By Susanna Sweeney, MSC, MBACP, CHT
Certified master hypnotist Doug O'Brien of NYC joined me for a chat about his longstanding hypnosis career and his 'Sleight of Mouth' courses and book.
Susanna Sweeney: Doug, you're very welcome here. Thanks very much for joining me all the way from New York state.
Doug O’Brien: Yeah, it's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
Susanna Sweeney: Doug I want to talk to you a little bit about your hypnosis career. Um, how long have you actually been at it?
Doug O’Brien: I started off life, if you will, it professionally, as a musician. Back in the 1980s, I moved to New York City for a rock and roll career. But I, I took my first Tony Robbins firewalk seminar, uh, learning about NLP in 1985. And, ‘86 I took a certification in NLP and got certified as an NLP practitioner.
But I also met at that practitioner, this guy named Dave Dobson, who at the time I believed was doing Ericksonian hypnosis and went off and studied with him in 1986. And, um, discovered it wasn't Ericksonian hypnosis-it was his own thing. Very similar to Ericksonian hypnosis, but different from Erickson in the process.
But I studied with Dave about three or four times throughout the eighties and nineties, few more times later after, before he died in the, um, I think 2004, something like that. But along the way I've been doing hypnosis. I became a full time hypnotherapist and a NLP practitioner in 1990 so since then it has been my full time gig.
Susanna Sweeney: So you're talking about a longstanding career...
Doug O’Brien: I sit down for a lot of it though.
Susanna Sweeney: Excellent.
Doug O’Brien: Standing's good. But sitting- sitting is good too.
Susanna Sweeney: Sure. So tell me what actually brought you into the hypnosis where the stair stairs story there or like how did your interest evolve?
Doug O’Brien: Well, I just, I've always been kind of interested in altered States, I don’t know why, but maybe drugs in the eighties and sixties and seventies and whatever- music and meditation and just the shaman work and stuff. I was always interested in altered States. And when I learned from NLP, from Tony Robbins and I met that guy, Dave Dobson, um, it just seemed like, ‘Oh yeah, this is it. This is what I'm looking for.’ It just seemed to be a perfect fit.
Doug O'Brien: I, I'd went to Tony Robbins by the way, kicking and screaming. I did. I had no interest. I had no idea what this was. But my girlfriend at the time sort of dragged me to it. That's the way they did their marketing back then. Kind of like the forum or asked, you know, they sort of set people who have taken it to bring their friends and family all along to the next night. But I was surprised at how cool it was. I loved Daniel Q is really great and then when I learned the NLP hypnosis aspect of it from Ericsson and was like, okay, this isn't it. This is just, it just fit me for some reason. Sorry, I just dropped my microphone- the hazard of talking with your hands when you're wearing this stuff.
Susanna Sweeney: You’re alright. So, have you been using hypnosis on yourself to do your own kind of process work?
Doug O’Brien: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I, I've often felt that a coach can’t be a coach without having their own coach or therapist or to be a therapist without having their own therapist. You know, I, I do this for myself all the time. I do hypnosis pretty much every day. I used to have a rule - no trance, no breakfast. So I do self hypnosis every day.
Susanna Sweeney: Very good. So yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, that point is so important that you're making that as a practitioner you really need to look after yourself. The more stuff of your own you can clear, the more available you will be for clients.
Doug O’Brien: Milton Erickson, once made the point- he said that patients become patients because they're out of rapport with their own unconscious mind.
So I figured by doing self hypnosis on a regular basis, not daily basis, that I'm just, keeping that rapport, that connection with my own left conscious mind. So that helps me to, you know, be fully functioning as a human being. Yes.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah, for sure. And that kind of naturally brings up the question about conscious mind versus subconscious mind. Um, and do you think that that's the biggest advantage that hypnosis has to offer as a form of therapy that you're working with the subconscious over the conscious mind?
Doug O’Brien: I do think so. And frankly, while, um, those terms came from Freud or from that back then area, Peter, I'm not sure exactly where the terms came from. Ericksonian as is certainly has a very different approach to utilizing the subconscious order, if you will, the unconscious or as they adopted or call it the other than conscious mind. Um, in that Freud was always like, you know, the subconscious is that, that, that terrible realm where all these seeding, you know, unexplored desires are being kept.
