Several people have asked me lately about my experiences with hypnotherapy and its ability to cure PTSD.
First, let me say, HYPNOTHERAPY CHANGED MY LIFE. MORE THAN THAT, IT GAVE ME MY LIFE BACK; IT GAVE ME ME BACK.
Before I tried it, I did a lot of research and found that it actually has a great track record to help PTSD sufferers. I also came across a lot of interesting background that brings its potentially "you are getting sleepy" creepiness down to the basis of facts and science (and no one says that phrase anyway).
Over the next couple of posts I'll be giving some background about hypnosis, and also my experience with it. I'll also try to find some links that might be helpful so you can do more of your own research. For now, you can visit the link for my hypnotherapist to read some background and see how absolutely normal she is, as it the practice itself! Many of her clients are business and sports related. It's not just us unfortunate PTSD sufferers who can benefit from hypnotherapy. Tiger Woods uses it. As does Kevin Costner (OK, maybe it's not really helping him, but still...), so do Fergie, Matt Damon, Samuel Jackson, Ellen Degeneres, Drew Barrymore and Ben Affleck to name a few. So you see, we're in good company.
My goal here is to give a complete 360 degree look at hypnotherapy, so today I'll begin with some background and in the next few days move on to my own experience....
In the beginning I didn’t know anything about hypnotherapy. I heard an ad that it could stop a nicotine craving and I thought, If it can cure that strong an addiction, maybe it can cure another kind. (Because, doesn’t PTSD feel like an addiction sometimes??) So I turned to the literature and discovered that hypnosis is actually a pretty antique practice, traceable all the way back to Hindus in ancient India who took their sick to sleep temples to be cured by suggestion. Egypt in 3000 B.C. employed the same practice in dream temples. So did the Greeks (in their Shrines of Healing) and Romans whose motto was, Mens sana in corpore sano; healthy mind in healthy body. A common element was creating a suggestion to be used by the patient’s power of belief. Believing that they were healed, many patients could put their own mind power to work to heal themselves. Group hypnosis was also very popular in antediluvian civilizations; several religious ceremonies included rituals such as mass rhythmic chanting, strained fixation, and meditation. Before Newtonian science divided the mind and body in 1750, the ancients seemed to know that the health of the two is connected.
The first hypnosis to be accepted and experimented with in modern society, however, had to do with chickens. That’s right, last night’s dinner represents the evolution of hypnosis into genteel circles. In the 1600s people discovered they could calm chickens through various hypnotic means, including balancing wood shavings on their beaks. Not long afterward, French farmers learned to hypnotize hens to sit on eggs that were not their own. In Germany, traveling shows hypnotized birds, rabbits, frogs, and salamanders to name a few. In England a man hypnotized a lion. In Hungary a man hypnotized all of the animals in the Budapest Zoo. In 1904 even Pavlov thought hypnosis was related to the state of his conditioned reflex dogs. Hypnosis, it was found, could be induced in a wide range of subjects.
There are several people involved in bringing hypnosis to its currently accepted status in the healing community – way too many names to mention in a brief overview. The truncated story goes like this: The man credited as the Father of Hypnotism, Franz Anton Mesmer, was born into a Swiss-German family in the Swabian town of Iznang, in 1734. Mesmer’s father was a gamekeeper and forest warden. Both parents were extreme Catholics who attempted to push their son into the clergy. After a brief stint training to be a Jesuit priest, and then studying law, the young man enrolled in and eventually graduated from the premier medical university in Vienna. As a medical student he developed a theory of the influence of heavenly bodies on people’s health, which he supposed to be through acts of ‘animal gravity’. Further to this, he developed the belief that the unobstructed flow of a quasi-magnetic fluid in our veins keeps the body free of disease. Curing illness meant correcting the flow of this fluid. The magnets put people into a sort of trance in which the fluids could be recalibrated.
