Episode 23: Rob McNeilly Interview

Rob McNeilly

In this episode, Dr. Robert McNeilly is interviewed. Rob is a medical doctor and a psychotherapist in Tasmania who had the privilege of learning directly from Dr. Milton Erickson. Rob was so inspired by Erickson’s human approach to therapy that he created his own interpretation to assist clients in a respectful, dignified way to deal with the human dilemmas that affect individuals, couples and families. Rob founded the Center for Effective Therapy in l988 to introduce Ericksonian Hypnosis and Solution Oriented Counseling to Australia. He has written several well received books on Solution Oriented Therapy and Hypnosis and offers online training in these approaches.

In this interview Rob discusses the importance of having a sense of expectancy on the part of both client and therapist, the importance of creating therapeutic relationships, the power of listening for resources, and therapist genuineness.

For more information about Rob McNeilly go to his website:  robmcneilly.simplero.com/

That is so random….

My present belief system is that clients seek help from a therapist due to their feeling stuck in some way. Their ability to work through what they perceive as a problem is hindered by their attempting to deal with the problem with a pattern of action/reaction which furthers to cement the pattern and, unfortunately, makes it worse. If clients are continuing to perform the same patterns of action, thought, and emotion toward the problem, then the problem will be maintained and clients will feel it insurmountable to overcome. This will lead to them perceiving their problem as a personal reality and their automatic responses to this “reality” further solidifies the pattern.

In order to facilitate a change in these patterns, I believe therapists must be comfortable talking about and doing things that are unexpected and random. Our therapeutic interactions are there to provide clients with new information which can be used to alter the patterns which have previously caused distress. When new and random information enters their present perceived reality, then their reality has to adjust. Sometimes merely giving straightforward logical information in dialogue may not be very effective due to the brain being stuck in a deeply entrenched pattern. Introducing the random into a session can cause the brain to experience different and new realities which can create a shift in how clients respond to their problems. As Gregory Bateson stated in his classic text, Mind and Nature, “Without the random, there can be no new thing.”

Lucky Dice showing a pair of sixes.

Random information can come from anywhere. Sources such as popular culture, spirituality, childhood hobbies, fine arts, etc. can all introduce new information about different ways to respond to old problems.  Further examination of the problem and trying to solve the problem only continues the process of the problem. Introducing the random or unexpected into the problem alters the problem.

I once had a client who was dealing with social anxiety issues and panic attacks due to a variety of factors. He was very worried about running into people he used to know and their observing how little he had advanced in his life. He stated he knew he was depressed and was not in a good place to talk to former friends as he “did not want to burden them” with his problems. When he did go out he would sometimes have a panic attack which would cause him to immediately return home. He felt stuck and more depressed due to his inability to go out often.

PATTERN: Go out –> worry about seeing someone he knows –> think about the present condition he is in and the shame he has about it  –> have a panic attack –> immediately go home

I heard him state that he didn’t want to “burden others” with his problems. I immediately latched onto how a desire to not burden someone was actually an act of compassion. I told him that his concern for how other people feel was quite remarkable. I complimented him on how compassionate he was to willingly allow himself to suffer so that others would not suffer. I told him it was possible that his unconscious mind could even be creating these panic episodes to help shield others from feeling his pain. He responded favorably to my conjectures. Our conversation on compassion continued as we discussed many other examples of times he was kind to others. Since he was a religious person, we also discussed the spiritual role of compassion and the many saints who had shown great compassion while going through hardships.  The topic of compassion was a “random” entry into the interaction as neither of us expected it to appear. It did not fit the prearranged pattern of the problem.

I then told him that it was not fair for him to waste his compassion being alone at home. We had to come up with some way for him to help others with his strong sense of compassion. I told him he had much to teach all of us about how to become more compassionate in our lives. I reminded him about the hardships that the various saints had to face trying to spread their messages of hope to others. I let him know that he could not fully show compassion by staying at home. He needed to find somewhere to interact with others on a small scale to help them learn to have compassion toward themselves. He agreed that this was important work to do. In time, he found that when he did go out he was not as nervous as before and he found that he could interact with people with fewer panic episodes. The random inclusion of “compassion” into the pattern caused his reality to adjust. His previously self-defeating fear was now a source of compassion to be shared with others.

