Tag Archives: Hypnotherapy For Trauma

Reducing Damaging Behaviors Caused by Trauma – 1) Smoking

childhood_trauma_effects

The experience of childhood trauma can lead us to develop maladaptive (self-damaging) coping strategies to attempt to gain some relief from symptoms caused by the trauma such as depression and anxiety. Such self-damaging behaviors, to give just a few examples, may include : smoking, drinking too much, drug use and gambling – these are all what are known as ways of dissociating from uncomfortable emotions.

These can be regarded, in part, as indirect symptoms of our painful life experiences. In this post, I want to discuss how such harmful behaviors may be addressed by employing the use of hypnotherapy

Self-damaging behaviours frequently give rise to what are known as PREVENTABLE DISEASES. Lung cancers caused by smoking (about 80% of all lung cancer cases) would clearly be one example of a preventable disease.

Hypnosis can be used to not only reduce the incidence of health damaging behaviors, but, it may, too, be used to ENHANCE BEHAVIORS WHICH BENEFIT HEALTH such as keeping to a healthy diet or increasing the amount of exercise a person takes, to give just two examples.

Extremely often, however, when people attempt to alter their health behaviors for the better on their own, they find it extremely difficult. Because of this, about a quarter of people in the U.S. are at increased risk of illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

smoking_hypnotherapy

It is particularly important to focus on the self-damaging health behaviors of people who have suffered childhood trauma because, frequently, they will have developed psychological problems as a result of their painful experiences such as depression and anxiety., both they and their doctors may well have been focusing so much upon their emotional difficulties that their physical health issues have taken a back seat.

HYPNOTHERAPY AS AN AID TO HELP PEOPLE STOP SMOKING :

Out of 65 million people in the U.S. who smoke, up to 80% of them want to quit the habit at any one time. However, research shows that only about 5% of those individuals will be able to achieve this on their own.

Because of the very poor success rate of individuals stopping smoking without any help, many turn to hypnotherapy. Research studies into the effectiveness of hypnotherapy in helping people to quit their habit has yielded varying results, but one study, by Elkins et al (2003), showed that its success rate can be as high as 80%.

Further research, by Glover and Glover (2001) demonstrated that hypnotherapy can be even more successful in helping individuals stop smoking when it is combined with nicotine replacement therapy such as nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

The Use of Hypnosis to Treat Trauma.

Research has shown that hypnosis can be of benefit for individuals suffering from trauma related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hypnosis is not used in isolation to treat such conditions, but in conjunction with other therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy.

Research studies have demonstrated that the use of hypnosis as part of the therapy for trauma based conditions can be particularly effective in:

– reducing the intensity and frequency of intrusive, distressing thoughts and nightmares
– decreasing avoidance behaviours (ie avoidance of situations which remind the individual under treatment of the original trauma)
– reducing the intensity and frequency of the mental re-experiencing the trauma
– reducing anxiety, hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal that the trauma has caused
– helping the individual to psychologically INTEGRATE the memory of trauma in a way which reduces symptoms of dissociation (I have written a post on dissociation which some of you may like to look at)
– helping the individual to develop more adaptive coping strategies

On top of the above benefits, the use of hypnosis has been shown to be very likely to improve the therapeutic relationship between the individual undergoing treatment and the therapist.

However, it is not recommended that hypnosis be used to ‘recover buried memories of trauma’ as this has been shown to be unreliable and it is also likely that the use of hypnosis for this purpose can create FALSE MEMORIES in the person being treated.

Some individuals have been significantly helped by the use of hypnosis as part of their therapy for trauma related conditions such as PTSD in as little as just a few sessions. As one would expect, however, the more complex the trauma related condition is, the longer that effective treatment for it is likely to take.

Hypnosis And ‘Buried Memories

A central tenet of psychodynamic theory is that some traumatic memories are so painful that they are buried (repressed) in the unconscious (automatically rather than deliberately) denying us direct access to them (though it has been theorized indirect access may be available through dreams and other phenomena).

One theory is that these buried memories need to be brought into full consciousness via the psychotherapeutic process and properly ‘worked through’ in order to alleviate the psychological symptoms associated with their hitherto repression.

It is frequently believed, including by therapists, that ‘buried traumatic memories’ can be accessed by hypnosis. But can they? What does the research tell us?

In one study, 70% of first year psychology students agreed with the statement that hypnosis can help to access repressed memories. More worryingly, 84% of psychologists were also found to believe the same thing. It comes as little surprise, then, that many therapists use hypnosis in an attempt to help their clients recover ‘repressed traumatic memories’. Indeed, the therapy, known as ‘hypnoanalysis’, was developed on the theory that ‘repressed traumatic memories’ could be accessed by hypnosis to cure the patient of his/her psychological ailment.

Surveys of the general public indicate that many of them, too, believe in the power of hypnosis to aid memory recall.

