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Generative trance as a new generation of Ericksonian approach in hypnosis

Natalia Tsareva, accredited psychologist/psychotherapist (SRO), internationally licensed specialist in generative trance (IAGC), full member of the Professional Psychotherapy League, head of the MIND ECOLOGY training center. Russia, Vologda.

Abstract. The report discusses the key principles of the generative approach by Steven Gilligan PhD. It gives a comparative description of the Eriksonian and generative approaches in psychotherapy. The importance of state as the basis of generative trance is described. And psychotherapy of healthy people is discussed.

For the first time, generative trance was presented in the Russian-speaking space and named the third generation of hypnosis by its founder Steven Gilligan PhD (USA), who is one of Milton Erickson’s outstanding students, in 2010 in Moscow in a 12-day course «Ericksonian Hypnosis and Generative Trance”. In 2014, the first Generative Trance certification course was held as part of the International Association for Generative Change (IAGC) created by Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts. The Association was created to present, develop and teach a generative approach to change in three areas: generative trance, generative coaching and generative consulting. These tracks reflect the three areas of application of the approach: psychological counseling and psychotherapy, coaching, and business consulting. The generative approach, as I see it, is a synthesis of the third generation models of neurolinguistic programming (R. Dilts, J. Delozier), Eriksonian psychotherapy (M. Erickson, S. Gilligen), relationship therapy (S. Gilligen), models of Buddhist practices and centering practices from Aikido, concepts of emotional intelligence by Salovey, Caruso, Meyer, and some others.

In the Russian-speaking space, the founders of the approach have accumulated many followers and practitioners over the years, but there are few descriptive articles and publications popularizing and explaining the approach. In this article I briefly present my view on generative trance, which does not claim to be overall exhaustive and accurate, but nevertheless describes the main aspects of the generative approach in counseling and psychotherapy, which I practice as a psychologist in my work and whose basics I have been teaching as a trainer for seven years.

Generative can be translated as a creative or generative conversation between different worlds: the creative unconscious, which opens up infinite possibilities, and the conscious mind with its classical logic, concrete manifestations. Often these two levels in the ordinary functioning of our personality do not often interact, so everything we need is provided for us by our experience. We don’t need the creative variety to perform the habitual and routine activities of our lives. We need that conversation when we can’t find the answers in experience. We call these moments in our lives crises, when that map of our lives by which we navigated reality, knew where we were, who we were, what we wanted, what we could rely on, no longer works. When M. Erikson was asked: «when do you go into a trance?», he answered: «when I want to know something». Trance in the generative approach to working with the unconscious is seen as a natural experience that occurs whenever a person’s identity is destabilized. Trance is a conversation between different levels of personality, which separates it from outdated notions of hypnosis. Hypnosis serves as only one of the few possible social rituals for developing trance. [5]

Generative trance as a tool solves the following tasks relevant to us: to recover and relax; to restore one’s identity or to remember oneself, such function in all cultures was performed by rituals; to heal by resolving inner conflicts; to overcome a crisis by transforming obstacles into opportunities; to create a new identity in order to fulfill oneself in a new period of life, for new ambitious goals and projects.

It is no secret that our pragmatic Western mindset tends to use hypnosis and trance to solve very specific problems and achieve goals here in the real world. And that is precisely the purpose of generative trance, which is to build a channel of communication between the creative unconscious and the cognitive mind in those moments when we need truly new solutions in our lives that are right for us and not compelled from the outside.

To establish this channel of communication in order to harness these capabilities, in generative trance we develop the competencies of three kinds of mind: the cognitive mind, embodied in the patterns of neural discharge that can be observed in the brain, and the somatic mind, embodied in the body, which includes the sympathetic, parasympathetic autonomic nervous system, the intracardiac and the complex gut nervous system or «mind in the belly”. [1] This is how Daniel Siegel, M.D., Harvard Medical School Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at UCLA Medical School, co-director of the Mindfulness Research Center, member of the American Psychiatric Association, and the founder of a new field of research into interpersonal neurobiology, describes these two kinds of mind. The third kind of mind considered in the generative trance is the field mind, which, according to J. Siegel, arises in relationships. Archetypes are an example of the field mind. [3] The cognitive mind, with its competencies of linear thinking, logic, language, duality and discreteness, and analysis or differentiation as the ability to separate things and phenomena into elements, allows us to achieve self-awareness. Unconscious minds, such as the somatic and the field, have non-discrete, non-dual information that includes and surpasses the information we are aware of, and they also possess competencies of synthesis or integration.

