To get powerful, lasting and fairly rapid results in therapy, it is essential that the methods employed reach and affect the subconscious mind. The subconscious houses the emotions, imagination, memory, habits, intuition and instincts. It also regulates our autonomic body functions, is the part of the mind that dreams, and is the pathway to the superconscious. It is the very core or essence of how we experience ourselves and the world. Meaningful personal transformation, whether in or out of therapy, results from a shift in the subconscious mind.
Through hypnosis, we have access to the subconscious. In fact, during waking states, the only way to reach and change major set beliefs and emotional responses of the subconscious mind is during experiences that are hypnotic. Hypnosis is an altered state beyond ordinary consciousness, but a natural state that can occur spontaneously. In addition, there are many ways hypnosis can be induced and deepened. Once in hypnosis during therapy, there is a vast range of therapeutic possibilities to harness and transform the subconscious. Hypnotherapists are taught to use a variety of methods to bring a person into a state of hypnosis, deepen and lighten the state, direct various processes and return the subject back to normal awareness.
Eclectic training in the uses of hypnotherapy can substantially enhance the skills of any health, counseling or teaching professional. Examples include psychologists, physicians, dentists, chiropractors, social workers, marriage counselors, physical therapists, optometrists, ministerial professionals, nurses, massage practitioners, coaches and electrologists. Hypnosis, while often unrecognized as such, weaves a common thread through the healing arts and sciences. The most effective therapists often use hypnotic methods whether they use or understand that semantic or not. As understanding of the field spreads, the deliberate use of hypnotic processes is currently making a major impact in the health professions and truly revolutionizing the field of counseling. While it won't work for everything or for everybody all the time, it is often a powerful therapy that is as much an art as a science.
Within the field of hypnotherapy, there are a great variety of ways to harness the power of the subconscious mind to affect change. Hypnosis is used in areas such as chronic and acute pain control to change the pain threshold and affect the psychological associations of pain. It can be effective to improve confidence, concentration, recall, motivation, achievement, focus, health and stress management. Hypnosis can help overcome addictions, habits, eating disorders, insomnia, fears, phobias, and negative thought, emotional and behavior patterns. It can also tap people into the utilization of their full potential in endeavors like work, sports, art or creative expression.
Within a therapeutic setting, hypnosis is often induced through various methods of relaxation. As a result of this process the critical factor of the conscious mind is bypassed to some degree, giving the hypnotherapist and subject direct access to the deeper mind, the subconscious, which has been called "the other 90% of the mind."
Generally, the most well known characteristic of hypnosis is increased suggestibility. Though there are varying degrees of this heightened responsiveness to suggestion, the potential power of this direct access to the subconscious should not be underestimated.
For example, I worked with a man named Gino who had been a three-pack a day smoker for over 20 years. He had never been able to quit for even a day since his early years as a smoker. After his first hypnosis session, he called his wife from work later that day. "I can't believe how easy it is. It's like I never smoked," he exclaimed. "I can remember smoking, of course, but there's no desire at all!" While I cautioned him during our follow-up session not to be overconfident, he continued to do fine, including no negative side effects. To the contrary, he was constructively redirecting his energy, and had dramatically increased confidence and vitality.
I remember Gino vividly because after referring many of his friends and acquaintances to me for hypnotherapy, he came back about seven years later to take my training to become a hypnotherapist. He introduced himself to the class with a twinkle in his eye, saying, "Randal helped me quit smoking, but I've never been hypnotized." In spite of his results, he had a hard time accepting that he had entered hypnosis, even though he knew he must have, because his hypnotic experiences were so subtle to him. Initial doubts about the hypnotic state are not unusual, and more about the subjective experience of hypnosis will be discussed later in this chapter. What was unusual was the immediate ease of his results, although such a response can occasionally occur.
While varying degrees of initial struggle are the norm for addiction or habit cessation through hypnosis sessions, my experience has been that more than 10 percent of such clients will achieve the desired results and more, with astonishing ease from the beginning. When using hypnotic suggestions, it is unusual but not so rare for a skilled hypnotherapist in rapport with a motivated client to produce such profound suggestibility that it can have the effect of an imprint. An imprint is a powerful, emotional, single impact learning experience that can affect a person (or an animal) in many cases for a lifetime. But even when results are not exceptional, responsiveness to suggestion is routinely greatly heightened during hypnosis.
