Hot Seat

Tom Green

Bangkok-based Tom Green is a qualified secondary school teacher in his native Luxembourg. At the moment, he's interviewing for part-time teaching jobs, but it's hypnotherapy that is very much his first love. Are you feeling sleepy? No? Good. Then let's begin.

Q

Hi Tom. Welcome to the ajarn hot seat. You don't meet many people from Luxembourg in Thailand but with a population of half a million it's hardly surprising, right?

A

Most people tell me I’m the first person from Luxembourg that they met. Some actually tell me they’ve been there, although for the most part it was a ‘just passing through’ thing. Those who did stay a while invariably comment on its beauty – and yeah, I guess to an outsider the landscape does look a bit like a fairytale, with the 1000 year-old fort in the old city, the gently rolling hills and valleys and the many forests across the countryside. It’s not very densely populated, considering the population (of which over 40% are foreigners) is spread across a territory twice the size of Hong Kong. Despite its reputation of being filthy rich, this stereotype isn’t entirely correct.

Q

Back home you were a secondary school teacher. It sounds from chatting with you as if you got burnt out from that eventually. For what reasons?

A

After finishing my CELTA in the late 90s and teaching in Japan for a couple of years I returned to Luxembourg to do my PGCE and embark on a ‘proper’ teaching career unlike in Japan. Alas, the Luxembourgish students didn’t really want to be there. I found that I was no longer Mr Popular and that I had to learn how to be a somewhat strict disciplinarian who could set and maintain boundaries in the classroom and extrinsically motivate his students, and then to accept that.

Gone was much of the fun of the communicative TEFL classroom: suddenly it was more about having to base one’s syllabus strictly on a curriculum designed not so much with learning outcomes in mind as by government politics. Too many pointless meetings, standardised testing and excessive marking took the upper hand, and it put a bit of a damper on creativity and learning outcomes.

It was hard not to start feeling a bit like a mercenary in such a scenario. That said, within those limiting parameters I still enjoyed the actual teaching. If teaching was basically just the teacher / student interaction in the classroom and not much beyond that, I would love to work at an international school here. I love the classroom – which is what the job is supposed to be about – but I steer clear of the politics as best I can. With all the meetings and marking, one ends up feeling like an accountant.

Q

But the Luxembourg education board have given you an 'employment break' - basically, your old job is kept open for you and it's yours if and when you decide to return. That's a great position to be in. It must be very reassuring to know you have that job security?

A

Yeah, it’s very generous of them and I consider myself extremely lucky to have this opportunity. I think it's good for them, too, as it helps avoid teacher burnout. What good is a burnt-out teacher who can’t leave for a limited time because they won’t let him and who won’t quit because the stakes are too high?

So I asked for a sabbatical and was granted one - unpaid, obviously. The job, or rather, a job at a secondary school, is indeed still mine if and when I go back. But there’s a deadline to it. I will have to make it back in time or I’ll be off the list.

Of course it’s reassuring; it’s truly a blessing even, but at the same time it’s a curse. It’s a blessing considering the current economic climate and the fact that in the tefling world out there, teachers are by and large being taken for a ride by profit-driven employers, yet it’s a curse in the sense that it’ll make it much harder for anyone but the most non-cowardly to actually want to forego that security and live their dream (unless the dream is a house with a garden, a dog and two kids they can easily afford while working in the stifling environment of a classroom in one of the conservative backwaters of continental Europe).

You may say, of course, that what happens in the classroom is ultimately up to the teacher, and of course that’s true. But a colleague of mine from back home who’s been in the teaching game for 30 years put it really well when she said it isn’t spiritually healthy to have that job security. What comes with it is an all-pervasive sense of complacency that goes through the ranks of all who enjoy that status (civil servants’ disease I guess), and as a result of living and breathing in that environment it takes a lot of passion not to become like that too.

See, Luxembourg at this point still does not have anything like the UK’s Ofsted: as a teacher on the government payroll you’re basically largely left to your own devices as long as you follow the syllabus and generate acceptable exam results.

Q

You said you taught English in Japan for a while. How did that work out?