Whilst some contemporary researchers still hold to the belief that hypnosis aids recall, the majority now believe this is NOT the case. On the contrary, hypnosis has generally been found to IMPAIR and DISTORT recall (eg. Lynnet, 2001).

Furthermore, studies reveal that hypnosis can CREATE FALSE MEMORIES (see my post on memory repression for more detail on the question of the reality of concept of buried memories) which, due to the insidious influence of the therapist, the patient can become very confident are real.

This is of particular concern if the hypnosis has been used to try to help an eye-witness or crime victim recall ‘forgotten details’ of the crime and this evidence is then presented before a court of law. Indeed, as the problem becomes increasingly recognized, such ‘hypnotically recovered evidence’ is becoming increasingly unlikely to be admissible.

Some therapists use hypnosis to age-regress their adult clients (i.e. take them back ‘mentally’ to their childhoods) in an attempt to help them recall important events that occurred in their childhood which may be connected to their current psychological state. However, here, too, research suggests (e.g. Nash, 1987) such attempts are of no real value.

CONCLUSION:

Hypnosis does not appear to be useful for retrieving ‘buried memories’ and can, in fact, be utterly counter-productive by creating FALSE or DISTORTED memories.

 

How Hypnosis CAN Help Those Who Have

Suffered From Childhood Trauma :

However, hypnosis can help with many psychological conditions that those who have suffered childhood trauma may suffer from and I outline examples some of these below :

 

ANXIETY :

If we suffered significant and protracted trauma during our childhoods, we are far more likely than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable and secure upbringing (all else being) to develop severe anxiety and associated conditions in adulthood.

We feel anxiety when we perceive a threat (and the threat may be real or imagined).

Our perception of being under threat causes stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, to be released into the brain.

The release of these stress hormones into the body can result in distressing physical sensations; these differ depending upon the particular individual concerned and include the following (to list just a few examples):

headaches

– stomach aches

– dry mouth

– trembling

– heart palpitations

– sweating

– feeling faint/dizziness

hyperventilation

Vicious Cycle:

These physical symptoms of stress form part of a vicious cycle; this viscous cycle is caused by the various aspects of stress feeding off one another as I describe below:

1) Anxious thoughts lead to the production of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol

2) These stress hormones produce physical symptoms in the body which exacerbate anxious thoughts

3) These further anxious thoughts then cause yet more stress hormones to flood the brain…and, thus, the vicious cycle continues

 

How Do You Break This Vicious Cycle?

In order to break this vicious cycle, a component of it needs to be broken so that the elements it is made up of can no longer feed off one another. Using hypnosis for anxiety therapy can do this in different ways, for example:

– the excessive production of stress hormones flooding the brain can be halted using self hypnosis techniques such as calming imagery/visualisation.

OR:

anxious thoughts can be reduced under hypnosis. This can be achieved in many ways, two of which I describe below:

Two ways to use hypnosis for anxiety :

1) The ‘Helium Voice’ technique:

Under hypnosis the individual is given the post hypnotic suggestion that when s/he has self-critical thoughts during internal dialogues (i.e. negative, introspective, mentally internal self-talk) the ‘voice’ of these thoughts will sound squeaky and high-pitched (as happens when a person inhales helium from a balloon), thus rendering them ridiculous and robbing them of any credibility (whilst this sounds silly, it can be remarkably effective).

2) The ‘Compassionate Friend’ Technique:

To simplify: under hypnosis, the individual is given the post hypnotic suggestion that when s/he has negative, anxiety producing thoughts s/he will be able to imagine what an ideal compassionate friend would say in response to them in order to comfort and reassure, so it becomes rather like having a tiny personal counsellor taking up residence in one’s head!

And, finally, many readers will already be aware that mindfulness meditation is often an extremely effective way of coping with stress and anxiety, though requires practice.

 

DEPRESSION :

 

We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of developing depression (as well as many other psychiatric conditions) in adulthood than those who had relatively happy and stable childhoods (all else being equal).

One method that can help to reduce feelings of depression, especially when used in conjunction with other therapies such as pharmacology and psychotherapy, is self-hypnosis.

One of the main prevailing theories of the cause of depression is that it arises due to imbalances in certain brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters), in particular serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

 

What Is The Function Of These Brain Chemicals?

 – Serotonin is thought to be involved with appetite, digestion, social behaviour, sexual desire, sexual function, sleep, memory and mood.

 – Norepinephrine is thought to be involved with the body’s fight or flight’ response.

 – Dopamine is thought to play a very important role in internal reward-motivated behaviour (e.g. the pleasurable feelings generated by sex or a large gambling win).

In order to attempt to correct this chemical imbalance, and thus alleviate depressive symptoms, medications are frequently prescribed. Unfortunately, however, not everyone finds them effective.

