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Solution Focused Hypnotherapy in Sports
By Melanie Cook
In 2010 I trained in solution-focused hypnotherapy (SFH) at the Clifton Practice in Bristol with David Newton. During my initial training, the former world middleweight boxing champion, Glen Catley (by now practicing in SFH), came to the Clifton Practice to present a workshop on using SFH to improve sports performance. He talked about how he had become the world champion boxer with the help of David Newton, my teacher, as his personal hypnotherapist. It was David Newton and Susan Rodrigues at the Clifton Practice who taught me most of what I practice today, which is a combination of SFH and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) — or maybe now ‘solution-focused practice’ — with a few NLP and integrative techniques thrown in.
Over the years, I have worked with many sports professionals, coaches and budding sportspeople, both adults and children. This work has involved improving performance in football, cricket, car racing, running, golf, darts, horse riding, gymnastics, boxing, martial arts, coaching and rugby.
Neuroscience research shows that when we are thinking about and focused on performing certain tasks while in the subconscious, ‘REM state’ (trance or dreaming), the same parts of our brains are active in the same way as if we were actually performing those tasks. Solution-focused hypnotherapy makes effective use of this finding, through its combination of solution-focused questions and trance induction, as I shall now explain.
This begins in the initial consultation, during which the client will have gained a sound understanding of how their brain works with regards to stress, anxiety, and the production of serotonin and endorphins, and at which we will also have established their best hopes from our work together. We will discuss then what they would like to achieve, what skills and strengths they already have to do this and reflect on any areas where this is already happening. The client will then be introduced to their ‘homework’ which is to write 10 good things down about their day prior to listening to an audio recording as they go to sleep each night. In order to practice this at the consultation, I ask the client to scale themselves between 0-10, where 10 represents them at their best, and then to come up with 10 good things that they have experienced lately. As I read their 10 good things back to them, there is a subtle change as they refocus to the positive part of the brain. Often at this point in the conversation, I ask them to scale themselves again, leading to a pleasant surprise when they notice a rise in the scale, before we delve into a detailed version of the miracle question.
In subsequent sessions, I ask the client what has been better since their last session, what skills and strengths they have used to achieve this, and what compliments or positive feedback they have had from others. I then give them some revision about how their brain works, reflect back to them the positive actions, interactions or thought processes which have activated their boost in serotonin and endorphins, then ask them to scale themselves again, sometimes generally or often within specific areas of progress, before they describe what further progress - one point up the scale - would look like. We explore this preferred future in detail, so that the client can really get into the feel of their future achievement and how it will make a difference for them, who will notice, what will they notice and so on.
At the end of the miracle question we sometimes return to the scale, before the client goes onto the couch to experience the trance part of the session. During this time, I will reflect back what has gone well for them lately, using their own words in detail and then their answers to the miracle question, before guiding them into trance. I then give the client an audio recording to listen to on going to sleep each night, in between sessions, to support the process, improve REM sleep and sustain the improvements. This process has proved to have excellent results in creating new neural pathways that bring about positive progress.
The focus on the client’s best hopes and exploration of these, combined with the use of a trance state, not only works on the brain’s neuroplasticity to support the creation of new pathways, but also empties it of negative thoughts, doubts, limiting beliefs, past trauma and outworn or unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours. This can have tremendous results in improving performance and recovery, pain management and personal motivation. Whatever a client comes for help with, the process is the same, and yet it can affect life overall and be incredibly healing both to the client and their loved ones.
I recently worked with a teenager who was working towards a gymnastics competition, and had fallen while using the high beam. This led to his repeatedly going over the same scenario is his mind, causing him to avoid the move altogether and to have nightmares, high anxiety during the day and a noticeable drop in confidence in general. When he came for the initial consultation, after I had taken his details and explained how the brain works, he told me what his best hopes were….
“To be able to perform on the high beam and to compete in the competition with my team”.
We explored how this would make a difference to him, and this included:
“Inspiring the team, working well together as a group, being confident, and this rubbing off on the others, feeling proud to have got over the fear to be able to face the beam and the world with confidence again”.
After a few weeks of our SFH sessions and my client listening to an audio recording at bedtime, having written down 10 good things about the day, his father sent me a video of his performance at the competition, with great thanks for the support.
Another client was a keen sportswoman who actually came to see me for work related anxiety, but found that the SFH was enabling her to focus more on what she enjoyed, including her performance in a match. She was able to calm her mind, making great improvements with business, and a big leap with her sports performance, to the point that she was invited to take her team to play in another country.
Another client was a kickboxer, who had been hit to the point where he had a fear of flashing lights, which had led subsequently to considerable anxiety on a day-to-day basis. He overcame his fears and learned how to control his thoughts to the point where he could start training again, and also became a great musician during the process!
Then there was a child suffering with anxiety and refusing to go to school, who found through coming to sessions that not only did they gain the confidence to return to school but that their football skills and pitch performance improved dramatically. They encouraged other children and coaches to come for sessions too.
No matter what a client comes for, the consultation and subsequent sessions always follow the same process and structure.
I love my work in this area as the results are exciting, not just for the client but often for their family, team, community or club too.
I have found it strange that sometimes, when working with someone from a particular profession or with a certain issue, other clients have come to see me around the same time from similar professions, or with similar issues and hopes, who are completely unrelated and not known to each other. This intensity with working in a specific subject area, within a short space of time, has enhanced my own progress as a therapist, and supervisor, and has happened consistently over the years.
I attend regular solution-focused supervision combined with solution-focused hypnotherapy sessions myself, as I find this to be most helpful in my own life.
My sessions are not limited to just one location, as I work online as well as at the
Bath Practice, the Clifton Practice in Bristol, the Clandown suite at Elm Hayes
surgery in Paulton and at Rockaway Therapies in Temple Cloud, both in North East
If anyone would like to find out more about my therapy or supervision then please get in touch.