A

Oh, I just loved it there! I guess the reasons were many – Tokyo is a big city, teaching was new to me, and so every day was exciting and I really wanted to be there. The students also really wanted to be there because learning English was cool, some of them needed it for their upcoming IELTS exams, and I was young and handsome (or so the girls told me, no kidding), and so in many ways, it was every young white guy’s dream and quite an ego-boost.

Eventually I returned to Luxembourg, mainly to do my PGCE so I could get a ‘proper’ teaching career. Somehow I’d always felt that tefling isn’t a viable career option, what with the lousy pay and such. This was all different in Luxembourg: the pay was good, the holidays paid for and many, and the job was secure. The price to pay for that was that suddenly being an English teacher wasn’t quite as rewarding in itself any more.

Q

Why have you ended up in Thailand?

A

I really wanted a break from Europe and from teaching. I’d been here many times on holiday and I figured I’d give it a go to see what I’d make of it once it was my home.

I touched down in Bangkok to get a feel for the city and because in Luxembourg I’d missed city life because it is really a bit provincial. I thought I might end up moving to one of the islands but for some reason I am still here in Bangkok after about two years, and somehow it feels a bit like home now.

At first the city swept me off my feet and I almost forgot who I was, but then after some time my own energy reasserted itself and shone through what was Bangkok. It’s strange how some day you wake up and think to yourself: “Wow, here I am, I really do live here!” I think that’s when the newness wears off, a certain comfortable day-to-day routine sets in, you know who you are, and you know you have good friends you can hang out with but might as well stay home and relax within your own comfort zone simply because you know that you could go out with quality company if you wanted to but don’t really need to.

Q

You're doing the interview rounds in Bangkok at the moment. I'm guessing that because of your qualifications, you're going to be quite choosy? What are you looking for in a teaching position here?

A

Well, they’re almost over now and, yes, you‘ve got me sussed, I am a bit picky. I have turned town quite a few job offers simply because the pay is so lousy. I found myself quite disappointed that the pay for part-time positions is so low compared to what you get with a decent full-time position. I mean, after all, when you’re part-time all they owe you is your hourly wage – no paid holidays, no nothing – so I think the money should reflect that (like it does in Japan, my only point of reference), but it doesn’t.

Apart from that, I am not particularly picky about what kind of teaching work I do, although like most of us I guess – I prefer it to be not too far from where I live and to have self-motivated students: those who just love English or who are keen to pass certain tests or exams. My favourite age group is late teenagers and young adults, and my favourite level is intermediate and up. I like reading classes the best, although I also enjoy presentation skills and composition provided the class isn’t too big.

I have opted for part-time work for two reasons: despite my hypnotherapy business I want to keep one foot in the classroom to make sure I don’t suddenly forget how to teach a bunch of kids, and I also like having a modest fixed income that provides some financial stability while at the same time allowing me plenty of time to see my hypnotherapy clients.

As a hypnotherapist I am self-employed and so I have a classical case of ‘freelancer syndrome’: some weeks are fantastic because I am inexplicably flooded with many clients, busy with rewarding work and grateful for the income, but then other weeks there’s just as inexplicably a drought: somehow nobody is soliciting my services and it all looks a bit daunting, and I wonder if I have to dip into my dwindling savings again to pay the rent or finance for that upcoming trip to Chiang Rai or Burma, etc

Q

What sort of money have you been offered?

A

As I said, with part-time jobs it’s mostly been the case that I turned them down because I thought the prospective employers were being stingy. If someone advertises a job as, say, 500-800 THB/hr, then you’d expect to be offered a little more than 500 when they say they want you, especially if it’s on a weekend and you have lots of credentials and experience. So I said as much to them and as a result I didn’t get the job.

Another school was very non-committal about payment, and my expected salary level seemed reasonable to the interviewer although, as he said, it would be ‘the finance department’ that would make such decisions. I then didn’t hear from them for 10 days until the day before their grand opening (this being a brand new school), when I got a call from another school representative who invited me to join the opening the next day. When I asked whether I’d got the job he said he thought so because my interviewer had spoken highly of me and asked him to call me. He could not provide any info regarding pay or contract hours or anything, and so of course I didn’t go to the opening. Naturally, I didn’t hear from them again after that.

I did the university rounds as well. Their interview screening is thorough: they ask pertinent questions and require a mock teaching demo as well as on-the-fly lesson planning and/or test marking. Some campuses are really suburban with a commute, in my case, of 90 minutes one way, and the pay is lousy unless you do lots of hours – which would leave me with hardly any time for doing hypnotherapy.

