Stress can be defined as the perception that the psychological demands being made upon us exceed our ability to cope with them. It has been well documented that the experience of stress (especially chronic stress) is linked to both physical and psychological disorders.
Sometimes, if the stress experienced is very severe, such as in the case of suffering protracted childhood trauma, the condition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop. For example, research carried out by Donovan et al., (1996) found that childhood physical punishment was strongly associated with the later development of PTSD.
Indeed, childhood trauma in general (be it sexual, emotional, physical, or a combination of these) very significantly increases the probability of developing PTSD later in life – one of the reasons for this is that such adverse early experience can greatly lower our later ability to cope with stress. Thus, as well as being badly affected by stress in childhood, we are also, as a consequence, then far more vulnerable to the effects of stress in adulthood.
Siegel (1996) identified three specific categories of symptoms of PTSD; these are :
A) INTRUSIVE SYMPTOMS (e.g flashbacks, preoccupation with trauma-related thoughts which are extremely hard to dispel from the mind)
B) EMOTIONAL NUMBING (e.g the inability to experience feelings of pleasure – this is formally referred to as ANHEDONIA)
C) HYPERAROUSAL (extreme and uncontrollable responses – for example, the startle response – to trauma-related stimuli)
REASONS WHY HYPNOTHERAPY MAY BE OF PARTICULAR BENEFIT TO SUFFERERS OF PTSD :
Hypnotherapy may be particularly beneficial for those who suffer from PTSD due to the fact that there is an analogy between the above three types of symptoms and the three major components of hypnosis. The three components of hypnosis which are analogous to A, B and C above are :
Let’s look at why the analogy exists in relation to A, B and C :
A) Because those with PTSD have deeply absorbed their traumatic experiences, it is likely, too, that they will be able to effectively absorb the information provided to them whilst in hypnosis
B) Emotional numbing is a form of dissociation (you can read my article on dissociation by clicking here). As hypnotic trance is also a form of dissociation, it is likely that PTSD sufferers will be easily able to enter into the hypnotic trance state
C) Hyperarousal involves heightened responsiveness. This suggests that those who suffer from PTSD will be highly responsive to therapeutic hypnotic suggestions.
HOW ELSE CAN HYPNOTHERAPY HELP THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM PTSD?
Hypnotherapy can help the individual with PTSD to DISTANCE THEMSELVES and DECENTRE from the immediacy of their traumatic experiences.
Also, hypnotic suggestions can be given that help the individual restructure and modify the memory of the trauma in a way that makes it less distressing
Furthermore, it can reduce, or eliminate, any feelings of self-blame the individual may have in connection with their trauma.
THE TELESCOPE TECHNIQUE :
The telescope technique is sometimes used to help individuals recover from PTSD: under hypnosis, the client is instructed to imagine ‘viewing’ his/her trauma through the wrong end of a telescope – using this mental image, the client is told s/he can increase the length of the telescope to make the trauma ‘look’ yet more distant and tiny. The client practises this technique, and variations of it, throughout several hypnotherapy sessions. Eventually, s/he will be able to apply the technique at will without the assistance of the hypnotherapist. Whilst the technique may sound a little facile, many have found such a technique, or techniques similar to it, can be highly effective at reducing feelings of anxiety and distress connected to the trauma.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)