Reflections on Hypnotherapy
|Posted on 15 March, 2014 at 21:25|
The alteration of pain through hypnotherapy is a huge untapped resource. Whether acute pain or chronic pain, hypnosis and suggestion can produce some astonishing effects.
The relationship of hypnosis to pain is of two kinds: firstly, you can use it to disconnect from the pain, which I think of as like a kind of mental painkiller. Secondly, you can work through suggestion with the pain and alter its character and effect, and also encourage blood flow and healing.
The first method, a disconnection or dissociation from pain, is what I regard as an emergency short term help. It is quite easy to do, and lacks the side effects of analgesic drugs. However, the removal of pain by itself is of questionable value. I tend to think that in the longer term pain should be replaced by something, or transformed into something.
So it's relatively easy to dissociate from pain, even severe pain. You know, if your leg is hanging off, it's not painful, you automatically dissociate. It's only later when the various inflammatory chemicals are circulating round the body, particularly in the region of the injury, that the pain is more difficult to dissociate from, though it is still very possible. But is this altogether a good idea? This is a kind of con, if you like. It's like painkillers - they're not treating anything, they're just bringing symptom relief, and perhaps hiding what the pain needs to bring to you. Dissociating from acute pain in my view should simply be a short term emergency measure.
Milton Erickson was a master at using hypnosis to help with pain, and he had a lot of personal experience of pain himself. He describes one method he used for himself while undergoing dental work in that he would put himself under his favourite oak tree in the woods and sit there, as it were, during the procedure and ponder life. His attention would then be so taken by this pleasant and wonderful place that what would be pain under any other circumstance simply was not there. This is a straightforward self-hypnotic technique. And it is very nice to be sure. You can be in a completely different world and oblivious, or almost so, to any pain. But although it may be good as an emergency or short term measure, I have my doubts as to its longer term helpfulness. It would ignore the evolutionary reason for pain.
Secondly, a more substantial way to deal with pain is to intentionally attend to the pain instead of simply being unwillingly sucked into and identified with it. With intentional attention to pain, the pain can be voluntarily intensified or reduced, changed in its character, lose its emotional identification, or even removed. There are many ways of doing this, and hypnosis can facilitate these techniques. With hypnotherapy, you might imagine the colour of the pain, and then change its colour, see the shape of the pain, then change its shape, the location, and change the location, change the intensity, increase it, decrease it, and so on. This is a playing with pain. And this playing with pain is a step above the simple dissociation from pain. You're doing something with the pain. You're not ignoring it, it is still in awareness, but you're changing it. This puts it on a higher level. It is a kind of transformation of pain. But there is a bigger transformation of pain, much bigger.
One much bigger way of transforming pain is through the use of vibrations, particularly sound vibrations and imagined sound vibrations, the vibrations of one's own voice, certain words, and directing the sound to the location of the pain. But the most interesting is, for want of a better word, visualising sound. So for a visualised sound, or an auralised sound, your inner sound-making apparatus, as it were, produces an inner vibration, a resounding, an echo, of a certain word or words, or even a single tone, in the region of the pain. The intentional reverberation of this inner sound causes a vibratory sensation of the tissues in the region where the attention has directed it. And the mindful repetition of this inner sound, and reverberation, will produce a transformation and receding of the pain and its emotional impact, and a transformation of the sensation around that area and beyond.
Even pain in a paralysed limb can be a friend and helper rather than a foe. It is demanding attention, and wherever attention is there can be an increase in blood flow and neural activity, both in the body part and in the associated brain part (unless perhaps one specifically imagines the contrary).
Now going back to the word dissociation, this has all sorts of connotations in psychiatry. It is associated with certain illnesses, the dissociative disorders, including, for example, what used to be called multiple personality disorder. And dissociation is also quite a good word for this thing that you can do with pain, where you can disconnect or dissociate from it. However, when you look upon pain as if from afar, when you have the pain but YOU are not the pain, is something which is very useful and is taught as a 'mindfulness' technique, though it is sometimes also described as dissociation. However, I prefer not to use this word in this context, because looking at pain from afar is still keeping the pain very much in the awareness, whereas the first described dissociation is not. Here, you lose the emotional identification with pain. And the emotionally identified, anxious side of pain is a very potent factor in perpetuating a problem with pain. Simply the ability to look on calmly at pain, to accept it, and know that the pain is not you is a powerful ‘dehypnotic’ technique, as hypnosis implies focus and disconnectedness, whereas here we have connectedness and collectedness. This mindful disengagement from pain does alter its character from the very fact of observing it. The pain is transformed as our attitude to it is transformed.
|Posted on 22 December, 2013 at 9:35|
How do you know if you are hypnotised or, as some would say, 'in a trance'? Alternatively, one could ask, how do you know when you are not hypnotised? And how does visualisation help you achieve your goals?
