Hypnosis as a Pathway for Empowering the Disempowered: Introducing Michael Yapko

IMG 0305 - Hypnosis as a Pathway for Empowering the Disempowered: Introducing Michael Yapko
Michael Yapko (center) at home in San Diego with MBM faculty Willmarth and Moss


Highlights from the 19th International Congress of Hypnosis, Bremen, Germany, October 15-21, 2012

Michael Yapko, PhD,  is a psychologist, psychotherapist, and a teacher of clinical hypnosis with an international reputation. Yapko has pioneered the application of hypnosis to clinical depression and authored a number of books in this area, including:  Mindfulness and Hypnosis, Trancework, Depression is Contagious, and Treating Depression with Hypnosis.

Michael Yapko provided a two day Pre-Congress workshop and was also featured in a symposium on hypnosis and depression on the first day of the Congress.  In his presentations Yapko emphasized a number of principles relevant for the practice of mind-body medicine, for the medical or mental health professional.  Hypnosis attends to the implicit message contained within seemingly factual medical communications.  Yapko highlighted a number of common medical practices that disempower human beings:

1.      Every time a practitioner offers a medication to the patient as the sole treatment for a disorder, the message is that the patient’s condition is beyond his or her control, and the patient has no relevant role in recovering or maintaining health.  Even when a medication does present an effective therapy for a problem, there are usually a number of practical wellness oriented interventions that could also be assigned, enabling the patient to assume an active role in health maintenance.

2.      When a practitioner communicates that a disorder is genetic, the message is again that the disorder is outside voluntary control, and personal coping and wellness practices are irrelevant. Yapko pointed out that mainstream medicine frequently informs patients that clinical depression is genetic.  There is no evidence of a single depression gene, univocally causing depression. Rather there are multiple genetic markers associated with higher risk for depression, yet in most cases life historical events, personal losses, and stress play a role in both the onset of depression and recovery from depression.

3.      The communication that a disorder, such as depression, is a biochemical imbalance also dismisses the role of the human being in illness onset and recovery of health.  The medical answer to the biochemical imbalance is anti-depressant medication, and current evidence shows that many patients cannot or will not tolerate the adverse effects of medication, and even successful pharmacotherapy produces only partial recovery for many.

4.      Similarly, when a practitioner spends the preponderance of treatment sessions exploring past causes for the current disorder, the patient is encouraged to view him or herself as a helpless pawn of past events.

Instead, Yapko emphasizes “empowering the disempowered,” highlighting pathways beyond medication, eliciting the power of personal actions and everyday experience in mood and health, and accenting the patient’s present and future.  His approach, which is elaborated in his many writings, employs a dialogue with the patient that refocuses him or her on present pathways for health and the possibilities of a future enriched with health and wellness. Hypnosis can disrupt a depressive and hopeless over-focus on limitations, and refocus the patient in a vivid fashion on open horizons.

Yapko defines the primary purpose of hypnosis as:  ” … to absorb the person in a frame of mind that is consistent with the therapeutic objectives.  Using hypnosis to teach empowering strategies is a core part of that process”  (Yapko, 2012, Bremen workshop).

According to Yapko, empowering interventions generally are outcome oriented, active interventions, future-oriented, change-oriented, targeted toward evoking positive experiences, specific, experiential, and individualized. Hypnosis and hypnotic strategies can be integrated into the fabric of mind-body and mainstream medical treatments, so that the treatments empower the patient to think ahead, anticipate positive transformations in his or her life, and perceive his or her own actions as one means to creating the new future.

Michael Yapko has agreed to participate in a videoconference with Saybrook University students in the School of Mind-Body Medicine in early 2013, discussing his strategies for empowerment in greater detail. 


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