I think it was Sir William Osler who said, when a new medication comes out you should use it as often as you can while it is still effective. Science has long known about this phenomenon. I didn’t know it was called “the decline effect” until I read this great blog post from Scott Miller.
We have seen it in therapy with the promise of new therapies, like EMDR and CBT. Initial research giving great hope, and then with time, more research shows they are no better. Then, sadly, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Science doesn’t look at the amazing phenomenon and try and come up with a hypothesis. It keeps the same old hypothesis and ignores the phenomenon.
In therapy, we have the opportunity to use these weird phenomena for the good of the client, while patiently waiting for science to tell us more. Things like the placebo effect, allegiance and the decline effect are a nuisance in research, or at least those researchers trying to explore an observer independent reality, (which Humberto Maturana reminds us we have no way of knowing exists outside our closed nervous system) , but they are gold nuggets for the savvy therapist.
There is this wonderful phenomenon that happens when media starts to report about effective treatments. “New treatment offers hope” “Miracle cure for…” that sort of thing. Something happens in the therapist who goes to learn this new technique, and something happens in the client who reads it in the newspaper, and in their families who have been so worried about them, and it’s nothing short of magic.
We human beings are capable of believing, and therefore in experiencing magic. A child believes in Santa, or the tooth fairy, and we were all children once.
A woman came to see me to give up smoking. She wanted hypnosis. She was convinced it would work because a friend of hers had seen me for the same thing and had a “miraculous cure.” And so I harnessed her expectancy and launched into what I listened that she listened I did with her friend.” Whamo, a one session wonder. In the follow up session though she said she wanted to do some more hypnosis. As I write this I remember I was reluctant as I usually don’t like to mess with magic, and of course my doubt may have lead to the outcome. She started smoking again. She told me that this kind of thing happens to her a lot. She will go and see some healing person for some issue, say a chiropractor for her back, and the first session is always the stuff of miracles, and the second brings on a recurrence of some symptoms.
So I wondered with her. “What is it that you bring to that first session that is your recipe for magic?” I spoke some words like openness, not knowing, expectancy, faith, being the zen student, probably none sufficient to do justice to the experience but she started to connect with it. We then did a session of hypnosis to connect her to that ability, so the magic could be a function of her and not the healer or the healing. She stopped smoking and agreed not to mess with the magic.
If you haven’t met Raymond the mouse before, I hope you will enjoy this clip.
I invite you to find your own way to put down the broom and sweep that decline effect out of your work and your life.
My husband Rob McNeilly has created an online course to explore these wonderful phenomenon of effective therapy. We have been exploring them in conversations and he has distilled them into something wonderful. He is a masterful teacher and of course I am biased, but if you like the idea of exploring ways to identify what you as an individual can do to explore your growing edge, take a look here.