The intuitive mind 
is a sacred gift and 
the rational mind 
is a faithful servant. 
We have created a 
society that honours 
the servant and has 
forgotten the gift.

Albert Einstein

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Hypnosis and pain

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. 


CM

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