It’s all in the flow: further musings on trance and energy psychology

flowing water(by Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP)

In the last blog, Lucy Grace Yaldezian raised a lot of questions about the role of hypnosis and trance in TAT – and for that matter in EFT and other EP approaches. As someone who has spent over 20 years working with Ericksonian hypnosis I thought I would go deeper into these questions.

What is the mind?
In previous blogs I have leaned heavily on interpersonal neurobiologist Dan Siegel’s definition of the mind: that part of us that controls the flow of information and energy over time. Psychotherapy of any sort, including energy psychology-based approaches, seeks to shift that flow of energy and information toward more functional and integrated flows. Milton Erickson recognized this when he defined psychotherapy as a re-association of “inner learnings”; in other words, a change of the flow of information and energy over time.

The emphasis on flow also fits very well with concepts of health and illness in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qigong. In these traditions, illnesses are seen as a block in the flow of energy and health is related to a balanced flow of energy.

What is trance? Does trance play a role in energy psychology approaches?
My preferred definition of trance comes from Ronald Shor. Trance, or an altered state of consciousness, occurs when a person’s usual generalized reality orientation or GRO is weakened or diminished and a special reality orientation (SRO) is built up. What is the usual GRO? It is the mind’s habitual pattern flow of information and energy. An SRO is a special or unusual pattern of information and energy flow. The greater the disruption of GRO the more “altered” one feels. A chemical version of this is getting high on a drug. Architecture can also create an SRO. Think about the great cathedrals that are designed to create an altered state of consciousness so that a person feels more connected to Spirit. In this formulation, trance rarely looks like the Svengali-like deep stupor often depicted in movies.

From an Ericksonian perspective, we go in and out of multiple, different coherent and repeatable trance states throughout the day. Hopefully, the flow of information and energy of each state is well suited to the tasks we have to do at each point.   Furthermore, each of our minds has ruts or limitations in the flow so that we never go to certain places or end up in the kind of flow that does not work (or at least, not too often). Gary Craig called this the writings on our walls. The bottom line is that it appears that energy psychology, Chinese medicine, Ericksonian hypnosis and interpersonal neurobiology are all taking about the same thing.

How is trance helpful?
By definition, trance is an altered state, a special or unusual pattern of information and energy flow. It creates a softening or lessening of stuck patterns that hopefully brings opportunities for new and healthier patterns of information and energy.

Does the ritual of tapping or the pose create trance?
If we accept the more subtle and fluid definition of trance above then my answer is, “Yes” – at least to some extent. But asking somewhat unusual questions or guiding attention in unusual ways can also create an altered state. Furthermore, if we are talking about a therapeutic relationship, there are subtle and not so subtle suggestions communicated by the confidence of the therapist; and there are subtle and not so subtle influences that flow from the authenticity and presence of the therapist.

I would even say that when we do TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique), TFT (Thought Field Therapy) or EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) on ourselves from a position of gentle non-judgment we are changing the relationship we have with ourselves (whether or not we do the pose or tapping) and that, by definition, is a change of flow of information and energy (aka trance). The bottom line: there are multiple variables moving in us all the time, and many different variables can change our flow of information and energy, including our relationship with others and ourselves and stimulation of our energy systems.

Is activation of the energy system a major active ingredient in EP?
This is the $64,000 dollar question. The short answer is that, from a scientific perspective, we do not really know yet. There is some data that suggests that adding meridian stimulation creates more change than cognitive interventions alone. A lot more research needs to be done. Clinically, I would say yes, activating the energy system adds a specific therapeutic ingredient to the mix. If nothing else, the jiggling of the energy system appears to loosen the blocks that allows for natural healing in the bodymind. If you have ever watched the way Ernest Rossi does trance work, it is more like gently jiggling the system and allowing natural healing to occur. To me, “pure EP work” has a different feel than “pure hypnotic work”. But even that is a strange, if not false, distinction. How the practitioner focuses awareness by asking certain questions or making certain reframes is all part of good clinical work that transcends both models. The entire concept of presence and the response to presence quickly merges into the concept of interpersonal trance. And we have not even discussed the ideas of interaction between the energy fields of each person. In addition, I have only slightly touched on the tension between offering suggestions or reframes to clients (yang) versus just gently nudging the system so the blocks release and the natural healing flow is restored (yin).

Perhaps I have answered something for you. Or perhaps I have raised more questions than you had when you began. Or, maybe some different ideas are floating into your mind at this point. Why not take a moment and just enjoy going deeper into the experience? “That’s Right!!”*

Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP

Author, Tools for Transforming Trauma and We’re No fun Anymore

ACEP Executive Director

* This is an inside joke.  Milton Erickson always used this phrase.  So most of us trained in this work have incorporated it.


  1. Philippe Isler says:

    Fantastic, Bob. So well explained. This is pretty much exactly my perspective of it and you delineated it beautifully. There have been moments when a simple sentence spontaneously said is what “jiggles” the energy system, changes the information flow, induces a trance, triggers a shift in awareness. The same holds true in ancient guru traditions as well.

    • Hi Phillipe,
      Glad you liked it. There is so much more to say as well. For instance, yes a word can spontaneously change something like an inspirational speech. A listener might experience themselves very differently or they are more motivated. A question is: how long does it last? One might argue that without changing the inner beliefs, etc. – not long. But, what if it lasts long enough that the listener actually starts to act differently and those new actions begin to create new effects and new data. So the original effects may be one of history only, and it is the new facts on the ground that continue to change the person. Of course, there is the pesky fact that the person’s narrative memory of those events may be called upon repeatedly by the person, ( AKA a different flow of information and energy). Oh the absolute joy of it all.

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