The various tests of so-called hypnotizability, such as arm levitation, can all be fairly readily 'faked,' consciously or unconsciously. So what is the difference between faking and not faking? And does it matter?
The imagination can pave the way for the real to enter. If you 'genuinely fake' a smile, even though you are not initially feeling happy, then very soon you will notice happiness invading, and the smile becomes a real one. I say, 'genuinely fake' because half-hearted faking is no good.
And by the way, the root of the word fake may derive from the Latin facere, to do. Acting 'as if' can prepare the way for a genuine change. And hypnotherapy can be seen in some ways as an exercise in imagination, as imagination is part of the language of the subconscious. However, never be satisfied only with imagination. The imagined makes way for the real, but only if the imagination keeps you seeking for the real.
When people believe they are in a hypnotic trance, they often have a sense of a non-volitional character to their actions, inner and outer. That is, the initiative appears to have been taken over by something other than oneself. This of course is not the external hypnotist, who is only a guide, but it is simply a lesser known part of ourselves, sometimes called the subconscious, which is usually hidden and forgotten about. When we know how to call upon these subconscious resources within us, then a great deal is possible which before may have seemed impossible.
|Posted on 10 November, 2013 at 9:00|
Picture how you are when your imagination is captivated by a good story. You are in a different place, a different world. A world full of new and rich impressions, where time is no longer.
Many have recognised the healing as well as the hypnotic power of certain stories. George Macdonald, writing in the 19th century, in his book Adela Cathcart, centres the healing of the depressed heroine on her being told stories by a group of friends who have formed a story club.
Macdonald, who was a consummate storyteller, was also interested in hypnotism and ‘psychological homeopathy.’ He often wrote of a parallel world that his characters inhabited, alongside their ordinary lives. This parallel world, in some of his novels described as Fairy Land, has many of the hallmarks of the world of the subconscious mind, and also of that elusive ‘state’ of hypnotic trance. He wrote in Phantastes:
But it is no use trying to account for things in Fairy Land; and one who travels there soon learns to forget the very idea of doing so, and takes everything as it comes; like a child, who, being in a chronic condition of wonder, is surprised at nothing.
In this world, allegories, metaphors and pictures act powerfully on us, and we are in an increased state of receptivity, ready to learn and grow.
But we all create our own stories, about our view of ourselves and the world and our place and purpose in it. So what happens when our own story is challenged or even broken down by some crisis in life, small or big? Among other things, this could arise from an insult, a great disappointment, or to a shocking diagnosis, for example of cancer.
George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch:
We all remember epochs in our experience when some dear expectation dies, or some new motive is born.
Then we have to create a new, more powerful, and hopefully a truer story for ourselves. The old story was perhaps good in its own way for a time, but now it is inadequate. If the shock is small then perhaps the story can simply be patched up as it were, slightly altered to adapt to the new circumstance or revelation. But sometimes the old story dies a real death, and something completely new has to be created. The story is resurrected in a new form in a new story. And this death may actually be a blessing in disguise, and lead us to much greater things than the old smaller story. The acorn falls to the ground and dies, to make way for the grand oak tree to grow and flourish.
|Posted on 7 November, 2013 at 10:20|
The hypnotist is like a midwife. There is a conception of a wish, an aim, and as long as it receives nourishment from the mother, the embryo grows and flourishes. And what does the midwife do? She encourages and guides where needed. And what does the mother do? She tries to live healthily, and she directs all her love and attention to the unborn child. The midwife or the hypnotist has know-how to share, but the mother is the one who conceives, carries and gives birth to the child. What is strangest of all, however, is that the real midwife is within the mother. The hypnotherapist or apparent midwife simply shows the way to the real midwife-mother.
|Posted on 18 October, 2013 at 20:35|
Emile Coué, one of the pioneers of autosuggestive techniques, and someone who preferred to avoid the 'sleep' side of hypnosis, wrote the following:
Every morning before getting up and every evening as soon as you are in bed, shut your eyes, and repeat twenty times in succession, moving your lips (this is indispensable), and counting mechanically on a long string with twenty knots, the following phrase: "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better". Do not think of anything particular, as the words "in every way" apply to everything.
Make this autosuggestion with confidence, with faith, with the certainty of obtaining what you want. The greater the conviction, the greater and the more rapid will be the results obtained.
