198: Solution-Oriented Approach with Couples with Bill O’Hanlon

Welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch! This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

In this episode, we’re talking the Solution-Oriented Approach to couples therapy with Bill O’Hanlon. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots, and watch it on YouTube – follow and leave a 5-star review.

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The Couples Therapist Couch 198: Solution-Oriented Approach with Couples with Bill O’Hanlon

Find out more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new

In this episode, Shane talks with Bill O’Hanlon about his Solution-Oriented Approach to couples therapy. Bill is a world-renowned leader in the fields of brief psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis and is the co-founder of the Solution-Oriented Approach, a therapeutic method that focuses on identifying unrealized possibilities while acknowledging emotional and contextual issues. Hear Bill’s own history with mental health, the biggest opportunity for couples therapists, how to help people accept the reality of how their relationships evolve, how hypnosis is connected to his work with couples, and his passion for songwriting.

This episode covers everything from couples therapy to hypnosis. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • Does Bill like talking about people's family histories?
  • What's the biggest opportunity we have as couples therapists?
  • How do you help people accept the reality of their relationships?
  • What is fight-or-flight?
  • How do you approach conversations from a Solution-Oriented Approach?
  • Why has Bill written so many books?
  • How has he used hypnosis?
  • Where can you check out the songs he's written?

For all things Bill, visit BillOHanlon.org

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below: 



 Show Notes


What is The Couples Therapist Couch?

This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Many of the episodes are interviews with leaders in the field of Relationships. The show is meant to help Therapists and Coaches learn how to help people to deepen their connection, but in the process it explores what is most needed for each of us to love, heal, and grow. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

Find out more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate. 

Bill O'Hanlon 0:00
I'm always in awe in a certain way of the overcoming this that people have. And I think that focusing only on what's wrong with people or mainly on what's wrong with people creates a false impression people because people are resilient. I mean, you see people in the poorest countries in the world, being generous with other people, you see them surviving things that I'm not sure I could survive. And so I want to make sure that both of those sides are balanced when I'm having a conversation with people.

Shane Birkel 0:35
Welcome to episode number 198 of The Couples Therapist Couch

Intro VO 0:42
Welcome to The Couples Therapist Couch, the podcast for couples therapists, marriage counselors and relationship coaches to explore the practice of couples therapy, and now your host, Shane Birkel.

Shane Birkel 0:59
Everyone welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is your host, Shane Birkel, and this is the podcast that's all about the practice of couples therapy. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you enjoy the episode and you want to be part of a community, then definitely join The Couples Therapist Couch Facebook group that's completely free. Obviously, you can always join the Couples Therapist Inner Circle, the paid basically an amazing supervision group where we talk about couples therapy therapist asked questions. There's a ton of course material on working with affairs working with Emotionally Focused Therapy, doing relational life therapy, all kinds of different course material that you can get access to. And I'm really excited I'm I'm sort of revamping the whole inner circle. There's a new business option about building your couples therapy practice, which could be an add on to the clinical side of things, if that's something that's a good fit for you. So go over to the website and check it out. You can get a lot more details and information. I don't want to take too much time talking about it here on the podcast, but it's something you should definitely take a look at if it feels like that could be a good fit for you. Today, I was able to catch up with Bill O'Hanlon, who I also spoke with on episode number 25 of the podcast. So if you enjoy our conversation today, you might also want to go back and listen to episode number 25. Bill is in my mind a legend in the field of psychotherapy. He's done a ton of teaching. He's written I think it's 41 books related to relationships, therapy, hypnosis, all kinds of different topics. And he's just such a great character to talk to and catch up with and he always has so much really valuable stuff to say and I always learn a lot in our conversations. So without further introduction, here is the interview with Bill O'Hanlon. Everyone welcome back to the couples therapist couch. This is Shane Birkel, and today I'm speaking with Bill O'Hanlon, songwriter, author, public speaker, and psychotherapy and hypnosis teacher. Hey, Bill, welcome to the show.

Bill O'Hanlon 3:12
Thank you, Shane. Thanks for having me. Good to see you. Good to see a fellow Omahan

Shane Birkel 3:17
yeah, that's, that's right. We're just talking about how we're both from Nebraska, which is unusual. Bill was on the podcast a few years ago. People enjoy this conversation, they can go back and listen to your other interview that we had then I'm really interested in talking more about the solution oriented approach to therapy, which you are the co founder of, and I know you studied under Milton Erickson. But why don't you start with telling everyone a little bit more about yourself?