Random information does not come from a scripted, rehearsed treatment protocol. It can only come from an alive interaction with room for spontaneity. It also does not come from excessive problem investigation. When we allow the random to show up in our therapy room, we can let it flow as we ride the wave of interaction.

Episode 14: Utilization of Client Values

values

In this episode, I discuss the importance of using clients’ values to aid in obtaining successful therapeutic outcomes. Too often therapists forget that each client has a unique set of values that, when explored, can give him or her enormous resources to pull from to aid in healing. By being open to investigating and using these resources, we can assist our clients in finding surprising ways to navigate and move beyond the inevitable struggles in life.

Episode 13: Clifton Mitchell Interview

Clift_Mitchell

In this information packed episode, Dr. Clifton Mitchell is interviewed about how to effectively and creatively deal with difficult and resistant clients. Clift is a licensed psychologist and an international clinical trainer and keynote speaker. He is currently a professor of counseling at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he received the Teacher of the Year award in 2002. He has taught hundreds of mental health organizations, businesses, leadership and civic organizations effective techniques for improving communications and for creating change through the precise use of language. He is the author of the book, Effective Techniques for Dealing with Highly Resistant Clients, in which he presents cutting-edge approaches for managing psychological resistance in creative ways. He has published in numerous professional journals and his ideas and writings have also been published in “Men’s Health Today” and “Barron’s Financial Weekly.” His website is http://www.cliftonmitchell.com/

Episode 11: Stephen Brooks Interview

Stephen Brooks

In this interview I speak with renowned British psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, Stephen Brooks. Stephen was one of the first people to teach indirect and strategic methods of hypnosis in Europe in the 1970s. He founded the prestigious British Hypnosis Research Association at Cambridge University and ran training courses in hospitals and universities throughout the United Kingdom and abroad. In the 1990s Stephen decided to step back from his lucrative training business and private practice. He gave away everything he owned and moved to the mountainous jungles of northern Thailand to spend several years of deep personal exploration. During this period, he became interested in the nature and causes of suffering and began developing a workable practical psychotherapeutic process that he refers to as “Non Attachment Therapy”.  Non Attachment Therapy allows therapists to disconnect the trigger-response mechanism that occurs when clients’ thoughts trigger negative emotions. The therapist will then help clients learn that their symptoms were not caused by something outside of their control, but by an automatic thought process learned by the brain. Today, Stephen teaches what he calls “Future Focused Therapy” which combines the very best of Ericksonian Indirect Hypnosis, Buddhist Psychotherapy (Non Attachment Therapy) and his own insights into the process of human transformation. In this interview we discuss his background, the role of attachment in human suffering, focusing on love and compassion as client resources, and his experiences running an international training organization. Stephen is a very inspiring guy and you can find out what he is up to now by going to his website:  http://futurefocusedtherapy.com/

How to Become an Irreverent Therapist

I recently came across an old article while doing some research that really got me thinking in a different direction. The article was written by Cecchin, Lane and Ray and published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in 1993. It is entitled “From Strategizing to Nonintervention: Toward Irreverence in Systemic Practice”. The article discusses the shifting of focus in systemic therapy away from cybernetics and directive interventions and towards nonintervention and a focus on narrative (this shift was a huge mistake in my opinion). In the article, the authors suggest that in order to avoid the trap of being constricted in any way, therapists may want to embrace irreverence in their clinical work. This will enable them to avoid any potential limitations. It is a fantastic article that still has applications today. I was so inspired by the authors’ ideas that I wanted to share them, along with my own thoughts about how to become an “irreverent therapist.”

How to become an Irreverent Therapist

To be able to act without any restrictions on effectiveness, irreverent therapists need to take 100 percent responsibility for the actions they take and the directives they give. They must be willing to do anything within ethical guidelines to create the conditions for change to occur. If a therapist needs to be silent for the whole session in order to create change, she will. If a therapist needs to be confrontational in order to create change, she will. If a therapist needs to jump up and down on the couch singing songs from the 1960s to create change, she will. An irreverent therapist has an incredible amount of flexibility because her client is the focus of the session, not her theory.