Hypnosis For Depression :

Another way to alter the brain’s chemical balance in those suffering from depression, research has shown, is by self-suggestion, as used in self-hypnosis, and by altering a person’s level of expectancy regarding their recovery (which plays a major role, of course, in the placebo effect); both of these phenomena have their foundations in the well known phenomenon of  mind-body connection.

Indeed, self-hypnosis for depression (utilizing self-suggestion) combined with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or drug therapy may be a particularly effective way of alleviating depressive symptoms.

A meta-analysis of hypnosis for the treatment of depression (Shih et al.) found that it significantly reduced depressive symptoms and concluded that it was ‘ a viable non-pharmacological intervention for depression.

Commonly, too, depression co-exists alongside anxiety, and numerous studies (e.g. see Hammond) suggest hypnosis and self-hypnosis are often particularly effective for treating anxiety related conditions such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

Depression can also be exacerbated by loneliness or due to poor relationships with significant others (an illustrative example of this is that, on average, married people are significantly less likely (some research suggests up to 70% less likely) to suffer from depression compared with their non-married counterparts; here, again, self-hypnosis can be of use in order to assist us to  improve our interpersonal relationships by, for example, helping to repair our disrupted unconscious processes, allowing us to be more able to give and receive love/affection, making us less withdrawn, and reducing tendencies to judge ourselves and others in an overly negative manner.

 

 

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) :

 

According to the psychologist, Spiegel, self-hypnosis can be a useful tool to help individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) overcome problems associated with the troubling symptom of disturbing, intrusive memories of the original trauma.

Spiegel states that self-hypnosis may be particularly useful because certain qualities of the hypnotic experience have much in common with qualities of the experience of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), examples of which include :

– a feeling of reliving the traumatic event

– feelings of dissociation (detachment from reality)

– hypersensitivity to stimuli

– a disconnection between cognitive and emotional experience

 

Spiegel argues that this similarity between hypnotic phenomena and the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) make sufferers of this most serious and disturbing disorder more hypnotizable than the average member of any given randomly selected population.

It follows from this that those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be particularly likely to be helped by the utilization of hypnotic techniques and procedures, particularly ‘coupling access to dissociative traumatic memories with positive restructuring of those memories’ (Spiegel et al., 1990). By this statement, Spiegel is suggesting that hypnosis could help bring traumatic memories more fully into conscious awareness and alter the way in which they are stored in memory by associating / pairing / linking them with feelings of safety (such as the feeling of being safe and protected in the therapist’s consulting room) rather than, as had previously been the case, high levels of distress.

 

In this way, Spiegel suggests, when these previously disturbing memories are recalled in the future, because they are now associated / paired / linked with feelings of safety, they cease to induce distress.

In effect, then, the traumatic memories have become positively recontextualized  and deprived of their previous power to induce feelings of fear, anxiety and terror.

 

 

WHY PTSD SUFFERERS MAY BE MORE

HYPNOTIZABLE THAN THE AVERAGE

PERSON :

 

Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder display an array of distressing symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, hypervigilence and hypersensitivity to stress.

Fortunately, however, research has found that those who suffer from PTSD tend to be more hypnotizable than the average person (this is thought to be because they can vividly imagine things which is an important component that helps to make an individual able to respond to hypnotherapy positively.

Many PTSD sufferers, therefore, can potentially be helped by practicing self-hypnosis.

What Is The Evidence That Hypnotherapy Can Effectively Reduce Symptoms Of PTSD?

There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that those with PTSD can be helped by taking advantage of hypnotherapy. I briefly examine some of this evidence below:

1) Bryant et al carried out a research study that showed the more vividly PTSD sufferers experienced flashbacks and nightmares, the more hypnotizable they tended to be.

2) Brom et al ran an experiment in which PTSD sufferers were split into three groups :

Group 1 received psychodynamic psychotherapy

Group 2 received were treated using systematic desensitization techniques

Group 3 received hypnotherapy

Results : Whilst all three groups responded equally well, group 3, comprising individuals who underwent hypnotherapy, required the fewest treatment sessions.

Other Research:

Forbes et al. found hypnotherapy to be an effective means of reducing nightmares and flashbacks in PTSD sufferers.

Krakow et al. carried out research showing that children who had experienced early life trauma were able to use imagery under hypnosis which reduced their nightmares and intrusive thoughts, as well as reducing their levels of emotional arousal and improving their quality of sleep.

Furthermore, there is good evidence that hypnotherapy can substantially help those suffering from mental health issues linked to PTSD such as depression and anxiety.

ALL OTHER ARTICLES ON MEDITATION AND HYPNOTHERAPY :

What Neuroimaging Tells Us About Hypnosis.

hypnosis and neuroimaging

childhood_trauma_effects

Hypnosis And Neuroimaging :

Neuroimaging refers to a technique of examining which areas of the brain are active at any one time and can tell us something about how hypnosis works it involves the use of very expensive equipment which can display images of brain activity when the brain is involved with various tasks. I will start off by looking at neuroimaging in relation to the brain’s experience of pain.