Bill O'Hanlon 3:44
Yeah, well, again, I grew I was born in Omaha, but and grew up there grew up in the Chicago area. And then I moved back to the Omaha area later in my life had a family there. I was a shy kid. When I was growing up. I have a cousin who came to see me do some of my public speaking one time and she said that's the most unlikely profession I can imagine going into I never heard you talk till you were 18. And I was a really shy kid kind of anxious. And big family, eight kids and I moved away for college. I moved from Chicago area to Arizona State Phoenix area. And I think I got kind of lost there. So I had some mental health issues myself, I got depressed and I was pretty isolated, pretty lonely. And that through a roundabout series of events led me to becoming interested in psychology and psychotherapy. Once I studied psychology, I realized, oh, it's not psychology, I'm really interested in it's psychotherapy. It's how to help people, solve their problems, be less miserable and growing up in a family as I did. I it was sort of the heyday of systemic therapies. And de Haley had written a book about Milton Erickson's work. And that was through the framework of marriage and family therapy. And I thought, Well, that makes sense. It's not like you blame anybody, any individual for what's going on or when they have problems. There's an ecology around them, there's a system around them that has influenced them and continues to influence them. So if you can work with that you can do work that doesn't involve blaming people. It just involves helping people change. And so that appealed to me a great deal. So I got really into couples and family therapy. That's what I majored in is my master's degree at Arizona State. And while I was studying my undergraduate degree in psychology, and then later in my graduate stuff, I came across Milton Erickson, I met him in person through some strange circumstances. And then I studied with him when I was actually in graduate school. And that warped me in a particular way, just what you're saying about solutions. He was a quirky guy, and he's psychiatrists. But he wasn't big on medicines, he was much more big on helping people change. And he had a very different approach from everything else I'd studied. And he was really interested in people's capabilities and resources, more than their deficits and pathologies. And that had a big influence on me, because again, I was really sensitive growing up to being blamed. And so I mentioned that earlier, I thought, well, that's kind of cool about family, couples therapy, you just can sort of spread the accountability around, and you don't have to blame anybody. And then I came across his approach, which said, well, instead of focusing on what's wrong with people, you can focus on the resources and strengths they had. And that led me and some other people to develop this solution oriented approach, which is doing a sort of positive excavation, in the midst of problems for where are the resources, strengths, previous solutions, future solutions, and that came to be called in one approach, the solution focused approach and my approach solution oriented approach, which I come out with a show winner Davis, we wrote a book about that called in search of solutions. And that was revolutionary. For me, it I had done a lot of different approaches, and been influenced by a lot of Carl Rogers, and, you know, as most other people cognitive behavioral therapies, and coming up with my own slant on things really helped. It gave me a center from which to do work. So I no longer had to be the expert that figured out what the real problem was, and how to solve that problem. I was in collaboration with my couple family, individual clients, and trying to evoke their natural problem solving abilities and resources and strengths, and re focus the conversation into more productive and positive direction that was focused on solutions. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 8:26
that's great. And I think it's a whole framework for how you see the world when you start having these conversations in a different way. And you start asking people different questions that our more solution oriented, you know, it helps people think differently. But I am curious, you know, what is your perspective about talking about things that happened in the past or using information about people's history or family of origin and things like that?

Bill O'Hanlon 8:54
I'm happy to talk about what people want to talk about, they come in, and it's not like, Oh, I'm not going to talk about that stuff. It's about your challenge. Can I don't believe in it? No, I mean, you listen respectfully. And when people bring up, you know, it's like, I grew up in this alcoholic family, or, you know, my father cheated on my mother. And I think that's what led me to, you know, and I'm like, Okay, well, what did you take from that, that made you you know, sensitive and relationships and, and how did you decide you wanted to do your life differently? And so you can use those past discussions as an entryway into solutions and possibilities and resources and strengths. So I'm happy to talk about past I'm happy to talk about genetics. I'm happy to talk about biochemistry. It's like okay, given the fact that you realize that you were ADHD is somewhere along the line. How have you gotten so far, based on having that kind of neuro chemistry and you know, neurology, and so I'm always curious, you No, I'm sure you've seen people, I've seen clients that I don't know, you know, you never know till you get there. But if I had lived their lives, I don't think I could have survived it, they were in desperate conditions, you know, abused and, you know, poverty ridden and you know, violence in their lives, and, you know, terrible stuff happened and, you know, terrible genetic or biochemical backgrounds. And somehow, you know, they made it to my office somehow, some way, you know, they've suffered serious bouts of depression or, you know, other kinds of things. And somehow, they show up in my office, we have a conversation, and I'm always in awe in a certain way of the overcoming this that people have. And I think that focusing only on what's wrong with people, or mainly on what's wrong with people creates a false impression of people, because people are resilient. I mean, you see people in the poorest countries in the world, being generous with other people, you see them surviving things that I'm not sure I could survive. And so I want to make sure that both of those sides are balanced when I'm having a conversation with people, the past the present the future. And I think some therapies focus only on one thing, their cognitions, or the past, or their genetics, or their biochemistry, or their trauma, or whatever. And I'm like, Yeah, I'll talk about any of that stuff. I think it's all relevant. What do we do with it? Now, rather than give you a diagnosis that just says, you're screwed? You, you have severe manic depression, you know, are bipolar disorder, and you're just going to be living with that the rest of your life? I'm like, Yeah, okay. That's the conditions in which you find yourself. How have you overcome that? And sometimes, how have you compensated for it in some ways, I think, you know, I got abused when I was younger, sexually abused. And I think it made me a better author, and a better speaker, because in compensation, by the way, that person manipulated me into the abuse was confused me, in compensation, I learned to be a really great outliner. Like, because I wanted to understand things that were confusing, because I was anxious when I was in a confusing situation. So I developed a compensatory skill that helped me write 41 books so far, and you know, teach a bunch of workshops that I outline, usually pretty clearly and pretty well. So I'm interested in balancing out that conversation, which is sort of why I changed the name of my work from solution oriented to possibility because I'm thinking, you know, they could get worse, they could get better, they could stay about the same. And they have deficits and pathologies, and challenges, and they have resources and abilities and solutions. I want to balance all that. And my main thing is open a possibility. So they can move forward and not be stuck. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 13:08
and I don't know if you use this terminology, but I was thinking about beliefs, like limiting beliefs specifically, you know, when you talk about those problems, like, you know, you grew up in this situation, a lot of people sort of feel like they're a victim, and they are they feel worthless. And you know, just the way that you were asking the question, that's more like, what did you learn from that situation? How did you survive? How did you get through it, you're sort of programming a different sort of belief into their mind, which is, I am someone who can, you know, survive through something like that? Right. And