D. Siegel defined the mind in his book Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human, which requires two important processes for a healthy state of mind. Differentiation means to isolate, recognize, acknowledge the uniqueness, accept, in yourself, all the meaningful parts of your personality. You can’t get something out of yourself, but you can finally meet and recognize that part of yourself that eats at night or yells at the kids, puts off important things or is responsible for depression or loneliness. Integration is to re-create qualitative connections between all the significant parts of the personality and especially to reconnect with the «conflicting,» neglected, unaccepted parts. Integration reassembles the structure of our personality and ends intrapersonal conflicts. This is how we establish a good relationship with our own selves.
Thus, through the development of competencies of the three types of mind, the generative trance creates for us opportunities to improve intrapersonal intelligence, as part of emotional intelligence, in the model of Salovey, Caruso, Mayer: differentiation and integration. First of all intrapersonal, if we say resolution of internal conflicts, and next of all interpersonal, as skills of establishing qualitative connections with other people.

The development of competencies of all kinds of mind in generative trance rests on the following premise: there are two levels of self-awareness in generative trance: 1) The Acting Self – experiencing the experience of the trance process; 2) The Observing Self – being conscious, witnessing, holding and creatively directing the process.

The Observing Self represents what is known as «Erikson’s function,» a special state trained through skill that directs the trance consciously. In this way, the generative trance is a model for the integration of the hypnotist and the hypnotized individual. In such a model, there is no need for an external hypnotist who knows how to communicate with the unconscious and is a necessary element in guiding the hypnosis process.

The steps of the generative trance, as they are described in detail in the book under the same title [5], fully reflect the specific workings of the mind or, more correctly, of the minds: 1) Preparation of the generative state; 2) Differentiation. Greeting and weaving together the parts of identity in the generative trance; 3) Integration and transformation; 4) Transferring the lessons into the real life.

In the classical paradigm, the hypnotist is the one who is conscious, controls and directs the process of hypnosis, possesses special techniques and «tricks» for distracting the conscious mind in order to lower into the unconscious some suggestion necessary to make changes, to eliminate the symptom. This approach is reflected in the structure of an Eriksonian trance session [6]: 1) setting the context: preparation for trance; 2) making the transition: trance induction or trance microdynamics; 3) making the desired change: trance utilization; 4) consolidation of what is learned during the trance: trance completion and extension.
It should be noted that the Eriksonian approach [2] is the basis for the study of generative trance. For example, in the IAGC Generative Trance certification training course, you can find classical trance inductions and phenomena such as catalepsy and levitation. However, there are also differences. The differences between third-generation trance work and the classic hypnosis approaches can be described through the dimensions of generative trance: centeredness, openness, subtle awareness, musicality, intentionality, and creative engagement.

The fundamental difference in this new generation method of trance work is the centered state with which work begins for both the therapist and the client. Centering is the main dimension of generative trance. In my opinion, this is the secret ingredient of Milton Erickson’s method that the developers of NLP, who gave us linguistic models and among them the Milton language model, were unable to put into a model. The centered state and its descriptive COACH model [4], provides the hypnotherapist with a sense of body-mind integration, a calm, non-reactive presence, a non-judgmental awareness, an open learning state, and yet with a keen sense of the client’s state.

Popular opinion about hypnosis, which has developed not only in the general field of information but also among helping professionals, reflects the paradigm that ‘someone will hypnotize me’. I will not list all the traditional myths about hypnosis here. I will note, however, that even those who teach, train, and seek to train in hypnosis often espouse this paradigm of «I will hypnotize.» The founder of the approach, Stephen Gilligan, repeatedly emphasizes in his books and seminars that generative trance is the result of the client and the therapist working together, in partnership. «Abandon the idea that someone is going to hypnotize you to save you from yourself. Instead, open up to the question of how we can explore together what ideas for solving your problem you can discover in conjunction with the limitless possibilities of your unconscious mind.» How great it is to know that you no longer need a special person to allow you to get in touch with your unconscious and create your own solutions there. And that’s another advantage of the generative approach. When you observe from aside the work of the client and the therapist in a generative trance, you think of a dance, a conversation where it’s not always clear who is leading and even what the next move is. In this dance, there are no pre-learned and trained actions that lead to a predictable result. There is a goal, a structure on the one side, and a state of creative flow provided by centering on the other side.

