Essays Banner

The mysterious case of lettle grey cells between two ringing ears

Detected by Elwyn Griffiths GQHP, BSC

Posted April 2013

I felt I could be dreaming when the celebrated HP appeared. I had apparently been recommended by colleagues of his [AH and a Miss L] who had been impressed by my work on their self-esteem.

My recognising him got us off to a good start. I knew something of HP’s character and abilities but fortunately did not jump to conclusions.

His problem was tinnitus: the most expensive Harley Street medics had told him “nothing can be done, you will have to live with it”, and he hoped I would be able to retum his life to equable normality.

I assured him the symptoms could be relieved in time, with effort on his part; that today we would get to know each other, and I would collect detailed information so I could treat his specific needs.



He was indeed unsettled by disorder, and uncomfortable when not planted firmly in a city; but not troubled by his urges to tidy, or his weight, and he admitted no fears of flying or the countryside. HP was clearly very cerebral (more than once, he told me how he used his "leetle grey cells") and supremely self-confident. He was fastidious and precise, a gourmet, cultured, well informed and connected.

He had an easy, pleasant, very polite, manner and was equally confident talking to parlour maids or prime ministers. Keen to keep up with modem developments (especially in his mode of life), his understanding of technology, and science generally, was not great.

He did however consider himself an expert on people’s motivation and the practical application of psychology. He felt at the top of his profession and I think this was fundamental to his problem: the increasing, intermittent buzzing in his head, whilst not of medical significance, struck at the very core of his identity; his ability to think clearly was being compromised. Normally calm and collected, his anxiety was increasing.

HP seemed a good hypnotic subject. He tended to go deep within himself when he was grappling with one of his famous problems. He stressed his logic but had great powers of imagination, and could be creative.

I wanted him to leave me knowing he could go into trance, and preferably having established a quiet ‘safe place’, not just as deepening but as a basis for further work (Heap & Aravind, 2002 p75: Yapko, 2003 p296). However, tinnitus would probably prevent relaxing on demand: I would have to choose an induction with care.Relaxation, and a Nowww deepener, were out, as was imagery involving gardens, countryside, sandy beaches, or rolling rivers. A multisensory approach engaging his senses in turn (Battino & South, 1999 p214) would have to exclude auditory images, for the moment.

Stairs and lifts did not seem to fit his sedate manner. Although he might be expecting a hypnosis ritual, I thought Rhythmic Eye Movement, or Rapid Defocus would not bypass his analytical tendencies, although a Stokvis card might (Weitzenhoffer, 1957 p264). Erickson’s Early Leaming Set (Erickson & Rossi, 1979 p284) seemed premature.

The idea of a Mind’s Eye (Yapko, 2003 p301) might chime with him, but closing down awareness was not what I wanted at this stage. Perhaps a Question induction (Erickson & Rossi, 1979 p28) would suit his enquiring mind? Levitation/Magnetic Hands could be adapted to exploit his pride in his superior sense of discrimination (the Spanos method (Heap & Aravind, 2002) should be superfluous).

Dissociation could help distance him from his tinnitus; a little Content Free Therapy might give us something to work on later; and a degree of amnesia for details of suggestions could enhance his sense of experiencing inner change.

I gave him my Tinnitus Impact Questionnaire, asking him to “complete it at your leisure and bring it back with you next week”, presupposing a follow-up.

Without looking, he folded the questionnaire precisely in half, then half again, and slipped it into an inside pocket. Maybe he was being dismissive, but I thought him distracted by the chaotic room and acting automatically. I exploited this.

I explained that the room became disorganised by the activities there. I asked if he would lend his expert eye and, “as he sat there with his feet on the floor, and his hands resting on his thighs ”, guide me in the realignment of some of the ornaments, “so we would have some small area of the room we could look upon with satisfaction, and comfort, as we went on."

The fussing about distracted him from his tinnitus, fixated and focussed his attention, and initiated a response set.

Instead of continuing with explanations and education about hypnosis and tinnitus, I seized the moment (drawing on Erickson & Rossi 1979 & Yapko 2003; starting with questions answerable by the conscious and moving on towards the unconscious, emphasising interspersed suggestions). Something like this.