Others are unable to fit an 11 contact-hour full-time schedule into three days or less, so that that was a red flag too. You might think I sound a bit spoilt, but I’d rather not swallow my pride if I can help it. What worked out in the end was a part-time in-company Business English deal with a contractor that pays reasonably and a (somewhat more lucrative) private tutoring arrangement where I help an international school kid develop his writing skills. That is actually kind of fun because I get to expand my understanding of the international school system without having to go there and give them all my time and get involved with school politics and all that.

That type of school would pay me well for doing all that, but that would then on many levels be like the situation I had in Luxembourg, plus I wouldn’t have much time for the hypnotherapy, which I love

Q

I'd like to get on to this hypnotherapy business of yours if I may. What got you into it originally?

A

I have always had a fascination with the human mind and how perception can be influenced or altered by various means. Back at university I had hypnotherapy myself, and it was that hypnotherapist who first sparked an interest in me for alternative medicine and for considering human well-being from a holistic point of view.

I guess he also planted that seed in me to pursue something useful in the world, serving people in a constructive way. Over time, as my horizons slowly started expanding beyond the limited scope of my own insignificant existence, I began to notice how so many people are suffering in the world, and I felt like doing something more useful than merely teaching English. Of course teaching English is useful, and being a teacher is, as you know, considered ‘good karma’ and highly respected across Asia (although you wouldn’t think so by the way Western teachers are treated in most Thai schools), but on another level it's also really not much more than just teaching the language of world domination to those who economically or culturally want to get ahead, and in that sense not that satisfying for anyone with a post-colonial awareness of where we seem to be heading with this whole capitalist globalisation juggernaut.

If this was the year 2178 I'd probably be teaching Chinese, or Turkish, or whatever language will be number 1 then, perhaps some alien gibberish we can’t even conceive of today. Anyway, I figured I wanted to do something more spiritual, more of service to people as people, to give them tools to help them live their lives more skilfully rather than merely equipping them with a cultural or professional commodity such as English. And in a way, now that I have been doing this for a year, it seems that the more I help others help themselves the more I also help myself as I gain a deeper understanding of what makes people tick, and in turn what makes me tick - and what I then gain in understanding and acceptance.

Q

I think of hypnotherapy and visualize Derren Brown getting people to lie trussed up on train tracks with the inter-city express fast approaching. But you have a proper definition of course?

A

I do hope you are thinking of hypnosis and not hypnotherapy, for I cannot really see the ‘therapy’ aspect of what Derren Brown does in what you describe.

Derren is quite a fascinating phenomenon, but he is definitely more of a magician, mentalist and showman than a hypnotist. It is sometimes argued that he doesn’t really use hypnosis at all. That said, what he does works so well partly because he says he uses hypnosis and because people expect it to work. This expectation aspect comes into real hypnosis as well; it is, in fact, what you may call a non-deceptive mega-placebo that really works.

To put it simply, and I am sorry to deflate the myth of hypnosis here, it is largely about expectation and whether it’s met. If people expect to be made to perform incredible feats (such as stopping smoking, clucking like a chicken or walking across a bed of nails) by someone deemed highly capable, somewhat mysterious and obviously charismatic, then they will. In a sense, there is no such thing as hypnosis; it’s merely self-hypnosis (autosuggestion).

When you go and see a hypnotherapist, all he or she really does, ultimately, is tell you what to do or think or feel, and then (if this is done in a skilful, captivating and congruent manner) you may find that it becomes eerily easy for you to follow suit. So your hypnotist is merely your guide, a facilitator skilled at inducing a highly receptive state of mind in people who then uses tried and tested techniques to spoon-feed you what you need to hear, etc.

We use certain tried and tested tools and techniques designed to do just that for the vast majority of subjects, but ultimately it is a collaborative process. Were I to suggest something to you that deep down goes against the grain with you, you would simply not do it. Instead you would come out of hypnosis and question my motives. The bottom line is that I can’t make you do anything against your will. That’s a myth propagated by dodgy movies and spectacular stage shows.

