Talking Hypnosis with Couples

Talking Hypnosis with Couples
Presented by Jeanette Lofas, Ph.D., LCSW
Founder, The Stepfamily Foundation, Inc.
October 2008 Meeting of the Manhattan Society of Clinical Hypnosis

Summary by Kathy Duncan, LCSW

When Dr. Jeannette Lofas founded the Stepfamily Foundation 30 years ago, few therapists were trained to work specifically with blended families.   Lofas was prompted to address a need that continues to grow.  Two out of three marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, and over 60% of children live in some sort of re-blended or re-married family.  Second marriages fail at a staggering rate of 66% when children are involved. Recognizing essential differences, Dr. Lofas realized that one cannot apply the systems of a biological family to a stepfamily. 

With a background in broadcast journalism, Dr. Lofas developed a business management model to help blended families achieve harmony.  “We ask ‘What’s the job description?’  ‘How do you handle money?’ ‘How do you handle discipline?’  Then we develop a plan of action. This is short-term therapy — usually 5 or 6 sessions — and it is results oriented.”

A  Master Practitioner of Ericksonian Hypnosis, Lofas uses trance as a working technique.  She starts with a genogram which she  designed specifically to reflect the complexity of blended family systems.  Drawing the genogram with the couple is trance-inducing.  Lofas notices which one does the talking — who is the more powerful in the relationship — and makes sure they listen to each other.  Careful not to allow a battle in the therapy session, if one interrupts she will put her hand out to stop them and insist they try to get into the other person’s reality. 

Lofas further induces trance by goal-setting with the “Three Wishes” question. “Looking at this genogram – if I were your fairy godmother and you had three wishes about the situation – about what you want to get from me – what would you want from me to happen?”  Coming up with three wishes causes the client to do an inward mental search.  Then she begins chunking down, examining the details and the specific behaviors, which leads to defining the task at hand. 

Typically, couples say they love each other but the children from previous relationships pull them apart.  Stepparents face unclear roles, while their new spouse often continues battling with the ex after the divorce.  Stepchildren have a great deal of anger and grief at having lost their first family; they often wind up losing the second family as well.  Overindulged by their divorced parents, and rejecting authority from their step parents, they drift in a void without boundaries.

The first part of the solution is to get the couple on the same page.  “If it’s about chaotic families, I find out what boundaries the couple has been setting.  Usually expectations are unclear. I work with the couple to set specific expectations.”  Once the couple agrees, a family meeting is planned when Lofas can be available by phone to coach the parents while they talk with their child about house rules. 

After the family meeting, Lofas sees the child alone. Using the genogram and the three wishes technique, children point out their wants, often expressing a wish that their birth parents get back together.  Lofas helps them accept the losses.

Lofas does very little family-of-origin work, but rather focuses on the present situation to define the problem and achieve positive results.  “I am goal-oriented.  I’m always rooting for the kids.  I am rooting for the family but also for the kids.  And we have an 84% success rate.  Why?  Because I’m tough.”

Dr. Lofas’ books include Stepparrenting (Citadel Press, 3rd edition 2004); Family Rules (Kensington Books, 1998);  He’s OK, She’s OK: Honoring the Differences Between Men & Women (Tzedakah, 1995); How to Be a Stepparent (Nightingale Connant Audio Book, 1986);and Living in Step, with Ruth Roosevelt (McGraw Hill, 1976).   She has counseled thousands and has trained over 10,000 helping professionals.  In 1995, Dr. Lofas received the first national Parent’s Day Award from President Clinton for “Your efforts in strengthening step relationships in families across America, and thus contribute to effective parenting.” To contact Dr. Lofas, visit her website: