The Desert

The short story entitled “The Desert” highlights the risk of extreme mood fluctuations and sudden changes of life plans, and of exhausting oneself or overstretching oneself by attempting to handle projects alone (at work or otherwise). The story can also be used to make it clear that the opposite of right is a different right, whereas the opposite of wrong is a different wrong, and that the opposite of a risk can be more hazardous than the risk itself. The story can be modified to describe someone who gets into difficulties in the mountains if the listener prefers Alpine landscapes.

Top of his bucket list of dreams had been to experience the desert – the vast expanse of the Sahara. Now his dream had come true. He had travelled there by plane, coach and jeep, all the way to some tiny speck of a village somewhere on the edge of the Sahara which he had found on the map. And he knew that beyond this village was nothing – no roads, no settlements, no water, only sand, stones and rocks. He did not really know what had prompted him to travel there. Was it simply a longing from the depths of his soul? Or perhaps he had simply been surrounded for too long by too many people, too much commotion, too many voices who all wanted something from him – his colleagues at work, his neighbours, his family at home, all pulling him this way and that; can’t you please… would you please… And now silence, nothing and no one around him.

He had longed for this for so many years, perhaps his whole life long. It is so quiet here than he can hear the sand and stones crunching under his feet with every step. He wants to drink in more of this vast expanse of solitude before night falls. The next rocky hill is not too far away in the distance, but the ascent is tiring – not because of the temperature, since the sun is already low in the sky and it has become remarkably cold, but because the sand slips out from under his feet whenever he takes a step forward, pulling him backwards. He finally reaches the summit of the hill, and looks forward into the desert and back at the village. The sun is starting to set in a red haze behind the village, and through the small windows of the huts he can clearly see the flickering of the fires which are already burning. Now he wants to leave this last piece of civilisation behind him. His heart longs for quiet, preferably away from everybody else. He makes his way down the valley towards the next hill. He wants to watch the red sunset once again from the top of this hill and see nothing but desert around him. The route there is not long, but it is exhausting because of the sand slipping out from under his feet and the boulders which he must climb around. Quickly it gets dark. When he reaches the top of the hill, the sun has disappeared. He stands there for a few minutes until his dream fades and he returns to reality. He is surrounded by pitch blackness – not the darkness he knows from home, to which one’s eyes can get accustomed, but a darkness which makes it impossible to see his hand in front of his face. Returning to the village is now out of the question. His concern now is that it has become bitterly cold, and seems to be getting colder and colder. He would never have believed that it could be so cold in the desert. Standing there in the dark in his summer shirt, shorts, and sandals, he feels completely helpless and is overcome by fear. He is afraid that he will not survive the night, that he will freeze to death, die alone and never be found. He thinks about his family, and his thoughts begin to go around in circles. What will they do when he doesn’t come home? Will they search for him, and will they ever find out where he is? He wants to see them again so much. He sees three lights on the horizon, like stars rising in more or less the same place where the sun set before. He thinks to himself, “Stars don’t rise in the west. Am I seeing things already? And these stars are moving sideways, almost as if they were electric torches…” A few hours later, he is sitting around the fire in a hut with the three African men who were carrying the torches and a number of other villagers. A woman wearing a veil hands him a plate of roasted lamb and a cup of goat’s milk. They communicate using their hands and feet, and he expresses his thanks to the villagers with signs and gestures. “Inshallah,” smiles a man, “…if Allah wills.”

The Blade of Grass in the Crack

The story “The Blade of Grass in the Crack” can be told in many situations described by patients as hopeless. It illustrates a fundamental principle of systemic therapy, namely that it is important to identify anything which may be useful, no matter how innocuous, and multiply it until it becomes a force which can hold its own against the stresses which at first appeared unassailable. The story can help clients who have resigned themselves to a situation – and their therapists – to adopt a searching attitude and identify solutions which previously appeared impossible.