Bill O'Hanlon 13:43
I think when you have that conversation, people's views, as you say, their limiting beliefs and their general beliefs, sometimes shift, and they don't see the problem in the same way. And so I'm of the, again, I was raised, I was raised as a therapist, during this time, it's called Social constructionism. That how we talk about and interact about problems creates the form of the problem, the fixed form of the problem. So yes, I think when you ask different questions, sometimes that what used to look like an intractable problem dissolves, or starts to yield a little more to, oh, maybe things can change. And so I think those conversations are very important to have. And, you know, I think, you know, you specialize in couples therapy, and so did I, there was something you know, couples, being in a relationship can be the most amazing and rewarding and loving thing. And it can be the worst nightmare of your life. If it goes bad. You know, it can be torture, you know, you live with somebody and sometimes you feel more alone than if you're alone. You know if it's gone bad. And so for me, those family and couples relationships Love is what makes the world go around. And, you know, it motivates a lot of things. You know, I'm, I'm you mentioned, I'm doing some writing now, it was great to be a couples therapist for 40 years because I have so much material for writing songs because three quarters of the songs that are out there about relationships, you know, longing, someone having, you know, being in love with someone wanting them to be happy and being you know, losing someone whether through breakup or death, and longing for, you know, remembering them with you know, love or remembering their with bitterness, if it was a bad breakup. Relationships are so central to our lives and our happiness often, that it's a really meaningful thing to be able to have skills to help couples dissolve the barriers to love. They don't dissolve their problems that are poisoning their relationship or keeping them apart, or making them miserable. It's it's a, it's a sacred task, I think. And I really felt the privilege that couples would let me in because, you know, I think you you and I were men, it's like somebody suggested we go to couples therapy, and we're like, I'm not airing my dirty laundry, and I'm not being vulnerable in front of someone else. If you get a couple in, it took a lot for one of those or both of those people that come in and, and bear their souls to you and tell you what their issues are, and bring you into that. And I think that's a privilege and a sacred duty to, you know, to help people if they can stay together and get along. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 16:36
that's great. I love looking at it like that. And what do you think is the biggest opportunity we have as couples therapists, you know, when we get people at that moment, where they're struggling, and they're finally coming in for help, I feel like, it's really important to sort of think about how we approach the moment.

Bill O'Hanlon 16:54
Part of it is to have a not shut down the possibilities, you know, because they come in, and I don't love him anymore. I don't love her anymore. Or, you know, you know, they had an affair and I can't forgive, it's like, well, yeah, that's where you are in this moment. But, you know, I may have told this story before, I can't remember when I was on before, but I, early on, when I was becoming a marriage and family therapist. I lived in Arizona, and I went to a party. And again, Shy Guy, I didn't like to go to parties, but I came to a friend's party. And there was an older couple there that were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. And so everybody's you know, out and about and, and I get seated next to the woman in that relationship. I just was like, Okay, I'm becoming a marriage and family therapist. I saw you interact with your husband, you to look like you're in love, and you look like you're really appreciate and love each other and you know, have fun with each other. I'm not married yet. I don't have any kids. And you know, I've had relationships, but I'm not married. What's What's the secret? You know, like, how do I get that in 50 years if I meet the person that I want to be with? And she said, Well, Steph for a minute, she says, I've been married five guys. I go whoa, you went through four guys before you got to this, you know, and it's pretty unusual for people that age to have been divorced that many times he goes, Oh no, we never died never divorced. This guy. He was five different guys. You know, I first met him he was young and impetuous. And you know, handsome as the devil. And I fell in love with that guy. And then, you know, get in our 20s and he gets a job and he gets serious. And you know, he has serious job and he was boring. You know, he would come home. All he wanted to do is talk about his work. And it was boring. And I was like, Where was that Young, Wild, dreamy teenager that I met you know, and but I learned to love that one. And then you know, we had middle age and on we had we both grew in different directions. And we had to you know, I didn't like him at times. I didn't you know not, you know, I hated him at moments. And I learned to love that one. And then he changed again. And now look at him sober. There's she she grabbed her arm to go look at that stuff hanging off his arms. He said, You know, he was a hulking, you know, young teenager. And now he's got this skin hanging off, you know, and I learned to love that one too. And I've learned a lot five different guys. He's gone through five different things. And I'm sure I've gone through that too. And I thought, that's a really wise thing because people come in in the midst of their most difficult moments. And they think this is it. This is the truth about my relationship. I don't love him anymore. I don't love her anymore. He's a jerk. She's a controller, you know, whatever. And if you can get them through that and not alienate each other and not give up on the possibilities, that something could change. Now it doesn't always you know, sometimes you're with the wrong person and you just can't make You'd work or it's violence, the beyond the pale, you just can't make it work, you know, but more times than not, I would see couples going over the cliff, you know, like, their relationship was done. And I would grab them by the back of their shirt, turn them around have a different conversation. Sometimes they would fall deeply in love with that new version of their relationship in that person. I think that's one thing to keep in mind is that we conclude from the moment what our feelings are going to be in the future, what they were in the past, sometimes I never really loved him, I just married amount of you know, whatever. Right, right. i People make conclusions. They're a little too rigid. I think feelings are, are flexible. And I, you know, I wrote a book called Love is verb. And I think depending on how you communicate, talk, behave. Feelings can change at any moment, at any moment, you can fall deeply in love with this person, again, even if you think you hate him, or don't love them anymore, or you lost all passion and all feelings. I've seen it happen. And I think people that are in this field, don't know that you've seen it, you know, sometimes, like people come in everything, okay, they're on, you know, they don't usually come to your office, for a little tune out, they come to the office on the way to divorce court often, you know, are on the way to break up, or they've already broken up. And I've seen it turn around, I'm sure you have to. And that gives me kind of hope. And I always go at the we can work this out and we can make it we can make it work, they can make it