As important as increased suggestibility can be, it is only one of many kinds of value that can result from access to the subconscious. One example is concentration, which typically increases dramatically during hypnosis. There are many benefits from this. For example, many indigenous cultures have kept oral records for centuries. Successive generations of historians would enter hypnotic trances and recite detailed, prolonged ancestral records. A famous example involves Alex Haley's attempt to find possible validation for the childhood legends about his apparent African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, which was the basis of his book, Roots. His search led him to a griot, an African village historian in Juffure, Gambia. An hour into a trance recitation, he came to a verse about the disappearance of Haley's ancestor. (However, there has been some question that he may have known of and been influenced by Haley's search.)
Within the context of therapy, heightened hypnotic concentration has value as an inherent aspect of trance and is a partial explanation of the effectiveness of hypnotic suggestion. In addition, specific issues such as improved study habits and various achievement goals ranging from public speaking to improved sports performance, are addressed directly by this hypnotic phenomenon. The subject can actually re-enter a state of self-hypnosis later while studying or performing, to gain further value from the concentration inherent to the hypnotic state.
While sometimes directly associated with concentration (as in some of the above examples), heightened recall during hypnosis has many functions. Revivification of significant events, whether or not they were previously repressed, can be combined with many therapeutic modalities. Also, many persons have used hypnotic access to buried memories to find missing objects of value. Although the use of hypnosis for solving crimes has been restricted in recent years by the courts, hundreds of crimes have been solved by the use of forensic hypnosis, such as when Ed Ray's hypnotic recall of the license plate after the famous Chowchilla kidnapping led investigators to the kidnappers. Victims and witnesses to crimes have hypnotically recalled crucial memories, whether buried because of detail or time or trauma.
A person can be taught to re-enter hypnosis to access stored memories while taking examinations or, in certain situations, to improve job effectiveness. Therefore, persons developing memory recall skills are supported by the value of increased suggestibility during the initial hypnosis sessions, as well as by the later heightened concentration and recall natural to the state of self-hypnosis. (Other values of hypnosis will also apply to improved recall, such as various uses of therapy for test anxiety.)
Medical hypnotherapy provides a wide variety of practical applications, including pain management. But pain management itself is an example of the benefits of hypnosis for a wide variety of applications.
To begin with, the pain threshold typically changes dramatically during hypnosis or self-hypnosis. This is one of the reasons hypnosis can provide great relief during and after emergencies, and for chronic pain sufferers referred by their doctors for such complaints as arthritis, back pain, headaches or recovery from surgery or injury. In addition to the dramatic pain alleviation common during hypnosis, some change in pain threshold is not unusual following hypnosis.
As with any issue, the good hypnotherapist will work comprehensively and holistically toward lasting results, dealing with lifestyle, stress, emotions and personality factors, as well as any relevant trauma factors and possible secondary gains. A daily practice of self-hypnosis can often provide some immediate benefits, while any underlying emotional and lifestyle issues are addressed during hypnotherapy sessions.
Various hypnotic pain relief methods of relaxation, dissociation and visualization can be used to help with childbirth. Also, hypnotic processes can be beneficial during pregnancy, ranging from alleviating first trimester difficulties such as morning sickness to addressing a pregnant woman's fears of childbirth.
In deeper levels of hypnosis major surgery can, in many cases, be painlessly performed with no other anesthetic agent. In addition, physiological functions normally controlled by the subconscious can be effected, such as by suggestions from a dentist to a hypnotically anesthetized patient to control salivation and bleeding.
Increased access to the emotions during hypnosis has many uses. Often, hypnotized persons later report having experienced feelings of bliss, joy or euphoria, sometimes spontaneously and other times as a response to post-hypnotic suggestions or therapeutic methods. Such feelings can be very meaningful and have substantial therapeutic value. When a client has been struggling with feelings such as fear, grief or anger, various therapeutic methods during hypnosis, including the use of regression strategies, can help him or her access those feelings when appropriate and express, release or transform them.