The prisoner said, “Last night I dreamt that a blade of grass grew in a crack in our dungeon, just where the shaft of light which comes through the spy hole in the door hits our wall. It was watered by the moisture which drips from the dungeon roof and the walls. The roots grew stronger and forced the crack open a tiny amount, and a second blade of grass grew from these roots, right next to the first. Then we hung a belt on the door so that its silver buckle reflected a little light onto the second blade. This grew as well, and its powerful roots widened the crack a little more. We repeated this process again and again until the stone was surrounded by grass on all sides. When a year had passed, we pulled out the weeds, and the light shone through the cracks. We braced ourselves against the stone and pushed it outwards with all of our strength, inch by inch over the course of a day. Then we climbed out through the hole and were free.” “It’s a shame there’s no blades of grass growing in our dungeon,” sighed his fellow prisoner. The prisoner who had just related his dream stared at the wall for a long time. Then he asked, “And what do you think that is?”

New Video on demand available: “Therapeutic Modeling – Practical Introduction and Live Demo”

Therapeutic Modeling – Practical Introduction and Live Demo
Online-workshop with the British Society of Medical and Dental
Hypnosis / BSMDH (Scotland) on Jan 31st, 2021

running time ca. 163 Min., 20,00 € (online shop)

Therapeutic modeling is a form of awake hypnotherapy based on constellation work, systemic therapy and Ericksonian hypnotherapy. It is my favourite way of dealing with trauma, depression, suicidal tendencies, addiction, couple conflicts, physical pain and other
sources of suffering. This technique is useful for solid anamnesis as well as safe and durable therapeutic change. Be curious and get surprised!

Streaming offer: After receipt of payment, you will receive the link and the access code for your video. The video is available to you for 10 days after entering the access code.

Kind regards,

Stefan Hammel

Three Boxes

The story “Three Boxes” embodies a basic therapeutic principle, namely that problems must be separated and solutions must be linked. Whenever a client presents problems which appear to be linked, for example in the case of depression or psychosomatic involvement, it is recommended that the problems should be examined independently and separately as though they had nothing to do with each other in reality. In many cases the link (or interdependency) will vanish when it is challenged, even if it was plausible. Yet as soon as a solution is found for one or more of the problems, it is worth turning the question around and asking whether the solution could also be beneficial in another area and be transferred to another problem.

“You must be mistaken,” the man said to the other man. “You must keep your illness absolutely separate from your family problems and your family problems absolutely separate from your problems at work. These are two or rather three entirely different kettles of fish. Imagine putting these three things in three different boxes… Now close each of the three boxes and push them into three different corners of the room. Have you pushed them a long way apart? Good. Now we’ll look at each box individually…” And they discussed each problem separately. Whenever they found a solution, however, the first man said, “Might that also work for the other problem…?”

The Sofa of Bliss – Seminar on Individual and Couple Therapy


Here’s a live 2 day online Seminar on Therapeutic Modeling with individuals and couples.

Therapeutic Modeling is a method of awake hypnotherapy developed by Stefan Hammel. It contains elements of the work of Milton Erickson (a master of hypnotherapy), of Systemic Therapy, the communicational insights of Paul Watzlawick and constellation work

In the seminar the method of Therapeutic Modeling will be demonstrated and practised in a way so you can use it in a simple but already very, very effective form right afterwards.

You learn…

  • how to dissociate (“subtract”) the troubling aspects of experience from a client, let him experience live without his symptoms and stabilize whatever is helpful
  • how to associate and identify a desired new way of feeling, behaving and living and, again, stabilize what is helpful in this experience
  • how to transform troubling experiences into helpful experiences and stabilize this
  • how to apply these methods to couples and families

Time: Sat, Feb 28th, 10 am GMT (11 am CET) till Sun Feb 28th, 2 pm GMT (3 pm CET)

Cost: 160 GBP / EUR

Registration and further information:

Looking forward to seeing you!


Healing Fairy Tales


Do you know about healing fairy tales?

My colleague Allison Quaid designed a beautiful website which can show you how to develop your own fairy tale as a story that can help you or others with traumatic experiences. On this site you will also find examples of such tales which you may find useful to read or tell to yourself and others. Curious?

Find out about the power of healing fairytales on!

Dying at the Age of 26

The case study “Dying at the Age of 26” illustrates how compulsive ideas can be modelled in such a way as to eliminate what previously made them so worrying. This follows a cartoon approach; a problem symbol is visualised and metaphorically transformed without reference to any real-life contexts until it becomes a solution symbol. The result is reinforced by a final suggestive question which implies that the answer will be a solution. This procedure merely defuses the substance of the compulsive idea rather than challenging it or taking it away from the client. If the problem recurs at the age of 92, the patient can turn back the figures to 26 or double a figure so that she imagines dying at the age of 292 or 929… The method is also suitable for words imagined in writing, whose letters can be rotated, replaced and altered (“mad” can be changed to “sad”, for example).

“I have a problem,” a friend once said to me. “I’ve somehow got this idea into my head that I’m going to die at the age of 26. That’s not all that long away. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t get rid of the idea, and it frightens me. What can I do about it?” “Create a mental image of the number 26 and examine it very closely,” I answered. “Now swap the figures around. What do you see?” “The number 62,” said my friend. “Exactly. Now rotate the six by 180º and stand it on its head. What do you see now?” “The number 92.” “So when do you expect to die?” “At the age of 92.” “Is that ok?” “Definitely,” said my friend, who was free of the problem from then on.

Looking forward to a new year

2020 has been a tough year. Structures we have been relying on for a long time have collapsed. Others which we would not have trusted in have shown more stabile than we expected. We see our world in the midst of a transformation with dimensions which cannot be overseen. Yet, as every sunset is followed by the dawn of a new day soon after, there will be light, new chances to be taken. I will open my eyes and I invite you to do so as to see how the ashes of the old can nurture the new which is ready to come to our lives.

King of the Wood

Polycentric organisation is more effective than centralised organisation in many contexts. The fable “King of the Wood” is designed to encourage clients to relinquish conscious control and to trust in their unconscious (or alternatively in life, their community, nature, God). The wood can function as a metaphor for the way in which body and soul operate on an involuntary and unconscious basis, for example. The story can also be used to challenge controlling social systems.

“There’s too many of us,” said the trees in the wood once upon a time. “We need someone to rule over us. We need someone to tell us where we should grow and how we should form our branches. We need someone to tell us when we should grow buds in spring and when we should change our leaves to bright colours in the autumn.” And they elected an old oak as their king. Although trees grow very slowly, the king had a lot to do. He had to tell every tree where which branch should grow and when which leaf should be unfolded. He had to decide who should withdraw how much water from the soil, and he was even faced with the most challenging task of all – who should consume how many nutrients. After just a short time, the entire wood began to suffer from fungi and parasites; some trees dried out and others fell prey to root rot. The trees began to grumble and argue amongst themselves. The king accused his people of insubordination, the people accused the king of being incompetent and they all accused each other of being idiots and common rogues.

On a beautiful July day, when the leaves were starting to fall, the king abdicated. All the trees were happy, and held a big feast. And from then on, things gradually improved for the trees.

Fear of Moths

The case study “Fear of Moths” illustrates how the stressful feelings which are associated with a particular situation can be dissociated from the situation and replaced with feelings which are associated with a more pleasant situation. The story can be used for spiders and any other phobia triggers as well as for moths.

Yesterday I visited some friends of mine. “Our daughter is afraid of moths,” they told me. “Every time she sees a moth in the apartment she has a meltdown and makes a huge fuss. Is there anything you can do?” “I don’t know,” I said, and turned to the daughter, who was sitting at the table with us and drinking a mug of hot chocolate. “The next time you see a moth, make sure that you don’t think about hot chocolate and that you don’t think about not thinking about hot chocolate, and that you don’t think about how the hot chocolate tastes right now and the way you feel when you drink hot chocolate, because if you think about hot chocolate and how you feel right now because you’re drinking hot chocolate you might have hot chocolate feelings whenever you see a moth, accidentally and without meaning to. And what would happen if you felt as though you could almost taste and smell hot chocolate and as though you had hot chocolate feelings whenever you saw a moth? How would you cope?” “I wouldn’t care.” “Watch out!” I said. “Even if you think you wouldn’t care about having hot chocolate feelings whenever you saw a moth, you need to be careful that you don’t end up not caring about the moths themselves, because it would be a shame if you didn’t care about the moths so much that you got hot chocolate feelings whenever you saw them……” The young girl saw a moth quarter of an hour later, and stayed calm and relaxed