In the Modern Hypnosis course that my colleagues and I have developed and run in our training center, students study all three generations of hypnosis, and we observe their perception of the different generations. On the one hand, generative trance, as a development of the Eriksonian approach in therapy, may seem a simpler method where there is no emphasis on mastering special techniques for inducing, deepening and using trance, such as techniques for depotentializing consciousness to weaken the critical factor of the thinking mind. At the same time, the simpler the generative trance techniques seem, the more difficult they seem to be for students in practice.

Openness and full awareness, a skill that is trained through models of Eastern Buddhist practices that develop the Observing Self. Openness is the skill of experiencing arbitrary interest; of expanding to include more units of observation; of perceiving without evaluation; and of refusing the idea of having one right, expert answer at a time. Stephen Gilligan often tells the story in his seminars of Milton Erickson being asked for advice about a clinical case and waiting for his answer, readily opening notebooks to take notes, and Milton Erickson, smiling enigmatically, always uttering one phrase, «I don’t know…». His particular skill was in creating a state of not knowing, which is curious, interested and open to all that comes in. And Milton continued his meaningful response, «…but I’m very curious to learn.» These competencies are a function of the cognitive mind, directing attention to everything that manifests and can be realized as the self: emotions, feelings, sensations, images, thoughts, ego constructs and, at the same time, going beyond the self. In this way it is possible to feel oneself as part of the experience and, at the same time, to be separate from it. » To be with something without becoming it». This is especially important to helping professionals as a skill of deep empathy, without having to be gripped and hypnotized by the client’s stories and complex emotions.
The mind manifests itself in relationships. Primarily within us, as a connection between body and brain, thoughts and feelings, left and right hemisphere, as a kind of communication within the body that allows us to see the skill of mindfulness. And mind is born between us – in relationship with people, the environment, the world. Such a facet of mind reveals the next dimension of generative trance – subtle awareness.

The subtle awareness developed in generative trance allows the therapist to train his own sensitivity, which no longer relies on the cognitive part of the mind, but on the somatic part, which S. Gilligan calls limbic resonance. The limbic system is responsible for our connections with living systems: people, animals, nature. The mind is born in relationships. An important part of qualitative relationships is a subtle sense of the other.

Musicality in trance work does not mean having an ear or special training. In Eriksonian hypnosis, we are traditionally trained to control the voice in order to influence non-verbally. In the generative process, musicality is found as a natural inner rhythm, as the first language of our being even before words, as music that «requires no instruments or formal expression to be real». This becomes possible from a centered, unconstrained state. At the same time, we can agree that a problematic symptom such as stress, fear, aggression, hopelessness, disconnectedness, is felt as a loss of musicality, fluidity, flow. In his book, Mind, D. Siegel also provides a metaphorical description of the mind as a flow of energy and information. The mind system is complex and can self-organize in suboptimal ways. In this case, it will tend to move toward one of two fixed states: stiffness or chaos. This is how problematic symptoms arise. A simple and natural way to «break away» from the shores of stiffness and chaos and get back into the flow is to remember our inherent fluidity and non-fixed musicality.

Intentionality, as another dimension of generative trance, allows us not to get lost in the endless quantum fields of the unconscious, not to be trapped in a negative trance. The unconscious itself is not wise. It becomes wise and brings positive transformations when we have a firm intention, a goal, something that we want to achieve in this world. It happens one can meet people who practice various kinds of hypnosis, meditation, as a kind of escape into trance from real life, where we need to make money, build relationships, and fulfil ourselves. Generative trance we use with the specific intention of how it will improve life, and this is present in the structure of the work. In the international certification standard of the Generative Transformation Association IAGC course, founded by Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts, which took place in Russia in 2014, the generative trance model included 6 steps: 1) open the COACH field; 2) prepare for the generative trance; 3) unfold the generative trance field, 4) use parts of identity to develop the generative trance, 5) create new realities in the generative trance, 6) bring changes to the real world. In step two, together with the client, we set the intention for the session of work, the intention for change in the client’s life, which we explore with the questions: What do I want to create in this world? What do I want to experience? How do I want to feel? Step six instructs the client to recognize and articulate the most important thoughts and ideas he or she has learned during the trance work, and to form promises to himself or herself of what actions he or she intends to take to bring about change in real life. A generative trance is called a creative trance, where awareness and commitment are an important part of change.
Creative engagement is M. Erikson’s amazingly inherent skill in using whatever the patient brings, presents, to find solutions. Struggling with something, trying to change or fix something, only leads to resistance and aggravation of the situation. In the generative approach to change, we are based on the idea of nonviolence, of withdrawing from fighting ourselves, implementing the principles of creative acceptance: trying to solve becomes a problem; to change something, we must first fully accept it as it is; we join in with something as it is, without trying to change it. The integrative mechanism of the psyche is realized by the principle of complementarity, when originally conflicting parts, often separated by the cognitive pattern «either…or…», «I want…, but…», join in the generative trance process, finding connection and solution at a new level of logic, when both are accepted, welcomed, woven together, transformed into a new solution. This is how inner synergy emerges. The mind possesses all the characteristics of complex systems as well as all the positive bonuses in terms of internal transformations in therapy: the emergence of synergy, when the qualitative connection of elements gives birth to much more than the simple sum of them; even a small impact can lead to powerful and unpredictable results. In this regard I like to compare the generative trance with soft, almost imperceptible, gentle touches that can lead to significant positive shifts and this also relates to the property of complex systems to self-regulate and self-balance. The third principle of infinite possibilities allows us to express any pattern of our experience in countless ways. This is why we need to travel to a generative state of consciousness, to find how to express something important in a more appropriate and ecological way: anger, sexuality, the need for security, justice, and others. This becomes a problem when we choose only one way, and it doesn’t always achieve the goal. Trance allows us to soften the rigid attachment to one choice, so that while leaving the important value core of any experience, we can find new forms and ways of expressing our aspirations and meeting our needs.

