Can You Learn Things Easier Using Hypnosis? with Dr. Jeffrey Zeig

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

A famous psychotherapist, Milton Erickson, explored the concept of utilization, which involves using the reality of your situation to help you, rather than merely analyzing it. It is with this concept in mind that Erickson found the technique of hypnosis to be particularly useful, especially to those with infirmities and other similar predicaments. In the first episode of a series on hypnosis, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by Dr. Jeffrey Zeig, founder of the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, for a discussion on hypnosis, and how Zeig’s interactions with his mentor opened his eyes to the concept of arousal states.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain spec imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome, everybody. We are so excited for this week. We are going to do Hypnosis Week with our good friend Dr. Jeff Zeig, and ...
Tana Amen: So happy to have you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Jeff and I have known each other for a long time. I've been a huge fan of him. He's a psychologist. He's the founder and director of the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, having studied intermittently with, arguably, one of the world's most famous hypnotists. He studied with Dr. Erickson for six years. He's edited, co-edited, authored or co-authored more than 20 books. I've reviewed a number of them. They are in 12 languages.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: His current area of interest is in extracting implicit codes of influence of various arts, including movies, music, painting, poetry, and fiction, that can be used to empower professional practice and everyday communication. Dr. Zeig is the architect of what I think is the world's best psychotherapy conference, The Evolution of Psychotherapy, where I am blessed to be able to teach, considered one of the most important conferences in the history of psychotherapy. He's just awesome.
Tana Amen: Well, and before we get started, he also ... Jeff, you've also been heavily involved with something that's been very important to both of us, right? So, Man's Search for Meaning.
Jeffery Zeig: Yes.
Tana Amen: Your ... which is just one of the best books I've ever read. And you just ... you've had a big part in ... which foundation is that?
Jeffery Zeig: Well, no. I was the person who had the Viktor Frankl archives for man years.
Tana Amen: Okay.
Jeffery Zeig: So I was distributing the lectures of Viktor Frankl until relatively recently, so Viktor Frankl was somebody who I'd met. And we did a podcast where I talked [crosstalk 00:02:46] ...
Tana Amen: Yes.
Jeffery Zeig: ... my experiences with Viktor Frankl. He was one of those people who vindicated the earth ...
Tana Amen: Yes.
Jeffery Zeig: ... by virtue of his presence on it, someone who was a wounded healer who had transcended so many difficulties. And Milton Erickson, who Dan just mentioned, that I studied with, was similar, somebody who was living the talk and they weren't just saying, "Well, yes, you could use hypnosis to control pain." He was doing it right before your eyes, Milton Erickson was. Viktor Frankl had a different focus, a different fulcrum, that allowed him to reshape his life after being a Holocaust survivor in four different concentration camps, but yes, Man's Search For Meaning is one of the most important books I've ever read.
Tana Amen: Yes. Me, too.
Jeffery Zeig: It's 10 million copies that have been sold in multiple languages and if you-
Tana Amen: Yeah, if you haven't read it, you got to read it.
Jeffery Zeig: Right.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Jeffery Zeig: Absolutely.
Tana Amen: It's a must-read.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, Dr. Zeig, being one of my mentors, actually studied with two of the most influential people in my practice.
Tana Amen: On the planet, right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: With Viktor Frankl and Milton Erickson. But I think a lot of our listeners may not know about Milton Erickson, so why don't we start with your interest in hypnosis? How did that come about, and a little bit about your work with Dr. Erickson?
Jeffery Zeig: Sure. I started ... I was in my master's degree program in 1972 in California, and I had a supervisor. And my supervisor was not the person who I wanted to supervise directly because I had a psychologist who I thought was an excellent supervisor. So, I asked my psychiatrist supervisor would he please teach me hypnosis, and he said, "Sure, come to my office on Saturday. I'll hypnotize you." Oh, wait a second. I thought he was just going to use the time to give me some academic education, so I went to his office on Saturday morning. And I was nervous. I was scared. I didn't know anything about hypnosis, and I was anxiously drumming my fingers on the arm of the chair. And being an astute professional, he said, "Okay, watch the pattern of your fingers and notice how the movement and notice how the movement changes," and that was my first example of utilization, which was the foundation of everything that Milton Erickson did as an expert in psychiatry.