Shane Birkel 21:35
work, right? And how do you help people move into the acceptance of, you know, my partner is never going to be a hunky 20 year old, strong person, again, sort of grieving, the reality of what our relationship is, at this moment are grieving the things that don't exist anymore. Right? To acceptance versus the things that I really need to stand up for and set boundaries about and say this isn't okay, for me?

Bill O'Hanlon 22:04
Well, I think there are two, there's a couple of distinctions here. One is, sometimes when I, when I've taught when I've done public speaking, I read the feedback forms. And if someone says like, Bill is ugly, like, there's not much I can do about that, if they say Bill talks too fast, I can do something about that. So I focus more on like what's under that person's control, you know, maybe they can exercise a little more and have a little less, you know, baggy arms. But mainly, you got to focus on how they speak to you how they treat you how they talk to you, how they touch you how they, you know, deal with you. And every day, I focus, that's why I call the lovers verb, because it's more of an action. You know, if that person may not be the handsomest guy, or the most beautiful woman in the world, or the most desirable or doesn't dress perfectly, or whatever, but no actions, they have a big influence on love. And so, you know, we've all known, you know, I used to sit in shopping malls when I was waiting for my partner or my kids, you know, to do shopping, and I would just watch people and I think, look at that guy, he's not very handsome, and he's got this beautiful woman are looking at that woman, she's not very attractive. And she's got this funky guy, you know, how did that happen? I think, probably because they were a pretty nice person and pretty loving person. So I'm more focused on the actions that people take that engender feelings of affection and love and caring. And again, you know, in the couples that I'm seeing if they've lost that spark, what can they do behaviorally, and how they talk to and interact with one another, that can engender more warm feelings, passionate feelings, loving feelings, that's an easier thing to change, then your ugly are your control. You know, like, so what is controlling look like, let's see if we can change any of those behaviors, and then you'll be less likely to be turned off by the controlling nature of that person.

Shane Birkel 24:20
That's great. Can you say a little bit more about how you approach those conversations from a solution oriented perspective to sort of move people into describing those things?

Bill O'Hanlon 24:30
Yeah, I mean, you know, who's had this, this chair with wheels on it, you know, and I remember this couple came in, and they were in crisis as as typically when people come into the office and So what brings you here, she said, you know, he's passive aggressive. And I was like, oh, shoot, I have a confession to make. During graduate school, I was working a full time job while I was going to graduate class whoring myself and I think I fell asleep on a lecture on passive aggressiveness. So I sorta know what you mean, but I'm not quite sure it was sort of floated in and out while I was sleeping, can you give me a few examples of what he does looks like passive aggressiveness to you when she told me a few examples. One is he would tell her to be home at eight o'clock. And if he wasn't, he would call and then he wouldn't call and he wouldn't be home at eight o'clock, and I go, okay. So one of the things that make a big difference for you is if he kept his word about that, if he, you know, called if he was going to be late, or came home at the time, he said he was going to be, and then I turned to him. And I said, and I suspect you have an idea of why it's, it would be hard for you to call or to be home in that time. And he would tell me, you know, yeah, I get caught up in work, and I forget it. And I know if I call, she's gonna yell at me. Because she thinks I work too much. And so I just put it off, put it, I think of it, and then I put it off. And then she gets more mad at me when I'm home. I go, Okay, well, so can we find a way to set a reminder for you? And that, and then I turned to her, and I say, Can we agree if he actually calls at that moment, it's not a good idea to have the discussion about whether he works too much. But just thank you for letting you know. And all of a sudden, we moved out of his personality structure, which is pretty hard to change or his qualities, which are pretty hard to change to his behaviors and her behaviors. And that's a lot more changeable. That's why I'm saying love his birth, she could not talk to you about how much he works when he calls and says he's going to be late. And he could set an alarm and he could call or he could be home on time, one of those three, and those are behaviors that are under their control. If I said to her, you need to be less critical. And I said to him, you need to be less passive aggressive, that wouldn't be good. And so you know, I, when she said that he's passive aggressive, I rolled my chair away from him. I said, Oh, don't get any of that on me. I don't remember what it is. But I remember it was bad. And they laughed. And that sort of lighten them up to be open to this new discussion. So I think you've got to use all these methods to kind of, you know, loosen the jar so so they're not so stuck in those positions have, he's bad, she's bad. He's the problem. She's the problem. That doesn't lead anybody anywhere, I don't think and couples work and in relationships.

