The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

TRANCE - Chris Iveson

The issue of trance came up recently on our Advanced Certificate course and we thought it would be interesting to open the discussion to a wider audience. We will be very interested to read your responses to this slightly controversial.

Most of the early SF founders were heavily influenced by Milton Erickson’s approach to therapeutic use of trance. In fact, back in the mid-eighties I went on a half day workshop run by an Ericksonian. That evening I was with friends for dinner. It was quite a large and jolly group and when I told them about my day Maisy (who I had only just met) asked me to demonstrate with her. I began to do my stuff and after about five minutes I saw her husband, Mick’s, head sink to his chin. A few minutes later Maisy began to weep! Controlling my panic I went into the ‘coming out of trance’ procedure. It worked with Maisy but had the opposite effect on Mick who went deeper into sleep, waking up only when his head fell in his soup. Brushing aside my concerns, Maisy said it had been a wonderful experience and rather than crying her tears had just flowed. The next day I rang the workshop leader who told me ‘tearing’ was common when someone was in a good trance. I never tried it again; Maisy became a hypnotherapist.

Like me most SFers put aside their trance techniques because the new approach, SFBT, worked perfectly well without formal trance-work. However, they did hold on to a number of hypnotic techniques mainly in the form of presuppositional questions (e.g. “What will you notice when . . .?” rather than “What might you notice if . . . ?”) the idea being that they encourage the client to believe more in the possibility of the changes being suggested.

You would see this in our first book (Problem to Solution) but as we began to snip away at the edges of the ‘original’ blueprint for SFBT (as described in de Shazer’s Clues) and the realisation came that it really was the clients’ answers that made the difference our respect for these answers grew and our attempts to influence them diminished. The more we recognised the truth of the client’s expertise the more conscious we became of the remnants of our own; hypnotic techniques are not only a form of expertise but they are techniques hidden from the client much the same as used in advertising. We wanted our work to be totally transparent so if the client wants to know we can say why we asked a particular question, what thoughts are we having as we progress through a session and nothing is hidden.

However, there are times when we do ask questions that presuppose the existence of an answer. These would include “What else?” “What difference . . . ?” and “What are your best hopes from . . . ?” They contain what we might call ‘legitimate’ presuppositional questions since there is always something else, everything makes a difference and the client must be with us for a good reason which is somehow connected to a future hope.

Though we do not attempt to deliberately induce trance states or use any hypnotic techniques it may be that our questions sometimes induce altered states of consciousness (trance) in clients. But how can we know and what use could we make of that knowledge other than to distract part of our attention from the client into a ‘discussion’ in our heads. We have to not only ignore it but, like ‘body language’, not even notice it otherwise we begin to slip towards a ‘knowing’ position in which our own ideas about what needs to happen compromise the essence of SFBT – that all the knowledge about their own possible ways of living reside within the client.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with using trance with SF techniques if it is part of the ‘deal’ with a client. I know many people like to use trance and SF alongside each other and why not? It doesn’t make it bad therapy, the same as CBT, person-centred and all the other models are not bad therapy. For us ‘keeping it simple’ is a key principle and as far as I know there is no evidence that adding trance work makes the therapy more successful or more brief.


Chris Iveson
17th December 2023


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