You might say hypnotherapy is a non-deceptive mega-placebo because it doesn’t claim to be anything else than that while at the same time it really does work very powerfully. Or you might say all hypnosis is de-hypnosis: the hypnotist uses the power of suggestion to help you rewrite certain bits of unhelpful information you have been hoarding inside your mind although it has proven detrimental to your well-being.

The groundwork done beforehand is important: you prepare by identifying (together with the hypnotherapist) the hidden automatic self-talk that has been perpetuating the maladaptive behaviour you wish to change. Once that’s sorted, hypnosis can do the rest. It might feel like magic, but it isn’t – it’s an art, and a science. And it is really quite fascinating when you notice how the body can change when you change the mind. This is why some call hypnosis the original mind-body medicine.

The stuff Derren Brown does is nothing like it. He openly admits to using misdirection, and in the instances where he does use hypnosis he uses it to entertain. Although I must admit to enjoying some of his feats, I have to say I find stage hypnosis objectionable as it uses a powerful therapeutic tool for nothing more than entertainment at the expense of vulnerable subjects.

Q

Is there a connection between hypnotherapy and teaching?

A

There is a lot of skills transfer. What I learned in the classroom about how to achieve learning goals with students is also valid with hypnotherapy clients. The difference is that the people who see me for hypnotherapy really want to be there; their motivation is entirely intrinsic and they sit there with all their heart and soul, fully immersed in the experience.

Another difference is that I get paid exactly what I am worth: there is no basic salary that comes in just because I go through the motions, regardless of my actual performance. I might end up very poor if I don’t do well, but on the other end of the spectrum the sky’s the limit. But then it’s not all about actual empathy and skill as a therapist and hypnotist; it’s also about how well you market yourself. I think marketing is the bit I like the least about it; it is time-consuming and distracts from the actual work itself.

Anyway, a few years back I started sensing that I really wanted to learn some form of alternative holistic healing modality, but at first I didn't quite know what to pursue. Hypnosis seemed to be the one that was closest to teaching, and since I still liked a lot about teaching I felt that it might be my thing. In fact, hypnosis is a form of teaching. I am educating people about how their mind works and showing them ways of using it more effectively so they can achieve the goals they came to see me about.

A lot of the time it’s about identifying unhelpful automatic thoughts and beliefs and then replacing those with better ones, which is a form of re-education (the de-hypnosis aspect); unlearning something before you can learn something new.

Teachers know about this from trying to teach old dogs new tricks: so many English students, especially once they plateau at the intermediate level, have so many deeply ingrained language production errors that come to them automatically, often without them noticing. And even when they do notice they find that these errors (which, in that case, would actually be mere mistakes) are incredibly hard to fix, much like the unhelpful habitual thoughts we want to replace with better ones in hypnosis.

If I do end up going back to live and teach in Luxembourg once more in a few years’ time I’ll definitely continue doing hypnotherapy too because I love it. And I am going to make sure I will have the time for it. I might then start exploring the possible applications of hypnosis in conjunction with Pavlovian conditioning to eradicate deeply engrained L1 interference errors in English speech patterns with students and see whether that yields any results – a potentially interesting area for psycho-linguistic research. But that’s in the remote future; I intend to stay in Thailand for quite a bit longer.

Q

What have you personally gained from being a hypnotherapist?

A

Through interacting with so many different people, I have discovered so much about so many people and their difficulties as well as about their resources (since a key factor of any therapy is about finding and activating resources people already have). This has made me more compassionate, and it has somehow also normalised my own difficulties with life as I realised that we all somehow struggle with essentially the same issues, albeit in so many different ways.

Through the study and application of hypnotherapy and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) I have learned a lot about language patterns, and how we are manipulated day by day by the media, by advertising, by politicians. I knew this before, but now I can see exactly how it's done, what tools and techniques they use. And I think it's evil.

Hypnotic language patterns and NLP techniques should be taught to school children from a young age, and definitely not just elite schools but all schools. If governments really wanted citizens to be mature knowledgeable individuals they would teach us those things instead of using them to control us. Similarly, I think that basic self-help techniques and stuff like correct breathing, meditation and/or yoga ought to be taught at school from a young age. Society might be far more peaceful if we did that.

Q

Helping people to quit smoking is one of your main areas. What is hypnotherapy's success rate in this instance?