Shane Birkel 27:35
Yeah, it's great. Because when you're when they're focusing on the character, like he's a mean, passive aggressive person, like you said, that's very hard to change that's very different from this is someone who loves me and cares about me, and they can be passive aggressive at times, and let's focus on how to really

Bill O'Hanlon 27:53
focus on seeing we can negotiate that in our relationships, our She's just like her mother. He's just like his father, those, you know, I just need to break them down into what does that look like? What does it sound like? And is that changeable? And there are going to be some things that aren't going to be so easy to change. But if we can change any bit of it, it gives them hope that something can change and that it's not all just going downhill and staying really bad. So yeah,

Shane Birkel 28:22
yeah, that's great. I'm curious, you know, in your with your background in hypnosis, I think a lot of therapists, you know, sort of imagine that there's someone laying on the couch under a trance. And that's how you do hypnosis, but and I know that could be part of it. But can you say a little bit, can you explain a little bit more about how that hypnosis is connected to some of the solution oriented stuff that you do?

Bill O'Hanlon 28:48
Well, it's funny that you ask that especially in terms of couples therapy. I don't use hypnosis too much. I've done it a little in couples therapy, but when I learned hypnosis, which I was a little freaked out about when I was at Dr. Erickson, who was one of my mentors, did hypnosis all the time and you couldn't study with them with within without learning a little hypnosis, and I learned a lot of it. And I liked it. I thought it was really interesting, the kindie he did, which was different from traditional stuff. But one of the first things that happened for me was not using hypnosis in my therapy practice, but realizing how many My clients were already in a bad trance. And so couples get in bad trances with each other, they sort of mutually poorly hypnotized into states that aren't fun. And I remember you know, I at the time when I first learned hypnosis, I was working a lot with a new disorder. I was one of the specialists in the my area on that. And it was now called it's not called bulimia, but initially it was called. And my clients with bulimia A practice bulimia would go into sort of trances. I remember a client of mine who would come in we do really good work. She'd go out and she'd say to me the next time she came back in three days, things were going really well. And then all of a sudden, I had well, I It's like I woke up, and I have had a binge. I don't remember what started it. I don't remember anything during it, but I sort of vaguely realized I was I had bitched and vomited. I thought, well, that's a lot like what people say a trance is sort of dreamlike. And they remember some things afterwards, like a dream. And then it fades. And I was like, wow, these people are in like a trance, but it's a bad trance. And so then I started thinking of that with couples. And when I do hypnosis, what I'm trying to do is validate people where they are accepting where they are sort of Carl Rogers with hypnosis and open up new possibilities. And what happens in bad trance is the opposite of that people get invalidated. So we think of couples, where they invalidate each other and blaming each other. And they closed down possibilities. So I realized the couples are in bad trance and my bulimia clients are in bad trance and other you know, post trauma clients are in bad trances. My job is to join them in that trance and lead them to a better more healing impossibility laden trance and solution oriented trance. And just to wake them up from that bad trance if I did not even put them in, you know, a more healing trance, but just wake them up from a bad trance. And so with couples, I would often interrupt their conversations because they've already done this conversation and home, they're doing it in my office costing more money, and it's the same outcome. They get mad at each other, push each other's buttons, and it doesn't go anywhere. And so I'll say, Oh, okay. You know, I want to solve Virginia Satir, doing a demonstration with a couple of workshops. They started in their usual thing where they would jabs at each other. And she said, Well, what stops that? She'd said, she'd say, turn around. And I want you to just listen to each other rather than look at each other. Now, you know, and I know that sometimes people get triggered by, you know, pointing fingers or facial expressions like, Oh, there she goes, judging me again, you know, she didn't say a word, but she's got that look on her face that he reacts to. And so she turned them around, so they couldn't have their usual dance of bad trance. And another time I saw her just physically step in between the cup, so they couldn't see each other. And talk to each one and get him in a better place, then turn to the other one and then move out of the way and haven't talked to each other when they were in a better place. I thought she's doing that interrupting the bad trance think that you know, so that's the first thing I learned about hypnosis and therapy is to figure out what the bad transduction that keeps happening individually, or systemically couples or families or workwise or society wise. What those bad transits are, and how can we can interrupt those and then you can go for healing transits? No, that's a different. That's a different matter. And I you know, I did noses for 40 something years, I never got to the end of it. It's fascinating, you know, because it teaches you about people's non conscious processes. You know, Jay Haley, again, who I mentioned, was a marriage and family therapist and pretty well known influence on the field, said he used to send his marriage and family students to get a year's training and hypnosis because they would learn what impact their words have on people's experience. And I thought, Oh, they said, you know, he said, I never had them use hypnosis in their couples therapy or their family therapy, but they learn the importance of communication and how that influences people's experience. Add on Yeah, I did learn a lot from hypnosis on the words you choose. The intonation is the rhythms that you use the pacing of the words and the you know, all that stuff can evoke certain experiences or evoke other experiences and again, bad trance or not, so not too bad transfer healing trance. So that was really good learning for me with that hypnosis. And then mostly when I did hypnosis, I did individual work and I did it with a lot of people who had physical problems that didn't yield to medical interventions, you know, like chronic migraine headaches or cluster headaches or chronic pain, you know, are the end of life pain from cancer and they just, you know, if they gave the person more drugs, they'd be so out But they wouldn't really be alive and available for their, you know, family members or their loved ones. And that was a great, great privilege to be able to relieve again, you know, that's why I went into this field and why you did to to relieve suffering. And to be able to do that in a very direct way with hypnosis was pretty cool.