There are many hypnotic phenomena. The above samples of concentration, recall, pain management and access to emotions each demonstrate a wide range of ways in which the hypnotic state can be accessed to achieve desired results. These phenomena are in addition to the value of pure hypnotic suggestibility, which can be effectively integrated in various ways to each of those methods.
Facts and Fallacies
Misconceptions about hypnosis are still fairly prevalent but gradually diminishing with time. The fear of loss of control is a result, in part, of stage hypnosis demonstrations. Volunteers may seem to be "under the spell" of the stage hypnotist. Some develop the notion that the participants will do whatever the hypnotist suggests. Actually, some operators have been known to survey the audience and express disappointment if, say, five volunteers are needed and there are only 60 people in the audience. Most people will not respond well to stage hypnosis and those that do, will do so only under the right circumstances.
Stage hypnosis is a chance for a person with some extro-vert tendencies to perform, have fun, and be a star. It is no coincidence that the longest running series of stage hypnosis shows in history, with Pat Collins, was in Hollywood. A large percentage of volunteers for her shows were striving to develop a career in acting. Volunteers of any stage show know they will be expected to do silly things in front of an audience, and find that appealing. The ones who show timid or self-conscious responses are asked early on to go back to the audience. The participants who are receptive to hypnosis will have, to some extent, a loss of inhibition. However, the volunteer would not do anything against his or her moral beliefs. For example, if handed an imaginary glass of champagne, a non-drinker will refuse to pretend to drink. Also, some otherwise responsive persons will back off to a specific suggestion (e.g., to sing) because of a lack of self-confidence in that area. Even during stage hypnosis, individuals retain control in areas of principle or in which there is major subconscious resistance.
During a hypnotherapy session you know you may be open to suggestion. Rather than losing control, a comprehensive series of sessions can help a person to gain control. During an initial consultation, if I do not become convinced of my new client's firm commitment toward a proclaimed goal, I will not continue with the person. In spite of the increased suggestibility inherent with hypnosis, genuine motivation is necessary for a person to achieve meaningful results in therapy. Clients become more motivated toward their goals if significant underlying resistance issues get properly addressed and there is some degree of rapport with the therapist.
Many persons who have not previously experienced a formal hypnotic induction expect the experience of the state of hypnosis to be far different, and often more extreme, than what it is. Even after attempts prior to the induction to alleviate such misconceptions, a classic response after a first hypnosis is, "I know I wasn't hypnotized. I heard every word you said." Ironically, the same person, when asked what this "non-hypnosis" experience was like, may give a dramatic response, such as, "Well, I haven't relaxed so much in 20 years." (The initial subjective experience of the state is often disappointing to some extent, but the results, as with the example of Gino, can nevertheless be profound.) Some will doubt in early sessions whether they went into hypnosis at all. Others who achieve significant depth may believe only light hypnosis was achieved. With continuing experience, people tend to go deeper and also begin to recognize the signs that for them are associated with an altered state.
Rather than losing consciousness during hypnosis, there is typically heightened consciousness. Awareness is much greater than normal, which is related to the increased focus previously described. When somnambulism (a deep state of hypnosis) is reached, however, the shift back to normal consciousness is so great that the memory of the experience may stay buried in the subconscious after the person comes out of hypnosis. This can be similar to the experience of someone who has been asleep and dreaming, and upon awakening remembers the dream at first, only to be unable to recall it a few minutes later. The memory of the dream or of the hypnotic experience is still there in the subconscious, even when conscious recall fades. Though the somnambulistic state is the exception, it has led to the still somewhat common misconception that a person in hypnosis will automatically experience amnesia. Hypnosis actually leads to increased awareness, and one result of this is that distant or previously unconscious memories may be recalled in vivid detail.
Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that is entered spontaneously every day. Examples include states of narrow focus, such as you might experience when watching television or absorbed in a good book. Highway hypnosis can occur when driving on the freeway and suddenly realizing you have no conscious memory of the past several miles traveled. A form of hypnosis, the hypnogogic state, is entered just prior to falling asleep, and the heightened suggestibility of the hypnopompic state occurs when first waking up. Even daydreaming is considered by many experts to be a form of light hypnosis, or a borderline hypnoidal state. The conscious mind begins to recede and the subconscious mind comes to the foreground, giving you greater access to the imagination, memories and feelings.
Beginning around the age of five, the overwhelming majority of the population is hypnotizable in the formal sense. Exceptions include some psychotic individuals who don't have the necessary trust to be open and receptive, and some retarded persons and those with advanced Alzheimer's, who don't have the necessary concentration or imagination. However, I have used hypnosis with the developmentally disabled through the Sonoma County Mental Health Department and found that some of the higher functioning individuals were able to respond rather well.
During most of our daily lives we are in touch with our conscious minds, while subconscious activities below the surface regulate physical functions such as the autonomic nervous system and circulatory system. The subconscious can leap into action during emergencies, but it is in part that portion of the mind that is on "automatic pilot" while we are awake or asleep.
People who enter hypnosis deliberately in session or during self-hypnosis know they are suggestible. The most common danger with hypnosis lies primarily outside of the therapeutic context, in situations in which people are not aware that they are in suggestible states. For example, we can be influenced by an authority figure, such as a doctor or other professional, or a political or parental figure. When a person is unduly influenced by an authority, a spontaneous hypnosis can develop and the person may become extremely suggestible.
To give another example, double-blind suggestibility studies have documented that most persons will respond well to placebos, even when used in place of morphine for severe pain. That gives us a glimpse at the enormous power of the subconscious mind. A person who deliberately uses hypnotic states to control his or her subconscious mind can create extreme physiological changes and other exceptional achievements without needing to project power onto a pill or an authority figure.
Additionally, our consumer culture bombards us with various forms of advertising that can have a hypnotic affect. Advertisers may even pay a premium for broadcasting late at night or early in the morning when people are more likely to be highly suggestible. Learning about hypnosis and suggestibility helps us recognize times when we may be more open or vulnerable so that we can retain awareness and have more control.
There are many therapy or healing practices that include forms of hypnosis. Biofeedback techniques, for instance, are used in conjunction with hypnosis. Jose Silva, in developing the Silva Method, borrowed liberally from Dave Elman's hypnotic inductions. Christian Science practitioners use hypnotic methods for pain management. Guided imagery, guided fantasy, visualization, selective awareness, autogenic training, progressive relaxation and relaxology are examples of hypnotic methods. Sometimes the practitioner, teacher, nurse, psychotherapist, etc., who uses such methods will not associate the methods with hypnosis. If these methods are recognized as hypnotic and that is communicated to the client, time needs to be taken to alleviate possible misconceptions. Any practitioner who sometimes uses hypnotic methods but has not previously recognized them as such, would find hypnotic skills magnified tremendously by a thorough training in hypnosis.
The various forms of meditation (Zen, Vipassana, Transcendental, etc.) are also forms of hypnosis. When TM began to become popular in the United States, some devotees of that method set out to prove that their particular form of meditation was different from hypnosis. Their U. C. L. A. study compared the initial hypnosis experience of persons that had never practiced hypnosis or meditation with the meditation experience of selected persons who had been getting excellent results practicing TM twice daily for many months. The two groups naturally had different results and a claim was then made that this meditation practice causes more profound physiological differences than hypnosis. But just as with meditation, increased hypnotic depth (and the dramatically different physiological changes that entails) is a skill that develops with practice.
The therapeutic value of hypnosis is gradually becoming much more widely recognized. As the myths and misconceptions are exposed and word continues to spread about the values of hypnosis, growing acceptance and interest has increased in academic and scientific communities as well. Many medical and psychology professionals are being trained themselves or referring patients to hypnotherapists for work in conjunction with conventional treatments. While there is still residual misunderstanding in the minds of some who have not experienced a formal hypnotic induction, the misconceptions of many have lessened over the years.