A

Smoking cessation is certainly one of the most ubiquitous hypnotherapy applications out there. I guess almost half of my clients come to see me specifically for that, so offering it is obviously very lucrative. This is why you will see most hypnotherapists offering this service. That being said, smoking cessation is actually not the easiest issue to deal with. Classical hypnosis with mere suggestions that the smoker will from now on be a non-smoker do not yield very high results at all and are outdated as a sole means of getting one to stop for good.

Up-to-date research recommends using is a whole armamentarium of techniques from CBT and NLP and others in order to get people there, and this is what I do.

So your question isn’t readily answerable. Success rates vary widely depending on the research you read about.

There are simply too many factors to consider when evaluating such studies: how experienced/skilled were the practitioners, what therapeutic modalities did they use, how motivated were the clients, etc. There are too many variables to ascertain without a doubt what hypnotherapy’s overall success rate is.

Some studies suggest that hypnotherapy has a success rate of up to 90%, whereas others are a bit more conservative in their estimates. Research suggests that it is definitely considerably more successful than any of the other treatment options available – apart from CBT, which I also use in conjunction with hypnosis. Clients tell me about remarkable cognitive-behavioural changes in the days leading up to their hypnosis session, following email exchanges with me and after performing certain self-monitoring tasks I assign them before the session.

To maximise my success rate, I record the actual hypnosis part of the session so people can listen to it again if they need it (although they typically don’t), and I also offer a free follow-up session which few people ever request. I follow up on my clients after a period of 6 weeks to 2 months, and the vast majority confirm that they are still smoke-free. After that, it’s all about maintenance. If you’re fine being a non-smoker after 2 months, then there is no reason why this should not be so after 5 years. After all, it’s all in the mind.

Q

You were a smoker yourself also?

A

It’s one of the reasons why I decided to do this, and why I am doing it so successfully. I had my first cigarette when I was six, nicked from my mum’s packet and smoked in the forest with friends, and I remember it vividly even though we didn’t set the woods on fire.

I also remember cigarette-smoking episodes at the age of 9 behind the local church, when I was 12 in the school yard in a secret hide-out, aged 14 at a holiday camp abroad (with beers!), etc. But I didn’t start being a proper, regular, wholehearted smoker until about age 16 or 17, which is when I remember fully identifying with it.

I remember clearly the day that I was making a conscious choice to be a smoker, to be one of them. I’d been watching a documentary about Bob Dylan on TV late one night, and he was smoking, and he was cool, and I lit one up as well to smoke along as I listened to him talk. In the next few days I remember reading Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ for school, and while reading that book in the small hours in my room I kept lighting up and smoking cigarette after cigarette, excited about feeling so grown up that I could now read such mature books and smoke while doing so. Silly really. All the passive smoking I was exposed to at home since childhood probably didn’t help. Once I had become a regular smoker I found myself getting more sore throats during the winters, and I would systematically continue smoking even when I had them, and they usually lasted a long time.

Anyway, I never considered stopping until age 27, when I first began to be concerned about the health effects. But my attempt didn’t last long. A year later, after reading Allen Carr’s famous book, ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking’, I stopped yet again, but once more it wouldn’t last beyond a number of months. Somehow the habit and subsequent addiction would slowly creep back into my daily life over time until I could no longer fool myself into thinking that I am a non-smoker, and thus the shift into the I’m-a-smoker mindset had once again occurred. But I wasn’t 100% comfortable with it any more, perhaps because I could feel it was unhealthy and because Carr’s book had left an indelible mark on me: as a smoker I really am mighty stupid ruining my health, since I only smoke to feel the way non-smokers do all the time, which is free from the desire to smoke.

I stopped again, and again, and again. The reason why I always fell back into my old self was that I had always stopped with willpower rather than through making that self-identification shift necessary in order to stop without feeling deprived and thus without cravings. I might have been sick of them but I had still not shed my skin and truly seen myself as a happy non-smoker.

Sure, willpower helps tremendously to get over the first hurdle – but typically it’s all downhill from there with the resolve unless another crucial shift has occurred: the shift of the imagination, of belief, of self-definition and identification. And that’s where hypnosis comes in. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, hypnosis makes becoming and remaining a non-smoker a breeze for anyone truly committed to stopping. And suddenly it’s weird how easy it becomes. And then you realise how they’ve been fooling you into believing that nicotine is so terribly addictive when it actually really isn’t. The pharmaceutical companies are just medicalising the issue in order to have a way to sell you drugs you don’t need any more than you need nicotine. Don’t believe the hype.