So, I said, "Please tell me, what can I read?" He said, "Read Milton Erickson." I said, "Who?" He said, "Milton Erickson." There was only one book, which was a compendium of his papers, and I picked up that book. And I thought, "Oh, my gosh, this is incredible. This is light-years beyond anything that I had conceived as effective psychotherapy and effective hypnotherapy." So, I dashed off a note to my cousin who was studying nursing in Tucson and said, "Well, if you ever get to Phoenix, visit Milton Erickson. He's a genius." And she wrote me back and said, "Don't you remember my old roommate in college, Roxanna Erickson?" And I then found Erickson. I wrote to him. I sent him a copy of a paper, the first paper that I wrote, professional paper, on hypnosis. I said, "Could I please be your student?"
And he said, "No." He said he was too old, he was too ill, he wasn't taking students, but he personalized the letter. He said, "When you read my writing, don't pay attention to the wording, the technique, to the composition of suggestions. The really important thing is motivation for change and the fact that no human being ever fully knows his own capability." Now, I must have read that 15 times, sitting in my little green Volkswagen, having just taken that from the mailbox. I was amazed that this genius was personalizing a letter to an admiring student, so in 1973, I made my first visit to Milton Erickson. Now, Erickson, in the history of psychiatry, would be considered one of the most effective therapists in the history of psychotherapy.
And he added more cases to the literature, more successful cases than anyone who's ever added, and many of them were based in hypnosis. But many of them were derived from hypnosis, and it was a peculiar form of therapy because, as most people conceived therapy, it's an examination of their history or it's an education in how to change their negative thoughts into positive thoughts. But, to Erickson, therapy was a conceptual journey where the recipient of the communication needed to realize a concept and, by virtue of realizing that concept, would be able to change their identity. I could go on.
When I visited Erickson in 1973, he was confined to a wheelchair, and he had spent the last 13 years of his life in a wheelchair. And he was practically quadriplegic. That's not medically correct. He had polio when he was 17, and he had post-polio syndrome, couldn't use his legs, had ... was ataxic. He was moving back and forth couldn't control his movements very well. In order to eat, he'd have to guide his right hand with a spoon up to his mouth because his left arm was much more mobile than his right's ... than the right side of his body, and this man just perfumed the atmosphere with being glad to be alive. And I was so mesmerized by him, so touched by him, that he was spending this precious time helping me to be not just a better therapist, but a better Jeff Zeig.
So, I dedicated a lot of my career to taking the concepts that Erickson has developed, the methodology that Erickson has developed, and I travel around the wold and I teach about Erickson, the spirit of Erickson. And there's been lots of people, lots of genius, who visited Erickson, including Margaret Mead and her husband Gregory Bateson. Erickson did a collaboration with Aldous Huxley. He was a person who was studied at the Macy Conferences in New York, where cybernetics was invented. Erickson was one of the people who was studied by neurolinguistic programming, so if you saw a motivator, somebody like Tony Robbins, he would be derived from Milton Erickson.
So, Erickson is not just-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, how interesting.
Tana Amen: Yeah, no. And I was going to ask you about that and then it-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Can you talk about ... So, if you had to list the top four, five, six things that you learned from him that you teach over and over again, what might that be? So, in the Brain Warriors Way podcast listeners, what are some of the practical things they can take away from his work?
Jeffery Zeig: Well, this concept of utilization, that whatever exists in the totality of the situation, rather than analyzing it, we find a way to utilize it. It's an alchemical process. This was a man who could turn straw into gold, so if a person was short, he found a way of using that. If the person was tall, he found a way of using that. One simple anecdote is working with a young child eight to 10 years old, and she was feeling very bad about herself. And what ... Erickson wanted to develop her self-esteem, so he challenged her to a bicycle race. Of course, the child knew that Erickson would beat her in a bicycle race, but Erickson knew that if he used his right leg to pedal, he wasn't going to get very far. And if he only used his left leg to pedal, he was going to beat the girl, so he just used his right leg and his left leg. And the girl had the opportunity to feel herself doing something superior to an adult.
Now, in that case, he used his infirmity to help somebody else, and that was the understructure of both Viktor Frankl and Milton Erickson. How can you take something that other people would look as a deficit and turn it into an asset?
Tana Amen: Jeff, can I ask you a question? From what I understand, because I actually love NLP and I've taken courses in it and I just think it's a shortcut to change, really ...
