Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (SFH)

The following article is taken from NCH The Hypnotherapy Journal Spring 2018

David Newton Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Founder of CPHT Hypnotherapy TrainingI am, not surprisingly often asked the question “What is SFH?”

My stock answer is generally that SFH is a model of excellence that uses interventions that are invariably effective. It will use the very best procedures that not only our experiences prescribe, but have the backing of research and science. Its core philosophy is very much based on the development of my career as a hypnotherapist and I was certainly influenced by great people, James Braid, Milton Erickson, Steve de Shazer to name but a few.

Dr James Braid (1795 – 1860) is the inventor of modern hypnotism. He successfully created a blueprint that could be described as the original hypnotherapy model. Braid was adamant that success, and he obviously was very successful both as a psychotherapist and surgeon, should be based on research and science. In SFH everything we do and say has to be verifiable by one or the other.

Milton Erickson, the eminent psychiatrist, practised as a hypnotherapist from the 1940’s until his death in the early 1980’s. Erickson’s ideas reached far beyond hypnotic technique. He was convinced that everyone has a reservoir of wisdom and competency. He emphasised the importance of accessing the clients’ resources and strengths. In SFH we always ask the question during the Initial Consultation “What would you like to achieve by coming here?”

Sometimes people ask about my army career, I went to The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1960, inferring perhaps a certain incompatibility between ‘the military’ and ‘the caring profession’. In fact in many ways they are very similar. For a leader to be successful it is very much about enabling those under their command to get the very best out of themselves. It is the same in the SFH consulting room.

Steve de Shazer, one of the founders of Solution Focused Brief Therapy, also talked about competency saying the focus should be on the clients’ desired future rather than on past problems or current conflicts. The setting of specific concrete and realistic goals is an important part of SFH. We have also taken note of Steve de Shazer’s often repeated assertion that solution work is “the same whatever the customer brings”.

However, back to the beginning. A recent Twitter pronouncement said “Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a modern talking therapy designed primarily by a man called David Newton. He began his career as an analytical hypnotherapist before realising he could help more people, more effectively … using more modern methods of talking therapy.” This just about sums up my beginning about thirty years ago. I was obviously quite good at what I was doing because I was seeing 20 people a week after a short space of time. It is easy to make things up, but I think I became uneasy because not everyone I saw was being helped as much as I hoped. I also had a nagging thought that some people I saw were made worse. I had to continue, though, because I had to earn a living. (It was in the days when hypnotherapy was invariably a full time career). So, I started looking at other models.

I started with NLP and was certainly impressed with Richard Bandler. Partly I think because he had the courage to criticise some aspects of Freudianism. However, I came up against the same problem of the model not being able to help people as much as I would have liked. My ‘bread and butter’ business, simply because there was so much of it about in the difficult early nineties, was helping with depression and anxiety. It was in this area that sometimes, I thought, NLP and me were found wanting. I investigated CBT with some success and at more or less the same time I found SFBT which suited me and my personality. Most of all, however, what I did was based on my own experience in the consulting room. I made a decision to use only what I thought ‘worked’. I was lucky enough to be seeing 40-50 people a week, every week. Working in that sort of environment one very quickly learns what ‘works’! I also had the advantage of seeing ‘celebrities’, mostly sportsmen and women, sometimes over a period of several years. From this I learned a lot because one way or another it had to ‘work’. Later, and at one stage, we had eleven hypnotherapists practising at The Clifton Practice, I learned, and still am learning, from other people’s experiences. We can also learn from general life experience. I learned about repetition, for example, from my grandchildren. To this day I can recite a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ story verbatim!