Shane Birkel 35:19
Yeah, that's great. I was thinking when you're talking about the bad trance states, with couples, I mean, is there some connection between that and what people describe as fight or flight kind of responses? I

Bill O'Hanlon 35:31
think so I think that, you know, somebody's you know, they can trigger sometimes, and people get triggered by certain voice tones via voice values, facial expressions, you know, colors on the wall, I mean, there's all sorts of stuff that can remind one non consciously of previous experiences, you know, previous people previous experiences, and can evoke some not so good feelings automatically. And that's what I think trance for me taught me is how much of our experience is non unconscious and automatic. And it fires off without conscious media mediation, we're not thinking about it rationally. You know, like, when, when you have a problem in your relationship, you're not rational, you know, you've gotten triggered somehow, and you're enraged, or you're shamed or whatever, that stuff all fires off so quickly, and so automatically by a word or look, or you just go into this automatic response. And that was really fascinating study with hypnosis, and to be able to make a difference when we did sort of that healing hypnosis kind of stuff. Now. Yeah.

Shane Birkel 36:46
And I can totally see how that would help you with couples work, even if you weren't using hypnosis directly with the couples, but just understanding all of that nonconscious stuff that's going on for people and helping them possibly, and I love the creativity, it sounds like you use to sort of like interrupt those patterns and things like that, and use humor and all of those things,

Bill O'Hanlon 37:08
humor and storytelling, and you know, but again, I remember a particular couple, they were both therapists, and they knew I did hypnosis, and they came in and they were just in and out, they had followed this pattern where they would just trigger each other. And I just said, okay, you know, you know, I do hypnosis. So I want to do it like mutual hypnosis, I usually don't do as a couple, but I'm gonna do it. She never went into trance, she was still hopped up. And he went right into trance. And when he came out, they had the same conversation, and he didn't get triggered in the same way. So then, because he didn't get triggered in the same way, he didn't respond in that way that he responded. And she didn't get triggered in same way. And they could get past that conversation. Finally, that interaction that kept triggering both them and they can never get through because they would go wild with each other. And, you know, she was still kind of jacked up until he came out of it. And then they started to talk. And he had such a different response. He was my mellowed out. He was more compassionate. He was in a better place. I gotten him out of that bad trance, not her, but his interaction with her helped her get out of the bed trance. So that was pretty cool.

Shane Birkel 38:18
Yeah, that's amazing. Amazing. Well, I want to ask you about your creativity. I know a lot of therapists are interested in writing books or doing public speaking. Anything else we should talk about with couples therapy before we sort of shift directions?

Bill O'Hanlon 38:36
I think that's that'd be covered up pretty well. And yeah, you know, I, this is a weird thing to say. But the reason I wrote my first book is that I was pissed off. The reason I wrote again, probably the first 10 or 15 books, I've written 41, I was so upset about the fact that the field focused so much on pathology and what was wrong with people. And I would have a conversation with people, they say, Well, you got to or you can't really solve them. And I'm like, No, you don't have to, there's another way. And you know, you just can't explain that in five or 10 minutes very well. So I thought well, who do people listen to it? Listen to people who write books, those are the experts. So I like okay, the people who write books and give workshops, those are people that people listen to and shy as I was, I decided to become a speaker. And I decided to become a writer. So I think the first thing I, you know, I have to say to people is you need to have energy to write a book takes a while to write a book takes a while to get it corrected. It takes awhile to get it published. You have to persist by the publisher and you know, unless you want to self publish, but even so, it's fair amount of work. So don't write a book unless you're passionate about something you really have something you want to communicate I needed to communicate. I never liked writing at first. I don't mind it so much anymore, but I didn't like writing. I loved having written that is I like having it done and out in the world because my goal was to influence people. And it was the same thing with speaking. I was nervous as all get out when I first became a public speaker, because I mentioned to you I was shy, and I didn't talk in front of groups. And I was just terrified at first. And then I was really nervous for a while. But that was all secondary to my passion to get my message across, because I wanted to change people's minds, and move them more in this balanced direction where they were looking at solutions and resources as well as those. So I had a passion to communicate. And that was my goal, I wanted to change minds, and I wanted to communicate, you know, and I thought, well, not everybody will like what I'm saying. But all I got to do is find those few people who are open to this idea and who I can sway, because then this idea will carry on beyond me. And maybe it'll change one person's one clients life, or 100 clients, or 1000, or a million clients lives if I can make a big enough impact. So I think that's the first thing. The second thing for me is, I never write a book until I have a really good outline, and a really good title. It's sometimes my changes time goes along. But I think that's really important. The third thing is you need to write a proposal, which there's a structure to a proposal, it's basically a business plan for your book. So the outline is tell us about who you are and what your plan is for writing it and getting it out in the world. And so I think that's good. You know, if people want to write a book, it's easier to do with these days, especially if it's self published, I always use publish, almost always use mainstream publishers, because they pay you a little money, anywhere from a psychotherapy book, from like, in my day, 3000 to 8004, a general public book, you know, for me, it was 25,000 to 75,000 per book. And then you can make more money if the book makes money. So I mean, you know, once I started doing books for the general public, I'm like, wow, this is actually real money. And I still make money from books that I wrote in 90 days, I still get checks from those books. So it's, it's helped me live in the Caribbean, when I'm older. I leave that here for the winter. You got to have that passion to do it. And I think it's a cool thing to do. I mean, you know, fewer people read now, because there's so much other media that captures our attention, but people still do read. And even people who don't read your books, I've had hundreds of people come up to me through the years say, I've got your book, it's sitting by my bed. I haven't read it. But I wanted to come to the workshop, because I wanted to hear what was in those books. They'd see you as an expert. Have you written the book on that? So it establishes you as an expert, so does teaching, so I'm just doing public speaking, often, I think that's good. And I wouldn't write a book unless I had a unique something to contribute. You know, it's not like you have to invent a whole new thing like relatively theory or anything, you have to have your own slant on something, you know, I've got a book on trauma, and I have a different slant on trauma than most therapists I wrote, you know, some books on couples therapy, and I thought I had a different slant than most of the couples therapy books that I've read. So, you know, that's what moves me I think, I've got something to contribute here. Who am I being a flaky guy who doesn't like to write or who's shy and doesn't want to get up there and speak because I'm nervous, does decide to withhold that from the world because I have some personal fears, or, you know, problems or issues or whatever. And I just overcame those because I, you know, I'm old enough, I was a hippie back in the day, and I felt this desire to contribute to making the world a better place. That was my motivation for writing books. And you know, I have a little ambition to in mind being well known and, you know, admired and get some money for my work and things like that. But my main motivation was making contributions. So if you've got that, you know, who are you to decide that nobody is, you know, I've heard so many people, I'd write a book, but I'm a nobody. And I'm like, Yeah, I want to slap my credit, you know, who are you to decide that everybody's nobody until somebody thinks there's somebody, if you've got something you want to contribute, go write your book, go out and give a talk. You know, do it for free at first and then hopefully, you'll get paid someday. But put it out there in the world. Don't just sit and think about it or keep that book in a drawer for 50 years, you know, 20 years go do it. You know, put it out in the world and run it up a flagpole and see if anybody likes it, there's going to be somebody out there in the world is going to be changed by that work, typically, and it's gonna sometimes save a life. So go do it.

