A Book Review by Tim Brunson, PhD
Parallel communication in the form of analogies, metaphors and the use of complex linguistic patterns are potent tools for psychotherapists. In Understanding Advanced Hypnotic Language Patterns: A Comprehensive Guide, John Burton, EdD, provides a well-organized, concise exposition as to how they can be used effectively while addressing emotional states, perceptions, time, and behavior. This insightful volume provides the serious clinician with many elegant treatment options for a wide range of pathologies.
Essentially, starting with an explanation of relevant Gestalt concepts and Piaget Cognitive Styles, Burton is predominately illustrating how the narrative therapies for Milton H. Erickson, MD, can be used. In fact, to a very large extent he has reorganized Erickson's concepts into a framework, which directly relates these therapies to the four subject areas previously mentioned. Additionally, he presents one of the best explanations of smoking cessation therapy that I have ever read. His appendix is a compact explanation of the Milton Model, which is a partial collection of many of the linguistic techniques that were later reverse engineered from Erickson's work. (This was done largely by Richard Bandler, PhD, and John Grinder, who were the co-developers of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.)
While I appreciated this comprehensive review, generally I found this book to be yet another re-organized explanation of Erickson's work. Unfortunately, many authors have already done this. Frankly, I feel that Tap Roots by Bill O'Hanlon, LMFT, is previously published work that accomplished this quite thoroughly a long time ago. As I have read many books, which are very similar to Burton's. After carefully reading Understanding Advanced Hypnotic Language Patterns , I began questioning whether this one added anything new or significant. His examples of parallel communication scripts are welcomed as is how he expertly relates them to specific mental issues. As this book provided nothing that was entirely new, I came to the conclusion that it could have been just as easily been written forty or fifty years ago.
Another issue that concerns me is the constant use of the words "hypnotic" and "hypnosis." This issue is not just with his book. I see the same problems with how many Ericksonians use linguistic tools. Much of human communication can have hypnotic effect in that it bypasses a subject's pattern resistance and opens up one's mind to more directive – or selective – thinking. However, it is the efficiency of selective thought rather than the mitigation of resistance that defines hypnosis. Furthermore, the Ericksonian emphasis on naturally allowing the subject to derive alternatives from what is erroneously called the unconscious mind, means that no effort is made to influence the efficiency of selective thought other than bypassing resistance. Thus, claiming that the techniques espoused by Burton are hypnotic is a rather far-fetched stretch of logic. The ideas contained in this book could have been more acceptable had the words hypnotic and trance been omitted.
For those who are looking at ways to effectively use linguistic patterns in a myriad of therapeutic suggestions, they will appreciate what this book has to offer. Professional hypnotherapists should master these concepts. However, the use of parallel communication and rather gimmicky linguistic techniques should not be emphasized in lieu of developing competence in the applied art of therapeutically using suggestion and imagination. Indirect skills have their place only when initially mitigating resistance in difficult subjects. They should not be used merely to mask a lack of operator confidence in the full spectrum of hypnotic techniques.