Jeffery Zeig: Yeah. Yeah.
Tana Amen: ... one thing I have read, and maybe you can answer whether this is true, that Erickson, and people like Tony Robbins and other NLP students talk about, he was masterful at changing people's states, like, almost instantly. My understanding is he used physiology, the environment, and language to do that, so I mean, that, to me, is really exciting because it means anyone can do it if you just learn how to do this. It's a really important concept.
Jeffery Zeig: Right. So a simple way of thinking about that is a parent talking to an adolescent child. The parent wants the child to be responsible. Now, if the parent says to the child, "Be responsible ...
Tana Amen: Right.
Jeffery Zeig: ... because you'll have a better life, you'll have a better family, you'll meet the dictates of your dreams," that sails over the child's head because the parent is trying to get across a concept. Now, the adolescent already has the idea, so there's a series of stages. How do you move the idea into a concept? The concept is, "I can be responsible." Now, in order to do that, you need to have an evocative experience. If that evocative experience is an anecdote or that evocative experience is hypnosis or it's even joining a sports team or getting a puppy to take care of, suddenly, the idea, "I'm responsible," which is in the person's left hemisphere, suddenly moves across their corpus callosum into their body, and they get the idea, "I can be responsible."
Now there may need to be another evocative experience to move from the land of a concept to the land of a belief, an orientation, "I will be responsible," which then can transform itself into a state, a reference experience, "Oh, my gosh, I'm being responsible," which then, finally, in its most fomented form becomes an identity, "I'm a responsible person." Now, in order to get across a concept, you can't use the same kind of logic that you would use to send a rocket to the moon.
Tana Amen: Right.
Jeffery Zeig: That's a very complicated thing, but it's something that's an algorithm. This is why I study art, and this is what I try to teach my students about hypnosis, that hypnosis is the mother of experiential approaches to psychotherapy. You don't use hypnosis to give people information. If you want to give people information, you just give them the information, and that's great. If it suddenly cooks and they get a realization from information, super, but because, in my experience of almost 50 years of being in psychiatry and psychotherapy, what I think that people need is an evocative experience that helps them to get that conceptual realization, "Of course I can."
Tana Amen: Right.
Jeffery Zeig: And when I visited Erickson, confined to wheelchair, a practically quadriplegic, he perfumed the air with "Of course you can change your state. Of course you can change your identity. Of course you can cope adequately with limitations. Of course you can."
Tana Amen: Right.
Jeffery Zeig: And he lived it. So, right now ...
Tana Amen: And I know one thing-
Jeffery Zeig: ... I'm writing Erickson biography, and I want that to inspire people like you would be inspired by reading Man's Search for Meaning.
Tana Amen: That's awesome. I know one thing on a smaller scale, not long-term change like you're talking about, like the concept of a child learning responsibility, but people often get ... think it's silly or they don't understand why people like Tony Robbins will have you jump and they'll play loud music and scream and all this stuff ...
Jeffery Zeig: Yeah.
Tana Amen: ... but he tells you why, "Because change happens when you're in peak state." So if someone comes in depressed or you're sitting slouched, he wants to change their state before he teaches them a concept, so before he gets them to take in new information because they're more like to take it in peak state. That's kind of what I was talking about with physiology, and I really love that idea, that that means I could do that myself. If I change my physiology to an extreme, if I am depressed and I go out and go for a run, right, I'm going to change that physiology from a ...
Jeffery Zeig: Absolutely.
Tana Amen: ... depressed person to ...
Jeffery Zeig: Absolutely.
Tana Amen: Right?
Jeffery Zeig: And you nailed it, to say that there's many routes to changing states, and physiology is one path. And therapists, like myself, have been very prosaic. We've been very vanilla; we haven't learned how to use arousal states to help people to transform from something that is non-adaptive to something that is more adaptive, and Tony Robbins, who I adore, I have gone to a couple of his seminars. He is an expert at using arousal states, but many ministers, they are also very good at using arousal states ...
Tana Amen: Yes.
Jeffery Zeig: ... to help people realize faith.
Tana Amen: Yes. Agree.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So when we come back, we're going to talk about some of the myths and misconceptions about hypnosis, why still, ...
Tana Amen: People are afraid.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... hundreds of years after it started being used medically, are people still afraid of something that's incredibly powerful. Stay with us.
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