 

Jester-_Joker_Card001

 

This will mean that the therapist will have to abandon any concepts, ideas, theories, or beliefs which could hamper the successful outcome of treatment. To quote Cecchin, Lane, and Ray, “therapists should maintain a healthy disrespect for any idea which restricts therapeutic maneuverability and creativity.” If you want to be an irreverent therapist, it is crucial that you successfully overcome any desire to stick to predetermined theory or technique that is regarded as the gospel truth. Any allegiance to a dogma is to quickly be rejected in order to flow with the moment as you and your client interact.  Practice laughing maniacally when you hear that a specific theory or technique is labeled “the best”.

An irreverent therapist will go out of his way to undermine and create havoc in the rigid beliefs and patterns of his clients. The order of the day is to embrace playfulness and see what happens when an inspired, uninhibited shrink gets to have fun. The irreverent therapist is also expected to poke holes in his own beliefs and patterns as he weaves a web of possibilities in his interactions with his clients. Uncertainty is not only embraced but encouraged in the therapy room. Any viewpoint the therapist or client takes as an absolute certainty in the session must be disregarded and discarded in favor of pure spontaneity and aliveness. Any certainty that the problem the client brings is unsolvable needs to be immediately dismantled in the therapy session. Spend time observing mastery of the absurd by watching a Marx Brothers movie or a Samuel Beckett play (these are much more enjoyable and teachable than most therapy textbooks).

An irreverent therapist pays little attention to how problems got started. He or she will be mostly focused on how things can shift and change. Investigation into past history and narrative explanations are kept to a minimum as the therapist redirects focus away from problem investigation and towards an exploration of client strengths and resources. Diagnostic labels are regarded with much suspicion and even disdain (maniacal laughter can be used here as well).

Try on the mantle of “Irreverent Therapist” for a week. Put it on your business cards. For this title there are no expensive, long term trainings to attend in order to obtain some silly certification. All that is needed is an openness to absurdity, an embracing of compassion, and a sense of humor.

principles

Episode 5: Interview with Robert Musikantow

In this episode I get to interview my good buddy, clinical psychologist, researcher and author Dr. Robert Musikantow. Located in Evanston, Illinois, Bob received his PhD from the California School of Professional Psychology and has been a professor at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. He is presently in private practice at the Evanston Center for the Transformative Arts and offers training and workshops for mental health professionals.

Robert Musikantow

In our interview Bob discusses such topics as the role of circularity in therapy, first and second order cybernetics, his work with Bradford Keeney, hypnosis, moving away from pathology investigation and learning to trust one’s ability to improvise in the therapy room. Bob has a great ability at making complex ideas very simple. For more info on Bob Musikantow check out his website: www.robertmusikantow.com

Brief Reflections on Erickson Congress 2015

I recently was able to attend and present at the 12th International Erickson Congress in Phoenix, Arizona. My trip was very enjoyable and was a moving experience for me. Getting to see old and new friends was great as usual. I enjoyed connecting with people such as Bill O’Hanlon, Bob Bertolino, Michael Hoyt, Mike Munion, Suzanne Black, Rachel Hott, Bob and Sandie Wubbolding, Eric Greenleaf, Betty Alice Erickson, Richard and Susan Hill, Rob McNeilly, Gabrielle Peacock, and far too many other people to list. It was a lovely time to be around like minded practitioners whose high skill level was only matched by their deep desire to help others.

 

Bill keynote

Bill O’Hanlon during the keynote address

The primary thing that I gained from the conference was a reinforcement of my belief in the importance of focusing on the potential each client brings to his or her therapy session. Every presenter I talked with shared my views that a constant focus on pathology rarely leads to change. Dr. Eric Greenleaf said it best in one of his sessions, “Psychotherapy seems to be the only profession in which constantly discussing the history of the problem is seen as somehow contributing to solving the problem. You don’t find this in any other profession. If a plumber has a problem, he or she just makes adjustments in how the plumbing operates. There isn’t all this long drawn out examination of the history of how the plumbing issue started”.