At this time also, the mid to late 1990’s modern technology led to what some have referred to as a sequel to the ‘Copernican Revolution’. MRI, PET, and CAT scans can photograph the brain enabling us all to have an ever increasing understanding of how the brain works. I became interested in what is now known as the ‘neuroscientific revolution’. It was not long before, in an amateurish sort of way, I began to explain how the brain works to my customers. Explaining how depression, anxiety, OCD etc. is created can be very empowering. To have an understanding that there is a part of the brain that will come up with answers based on a proper assessment and is generally very positive and another part of the brain that invariably operates within the parameters of depression, anxiety and/or anger can change lives there and then. SFH is designed to help the customer move from the negative areas of the brain to the positive areas and stay there. There are many other aspects of the neuroscientific revolution that influenced the development of SFH. Certainly mirroring, the work of Giacomo Rizzolatti, is an important component. To be able to go into the waiting room with an air of confidence that will be transmitted will ensure a good start to the therapeutic process. Marcus Raichle provided another major discovery that has influenced the evolvement of SFH. His pronouncement that the brain works very much harder when in a daydreaming or trance state led to the question, what is the brain doing? “Whatever it does” said the New Scientist “it fires up……and burns white hot guzzling more oxygen, gram for gram, than your beating heart”. The general consensus is that when in the “Default Mode” the brain is finding solutions for the things solutions are wanted for. In SFH we help customers (Customer’s a SFBT term. In SFH we interpret this as meaning someone who is convinced that hypnotherapy is going to help and is prepared to do their ‘bit’ to aid the helfulness) decide on what they want by asking questions. Perhaps the most famous ‘question’ of all is the ‘Miracle Question’ and it comes from SFBT. At CPHT students have to produce a series of case studies and they have to start seeing people from the beginning of the course. It is inevitable that, rather like me some years ago, some of the procedures come across as amateurish and clumsy. Amazingly perhaps, providing the student has practised that ‘confident look’ and sticks to the recognised SFH format, the customer invariably improves. The conclusion we have drawn from this is that the brain, given a conducive environment, knows how to get better!

So what is the SFH format? Invariably there will be what is referred to as the ‘Initial Consultation’. Mostly this involves the customer learning how the brain works within the context of their problem, but always starts with inconsequential language. Information gathered will be minimal compared to most psychotherapeutic models but does help to bring the brain explanation alive. The customer leaves with a CD or is sent an Mp3 with instructions to listen to it when it is time to go to sleep. It is generally accepted that if we enter sleep in a relaxed state it will maximise both recovery and REM. We greet the customer for the 1st session with that ‘look’ and inconsequential language. The aim of this exercise is to help the customer access the left prefrontal cortex and their intellectual brain. Then the customer is asked to recount ‘What has been good about their week?’ and this is the starting point of a major change in perspective. (Mostly depression and anxiety is the product of or is exacerbated by negative thinking, and our customers would be very good at telling us what has been bad during the week.) We then revise how the brain works. I think it is the ‘Hebbian theory’ that tells us we generally need to hear things over and over before the ‘penny drops’ completely. The next ‘question’ ‘Where are you on the happiness scale?’ Zero is dire. Ten is where you have decided you should be and where you would like to be. We then introduce the Miracle Question. In effect the Miracle Question is designed to help navigate the customer to the future. It is used, at CPHT, in conjunction with scaling. ‘If you awaken tomorrow and you are a four on the happiness scale, (a 10% improvement). What is the first thing you notice that is different?’ Anybody can of course ask questions. Not everybody can elicit a helpful reply. A Solution Focused Hypnotherapist asks questions in the sure and certain knowledge that the reply will be helpful. Sometimes this takes a good deal of practice.

A SF session is generally well balanced. Half the session will be inconsequential language, What’s been good?, revision, scaling, the Miracle Question. It would be the same for every session. Years ago I think we realised that something exquisite took place within the context of the repetitiveness. The customer got the ‘hang of it!’ The brain learned how to ‘play the game’. Half the session will be trance.

Possibly the biggest change of all in recent hypnotherapy times is our understanding of trance. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz wrote about the neuroscience of leadership in 2006, their principles of coping with change have been adopted by Institutes of Management around the world. They wrote about something that most of us are familiar with; that change can be painful and even the thought of change can create anxiety. We have a built in preference to go on with the ‘comfortable’ however inappropriate it might be. In SFH there is an understanding that any form of change must emanate from the ‘sufferer’ rather than the therapist. It is the same with trance work. The customer decides what changes they wish to make while relaxed on the couch or in their ‘chair’. Never ever would the Solution Focused Hypnotherapist make ‘suggestions’. The ‘Language Patterns’ or ‘guided imagery’ used would be general, and also be repetitive.

If I did have a problem in practice, and perhaps it was a nice problem to have, sometimes people did not want to leave. In my consulting room it was fun. At CPHT we are just about to open our twentieth school. I do not teach any more but I do talk to new Intakes via Skype or Zoom. ( I never thought that at the age of seventy seven I would be Skyping or Zooming!) I say to students that there are two invariables in the SFH consulting room. First there must be discipline (people suffer from depression and anxiety because they have lost control of their lives) and secondly it must be enjoyable.

And finally, do not talk too much!

David Newton is a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, an accredited supervisor and a Fellow of the Association for Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy. He can be described as the ‘father’ of the present-day Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. David is also Chairman of the Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and Founder of the phenomenally successful Clifton Practice, and has been instrumental in testablishing a research programme CORP (=CPHT Outcomes & Research Programme) running to gather evidence of client outcomes.