Shane Birkel 44:52
Yeah, and I love what you're saying. You know, as I imagine, sitting in front of my computer, feeling stuck feeling bored. feeling like I don't know what to say, feeling confused about where to go, you know, connecting back to that motivating force that you're talking about that like this could really help somebody that could really be what pushes people through to, to do the work?

Bill O'Hanlon 45:13
Well, you know, it's funny because I was so anxious about public speaking when I started, and I just bullied both my way through it. But later, people came to me to learn how to be a public speaker and some of the strategies and everything and I would say, and I used to say to people, well, I just was nervous and spoke anyway. And that's not a very helpful thing to say, for people without fear of public speaking. And I finally figured out the second thing to say is, what I realized was when I started, you know, the day when I was doing a public speaking engagement, I would be really nervous right before and right when I started. And as soon as I got involved, and I was looking out there on the faces out there, I got so intently focused on how is this coming, I want to move these people that I forgot about myself. And so you're sitting there in front of the computer, and nothing's coming, and you're nervous, and you're thinking, Oh, who's gonna want to read this, I'll never get it published. Don't focus on that, as you say, focus on this is going to be out in the world, it's somebody's going to read it, it's going to change their minds or their lives, and it's going to contribute to them. If you focus on yourself, you're going to be aware of your, you know, beating heart and your, you know, dry mouth, and you're not, you know, what am I doing up here, I'm an imposter. I just focused on them. And that really helped me through fear of speaking in and helped me through a book writing too, because I'm like, Yeah, I'm bored. I hate this. I don't want to be sitting on this chair. And some days good book is going to be done. And somebody's going to read it, it's going to change their minds, it's going to change their hearts, it's going to contribute and may save somebody's life or may save somebody's marriage, or may help them heal from a terrible experience they've had, that's worth the price of admission. I got an email one time and someone said, I read your book and saved my life. And I was like, okay, that's worth all 41 books sitting in a damn computer chair, all those hours, all hunched over a computer, you know, like that was worth the price of admission? I thought if I did that with one person. That was worth it to me in this federal. That's

Shane Birkel 47:21
easy. That's great. Yeah. And do you still have resources for people who are writing books or doing public speaking?

Bill O'Hanlon 47:30
Yeah, we've talked about this a little offline. But that is I retired from psychotherapy. And I retired from teaching as well. But I had online courses and a couple of years ago, I broke me, who was one of my workshop sponsors back in the day I was on the Circuit said whatever happened all your online courses like about writing books, and becoming a public speaker and doing hypnosis and doing solution oriented therapy, new couples therapy, and I'm like, it's all online, just sit there. I'm totally off into something else. I'm, as I mentioned, I'm in the songwriting and pursuing a songwriting career. It's just total fun for me and I love it. I love every minute of it. I'm go to Nashville every month and write songs with Hit Songwriters, it's a lot of fun. And 102 of my songs recorded and released so far, and bunch in movies and commercials. Yeah, that's cool. Yeah. He took those on. And so once every two years, he offers the course in book writing, and once every two years every other year, he offers one on public speaking and then there are other ones is on the clinical topics hypnosis, and you know, happiness, science and couples therapy and trauma and stuff like that. So he does probably, I think three or four courses a year he offers and I write the emails and he sends them out. That's that so yeah, I've got a bill O'Hanlon, that calm, you can register for the email list and and it'll get to information when those things are released.