Um, but Erickson was saying like, yeah, well maybe, but mostly the unconscious is the place where we do have amazing stuff. You know, it's, it's why we can talk without thinking about it. That's why we can walk without thinking about, it's because the unconscious mind is the place where we can do all that stuff. Um, it's a, it's the place for resources. So once you can tap into that and have a good resource, uh, connection, good connection with your unconscious mind, then you can do great things.
Susanna Sweeney: So it's, it's taking it away a little bit from the original concept. The unconscious mind was that it's threatening and that's where all the shadow stuff and the bad stuff. What of like, as well as that you have your creativity and your solutions reside in your subconscious mind, you just need to know how to access it.
Doug O’Brien: Yeah, it is. It is almost daily that I wake up from dreams with, you know, some great ideas for the day. I meditate every day and then when I do that, I used to get annoyed that I kept coming up with ideas where I was meditating because it was interfering with my meditation. But now I just keep a little notebook there and say, Oh, that's a great idea. Write it down. So I'm always getting, you know, great ideas from my unconscious.
Susanna Sweeney: Yes. Um, so when you work with your clients, do you bring that into the client work?
Doug O’Brien: Yeah, I'm sorry. Yes, I definitely, definitely do. Of course you have to.
Susanna Sweeney: Compare hypnosis to just something like talk therapy. Right? That works with the conscious mind. What do you think hypnosis enables you to do that you could never do if you were just talking to someone?
Doug O’Brien: Well for me as a therapist, it offers me guidance. You know, my, my unconscious mind or subconscious or other than conscious mind, you know, guides me into feeling what's important for this person. Because I don't go into a therapeutic situation with a, you know, therapeutic plan. I know what they tell me that they want, but what they need and what they tell me what they want on the intake form can be sometimes very different things.
Um, so it's usually I have them fill out this intake form to tell me what it is that they're there for. And then we discuss things and that's, you know, conscious mind. But I'm also watching the other than conscious communication, you know, their body language stuff, you know, where they feel relaxed and open about stuff and feel that there's a little tension or reticence about talking about something and I just say, well, what's going on there?
We sort of do a little finding out what they actually need in that session and then, you know, go from there and then I help them to hook up to their, their unconscious mind so that they can get the resources necessary to make those changes. Cause ultimately the conscious mind I think is a very small, small sliver of the overall awareness.
Susanna Sweeney: Oh gosh. Absolutely. Yeah. Completely go along with that. And it's so limiting, you see as it goes from me, like, I mean, I come from a psychotherapy background originally. So I worked in the conscious for many years, the rival of the conscious mind. And I never questioned that at all. And then grew increasingly frustrated with what I was doing because it's so hard when you're working with people with the eyes open- so hard to bring them to any level of experience.
The conscious mind is really where resistance lives.
Doug O’Brien: Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: And it's the place that cannot imagine change or the fights all change or conceptualizes this change as threatening. And it's just really such a small part.
Doug O’Brien: It really is. Yeah. And ironically, um, people are threatened by saying, I've got to let go of my conscious control, my ego, but when they do let go they can be so much more than they have ever imagined that they could because the conscious mind is so limited.
But when the, your unconscious mind is the repository of great things and Karl Jung would say that you've got, you know, this collective unconscious that when you go even deeper into that, then you opened up to, you know, in a sense, all possibilities from all places. So it's kind of amazing and wonderful. And I've just, uh, I can't imagine not having this in my life or presenting it to other people in their lives. Yes, absolutely.
Susanna Sweeney: And so, talk a little bit about the kind of results that you're getting with people - the kinds of issues if you're working with and how hypnosis enables you to get good results with these people?
Doug O’Brien: That's a really great question and a interesting thing about that. As you know, I've been, I've been getting better in the past few years at, um, you know, I've been in business since 1999 almost 30 years.
I've been getting better lately at, um, marketing and getting more people into the office. One of the challenges with hypnosis is that we fix people in a way, you know, we get them where they want to go and, um, you know, two or three sessions, they're there. Thank you very much. And they're out the door.