I don’t know what to compare the depth and aesthetics of the generative trance process with, observing the emotions of a person when they finally feel that «soft tender place» inside them, touching with their attention something unspeakably deep, sometimes wounded or forgotten, but opening like a flower to remind them of their inner beauty.

In his book on relationship therapy [7], S. Gilligan writes that our first responsibility is to re-establish a human connection with every part of ourselves. Human means warm, accepting, touching gently with the hand, with the gaze, welcoming. Each of us really needs to be seen from birth, first the infant seeks his mother’s eyes and meets their loving gaze: I see you. And then, at the more mature stages of attachment formation, according to John Bowlby’s theory and its modern development, at the level of psychological cognition, it is important to us that the loved one really knows us in all our manifestations. And if, for whatever reason, we have not realized these human levels of connection in our early years, it creates a deficiency within. Generative trance provides an opportunity to develop this as a skill in the experience of human connection, and specifically with ourselves. One of my students who has studied generative trance and writes generative poetry gave me this phrase, «I have learned to be kind to myself.» And those aren’t just words. It’s a skill. A skill of self-love that heals wounds and fills what felt like insufficiency, giving an experience of wholeness. Generative trance is «a way for a person to experience integrated wholeness”

My humble counseling practice allows me to conclude that the generative trance method can be used in combination with other methods and give positive results during work with anxiety disorders, psychogenic depressions of mild to moderate severity, life crises, therapy of attachment traumas. Elements and practices of the generative approach at both the resourcing stage and in the course of processing are organically combined with protocols of work according to the EMDR method. I would be grateful to colleagues practicing the generative trance method for criticism, additions, clarification of my vision of the approach and integration with already existing schools of psychotherapy. It should be noted that in his preface to the book on generative trance S. Gilligan warns that «such work is not a substitute for basic medical or psychological care, and it should not be used by unqualified professionals to treat serious disorders». As with any method working with altered states of consciousness, it has certain limitations which those in the helping professions, who are training in this method, get familiar with in the first place.

1. Daniel Siegel, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human / ; The Russian edition translated from English by V. Gorokhov ; scientific editor E. Pustoshkin. — M. : Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, 2019. — p. 336.
2. Ginzburg M.R., E.L. Yakovleva. Ericksonian hypnosis: a systematic course. -M.: Moscow Psycho-Social Institute, 2008. — p. 312.
3. Carl Jung. Archetypes and the collective unconscious. AST, 2020. — p. 224.
4. Robert Dilts, Judith Delozier. NLP-2: The Next Generation. — SPb: Peter, 2012. — p. 320.
5. Stephen Gilligan. Generative Trance. Psychotherapy Institute Press. 2014. — p. 320.
6. Stephen Gilligan. Therapeutic metaphors. Psychotherapy Institute Press. 2014. — p. 320. 7. Stephen Gilligan PhD. The Courage to Love: Principles and Practices of Self-relations Psychotherapy.

Internet Scientific Practical Journal
Fundamental edition of congress proceedings
of All-Russian Professional Psychotherapeutic League
and Self-regulating National Organization
«The Union of Psychotherapists and Psychologists»

21.06. 2022

pages 144-147

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