Psychological interventions are an effective means of treating fear and anxiety, and hypnosis, in many respects, is a tailor made treatment for such conditions. indeed, research studies show that hypnosis can greatly reduce, or even eliminate, pathological anxiety. Also, it has been shown that the more susceptible to hypnosis a person is (such people tend to be imaginative and open-minded), the more likely it is that their anxiety will be successfully treated, (eg Wadden and Anderton, 1982).
COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS WHICH UNDERPIN ANXIETY :
The psychologist Beck (1985), identified certain faulty-thinking styles, or cognitive (thinking) distortions, which underpin the pathological anxious response. These include :
– CATASTROPHIZATION : always expecting the worst possible outcome
– HYPERVIGILANCE : constantly feeling in great danger, and, therefore, always being on ‘red alert’, making relaxation impossible (I myself was in such a state for at least three years without respite and I can therefore attest to the excruciating mental agony such a state can entail)
– SELECTIVE ABSTRACTION : this refers to when we exclusively focus on just the negative side of the situation we find ourselves in
– IRRATIONALITY/LOSS OF PERSPECTIVE : this can involve greatly overestimating the odds of what we fear actually happening. Again, I was in such a state for a long period of time which I think must have extended, at times, into the realms of clinical paranoia. Absolutely horrible.
– DICHOTOMOUS THINKNG : this refers to seeing things in extremes and is sometimes referred to ‘black and white’ thinking, so things are viewed as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ which leads to the exaggeration, in our minds, of negative events, circumstances and situations.
Hypnosis can help by positively modifying these kinds of faulty-thinking styles and also be inducing relaxation. Some specific techniques employed by cognitive hypnotherapy are outined below :
1) AGE PROGRESSION : this involves getting the client, in the hypnotic state, to visualize him/herself in a future situation which s/he currently fears and then imagine him/herself coping well with it
2) RESTRUCTURING COGNITIVE CORE BELIEFS : Beck and Emery (1985) identified a number of unhelpful fundamental or core beliefs that the individual prone to pathological anxiety was likely to hold (such a maladaptive belief system almost invariably stems from adverse childhood experiences). Examples of such anxiety inducing core beliefs (and for many such core beliefs will be acting on an unconscious level) include :
a) ‘I should regard any strange situation I find myself in as dangerous’
b) ‘ I should always expect the worst will happen’
c) ‘I am constantly in serious danger’
The psychologist Leahy (1996) expands upon this and puts forward the view that underlying anxiety are a sense of :
b) Imminent loss or failure
c) Imminent, or current, loss of control over one’s own life
Dowd (1997) outines ways in which hypnosis can help us to cognitively restructure our unhealthy core beliefs :
REPLACEMENT AND COPING IMAGERY : Once the individual is in the hypnotic trance state it is suggested to them that they imagine themselves in a feared situation, such as being reprimanded by a superior at work. It is then suggested to them that any anxiety this induces will quickly dissolve and be replaced by feelings of competence and of being in control, together with an acceptance that no one is perfect so there is no need to feel one’s confidence has been significantly undermined.
HYPNOTIC COGNITIVE REHEARSAL : This involves repeatedly imagining, under hypnosis, performing well in a feared situation, such as an upcoming social event ( a similar technique is used in sports psychology, whereby, for example, a tennis player will have been trained to vividly imagine a successful serve – exactly where to place the ball etc – before executing the shot).
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Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).