Perhaps, M’sieur (first name was highly inappropriate for such a formal person and his surname would have seemed stilted; "mon cher ami" was far away.)

As you look carefully at the arrangement of items on the mantelpiece, do your eyes begin to change focus?

As you pick one spot on which to concentrate, does your peripheral vision change?

And do you still see your hands, resting gently on your thighs? Or have they disappeared?

As you continue looking at that spot for a while, do your eyelids want to blink.

Will they want to blink slowly or quickly? Together or separately? (They flickered).

You know our eyes are unreliable witnesses, sometimes seeing only what they are meant to see, and missing what is there. (Using one of his phrases).

And we sometimes see clearer with our outer eyes closed …

… and your inner senses open. (His eyes closed).

Can those eyelids now remain closed?

… like when you are asleep? (Normally I would mention comfort, but his tinnitus was interfering with going to sleep).

And can that continue, so you would rather not even try to open your eyes?

And how soon will you forget about them altogether, because your unconscious wants to dream?

And as your inner vision grows, can you feel comfortable resting your hands gently on your thighs, without letting them touch each other? (I was beginning to get little ideomotor nods).

And where they rest lightly can you sense the soft texture? The sharp creases?

The sharp softness? Even the weave’s plain pattern? The light weight?

And with each breath you take, do you notice those hands, lightly resting there, lift a little, all on their own?

And do you know that some people are able to judge the smallest differences?

And do you detect one hand just slightly lighter, or heavier, than the other?
Or maybe, just now, they are exactly the same, but begin to change as you concentrate on them?

And do you know that just as thermionic valves in a wireless set amplify the invisible signals from the ether and transmit to a loudspeaker (I calculated this was about the right technological level for him) so neurons in your brain, that detect differences, amplify the signal, and feed it back to your other senses, of touch and position?

And with each breath, do you find the lighter hand lifts more?"

I was getting movement in one hand, and continued in a similar vein till it had risen about six inches. Banking on his love of symmetry, I asked if his other hand would rest on its own or catch up with the first, and match it. I soon had both hands raised.

I took him deeper by continuing to play on his ability to detect, and enhance fine differences. I explained that electrical activity in our nerves created magnetic fields and that some people told us they could detect them.

I wondered what it must be like to “experience your hands being drawn together by strong magnets.” I developed this until I saw movement and then suggested -

“… when your hands meet, they will sink gently down and you will experience the sensation of floating up, observing your physical body with your mind’s eye …

my voice will go with you, and you can respond by nodding that physical head as if it were a puppet. ”

As he responded, I took him on a tour of the room, giving him different perspectives. I let him know he could go anywhere, and steered him to a safe place –

“ … perhaps a preferred or imagined ideal room, maybe centrally heated, a room you can furnish and decorate as you like, perhaps changing it each time you visit it, so you can rest comfortably, shutting out the bustle of the world.

And in that safe place your mind’s eye can enjoy the peace and your little grey cells (his favourite phrase) can review important issues, unconsciously, and decide when and how to bring them to your conscious attention.”

Before awakening (without ego-strengthening, for now), I reminded him “we often have clear dreams that fade quickly, but leave us knowing something has happened.”

On awakening, I returned to talking about items on the mantelpiece, to enhance amnesia. Without looking down, his hand went to the table at his side, and wrote something.

As we resumed talking about his condition, he glanced down, snatched the written sheet, shot up with a cry of “mais oui!” and left hurriedly, with apologies and assurances he would come again.

As HP disappeared, a distant voice told me I had learned a lot from him, would take my knowledge with me, and use it, back in the future.



Battino, R., & South, T. (1999). Ericksonian approaches: a comprehensive manual. Bancyfelin: Crown House.
Erickson, M., & Rossi, E. (1979). Hypnotherapy: an exploratory casebook. New York: Irvington Publishers; Distributed by Halsted Press.
Heap, M., & Aravind, K. (2002). Hartland 's medical and dental hypnosis (4th ed.). Edinburgh; New York: Churchill Livingstone.
Weitzenhoffer, A. (1957). General techniques of hypnotism. New York: Grune & Stratton
Yapko, M. (2003). Trancework :an introduction to the practice of clinical hypnosis (3rd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.


© Elwyn Griffiths, April 2013

© 2012 James Braid Society; all rights reserved