We're not seeing people every Tuesday at two o'clock for the next six years. Um, that can be a challenge from a business point of view. So one of the things I've learned is that it's really good to have a niche or a niche, um, where you say, I do smoking hypnosis or I do a weight loss of gnosis or you know, something like that.
Um, I have never done that and I'm not doing it yet, but I'm getting closer to doing that. I'm doing more of that. Um, but apparently when you, when a person does do that, so this is the smoking center of Detroit or whatever, then people will come to you for that. Everyone will come to you for that. And then people will also come to you for other things as well.
For me as a practitioner, I've been very sort of generalized, you know, I don't have a niche and people have come to me for smoking and for weight loss, but also for just about anything that come to any other therapists for as well. You know, chronic depression, pain management, you know, kinda, you name it.
I've, I've worked with over the years, with couples. Um, I've worked with kids and you know, PTSD -all kinds of issues and it really is amazing. And again, I don't know how you deal with half the stuff of that from a conscious perspective. In fact, I think trying to do that in some cases would make things worse. Certainly with PTSD, et cetera. It does make things worse than, you know, sit and talk about how you think about that experience that you had. It's just a wrong course.
Susanna Sweeney: Yes. Well, you know, I do a lot of work with trauma and that can be very- if, if all you were doing was talk therapy, you could be stirring a lot of things up while not resolving them. Right?
Doug O’Brien: Yeah. So if my hypnotherapy practice has been kind of a, a therapy practice in which I use hypnosis, but it's for useful for everything.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah. And would you say that there are some issues where hypnosis works better than others, or does it work equally well for everything from your point of view?
Doug O’Brien: I think it works equally. Well, it's about behavioral change. It looks so as an example, I used to travel the United States, this, this country. I was hired by the John Morgan seminars, uh, to go out and present a two hour smoking cessation thing, hypnosis for smoking cessation.
And then all those folks would leave and all these weight loss people come in. I do two hours, you know, weight loss, hypnosis, and then I traveled to another city in the next day and do it all over again. Um, did that for years.
Smoking is just outrageously successful. I think our success rate was something like 80 to 90% for just a two hour seminar with lots of people there. So, um, weight loss is considerably more difficult because it's a, it's not just a click your fingers and you will lose weight. You know, there's behavioral changes along the way that you have to do and there's a lot of emotional content that goes into a lot of emotional baggage and things that can be attached to that.
With smoking, it's a behavioral change. You quit, you just don't do that anymore, you know, don't do this, do this. It's very, quite simple in a way. So I think it's behavioral. I think hypnosis works great with weight loss, but it's more individual.
You gotta just as you said, work with it person and find out what they're going through and what issues are and what their relationship with the fruit is and where that comes from. And you can do that brilliantly with it does this, it just takes a little bit more time and individual attention.
I tell a lot of stories in my work with people and there's a, um, as a story often telling my coaching practice with about this artist and American artists. I don't know if you're for different or not, but his name is Chuck close and he's famous in the current sort of modern art for making this enormous.
Um, and that in the old days, photorealistic closeup portraits of people like a museum of modern art in New York City. There's this huge one of, I think it's the composer Philip Glass. It's just called Phil P. In recent years, Chuck Close has developed a degenerative disease, so he can't even hold the paintbrush anymore. He has to velcro them to his hand and he's in this automated wheelchair, you know, he gets it, gets around with his wheelchair, but he still goes to the studio every day and works on his portraits are not, you know, photo realism anymore.
From close up there are just a bunch of splotches on the canvas, but it's from 50 feet away you go like, Oh my God, that's Phillip Glass. You know, he's done it again and it's a monster portrait from a distance. It looks just like the person close after just a bunch of spotters. But every day Chuck Close is at the studio working, and his quote is- I love this quote. He says, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us get to work.”
Susanna Sweeney: Okay. Yeah, for sure. That makes a lot of sense. You know, and you can apply that to any area that you want to apply it to.
Doug O’Brien: Yeah. Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: So motivation or determination might be the icing on the cake. Yeah. But underneath that it's the changing of behaviors.
Doug O’Brien: Yup. You can have a lot of cake under that icing.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah. Yeah. So, and then Doug, your, you know, one of your specialties is around the slight of mouth material. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? Give a little flavour for our audience what that’s all about.
Doug O’Brien: Okay. Um, slight of mouth is a aspect of NLP or neuro linguistic programming. Um, it's uh, usually taught at the master practitioner level.
So in the old days, at least my old days, um, NLP was taught usually in like a two week course. And then if you wanted to, you could go into the next level, which was master practitioner where you learned a lot more stuff.
And within that master practitioner, two or three days was slight of mouth. It's a way of kind of using on itself. If there was on thing Richard Bandler -the creator of NLP was amazingly good at, still is good at, it’s persuading people of certain things. He was, he would never lose an argument. He always had an ability to turn things around and you know, persuade folks.
Robert Dilts was one of his students, his co-developer of NLP watched this over the years and said, well, I can model that. I can use NLPs modeling ability as Richard has done it. So many people like Milton Erickson, I can take what Richard has done and use it on Richard. I can use NLP on the NLP. So I'm going to model Richard's ability to persuade and figure out how he does that.
And he came up with, um, a set of patterns that he noticed that Richard did over and over again that said, okay, this is the consequence pattern. Whatever the person says this belief, Richard says, Oh, well, the consequence of holding that belief is this, you know, this is going to happen over time. If you continue to hold onto that belief or it say, I see your intention behind saying that is this. And if you keep thinking that way, this is going to happen.
Um, so he had an intention pattern, a consequence pattern, and he named them such So when you name something you can track it over time, right? So it's like, Oh there it goes again. There's that consequence. You can name it and track it over time.
So then he made this, this chart and I am using my hands like this, cause I'm seeing it in my mind right now and sort of maybe viewers can appreciate it as well. Um, that he made this icon chart of all these different patterns and it put them in space. So consequences over here and intention is over here- that made it very easy to learn the structure. Second, I can just say it's this, this, and this. It's come in very useful over the years.
And so when I learned it from Robert Dilts back in 1980 something like ‘87, ‘88 or ‘89, again, I'm not sure exactly the year I came back to New York city where I was working for Tony Robins at the time. I was working as a center manager for the Robins research Institute in New York city. Um, all the trainers there were going to, what's that slight of mouth thing we've heard about? So I ended up doing just that.
So my first and my first sleight of mouth training happened just kind of by chance because all these guys who had taken other people's NLP trainings wanted what I'd learned from Robert Dilts, this slight of mouth stuff. So I put together a little afternoon or one day training on site and taught it to people.
That was like the beginning of this whole thing. Um, mid nineties, Robert Dilts finally came out with a book on sleight of mouth, and to my shock, he didn't include this icon chart at all. It's not even in the book. It was all discussion about stuff. And I, I was shocked because that's how I learned that. That's how I was able to really use it in time, real time with the chart in mind in a conversation.
And so I thought, ah, I have to rectify this. So the reason I wrote my book very honestly is because I felt that people, to learn it, to actually do it required this approach. So in both my videos and everything else, I'm teaching this approach.
Susanna Sweeney: So what would people be able to do with this?
Doug O’Brien: ...the world is your oyster. It's persuasion. It's sales. Basically it's sales. If you're in the, actually in sales, if you're a salesperson, it's great. Anytime you have to overcome an objection, it's a belief system. It's a belief that they have, that the client has. You just use this thing to overcome that belief and change their belief. Hence close the sale.
But in a way, everything is sales. I'm doing therapy with something. I'm selling a person on the idea that there's another way of thinking and another way of behaving in the world. You know, it's all persuasion. So you can apply this in any context practically where- where there's two human beings discussing something and having a, a need for moving in a particular direction. If one person thinks we need to move this way and the other person says we need to move that way, how do we get everybody to be moving in the same direction? It's persuasion. So it's really quite a broadly contextual.
Susanna Sweeney: And then who should consider taking your train? Buying your book?
Doug O’Brien: No, I honestly can't think of a reason why I wouldn't personally wouldn't want it to be more persuasive. You know, a kid wants to be persuasive to his parents or parents wants to be persuasive to his kid and frankly the quality of your life is equivalent to the ability to persuade now of as a parent you want to be more persuasive than the drug dealer in the corner. You know, you just, you want this, you want to be able to be persuasive. So it's really, it's a basic skill as far as I'm concerned.