Further, every time in the course of the day or night that you feel any distress physical or mental, immediately affirm to yourself that you will not consciously contribute to it, and that you are going to make it disappear; then isolate yourself as much as possible, shut your eyes, and passing your hand over your forehead, if it is something mental, or over the part which is painful, if it is something physical, repeat extremely quickly, moving your lips, the words: "It is going, it is going ", etc., etc., as long as it may be necessary. With a little practice the physical or mental distress will have vanished in 20 to 25 seconds. Begin again whenever it is necessary. Avoid carefully any effort in practising autosuggestion.
Coué, Emile - Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion, pp. 107-8. (Original 1922)
There are a number of very useful tips to take away even from this short extract. Coué's famous phrase, "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better" has been used and adapted many thousands of times over the years. This is a short, memorable and positive 'autosuggestion' that is applicable to almost any goal we might have, whether it is health-related or otherwise. We can easily make up our own suggestions however, to make them specific and personal to our own needs and way of expressing ourselves. Coué's 'Do not think of anything in particular' is fine for achieving a positive state of mind about things in general, but I think it is also important to concentrate on what specifically you wish to achieve.
It is good to have the suggestion short and to the point, and the rhythm and rhyme to Coué's suggestion above not only helps its memorability, but also makes it quicker and more easy for it to become instinctive and to enter the rhythm of the body as we say it.
Confidence, faith, certainty - these are key elements of the attitude that you need. Believe in what you're doing! And remember the principle: Expectation influences perception. Expectation also influences results.
Daily practice and repetition are essential, at least at the beginning. However, I think we should take care with Coué's recommendation, for the second autosuggestion above, to 'repeat extremely quickly...."it is going, it is going," etc....' I think his aim was to remove all possible distractions, and produce a kind of effortless hypnotic flow. However, mindless repetition is not going to produce the real brain changes that occur with repeatedly sounding the sentence internally or externally while putting one's attention on the significance of the words and the sensations in the body. We should take the word conscious in the 'conscious autosuggestion' part of the title of Coué's book more seriously than Coué himself I believe.
Coué's statement about the importance of moving the lips while repeating this suggestion to oneself is interesting. Here movement is combined with the thought, adding to its strength. However, there will be times during the day when in the company of others when you may wish to keep things private. You can still maintain it as a powerful suggestion without the moving of the lips, as long as you seek to hear with your 'inner ear' the sounding and resounding of the words within your body. Don't be concerned if you don't seem to achieve this much at first - simply allow it to happen and to grow in strength.
Likewise, the fingering of the twenty knots on the string engages movement, and there is also the sensation of the texture of the string. The usefulness of this physical addition to the mental aspect of the autosuggestion is difficult to over-emphasise. This fingering of knots while repeating to oneself the autosuggestion is similar to the age-old use of prayer ropes and prayer beads or rosaries by many religious traditions. One's concentration on the thought or prayer is intensified by this action, as well as providing a convenient method of counting.
The last sentence in the extract above is, 'Avoid carefully any effort in practising autosuggestion.' This avoids the risk of a self-defeating downward spiral of anxious, guilt-ridden striving. Relaxed, pleasurable effortlessness of action suggests an engagement with powerful subconscious resources that will bring you nearer to your goal.
|Posted on 7 October, 2013 at 6:15|
Poems, songs and stories can be very therapeutic as well as hypnotic. The following song, from a piece by John Dowland (1563-1626) also describes the strange thing that can happen to time when you are in a trance, and expresses a lot of what underlies hypnotherapy.
Time stands still with gazing on her face,
stand still and gaze for minutes, houres and yeares, to her give place:
All other things shall change, but shee remaines the same,
till heavens changed have their course & time hath lost his name.
First of all, Time stands still. This is often a striking feature of hypnosis, that time is completely different to 'ordinary time.' You could say that one enters a different dimension of time and experience.
Then, When gazing on her face. Who is she? Perhaps we must each make up our own mind about that, but some have suggested that she is Truth. She could alternatively represent some deep universal aspect of the subconscious mind.
Stand still and gaze. This is what we do in hypnosis. There is a pause from the usual hustle and bustle of life, and we direct our attention or gaze on something, allowing ourselves to be captivated by the subject we have chosen, so that we reach a state in which we are ripe for learning. In this open and receptive state we can learn new things that we never dreamed possible before.
For minutes, houres and years. As mentioned before, time is of a different order here.
To her give place. Give room for the intuitive mind to do its work.