Memories of a great day with Rubin Battino by Trevor Silvester
There are many ways of learning – especially these days. But I think there is something about learning from someone in person that makes it special, and especially memorable. The workshop we hosted for Professor Rubin Battino was one of those days.
If you’re not a therapist I wouldn’t expect you to have heard of Rubin, so let me give you some background. He’s 86 years old. It’s not often I’d begin a personal description with a person’s age, but you’ll see why soon. He’s an Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Wright State University and is still publishing research. He has a keen interest in avionics, and once helped build a half-scale model of the Wright Flyer. In his role as a hypnotherapist and counsellor, he’s also a senior member of the Erickson Society, has lectured internationally and written nine books. I once asked him how he found the time. His deadpan response was, “I don’t dust,” which I think is great advice.
I first trained with Rubin over 15 years ago and loved the minimal nature of his work and the absence of ego in his presentation. We’ve remained in touch ever since, and I’ve been honoured by his friendship and his feedback on my own books. So, when he proposed mixing a trip to Europe with running a workshop, the QCHPA leapt at the chance.
After months of organising, the great day dawned. It’s easy to wax lyrical about the spirit of the Quest community, but it really has to be experienced to be believed. Assembling over a hundred in one room creates an energy and excitement that feeds on itself. It makes our yearly Questival a unique treat. I think I hugged every single one in a frantic 20-minute circuit of the room – which as an introvert is exhausting. By the time I took the mic to introduce Ruben the room was abuzz, and I needed a lie-down. But first came the worrying bit.
Whenever we organise a talk involving a speaker other than myself, I worry. If it’s me and I’m rubbish, that’s on me. But if you’ve said to people, pay money to come and see this guy, and he turns out not to be worth it, that’s beyond awkward. Would the audience ‘get’ what I get from Rubin? I didn’t have to worry for long. In fact, one of the highlights of my day was watching the youngest people in the room fall in love with the oldest. To see the transmission of wisdom and experience across such a divide of years was very special.
Making it quick
So, what did we learn? Well, the title of the day was “Expectation: Very brief therapy, and hypnosis.” Rubin rarely sees a client for more than one, extended session, which can be a bit of a stretch for his audience. I was at pains beforehand to explain that learning from his method didn’t commit you to his method. I never see clients for less than 3 sessions, but can still incorporate much of his way of working within that framework. His philosophy begins by setting the expectation for the time spent together – ‘What are you willing to change today” is an opening gambit. Think about that, and the elegant way it binds the client to the task ahead. From there we were gifted with a smorgasbord of techniques, approaches, mindsets, simple words and phrases that can have a such a dramatic effect in a therapeutic session.
The power of story
Rubin is known for many things. Use of metaphor is one of them. As a species we seem hardwired to let stories enter our heads and leave their messages so, well delivered, they offer a potent means of helping someone be guided to something within them that would help. Rubin gave us his six steps for successful guided metaphors and treated the whole room to an experience of one. As an Ericksonian, his delivery is typically measured, with a beautiful cadence and subtlety of language. It was a journey to be enjoyed for its own sake, as well as dissected for learning.
He is also famous for his work with chronically and terminally ill people – several of his books are on that subject, so extending his metaphor work onto guided imagery for healing was a huge treat. Especially as it entailed a demonstration and another group induction. By then we were pretty tranced out. Later in the day, we participated in a group exercise called the Navajo Healing Circle, which was fascinating. As I’m writing this, I’m amazed again at just how much learning he packed into the day.
Rubin sees his role as therapist very simply. It’s to help the client respond to life from their own choices. To help them find different and healthier ways to act or react. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always loved the Ericksonian principle that people don’t need fixing, they have all the resources they need (or all the resources they need to find the resources they need), they just need to be connected, or re-connected to them. It turns the role of therapist to that of a guide, rather than a guru, which is a great way to get the therapist to leave their ego at the door. While he talked through achieving second order change and his use of reframing for that purpose, it’s his less structured work and language that fascinates me. When you observe someone, who has immersed themselves in their craft for as long as Rubin has, you see that, after a certain point, excellence becomes a process of needing to do less, to achieve more. So what was there to be learned existed mainly in the subtleties. This was most clearly demonstrated in his demonstration of Rossi’s Mirroring hands, a variation of which is taught in Cognitive Hypnotherapy. It’s a beautifully minimal intervention, providing ample opportunity for subtle influence through language, and a chance to see our unconscious ‘out in the open’. It never fails to amaze clients new to this field. His masterful use of pauses and gaps and of single word suggestions was as much a joy to me, with 20 years of experience, as I could see it was for many of my students and graduates.
An incredible 87 PowerPoint slides were somehow packed into what seemed a blindingly short day despite his relaxed pacing. Somehow…it all fitted. Somehow, we left both full, and hungry. As he taught us with his oxymoronic suggestions, it was an imperfectly perfect day.
I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.
As I hugged him goodbye, I was almost overwhelmed. To have been given an opportunity to be taught by one of my heroes again was a gift. And I was so pleased to have been able to share it with so many. Thank you, Rubin.