Susanna Sweeney: It could really help them with public speaking as well to get your points accepted more easily by the audience. And it could help in leadership presumably...
Doug O’Brien: What'd you, what'd you do in those cases? You know, the way that it's taught is in a sort of discussion thing. Like one person believes this, you put the belief in the center of the page and then you have all these different responses to that belief. So it's kind of a mind map kind of situation. It's not actually mind map, but it's like that. So there's obvious things in a circle around the belief in the center, but what you can do in person in uh, giving a talk or a leadership thing or a sale at a talk, the stage is to say what likely, what is a belief that the audience is likely to have about this talking, giving.
And then sort of use that belief that you believe that they would have or many people in an audience would have to create a set of responses to that belief. And then just kind of inoculate against it in your talk that it's very powerful that it's, I use it in advertising. I use it in, uh, um, marketing...
Susanna Sweeney: Hmm. So when I, um, when I was writing my master's dissertation, have I specialist in leadership, um, I have a master's in organizational psychology and one of the things that I came across was psychological biases, right? And how easily leaders we make decisions on the basis of psychological biases. So psychological bias is when you want to three make your decision, right? When you think you're working from your gut and you're thinking, you know, that the situation is not very often mistaken for intuition, but it's actually a psychological bias.
I. e. the first thing that comes to mind that's very often based on registers very often based on assumptions on the like easiest possible solution. So do you think that slight of mouth can help for a public speaker or for a leader to maneuover meeting or an audience around psychological biases?
Doug O’Brien: It would be ideal, the idea for that because you as long as you know it and have a sense of what those biases might be, then again you can inoculate against them by telling a story. Say I had a client once who thought this and this is what we found, you know, um, in often cases the story for one of the, one of the patterns, and again, the slight of mouth pattern that's down here is called the metaphor pattern.
Um, telling stories, which of course, which Erickson did all the time and hypnosis, but telling stories, telling metaphors or analogies about the point you want to make is the best way to get it across to your, to your listening audience. Because people love stories whether they know it or not, they do. People will grasp onto a story. So it could be a story just about, you know, a person you were talking to yesterday or it could be a story like once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer way off and you know, stories, Erickson's stories mostly were about, I had a client once who, right? And then you'd go on from there. But it's still a story. So those stories are great ways to get that across.
Susanna Sweeney: Okay. If you could wave a magic wand dog in the closest world, right, what would you wish for in terms of balance? Is there anything um, that's missing? Should there be more in the, should there be more show much? Should there be more conversational noses? That's kind of the, you were thinking about that.
Doug O’Brien: Well, if I could wave a magic wand, that'd be lovely. Um, cause I, I have a problem with a confrontation, but, um, if I could make a magic wand, make everything change, I would be kind of, um, kind of like Ericsson in that. I don't, I'm not a big fan of stage hypnosis. I'm not a big fan of showmanship.
Uh, I don't think that serves the individual well at all. I don't think it serves people well at all to think that, you know, some people are hypnotizable and some people aren't at the table, but that guy, well, he's so powerful or she's so powerful that she can hypnotise anybody. I think there's a misnomer there. I think it's wrong. I think it's good to know about everybody being- that everybody's in trances all the time and that everyone has a conscious mind and an other-than-conscious mind.
And when you create a connection between them that’s when we have- in a sense like Tony Robbins, his book- unlimited power, it is of course limited- but there's, there's a hell of a lot more that we can do than we think we can do.
So I think hypnosis does a disservice by being a showman thing, you know, street hypnosis and shit I think is wrong to this. Um, I do, I think there should be boundaries. I think NLP is great. I think one of the problems with NLP is it has gotten off-center when it was first developed, Bandler and Grindler had a reason for saying it's not therapy. But it can be really great therapy.
I've participated in the research and recognition project where we're doing NLP with- with PTSD in veterans and it's worked remarkably well. I mean absurdly, well, I have a video on it. You can find it on YouTube about, you know, how that's worked. That research and recognition projecting is called R and R project. That brought astonishing results using strictly NLP. That's it. And I've gotten amazing results with, with PTSD and veterans. So this stuff really, really works remarkably well. It should be taking over the therapy business.
