Dave Dobson was one of my main influences in the field of hypnosis. His methods, termed “Other-than-Conscious Communication,” were similar to Milton Erickson’s in a variety of ways but also differed in one notable way, Dave’s purposeful use of humor.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Erickson had a famous sense of humor as well and was known to employ it strategically. I remember a story of a therapist attending a seminar Erickson was teaching. Although old and wheel-chair bound, Milton leaned over from his chair and, with great effort, lifted up a large rock from the ground. He held it for a moment, catching his breath, and then suddenly threw it at the man. The man was shocked when it hit him and bounced off harmlessly. It was a piece of foam rubber painted to look like a stone. Erickson looked at him with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Things are not always as they seem.”
However, as often as Milton used humor, he just as often did not. As an example, although he might have been chuckling on the inside, you can watch virtually any of the videos of Milton working with clients and find very few examples of Milton cracking a joke.
Dave frequently cracked jokes and he did so strategically. In a fashion perhaps more evocative of the Provocative Therapy of Frank Farrelly than of Ericksonian Hypnosis, Dave taught that humor had a very important place in therapy.
One of the core tenets of Dave’s approach to therapy was that people are patterned animals. Virtually everything we do is done other-than-consciously, i.e., without our direct conscious involvement. And, in the same way that strategies in NLP are made up of consistent Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic steps, these other-than-conscious actions are patterned; we’ll do the same thing every time.
Now, there’s no real problem with that if your patterns are working well for you and produce good results. The only problem is if these patterns produce undesired or unpleasant results. In this case, you need to interrupt the patterns.
Patterns can be interrupted in a variety of ways and, frankly, it doesn’t really matter how they are interrupted, as long as when you’re done it’s very difficult to ever run them again. But Dave’s point is, while you’re at it why not add some positive resources? Humor is an ideal choice.
If you can make it so that your client now laughs at situations that used to make them feel bad, you’ve done them a huge service, haven’t you?
Of course, there is an art to how specifically to do this. Timing is paramount and rapport is essential. Sometimes I’ll do a session with no formal hypnosis at all and people will walk out very confused as to what that was all about but feeling oddly relieved of their complaint. Almost even forgetting what they had come for. Often I’ll do a Hypnotic induction towards the end of the session if only to satisfy the client that some “therapy” was being done. Just like, for a placebo to work the patient needs to know they got the pill.