According to Dr. Stephen Wolinsky’s book Trances People Live, you are in a trance right now. How do I know this? Because your attention is focused on the text as you are reading this. You are internalizing the symbols of these words and converting them to sound in order to understand what I am trying to convey. For the most part you are likely wholly unconcerned with the ambient sounds or space around you, and while this “absorption of knowledge” trance could be broken by, say, a loud sound it would not necessarily make you trance free, but instead send you into a “be on the alert” trance. While this example makes trances appear innocuous, at a more fundamental level they play a powerful role in our daily lives and are primary determinants as to whether or not we experience the sensory world in a present or hallucinatory manner.
Trance states are the patterns of thinking which hold us together in the present moment. They are not necessarily singular and topical, as in the above illustration, but are also amalgamations of strongly held values clustered under the general header of Deep Trance Phenomenon. These are the associations and responses that we literally embody, that is to say somatically, on a daily basis which we consider to be “us”. At one level “I” am the experience of these various clusters in a world that subverts, is neutral to and assists the manifestation of said trances. From another vantage point, the “I” is a completely fictional construct able to be manipulated to a new form by our will if we so desire. The problem is, however, that quite often our responses to large or small traumatic events are so ingrained or occur within conscious evaluation that we forget the resources we once knew and become stuck in patterns that inhibit our maximal agency. Put another way, our psychosomatic symptoms are caused by the non-utilization of unconscious resources. When something is overwhelming us, affecting us in a way that is purportedly beyond our control it is because we are preventing our deeper knowledge of the self from surfacing and steering our consciousness.
Using hypnosis to interrupt, shift or alter these Deep Trance Phenomenon allows the practitioner to both access these resources and circumvent the content issues that in other forms of talk therapy. This form of de-symptomization is called brief therapy and was pioneered by, amongst others, Milton Erickson who Wolinsky openly models himself upon and theoretically adapts. Avoiding the stories that are falsely perceived as causative of the symptoms may seem counter-intuitive, but upon a closer examination it becomes more apparent why this is preferable at times.
Instead of spending an extended period of time locating traumatic moments the precede and inform that maladaptive psychosomatic symptoms which first brought the client there, as Wolinsky demonstrates that such a narrative is only related to the patient’s present circumstances as firmly as they desire it to be, it’s better to simply shake up those help the patient realize their authorship and control of the situation through various practices of creating context. Once we have come to recognize that we are more than or larger than the source of distress with which we most often identify our entire experience of life shifts. This is not to say that such derivational searches into one’s past are wholly specious – just that we should not fetishize the Freudian talk-therapy model that would have us spend countless hours rehashing details of traumatic events that we’d like to move beyond. Additionally worth mentioning is how Wolinsky repeatedly states that if regression work is done it’s of the utmost importance to have the client acknowledge that the response to a traumatic situation was the best possible choice at the time. But now that time has passed and conditions are no longer the same, he argues, it’s imperative to shift it to a state of greater presence so that a more appropriate perspective can be embodied.
Dr. Wolinsky then proceeds to delineate the qualities of various trance states that cause detrimental effects on the psyche. Based upon the entrenched patterns of the states he places them within an oppositional dichotomy so that therapists can process them via negation. Doing this helps patients realize their control over their internal dialogue and psychosomatic symptoms. As the list is not long I will include it here so that the reader can get a hint at some of the specific Deep Trance Phenomenon that lead to unnecessary anxiety and stress: The opposite of age regression is a pseudo-orientation in time; the opposite of hypermnesia is amnesia; the opposite of sensory distorition is analgesia; the opposite of over-identification is dissociation or hypnotic dreaming; the opposite of positive hallucination is negative hallucinations. Unfortunately the descriptions of these are and I doubt anyone will be able to read it and not be able to recall their having been trapped by one of these perspectives. Another aspects of this section that I found personally moving was reading Dr. Wolinsky’s narrative of how he had come to embody the state of hypermnesia as I had similar early life conditions which lead me to the same vigilant trance state.
This particular book has been one of my favorites amongst the assigned FICAM reading and I look forward to reading more of Dr. Wolinsky’s work. Not only is his exegesis of concepts clear and the contextualization of his use of them insightful, but the processes he outlines for working with patients based upon his experience makes the knowledge the book provides eminently operable.