The Experience of Hypnosis
Following a preliminary discussion and alleviation of any misconceptions, three things are needed for hypnosis in a therapeutic setting: concentration, imagination, and a motivation to be hypnotized. Hetero-hypnosis, in which a therapist works with an individual or a group, is in a sense self-hypnosis because each individual goes into hypnosis by choice. If a person doesn't feel rapport with the operator or doesn't desire to, that person will resist entering hypnosis.
The more you practice hypnosis the deeper you tend to go, but it isn't necessary to reach deep levels to be therapeutic. Excellent results in therapy can be achieved in light and medium states. Practicing hypnotherapists can train many of their clients in self-hypnosis for added benefits. With experience and confidence that a relaxed and open state of hypnosis can be reached, tools are soon developed that an individual can use for a lifetime to access the power of his or her own subconscious mind.
There are many levels of hypnosis and various subjective states can be experienced at any particular depth. During lighter levels of hypnosis feelings of relaxation and passivity are commonly experienced. Additionally, there may be slightly altered perceptions or physical changes such as eye fluttering or a tingling sensation in the extremities or a light or heavy sensation in some part of the body. Persons who don't get much of a response at first will continue to learn and develop significant skills within a few weeks of practice.
In the beginning it is common to underestimate the length of time in hypnosis. When asked after an initial hypnosis, many will guess the time as shorter than it actually was. A person who has had a few more hypnotic experiences will usually have a better estimate of time.
The flip side to the occurrence of an initial subjective distortion of time is that the subconscious mind has a kind of built-in clock. When you enter self-hypnosis or when you go to bed at night, your subconscious mind can be trained to bring you back or wake you up at a particular time. One student related giving herself a suggestion when going to sleep at night to wake up at a particularly early hour. She was awakened at exactly the right time by her husband's voice saying, "It's five o'clock." She turned over to thank him but he was sound asleep. The call had come from her own creative subconscious.
In medium depths of hypnosis, the altered state becomes further enhanced. There may be more pronounced physical sensations of heaviness or lightness, or a floating or sinking feeling in part or all of the body. A deeper focussing of conscious awareness tends to occur, and often a major change of pain threshold begins to develop, such as with the experience of "glove anesthesia" in the area of the hands. Various illusions may be perceived through any of the senses. Ability to visualize or imagine suggestions tends to increase with depth.
Somnambulistic levels of hypnosis create more extreme physical and mental responses, such as loss of awareness of most or all of the body. Physiologic responses may include the same kind of rapid eye movements that are associated with dream stages of sleep. Exceptional suggestibility often includes a profound literalness in response to suggestions. Some will have the ability to produce hallucinations, even with the eyes open or post-hypnotically. Complete conscious amnesia may occur.
Hypnosis is a far different state than sleep, but it has been called a sleep of the nervous system. Respiration and circulation slow down, but not as much as during normal sleep states. The brain waves also slow down, though not as slow as the brain waves of delta that are reached during the deepest levels of sleep. The levels of brain waves begin with beta, the fastest, then slow to alpha, theta and delta. Under most conditions of normal waking consciousness, brain waves are primarily beta. In light to medium states of hypnosis, a significant decrease to predominately alpha level brain waves will occur. In deeper levels of hypnosis a person's brain waves may actually go down into theta.
Remember, however, that hypnotic skills develop with practice, so the rules of the above paragraph can be broken under truly extraordinary conditions. An Indian Swami who had been meditating several hours a day for many years was documented on film as having gone into delta brain waves while sitting, his eyes half open. (As a general rule, unless you're focusing on a major trauma issue, the deeper you go into hypnosis the more pleasant the state is, until at deeper levels it can be quite euphoric. This Swami was certainly in a state of bliss.)
There is an extremely rare state of hypnosis far deeper than somnambulism called the plenary trance, that could be likened to almost being a state of suspended animation. The British physician, James Esdaile, produced this state in some surgical patients in India in the 1840's, using a few hours of mesmeric passes as the induction. The patient was kept in the plenary trance sometimes for 24 hours, since this was before chemo-anesthesia had been accepted, and hypnosis was the only anesthetic agent. But more importantly, he soon discovered his mortality rate after surgery dropped from 50% to 5%. This was before Joseph Lister's campaign against infection, when surgeons washed their hands after surgery, not before. During hypnotic anesthesia the subconscious mind aids the body in developing greater resistance to infection.