At first I stopped because of the health concerns. I’d noticed I simply wasn’t feeling well; I didn’t like the smell, I hated the headaches and I was concerned about my circulation and general lack of stamina – all of which have dramatically improved since I kicked the habit. Later on, although health is still the main reason for me, it also became an issue of self-respect, autonomy and pride: would I continue fretting in my zombie autopilot slavery mode or would I wake up and take charge of my life, admit once and for all that I was getting no enjoyment out of it whatsoever and reclaim my freedom and feel really good about that? The answer was obvious.

Q

What other problems do people come and see you about?

A

All sorts. I have had quite a few people see me for help with social anxiety – this is surprisingly common although it’s a bit of a taboo subject, not least because the very people suffering from it are unlikely to talk about it and everyone else doesn’t really give it much thought.

The good news is that there really is help, and that cognitive-behavioural hypnotic interventions such as systematic desensitisation (which is also successfully used with all sorts of phobias) really do work, and very fast as well.

Many people also come and see me to reduce stress and the symptoms of stress. It is frequently not easy to differentiate between stress and anxiety because they are physiologically identical to a large extent. In the long run, stress can wreak havoc with the body and cause all sorts of troubles such as insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches, digestive troubles, low libido etc. It really pays to know how to address it before it gets out of hand, or at least to be able to do something about it once it has.

Even though they’re really quite simple things, it’s surprising how many of us haven’t got a clue how to deal with stress effectively. I think these tools ought to be taught to schoolchildren, because all of these issues are on the rise, which is really no wonder considering the kind of society we have created, and which in turn influences us, with our attention constantly captured with increasingly dramatic sights and sounds and shifted at increasingly high speed, almost all silences and empty spaces blotted out or filled to the max, with hardly any opportunities left for people to take a breather and get back to their centre and relax. No wonder many people are over-stimulated and somewhat burnt out.

Other people, although functional in most areas of their lives, come to see me to enhance their self-confidence in a particular setting, for instance in public speaking or in a commercial sales environment. Others come and see me to get help with concentration, exercise motivation, sports performance, and weight loss.

Then there are those who want help with habits such as blushing, hair-pulling and the like. I’ve also helped people with emotional issues such as anger and depression, as well as people with substance abuse problems. Recently I had a client who was eight months pregnant who wanted me to give her a hypno-birthing session. I’d never done that before and I told her as much and was going to refer her to someone who might be better suited to help her, but she managed to convince me that I could do it – I wouldn’t need to be at her side during the delivery but merely help her overcome her anxiety about having to deliver in a Thai hospital. Which I did.

It all went really well, and so the experience boosted not only her confidence but also mine: I now feel comfortable helping pregnant women overcome their birthing qualms, so if you know anyone who needs hypno-birthing support, by all means send them my way.

The work is really varied and it’s really rewarding. I learn so much about so many people, and while each and every one of my clients is obviously unique (just like every smoker is unique in his or her way of maintaining their addiction), at the same time I have learned that there is so much overlap and that, on so many levels, regardless of our issues, we’re all somehow the same. We’re all human.

Q

If you could tailor-make your Bangkok schedule, would you divide your time between teaching English and hypnotherapy, or just concentrate on the latter?

A

I’d be concentrating almost entirely on hypnotherapy simply because I am enjoying it tremendously and I want to widen and deepen my experience with it. I feel that I have found my true passion in life. That being said, I would like to continue teaching just a few hours a week, a day or two, because I want to keep one foot in the classroom.

I hadn’t taught in a formal classroom at all for two years until very recently, and while I remember being tired of it when I left my job two years ago, I noticed how much fun I actually had getting back into the classroom when I finally did. There’s something cool about being a school teacher if you’re in the right place (by that I mean the school you’re at and the students you’re with as well as the attitude you have about it).

Q

Many thanks Tom. How can people contact you if they are interested in hypnotherapy?

A

Anyone can call me on 088-227-0553 and there is more info on my website www.hypno-therapy.net

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