To continue the discussion about PTSD, hypnotherapy, you and me.....
The reason hypnosis works so well has to do with the way it transforms the subconscious mind’s perceptions and beliefs. To begin with, hypnosis works from the assumption that the subconscious mind (the veritable source of all of our internal power) is the storage space of all our past experiences and emotions. In this incredibly vast warehouse, traumatic experiences are filed away on both physical and emotional levels, the stimulus of which can affect our immune system and health. Processing old traumas and the emotional charges attached to them allows a patient to find internal resources that begin the healing process.
In all of this research I come across an article by Michelle Baudry, a board certified clinical hypnotist. In ‘Hypnosis and the Mind’ she explains how the mind subdivides into three parts: the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious. We can, she says, break down the mind into a computer analogy: the unconscious mind operates automatic body systems in the same way as a computer’s operating system; the subconscious operates like a hard drive by storing information; the conscious mind functions like RAM choosing what information is to be acted on moment by moment. Immediately, the supreme importance of the subconscious mind becomes apparent. In order to update any files, the subconscious must be engaged. We cannot change memories, but we can update how we feel about them. In order to do this, the critical factor of the conscious mind must be bypassed. This is achieved through hypnosis when the conscious mind is set aside during the so-called trance state.
The Baudry article goes on to describe how the subconscious is the part of your mind burdened with the job of protecting you. It will do anything – even adopt negative behaviors – in order to keep you safe. The subconscious mind is a mighty advocate but sometimes can be a little too earnest and excitable. “Misdirection is one highly effective way your subconscious protects you by keeping a lid on overwhelming emotions. Ergo the addict,” Baudry writes. She explains that when these protective measures no longer serve us we feel the need to change. This change is difficult to bring about because the subconscious mind is devoted to its imprinted perceptions. In its bypass of the conscious mind, hypnosis brings the subconscious to the forefront so that changes can be made via suggestions. Hypnotherapy helps change perceptions of memories, which in turn helps change perceptions of the self and hence, behavior. It’s all a very neat little package. The past cannot be changed or escaped, but our emotional and intellectual attitudes toward it can be radically altered. “Talking happens in the conscious mind,” Baudry explains. “Change happens in the subconscious.” Since emotions play a large role in our activity, thoughts and actions, they are an intuitive seat of transformation.
Though we don’t delve into it on a daily basis, the subconscious mind is much greater and stronger than the conscious mind in which we dwell. So, while the conscious mind whips us around all day, the subconscious mind calmly waits at the bottom of some vast personal ocean, ready to rise up like a great watery beast and devour conscious opinion. It just needs the right bait and atmosphere.
At the time I was learning all of this, I thought it was all very interesting and new agey. I had uncovered some tantalizing data about the ability of hypnosis to cure PTSD, but I was only half-heartedly compiling all of this research because I didn’t, in fact, believe in hypnotism. I had in my mind a memory of a hypnosis session in the fall of 1986. My freshman year of college I took the ubiquitous Psychology 101 class with about 150 other students. Halfway through the semester, the professor and his teaching assistants asked for volunteers for a hypnosis research project. My friends and I could use some extra cash, so we signed up for the $25 sessions. The point of the study was to see how easily hypnotizable random subjects were. We were told not to try to give in to hypnosis, but just to allow it to happen naturally. I was, by the age of eighteen (5 years after my trauma), already incredibly hyperaroused and hypervigilant. I never gave up an iota of conscious control and I wasn’t about to start. I went into the project with the idea that I would be The One Who Would Not Give In.
I entered the TA’s office on the basement floor of the Psych building. The small rectangular room was dimly lit with an orange glow. There was only enough space for a desk and two desk chairs. The TA, a guy with long, shaggy hair, corduroy pants and a rugby shirt, told me to make myself comfortable. I sat bolt upright. He told me to close my eyes and listen to his voice. This was not the kind of hypnosis I expected. Where was the shiny metal object swung before my eyes? Where was the creepy voice saying, You are get-ting sleee-py? Instead, he counted backward from 100 to 93 and talked softly and gently. But no matter what he said or how he said it, I remained completely conscious and alert – was working hard at it, so determined was I to prove how strong and resistant my mind could be. The session lasted about twenty minutes. I was smug when the TA gave up. I walked out of his office so very proud of myself. Another self-designed test and I had passed.
But now I was actively seeking, as the U.S. Government puts it, to find someone who’d help me achieve “hypnosis… the bypass of the critical factor of the conscious mind combined with the establishment of selective thinking” so that I could finally be completely healed. I didn’t have much faith in the process. I was not expecting nirvana. But I was at the end of my proverbial rope and so while I didn’t believe in this cure, I soaked up the information hoping that something would lead me to an emotional aha! moment.
Baudry defines hypnosis as a blend of physical relaxation and extreme mental alertness; a state of focused concentration. Some of the other literature explains that under hypnosis the patient is generally aware of her surroundings and can choose to come out of hypnosis whenever she chooses. This will not be a mind control session. I would remain in control while choosing to relax to such a degree that the conscious mind will let down its defenses. When I read all of this I thought perhaps I could get into it, maybe fake it for a little while, see what happens. At least, this time I wouldn’t fight the process. The only obstacle now was that I had no idea how to find or choose a hypnotherapist. I wanted a blueprint or an outline to follow; some procedure or vetting process. I want a bunch of hypnotherapists to submit resumes and schedule interviews in which I lie on a couch and see how I feel about this particular person pecking around in my subconscious. Lacking any of these tools, I decided to wing it.
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