety or feeling of concern.
Seeking answers through ecstatic postures does not require the extensive verbal instructions of traditional hypnosis to bring the person to a regression in age, the source of the problem or feeling, and ultimately a greater sense of conscious awareness. The combination of these two practices--hypnosis and ecstatic trance--lead the person to explore and discover the irrationality and ineffectiveness of current ways of feeling and thinking and help carry new, healthier beliefs more directly into the realm of the unconscious mind.
The Bear Spirit Posture: Relaxation and Ego Strengthening
In analytic hypnotherapy the initial step to induce trance is a hypnotic exercise to teach the client to relax and increase ego-strength for facing what may be uncovered in journeying through the unconscious mind. This same step to increase relaxation and strengthen one’s ego can be attained using ecstatic trance with the Bear Spirit posture.
Generally, five minutes are allotted for a person to focus on breathing to quiet the mind while standing in the Bear Spirit posture. During this time soft suggestions are periodically offered to facilitate relaxation and inner strength, such as, “As you inhale feel the relaxing and strengthening energy of your breath enter your body, and as you exhale feel this relaxation and strength flow throughout your body. As this relaxing energy enters your head, feel it quiet the thoughts of your mind.” The Bear Spirit posture is especially effective in facilitating this relaxing and strengthening energy, because the person’s hands are resting on the center of harmony--the abdomen just above the umbilicus-- such that they can feel it rise and fall with each breath, feeling the flow of energy into and throughout the body, which provides a sense of inner peace.
During this relaxation a recording of rapid drumming is played softly in the background. I explain to the client that the purpose of the drumming is to stimulate the nervous system with an energy that keeps the client alert to the therapeutic task at hand and acts as a focus away from competing and distracting thoughts. A recording of the drumming is then given to the client at the end of the session with the instruction to practice this exercise at least once a day when at home. The gift of the recording provides a bridge from the experience in the therapy room to the experience at home, increasing the depth and effectiveness of the relaxation, ego-strengthening, and quieting of the mind.
This relaxation and ego-strengthening is a learned response and requires practice, but when learned, it can easily be called upon and used when needed. Over the next session or two the verbal suggestions are gradually eliminated and the use of drumming ends. After the person learns to relax with increased ego-strength, all that is needed to enter this state is for the person to stand tall for a few minutes with hands on the center of harmony.