I was at a dinner party recently and an interesting topic of discussion came up. What is the difference between hypnotherapy and the work that shamans do?
According to the laws in the State of Washington:
Hypnotherapy refers to the use of therapeutic techniques to help another person deal with mental, emotional, and behavioral problems or to develop human awareness and potential. A registered or certified hypnotherapist is a person who gets paid for providing hypnotherapy services.
This is interesting as it, in many ways, also describes the role of a shaman. In both cases, the practitioner is supporting and transforming mental, emotional, and behavioral problems for the client.
After having experienced various sessions with shamans, it was clear that some of the techniques employed could be modified for the hypnotherapy session. Trance states are foundational in hypnotherapy, of course, and in indigenous practices at least the shaman uses trance, and sometimes the person being worked on.
When I experienced a soul retrieval with a shaman, I laid on a mat and the shaman laid next to me. He went into trance to discover the missing energetic pieces of my soul, and brought them back to reintegrate them into my energetic field. While I tried to follow and perceive what was going on, I really had no idea what was actually happening, what he found, where it had been, and how it was reintegrated.
In client-centered hypnotherapy the way that I practice and teach it, the client is taken into the trance and identifies the missing piece. Together we go back in time—whether in this life or a past one—to locate the soul fragment. The client then explores how it happened, so that we can work on strengthening any weaknesses or tendencies that allow it such separation to happen. Then we find out how we can reintegrate it into the wholeness of the person. In this way, the client is fully cognizant of the process, engages in a healing, and is at the helm of the decision-making process of how it will be reintegrated.
In a separate shamanic encounter, I experienced a Shamanic Journey. In that instance, the shaman discussed with me the process and what was expected of me. Then she began drumming and guiding me into a trance. I had my journey, and when the drumming ended, I came back to the present moment. It was a vivid and luscious experience. Afterwards, we discussed the journey and interpreted the symbols and metaphors.
Later, in a session with one of my clients, I realized that a journey would be very useful. So, within the hypnotherapy session, while the client was already in trance, I began guiding them into the images at the beginning of a shamanic-style journey. Though, this time, I didn’t use drums, and I stayed in dialogue with the client. In this way, I could record all the images and experiences they were having while they were going through it, and I could keep guiding them through the experience.
An added benefit of being in dialogue with the client while they are experiencing the journey is that if they find that the journey shows them they are on a destructive or less-desireable path, we can ask the subconscious mind to take us on a separate journey that will illuminate a path that resolves the issues on the present path. In this way, the client can choose to alter their behaviors or choices in order to have a better outcome.
So in many ways, there are direct corollaries between the work of shamans and that of hypnotherapists. The results can be very similar. It is a matter of choosing the experience that you want when doing your personal growth work.
Of course, most hypnotherapists are not trained in these shamanic style techniques, and many shamans do not know formal hypnotherapy techniques. I offer training courses that cover both (check my calendar for upcoming dates).