In the 1890's the Swedish physician named Otto Wetterstrand reported keeping some patients in the plenary trance for over a week for healing purposes. Leslie LeCron produced this state in more recent times, recording a pulse of 50 beats per minute and a barely discernible breathing rate of only three breaths per minute.
This chapter is a brief introduction to the value of hypnosis and hypnotherapy for the purposes of this book, and cannot be a comprehensive description of the many phenomena and uses of hypnosis. This overview and the following three examples are a sampling to explain some of the special qualities of hypnosis, which prepares us to better understand the tremendous potential of Hypnotic Dreamwork.TM.
When I first met Karen she was experiencing a recurrence of symptoms of multiple sclerosis. She had been diagnosed 10 years earlier. At the time of diagnosis she was blind in one eye and had partial sight in the other. She was informed that within six months she would be a vegetable. Her doctors advised her to go home and get her affairs in order. Karen, who had been raised as a devout Catholic, was in the middle of difficult divorce proceedings. She was particularly worried about her three young children, and prayed that she be allowed to live long enough to see them through school. Amazingly, instead of deteriorating, her symptoms gradually disappeared. Her doctors had no explanation for this turn of events.
Ten years later Karen's husband, a student in one of my hypnotherapy classes, asked if he could bring Karen in as the subject in a class demonstration. Her symptoms of MS were recurring and had advanced, in some ways, even further than before. Her vision and coordination were seriously deteriorating, she was losing dexterity in her hands, and she was about to give up. During our interview she told me that the youngest of her children would be graduating from school in a few months. When I asked if she had been having any other major changes or stress in her life, she said that she and her husband, Kenn, had had to close their business. All three of her children were still at home, she was working more than full time as a bookkeeper, and though she would like some time to herself, she saw no hope of that in the future.
After doing a hypnotic induction we set up ideomotor signals, which is a way of bypassing the conscious mind to communicate directly with the subconscious. Different fingers on one hand can be chosen to rise if the answer to a question is "yes" or "no." Alternative fingers can be used for a subconscious signal that it doesn't know or has a different kind of answer. Through the use of this type of questioning we were able to determine that Karen's subconscious mind interpreted the cessation of her symptoms 10 years earlier as a pact with God that she now had to honor. At the same time there was a part of Karen that had lost faith in God because of her resentment at having developed the sudden blindness. We were also able to ascertain that the onset of her earlier blindness, as well as her current symptoms, had in part to do with the stress in her life. Further questioning revealed that Karen felt a measure of guilt about becoming healthy again.
The session became very long and complex, with conflicting ideomotor signals and subconscious confusion. As the process continued I used Gestalt dialogue between Karen and God to try to break through her guilt and subconscious resistance to getting well again, as well as her resentment of God. There was even some question of whether she still believed in God. Well into the session, I reminded her that if there was no God, then there was no one to keep a pact with. If there was a God, I asked her, wouldn't God be compassionate enough to see that Karen had suffered more than enough already?
After giving Karen some explanation about the sometimes deductive way the subconscious mind works, and that it isn't always rational, I had her do some hypnoanalysis to figure out if there was some kind of misconception she had developed as a result of those traumatic experiences. She was eventually able to realize that she had developed the misconception that in wanting to see her kids grow up and getting her eyesight back, she needed to be punished. She continued to assert, however, that "My dues are up. I have to pay." Over and over again we hit dead ends as I kept trying to find ways to help Karen through subconscious blocks. At one point I asked her subconscious mind if she had asked, "Please let me live to see my kids grow up and get through school," or "Please let me die or get worse when my kids grow up." When Karen was able to acknowledge the former, I encouraged her subconscious mind to accept that she was therefore not required to now deteriorate. But she continued to resist, saying she still had to pay.
Eventually I was able to help her accept that she could have a pact to live and be reasonably healthy, without repercussions. While she was still subconsciously open and suggestible I ended the session with many positive affirmations of the success she had already had in overcoming the condition previously, the new lasting success she would now begin to have, and the ways in which she could find creative ways to take better care of herself.