Greenleaf

Dr. Eric Greenleaf

I have attended many conferences in the past but the Erickson Congress is my favorite as it feels so much like a family reunion. Even people I did not know at first quickly became friends. Having a common goal for utilizing client resources over emphasizing diagnostic dysfunction seems to draw us together in a way that I don’t find at many other psychotherapy related conferences. The staff did a great job at helping everyone connect and enjoy the event. Dr. Jeff Zeig, the head of the Erickson Foundation, and his team made a wonderful occasion even more wonderful by exhibiting much care and professionalism to ensure everyone had ample opportunities to learn and interact.

 

zeig

Dr. Jeff Zeig

On a personal note, I was honored to have been able to have a small, private tour of Dr. Milton Erickson’s home and office. His home has been turned into a private museum and kept how it would have looked if he were still living there. I was accompanied on the tour by some of my friends, including Dr. Suzanne Black and Dr. Rachel Hott. We all enjoyed seeing many of Dr. and Mrs. Erickson’s personal items and getting a sense of how humble Dr. Erickson really was. Just standing in his home I felt a sense of awe mixed with sadness. In some way I could sense the physical pain Dr. Erickson was constantly in toward the end of his life due to polio. At the same time I was overwhelmed by the feeling of how much he loved being alive and helping others. Just being in his office was inspiring for me and several of us were able to sit in his chair and soak up the ambiance of where he worked. Being in his home gave me a deeper sense of who Dr. Erickson was as a person. Even though I had written a book about his work, I didn’t have that personal sense of connection with him until after visiting his home.

 

Erickson backyardGetting a quick group photo in Dr. Erickson’s backyard

suzanne erickson

Dr. Suzanne Black in Dr. Erickson’s office

There is a certain feeling of sadness I had as the conference came to a close. I know it will be another year or so before I get to see my therapy friends and mentors. Having had several days surrounded by people who share my passion gives me a renewed feeling of possibility for my profession. I encourage anyone who works in the mental health field to make sure you are able to have some time throughout your year to interact with like-minded souls as our profession can be a very lonely one. By interacting with our peers (friends) we can share new ideas which can help not only us but also our clients. I am grateful not just to be able to attend but also to be invited to present a short course. I am anxiously looking forward to the next one and I hope to see you there.

Are you a Lazy Therapist?

Are you a lazy therapist? If not, could you try to become one?

To me a lazy therapist is one who does only what needs to be done. He or she will relax and let the therapy session move into whatever direction it needs to take without feeling like he or she has to control it. Lazy therapists go with the flow and even sometimes shift the flow in surprising ways.

Most of us have been taught that if we are working harder than the client then something is not right. It may be that we want to the change in the client more than the client wants it. It could also be that perhaps we are attempting to get the client to fit into our therapy model. If we are lazy therapists we just let new therapy models happen all by themselves. We take whatever the client gives us and we use it to create new possibilities for the client. If we are trying to force a client into a model it feels like “hard work” and that means you aren’t being a lazy therapist.

lazy therapist

To be a lazy therapist does not mean you have to be an ineffective therapist. Quite the contrary. You may find that the more you let go of control and let the client do whatever he or she is going to do, often magical openings appear for you to do great therapy. These openings may not appear if you are working hard to get the client into a set pattern of interaction.

 
To be an effective “lazy” therapist I believe you need to do two things:

 
Improvise and Utilize

 
When we improvise we let the client takes us on a journey. We see what magically appears and we do things which seem natural in that specific moment.
After that we then utilize what has occurred in our improvisation to move our clients toward new resources for healing.
This is so different from “working hard”. This can be quite a fun, lazy way to help people.

 
Instead of badgering a client to change their thinking, why not start a discussion about something they enjoy which could lead to an experience of interaction which might shift their thinking in ways beyond anything you might have thought possible?

 
Instead of pushing a client into facing his or her fears, why not do an out of the ordinary activity where he or she can feel in charge of the situation and access the resource of confidence?

 
Instead of working hard to label a client, why not pull out your DSM and ask the client what label they would like to have, which could start a great discussion about the power each of us has to choose our own labels?

 
You could easily do all these kind of things but you may feel you are being lazy. That is a good thing.