Shane Birkel 49:01
Great, great. I'll put that in the show notes. And do you want to say where people can see you performing your music or

Bill O'Hanlon 49:09
I don't have a songwriter their performer although I farm when I go to Nashville but I will send you legs and I will send you a link you can put in the show notes. If people want to look at those of the many of the songs that I've written that other people have recorded and released. So I'm not the artist thing I used to be a writer when I was younger, but there are about not all 102 are on Spotify but about 80 or so of them so I'll send you a list of those and you go listen there's singer songwriter stuff there's there's rap and hip hop it's it's fun I'm having the time my life around songs is just so much fun, just to see if I can do and I love music and I love songwriting and just see if I can do a whole new career at this age. You know I'm there in my in my golden years as they say and I just I've all I've always written songs that I've always played music a guitar player, keyboard player, but I got serious about about seven years ago and decided I want to see if I can do this professionally. And I'm having the time my life as I said, and getting some success. So it's cool. I've written with its top writers and I've written with non it's all writers, I've learned to co write which I always wrote songs on my own. And that's, it's a skill and a thing on most music and pop music and country music people call right you know, just like Lennon, McCartney, usually three people in country music. So I wrote a lot of country music, and I wrote a lot of pop and rock and rap, and r&b and cool things. So stuff and TV and movies, and I just had a song in a movie called Loving Tahiti as one of those romance movies, you know, and, and my song was the first song and the movie is great. It's called no ceiling. That's

Shane Birkel 50:58
so cool. That's great, great to hear. Yeah, you probably use some of your family therapy skills in the co-writing experiences. It's

Bill O'Hanlon 51:07
like a therapy session has been a co-writing thing, because people just reveal their hearts and their deepest wounds and their deepest joys and their passions. And, and I'm good at facilitating, getting to that level with people because I was comfortable being there with people emotionally for years. And, and again, I have, you know, the experience of what rings true in relationships, and also the perspective of having lived a bunch of years and seeing a bunch of lives and stories played out. And I have a facility for words to I love words. And you know, I've written a bunch of books, and it used to write poetry. And so you know, I bring words to its time, I sometimes write the music in some times, I just write the words. And so I become more of a word specialist, when I've co written co writing some cool,

Shane Birkel 51:56
great, anything else you want to mention, before we wrap it up today.

Bill O'Hanlon 52:01
It's a different era, you know, when I started in couples and family therapy, it was kind of knew, you know, because it was so individually focused. And I think, you know, therapy has always been a bit individually focused. But I think now, most people, you know, it's a bit of a stigma when I was growing up, you didn't go to therapy, and you didn't talk about going to therapy, you know, you only went in the most severe circumstances. And you definitely didn't talk about going to couples therapy, and we're reluctant go to couples therapy, people are a lot more open about it now. And I think that's a good, you know, people are like you need to, you know, friends have a problem, you need to go to couples therapy, it's much more accepted, I think that's a great thing. We're going into that era where it's not so stigmatized to want to get help, and to get help. And people have seen their, you know, friends or family relationships go, you know, by the wayside, and they're willing to do something about it. I think that's a great trend. I hope it keeps going. And I think it will, we need to be effective as clinicians as therapists to offer the right kind of help. So you know, the word spreads, that you can fix a relationship and get it better and you know, move to a better place even when you're in deep trouble. So I think that's cool, that you're doing this podcast spread the word.

Shane Birkel 53:20
Yeah, absolutely. And I totally agree, I think the world's going to need a lot more couples therapists. And I think it particularly needs therapists who know what they're doing. So I really appreciate having this these types of conversations and this conversation with you to share your wisdom and help you know, people who are doing the work to be more effective. So thank you so much for coming on. Thank

Bill O'Hanlon 53:44
you for inviting me. Good to see you again. And you stay cold up there. It did not. I will stay warm down here in the Caribbean and gloat a little hard. Thanks for spending the winter down in the Caribbean. So yeah,

Shane Birkel 54:00
I'm very jealous. Yeah. I hope you enjoy the winter down there.

Bill O'Hanlon 54:05
I already and I haven't been to more. That's my goal right there. And I go in several times a day when I get a little too.

Shane Birkel 54:13
Great. That's great. Well, thank you so much, Bill. Hopefully we can catch up again at some point. All right. Thank you so much, Bill. I'm just so grateful for you generously taking the time to come on and chat again. Like I said at the beginning, I just think so much of you and I love having these conversations with you. I feel like I could talk with you for hours and soak in all of your wisdom. And so I'm really grateful for that. And thank you to all your listeners out there. Definitely go to BillOHanlon.org maybe check out some of his songs that he has going on. And I'd be super grateful if you have a moment to leave a rating or review on iTunes or Spotify or wherever you listen to the show. That'd be really helpful and I'm just so grateful for all of your support out there. Also, if you're interested, this episode is sponsored by the Couples Therapist Inner Circle, which is the membership site that I created about working with couples. And, you know, at this point, there's hundreds of hours of content to help you become a better couples therapist, if you're just starting out, it's a really great way to get going. If you are a very experienced therapist, it's a great way to get education on working with affairs working with high conflict, couples, working with Emotionally Focused Therapy, relational life therapy, all kinds of different things. And there's a really cool, new way that I'm setting it up, which is that you can do an add on bonus to your inner circle, which is about the business of couples therapy. And it's all about building a profitable couples therapy practice. And I'm really excited. I've been working with a bunch of people on building their practice starting a podcast, being on social media more, all kinds of different goals that people have for themselves, how to use marketing. So I'm excited about that. If that's something that appeals to you definitely click on it in the show notes. And if you're just interested in the clinical side, then you can get that option. If you want to get the business side then you can get the clinical plus the business so there's something for everyone there. Also there you know, please join the free couples therapists couch Facebook group, if that's where you're at in your career, you just want to join the free group. That's another great resource to take advantage of. And I'm always grateful for ratings and reviews on wherever you listen to podcasts. Really appreciate that. This is Shane Birkel, and this is The Couples Therapists Couch, the podcast that's all about the practice of couples therapy. I look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks, everybody!


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