Karen began to experience major improvement within the first week, and in the two subsequent sessions I continued to encourage and support Karen on the ways she was now taking better care of herself and the progress she was making. Within six weeks she was free of symptoms, having improved much more rapidly this time. A subsequent CT scan years later showed no evidence of MS. Our sessions were over 20 years ago and she continues to be healthy today.
This story is a dramatic example of the potential of a variety of creative techniques with hypnosis to affect the subconscious mind. Gestalt dialogue, such as that used with Karen, is employed in almost all of the transcripts of this book, and brief ideomotor methods appear in some cases. Complete transcripts and commentary of two of Karen's sessions will be included in my forthcoming book, Ideomotor Magic: The Hypnotherapy Training Manual. (This is not the same Karen whose dream is featured in this volume.)
Kenn's Story *
Kenn, Karen's husband from the previous story, used his experiences in the hypnotherapy classes and his self-hypnosis to make tremendous changes in many areas of his life during the year he was getting his training.
He came back to see me four years later because of a serious injury that caused an anterior curve in the cervical arch of the neck, and had been treated with surgery a year earlier. Instead of getting better, the condition immediately deteriorated further after the surgery. He was so weak that he could not carry a quart of milk one block. He was currently working with a talented hypnotherapist in his town, a graduate that I had recommended. One of the effective strategies was to visualize removing the cervical vertebrae area and replace it with stacked tinker toys on wheels that would cause the neck to bend properly. They had made significant progress, but Kenn needed further improvement. His surgeon had seen him recently and recommended immediate surgery, as weakness in the injured areas had caused his head to bend in a way that was pinching nerves affecting his hands and going down into his legs. The surgeon wanted to open up his back and put a brace from the seventh cervical vertebrae to the first, leaving him in a rigid permanent position facing slightly upwards. "I won't be able to nod yes, so I'll just have to say no," Kenn joked wryly.
Kenn's belief was that he had been damaged by the first surgery. But he also wondered whether his sense of deep shame was hindering his body's ability to heal more fully. In his words, "Before I started hypnotherapy I was a compulsive gambler, excessive drinker, and a three pack a day smoker. I came up with every compulsive, addictive behavior, even eating disorders, and because of all this I feel a lot of shame. I've started recovery and I feel like what might be a stumbling block are my feelings of shame and guilt that go way back." He was waiting to get a second opinion before making a decision about getting more surgery, which terrified him. The original doctor's concern was that without treatment he would become a quadriplegic.
Before doing a hypnotic induction I checked with Kenn about whether or not he could move his fingers to do ideomotor signals and he showed me the two fingers on his left hand that he could move slightly. Before the recent hypnotherapy work he had been unable to move those fingers at all. He had also been able to get off drugs he had been taking for pain and was no longer chronically constipated, so he had already made dramatic progress in the six weeks since he had started sessions.
After an induction I used the affect bridge (which is also used for Tom's regression in Chapter 20), a technique that taps a person into a particular emotion and then moves rapidly to an earlier memory which is associated with a similar feeling. Kenn recalled being in his bedroom at three years of age and feeling very ashamed. He was being scolded by his mother for wetting the bed. She told him he was a very naughty boy. It was something that had happened many times. He continued to sporadically wet the bed until he was 13. It was very embarrassing and he was consequently very shy and self-conscious.
After going to other scenes where young Kenn had been scolded and felt ashamed, I brought adult Kenn back to the earlier scene with his mother and had them engage in Gestalt dialogue. I then asked young Kenny how he felt listening to adult Kenn and had them dialogue. Adult Kenn assured young Kenny he had never done anything wrong, that wetting the bed was a common experience for many young boys and out of their control. There was sometimes even a genetic factor. Young Kenny responded that he would try not to feel the shame. We kept working until young Kenny had more clarity that he was not at fault and adult Kenn was able to realize that he was a good person and could let go of those feelings and the affects they had had on him. Toward the end of the process he said he felt that his mother had done a good job overall and he loved her deeply. She had made a mistake because she was naive. She just didn't know it was something he couldn't help. During hypnoanalysis Kenn described not having been able to forgive himself and he now did so wholeheartedly. I gave Kenn positive reinforcements and suggestions for further healing in his neck and back and then brought him out of the hypnosis.