There should not be all this kind of Freud and crap anymore, but people think, ‘Oh, it's a pseudoscience.’ They do it for sex persuasion or whatever. It's like, that's really too bad. So yeah, if I had a magic wand, I would make all that other stuff disappear and I am probably wrong.
I'm probably very, very wrong about that because it's served a purpose. Obviously if it wasn’t for stage hypnosis, we might not have hypnosis at all because after Freud... Freud in a sense was the greatest hypnotist of all time because he persuaded or hypnotized all generations of people that think that to change you had to do Freudian hypnosis and Freudian therapy, you know, analysis...People believed that was the only way for a long time until Erickson came along, honestly, really pretty much.
Um, so it's really great that we had stage hypnosis to keep the whole field alive through that period. You know, so I, I'm probably wrong with everything I've just said, but that would be my magic wand if I had it.
Susanna Sweeney: Hmm. Something about the medical orthodoxy. I mean, Freud did experiment with hypnosis. So like something happened there, the moment that he stepped back from it because essentially he couldn't find the right induction method for clients and that's what, um, disillusioned him.
Doug O’Brien: ...and then the moment he stepped back from it, the following generations of psychodynamic psychotherapists also stepped away from it. Right. So there's, yeah. And now what we have as hypnosis is on the fringes and has not been accepted by the medical orthodoxy.
Yeah. I mean it's, it's getting there. I worked at for six years in a hospital, um, during pre-surgical hypnosis. So yeah, it's, it's coming back, but it would be, and thanks. Thanks to Ericsson for the Ericsson. That's one of the reasons Erickson really said that, you know, because he was Milton Erickson MD, that he would only teach it to other PhDs and MDs and you know, licensed social workers and that sort of stuff. You know, for, for a long time as a musician, I couldn't study Ericksonian hypnosis because they wouldn't let me...I was allowed in the end because I'd actually matriculated as a, as a psych student. So they said, Oh, your master's degree student. Yeah. You can come in. So I actually studied with some of those guys for awhile. Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: So then maybe the wish we should make is not for stage hypnosis to go away, but maybe just for more acceptance of hypnotic med hypnotic methods in the world of medicine. Right. Or the kind of areas where the medical orthodoxy has a say, right. Including psychotherapy.
Doug O’Brien: Well, if you have a magic wand and you wave it the way you want to. Okay. But yeah, that, no, that sounds good. I like that.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah, let's do it together. Um, yes, because I think sometimes like it's a matter of taste as well.
Doug O’Brien: Like some people actually really respond to the show manly type of hypnosis. Some people really do respond to the authoritarian model.
You know it's interesting. I was just in Las Vegas and you know, it was a hypnosis conference in Las Vegas and Las Vegas is a wacky place and to get anywhere in this hotel conference room area, you had to go through the casino. It's all one thing. And there are people just sitting for hours at a slot slot machine- it’s this big, you know, video game things basically.
And they're just sitting there like going, and I watched a guy when he won his slot machine thing, those who's got like thousands of dollars and then he just sort of like, okay, there was no response. They are zombies, they're in deep trances all the time. I think, yeah, probably a person like that would respond well to an authoritarian hypnosis hypnotic hypnotist who would say, do this now and blah, blah, blah. You know, it probably would respond well because they're in a deep trance all the time.
But wouldn't it be interesting if we could wake them up from those trances? And it'd be interesting if we could say, instead of, okay, I'm going to assume the role as the authoritarian hypnotist, that we'd say, Hey, you wake up. You bring them back from that trance and make them human beings again instead of, you know, automatons who just do that with the hypnotist tells him to do.
So I think in a sense that's, that's what hypnosis is for me. It's an, it's a, it's a way of de-hypnotizing people.
Susanna Sweeney: It's a way of bringing people out of the trance that they are in the limiting trance that they're in.
Doug O’Brien: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: Wonderful. So that's a good place maybe to leave it for today, dog. And thank you so much for joining me and for sharing your story.
Doug O’Brien: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
I hope you enjoyed my interview with certified master hypnotist Doug O'Brien. You can visit his website here. Please let our community know your thoughts in the comments underneath.
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