NEUROIMAGING AND THE EXPERIENCE OF PAIN:

A study by Rainville et al (1997), using a brain imaging technique, showed that when a HYPNOTIZED subject was given the HYPNOTIC SUGGESTION THAT HE WOULD EXPERIENCE PAIN (ie he wasn’t exposed to a real painful stimulus), the degree of activity in a brain regions associated with the experience of real pain (SOMATOSENSORY CORTICAL AREAS) could be increased and decreased by the experimenter making the suggestions that the subject was experiencing more or less pain respectively.

Another study, by Derbyshire et al (2004), again using NEUROIMAGING, found that subjects given the hypnotic suggestion that they were experiencing pain showed a similar response in brain acivity. However, those subjects merely instructed to IMAGINE PAIN (WITHOUT HYPNOSIS) did NOT display the activity.

hypnosis and neuroimaging

These studies suggest that, under hypnosis, without the application of a real painful stimulus, subjects can be caused to experience pain by the hypnotic suggestion that they will experience it. It seems, too, hypnosis is having a real effect, as merely telling the subject to imagine pain (without use of hypnosis, does not have the same effect).

It seems as if, according to such studies, effects of hypnotic suggestion are GENUINE, not only at the subjective level, but also in as far as they have been shown to EFFECT BRAIN FUNCTION IN A MANNER WHICH SHOWS UP VIA NEUROIMAGING: it appears that hypnotically suggested experiences CAN CAUSE SIMILAR BRAIN ACTIVITY PATTERNS TO THOSE WHICH WOULD BE CAUSED IF THE EXPERIENCE WERE REAL.

POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS:

If hypnotically suggested experiences have a similar effect on the brain as real ones, there follow implications for treatment of conditions that make use of exposure therapy, such as phobias (ie the person suffering from the phobia could be given the hypnotic suggestion that s/he was exposed to the feared object as part of the DESENSITIZATION PROCESS; that is, getting used to the object feared so that the fear it induces gradually diminishes over time.

A caveat, however, is that  studies of brain imaging in relation to hypnosis have not given consistent results; more studies into this area of research need to be conducted.

NEUROIMAGING, HYPNOSIS AND MOOD:

Marquet et al (1999), using a neuroimaging technique, discovered that subjects given the instruction, under hypnosis, to re-experience pleasant memories from their own lives showed significantly more activation in related brain regions (eg the PREFRONTAL CORTEX and OCCIPITAL LOBE) than when they they were merely instructed to imagine the same events (not under hypnosis); again, this suggests that the HYPNOTIC EFFECT IS A REAL ONE, with real, OBSERVERABLE effects on brain activity. Again, however, a lot more research needs to be conducted in order to clarify the relationship between hypnosis and its effect upon brain activity.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories.

repression

Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories

Most of us are familiar with the idea that people who have experienced severe traumas sometimes REPRESS the memory of them (ie. bury them deep in the unconscious where they cannot be consciously recalled). This process is known as REPRESSION.

This is thought to be an automatic process (ie. not under conscious control) which operates as a defense mechanism (when people deliberately try to push disturbing thoughts/memories out of conscious awareness, the process is known as suppression). Freud thought that such repressed memories festered in the unconscious, causing neurotic symptoms or hysteria, and that they needed to be brought back into consciousness and worked through in order for healing to take place.

Psychologists refer to the inability to recall traumatic events DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA.

Many have claimed that repression of traumatic memories is very common. For example, one therapist, Renee Frederickson (1992), claimed: ‘millions of people have blocked out frightening episodes of abuse, years of their lives, or their entire childhood.’ Indeed, today, many psychotherapists regard uncovering repressed memories as vital to the treatment of their patients.

But what does the research indicate?

Loftus (1993) found that most people seemed to have no trouble recalling traumatic events, up to, and including, the Holocaust. Indeed, such memories disturbed many in the form of FLASHBACKS.

The scientific community has also become increasingly aware that the ‘memory recovery’ procedures some psychotherapists use, such as hypnosis, can generate false memories of traumatic events, due, often, to a combination of SUGGESTION and LEADING QUESTIONS. So, patients can be encouraged to ‘recall’ something that, in fact, never actually happened. Indeed, so powerful can the effect be that the patient may truly believe the ‘recalled’ event happened, despite documentary evidence disproving it.

HOWEVER, NOT ALL RECOVERED MEMORIES (EVEN AFTER DECADES) ARE FALSE (eg. Schooter et al. 1997) SO RECOVERED MEMORIES OF TRAUMA SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND CERTAINLY NOT DISMISSED. Instead, corroborating evidence should ideally be sought.

 

David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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