The Dog-Zen Doctrine

Recently we decided to go camping one weekend and our neighbour kindly agreed to feed her and check that the water in the bucket remained full. I have to say that the dog was constantly at the back of my mind during our trip, especially as we had no mobile coverage so I couldn’t phone our neighbour to check on the dog. My thoughts were on how she had been given up twice in the past and what anguish she may be feeling not having us there, and how she was going to cope for the remaining days.

You may be wondering what this new doctrine of Dog-Zen is all about. Well, quite simply it’s what I’ve learned about mindfulness practice from my own dog. She was abandoned at goodness knows where and a kind stranger picked up this little puppy and took her to the RSPCA. Then at eight weeks my brother went to adopt her assuming that she would remain her small puppy size, but of course she grew bigger and bigger and eventually he faced the dilemma of returning her once more to the RSPCA – when I stepped in and adopted  her and have now had her for two years. But technically, she’s been unwanted twice.

So when we returned I was anxious to find out how the dog had coped with our absence. And what happened? Well, she didn’t miss us at all… She didn’t bark, she didn’t whine. She spent her days sunbaking as usual and snoozing in her kennel when the weather got wet. What a relief!

Now don’t get me wrong; dog’s can also get psychological issues such as phobias and fearful behaviour due to past trauma, but I was interested in how our dog remained blissfully unconcerned about our absence. From her behaviour I could safely assume that she wasn’t doing doggy thinking such as, ‘Have I been abandoned again?’ ‘Why me?’ ‘Why is this happening again?’ ‘What’s going to happen from now on???’

Instead, her dog brain allowed her only to focus on the present moment and deal with the situation as required: sunbake when she got cool, lie in the shade when she got warm, go into her kennel if wet or windy weather and come out for food when called. Her rocky past did not affect her; the future did not concern her. She was confident that her needs would be met.

Of course, dogs’ ability to completely focus on the moment is an extreme example as they lack the important ability to plan for the future, but we can learn so much from this long-lost skill of just immersing oneself in each moment, taking things as they come and adapting appropriately to any changes that may affect us. This is what I learned from my own Dog-Zen master.

Clinical Hypnotherapy – What is it about?

When people ask me what I do and I say that I’m a strategic psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, invariably the first question they ask is, ‘What is hypnotherapy and do you use mind control?’ I explain that there is no mind control in the therapeutic application of hypnosis. The general public’s perception of hypnosis tends to be based on stage hypnosis which has the hypnotist as the authoritarian figure manipulating ordinary people to do things they would normally avoid, and this has perpetuated the misconception of forced control in hypnosis. However, in a therapeutic setting, hypnosis is a collaborative experience where the practitioner assists the client to be still and focus inwardly so that constructive suggestions can be made to the client to facilitate real change1 .

The uncertainty about hypnosis and its clinical application in the West can be seen in the 18th century when a German physician named Franz Mesmer started using it to treat his patients and incorrectly assumed that it was ‘animal magnetism’ that flowed from the practitioner to the patient. The term to ‘mesmerise’ originated from this period. We now use the term, ‘hypnosis’, thanks to the English physician, James Braid who, along with other physicians elsewhere in the 19th century, demystified hypnosis as a psychological response to suggestions2 . The next major development occurred in the 20th century when an American psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, transformed the practice of hypnotherapy from an authoritarian approach to a permissive, indirect style that utilised clients’ inner resources3.

There are a few myths about hypnotherapy that I want to clear up along the way: firstly, you are in control of the process and you can’t be forced to relax or focus on anything if you don’t want to do so. Secondly, you cannot remain stuck in hypnosis because you are in control and can stop at any time, just as you can stop watching TV at any time although you can appear to be ‘glued’ to it. Thirdly, you are not asleep or unconscious but will be highly alert and focused inwardly4 . Clients’ responsiveness to hypnosis varies and this can depend on whether they are more imaginative or analytical; their ability to concentrate on the internal landscape; and their expectation of hypnosis; this is where I adapt my approach to facilitate the best outcome for each client5 .

Having said that, I would not recommend hypnosis for people with mental health issues, such as psychosis and certain personality disorders, as it could worsen their condition6 . I strongly recommend that they continue with the specialised expertise of their medical team or get a referral to a medical team if they don’t have one already. I also would not use hypnosis on a client unless they come to see me of their own volition after making up their own mind.

You might also notice that I use ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotherapy’ interchangeably, because when used in therapy they have the same meaning, but for semantic purposes ‘hypnotherapy’ is the dedicated use of hypnosis in therapy, whereas ‘hypnosis’ would imply that it is used as a tool in therapy along with other methods7. I am also asked if there are variations in how hypnosis is applied. The most common method in the past was the traditional/authoritarian approach where the practitioner gave direct orders for clients to go into trance and change their behaviour. This approach is best used in self-hypnosis where there tends to be less resistance from the client, but is ineffective for the practitioner-client interaction.

There is another approach which uses standardised scripts with clients regardless of their issues and inherent resources. This cookie-cutter approach may be effective if the client’s issues are a direct match with the content of the script being used, but its efficacy is limited for all other cases. In contrast, the Ericksonian approach I practise uses indirect techniques, such as metaphors and stories to elicit the clients’ resources, with the hypnotherapist in the role of facilitator and guide and the client in complete control of what they choose to accept from the interaction8. This is by far the most effective form of hypnotherapy.

The use of hypnosis is increasingly becoming more common and is being applied in various ways as our understanding of the mind-body connection grows. It is used to complement traditional medical treatments to empower patients to control their mind, attitude and emotions to their medical condition. In the field of dentistry, hypnosis has been used to reduce anxiety in the patient and in pain management when the use of chemical anaesthesia is inappropriate, as it reduces blood flow in the area undergoing dental work. In the arena of sport, hypnosis is used to enhance the athletes’ physical performances and their mental preparation for successful outcomes9.

As mentioned, the type of hypnosis I use in my practice is the Ericksonian approach, because it is flexible and allows me to tailor the therapy so that I have an individual approach to each client. Of course, there are variables with each client which may affect the efficacy of hypnotherapy but in general, the results my clients get are a testimony to this life-changing form of therapy.

If you are at the stage where you’re sick and tired of your issues holding you back and are ready to move on once and for all, I look forward to hearing from you so that we can work together for your brighter future.

1 https://www.apa.org/topics/hypnosis/index.aspx

2 https://www.britannica.com/science/hypnosis

3 https://www.erickson-foundation.org/biography/; https://www.historyofhypnosis.org/

4 Essentials of Hypnosis, Second edition, 2015, Michael Yapko, pp 25-27 (hereafter referred to as ‘Yapko’)

5 Yapko, pp 44-53

6 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hypnotherapy/

7 Yapko, p10

8 https://britishhypnosisresearch.com/about-ericksonian-hypnotherapy/; https://www.stephengilligan.com/stephens-articales/2017/10/23/ericksonian-approaches-to-clinical-hypnosis.

9 Yapko, pp 11-14, 17

The meaning of ‘Aquila’

According to mythology, Aquila was the divine bird of Zeus and carried the god’s essential tools: his thunderbolts. As one story goes, with Aquila’s help equipping him with the right tools at the right time, Zeus was able to defeat Cronos to become master of the universe.

We can look at this mythology and see that each one of us is our own version of Zeus in our journey through life, which includes the epic battles we often go through to become the master of our own universe.

So that’s why I started Aquila Hypnotherapy: To empower you with the best tools at whatever stage of life you’re at, so that you can overcome whatever has been holding you back, so you can be your highest potential and do your highest potential.