The work of the cognitive therapist is never easy. Maladaptive schemas, emotional and biochemical arousal, and cognitive limitations undermine our efforts to liberate our clients from destructive beliefs and patterns of thought. Often overlooked is the influence of trance states on our clients’ ability to engage in the give and take process of psychotherapy. A trance state is a pervasive experience that regulates perceptual biases, distorts cognitive processes, shifts social connectedness, and reshapes physiological arousal. Think of a magic trick, such as pulling a coin out of a child’s ear, and you’ll understand how the child’s trance state allows him or her to be ‘fooled’ by the magician.
Our clients, whether they suffer from anxiety, depression, pain, or addictions, spend much of their time mesemerized in various trance states. These trances predispose their perceptual faculties to seize on input that confirms their inner experience. Their cognitive processes become looped into the magnetic pull of circular thinking. Their physiologies becomes locked in a mood and anxiety congruent states of arousal.
Many of the traditional cognitive therapy interventions are potent antidotes to the power of trance states. Mood monitoring, in which the client monitors his or her inner state in real time, gently forces consciousness heightening reflection. Psychoeducation through which we endeavor to lift the veil on our clients’s agonies with useful information reveals sleights of mind so that he or she is less likely to fall into these trance traps. Activity planning and goal setting serve to leverage the clients’ nascent desire and discipline to stay the course of healing. Most importantly, the mutual, shared discovery dimension of the cognitive therapeutic relationship has the potential to empower the client with the capacity to take responsibility for how she or he connects with the world within and world without.
And that’s when the real magic starts.