Following the session Kenn continued hypnotherapy and refocused on physical therapy and feeling better about himself. Meanwhile he got a second opinion that confirmed the first. He recognized gradual improvement, and the following month he went to his original surgeon who, with considerable surprise, now said, "Because of your vast improvement I can't justify surgery at this time." Kenn continued to improve dramatically.
Early childhood is a time when we are particularly open and vulnerable to suggestion. Early experiences may teach us that we're not good enough, that the world is a hostile place, that we can't trust people, or that we're likely to get hurt in some way. Very often when we want to make fundamental changes as adults and feel stuck, the problem is that we have been hypnotized by limiting experiences early in life. Such early subconscious conditioning can sometimes last a lifetime.
As the story with Kenn illustrates, when doing hypnotherapy we are sometimes in part doing de-hypnosis. We are helping that person to let go of negative suggestions or misconceptions that were taken in, often at a young age, and continued to affect his or her experiences. We help that person to wake up and escape the limiting trance he or she has been in. Kenn's example is particularly dramatic because of the physical healing that accompanied the emotional healing, but combining Gestalt and hypnotherapy can routinely cause profound lasting shifts in subconscious attitudes and feelings. Getting in touch with the deeper, greater part of the mind can help in so many ways to unleash the vast potential and abilities that are there. A complete transcript of Kenn's session is in my book, Regression Hypnotherapy: Transcripts of Transformation, Transforming Press.
When Frank came back from Vietnam he attempted to go to college but dropped out. Initially he made attempts to find work but didn't stick with it. He remained unemployed and lived with his parents. He was addicted to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. He was overweight, depressed, and had no self-confidence. He hadn't had any relationships and hadn't even been on a date since soon after his return. He briefly tried various therapists but hadn't responded well with anyone. His parents had desperately tried to help him and when they heard of my work, encouraged him to make one more try.
It had been 10 years since his return from Vietnam when I met Frank. We started by looking for ways for him to be successful and then taking one step at a time. J.D. Hadfield said, "Suggestion does not consist in making an individual believe what is not true. Suggestion consists in making something come true by making a person believe in its possibility." The first thing I helped him work on was getting into shape while losing weight. With that success, he had the confidence to quit smoking. Then we worked on his issues with drugs and alcohol.
After making dramatic progress in these areas, we worked on building up Frank's confidence to get ready to look for work. His dream was to do delivery work. He felt he would really enjoy being out and driving a truck. He got a delivery job through an employment agency and was very satisfied. He worked hard and diligently, but three months later he was told that although he was doing a fine job, he was being laid off. Frank was angry and felt there was a deal going on between his employer and the agency. He had been retained for as long as he was still paying a large portion of his wages to the agency which had gotten him the position. A setback like this could certainly be an excuse to slip back into drinking and depression, but as we proceeded, Frank turned his anger into action. He intensified his exercise program and got right out and started looking for work again. He was hired with 40 other people by Federal Express for temporary work during the Christmas season. At the end of the season two people were kept on. Frank was one of them. He's been working for Federal Express for 27 years now.
Over time we periodically had a few more sessions for various reasons, including relationship issues. An early example of his progress in this area is when the issue had developed from not having dates, to feelings of guilt because he did not want to continue to see a woman who was interested in him. He eventually found a relationship that developed into a marriage. We have had a total of about 30 sessions over the years. Currently, like everyone, Frank has his ups and downs. But he is a changed man, functioning far better in so many ways than he was when I first met him.
Many causes that bring people to seek hypnotherapy do not involve the kinds of life-changing issues of Karen, Kenn and Frank. But even hypnosis for common issues can lead to major benefits, such as sessions for smoking cessation, which may help significantly improve health and lengthen one's life span. I view the hypnotic state with reverence and consider the role of a hypnotherapist as an honor. I am aware of no greater satisfaction than the service of helping clients to make major, lasting changes.
All materials included herein are copyright 2010, 2015 Randal Churchill.