In 1770, recently graduated and married to a wealthy widow ten years his senior, Mesmer began exploring, experimenting with, and validating ‘animal magnetism’ (later known as ‘Mesmerism’). For example, Mesmer found that he was able to stanch the flow of bleeding from a patient’s wound simply by passing magnets over the incision. He also found he could cure a patient’s convulsions by placing magnets on her thighs and stomach. Gradually, Mesmer’s curing abilities encompassed a wide range of physical and psychological ailments. He became famous for his diverse magnet cures and moved to Paris where he was wildly embraced by the French aristocracy. The medical community, however, disapproved of and disbelieved in his work, which prompted the French king, Louis XVI, to appoint a Board of Inquiry. Mesmer refused to cooperate with this investigation and it didn’t take long for the board (which included the French chemist Lavoisier, a medical doctor called Joseph Guillotin, and America’s own, Benjamin Franklin) to conclude that Mesmer was a fake. Mesmerism, they announced, had nothing to do with magnets and everything to do with the patient’s own act of imagination. In disgrace, Mesmer retired to a Swiss forest where he continued to believe in Mesmerism and administer his cures to the poor until his death in 1815.
After Mesmer, the hypnosis pool gets a little crowded. Mesmerism itself continued to flourish in the arenas of research, studies, demonstration and investigation. But it was one of Mesmer’s students, the Marquis de Puysegur who, in 1784, discovered how to lead a client into a deep trance state called ‘somnabulism’. De Puysegur accomplished this state by using relaxation and calming techniques. He described the state as having the following three features: concentration of the senses on the operator, acceptance of suggestion from the therapist, and amnesia for events in the trance. Over 200 years later, these theories still apply.
The definitive launch of hypnosis came sixty years later, in 1842, when James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, saw a man hypnotize a lion at the London Zoo. Convinced it was a hoax, he began his own experiments with his wife and servant. He discovered that a fixed gaze paralyzes nerve centers and destroys the balance of the nervous system, which puts a patient into a state that can be very useful when no origin can be found for a person’s disorder. Braid renamed mesmerism with the term hypnosis, deriving the word from the Greek, hypnos, meaning, ‘to sleep’. The importance of Braid and his colleagues is that his research was the first to be called scientific, and in that category raised hypnosis from the realms of mysticism and brought it into the respected medical arena.
Around the same time, James Esdaile, a surgeon in Calcutta, after placing a patient into a trance state, performed the first operation without anesthesia. His track record of over 1,300 operations – all done with hypnosis and without anesthesia – helped give hypnosis even more clout so that the leading minds of the 18th century took notice. It came to be accepted that hypnosis inhibited certain cortical activity in the brain thereby allowing suggestions to be more easily accepted. For many years suggestion was the only known method of psychotherapy. Thousands of patients were cured this way.
At the Salpetriere in Paris, Jean-Martin Charcot built on and advanced the theory of hypnosis with great success. He believed that hypnosis was not merely a psychological state but a physiologically alternate state of consciousness, one that could be affected through such means as magnets. One of his students, Sigmund Freud, used the theories of hypnosis to develop his original abreaction therapy, which utilized hypnotic methods. Unfortunately, when Charcot died his ideas were betrayed. The colleague evolving his work changed his belief about the physical affects of hypnosis and reverted to the theory of suggestibility. His attempt to prove that hysteria was the diseased manifestation of hypnosis associated hypnosis with neuroses and weakness; hypnosis completely fell out of fashion. No one wanted to be looked at as crazy.
In addition, Freud’s was some of the work that changed the approach of hypnosis from suggesting away a patient’s symptoms to eliminating the apparent causes. Freud believed that traumatic events (and patients’ failure to react to them) cause suppression. He maintained that in order to discharge those intense feelings of traumatic events it was necessary to bring them out into the light; this was the basis for what would become psychoanalysis. It was Freud’s eventual disuse of hypnosis, and his tremendous success at proliferating his ideas of a new psychotherapy, that helped push hypnosis onto the fragmented sidelines of patient care.
Then, in the 1920s, in a northeastern French province, the pharmacist Emil Coue studied the psychology of suggestion. His successes in this area brought auto-suggestion for self-benefit into vogue. Since then, hypnosis has spread from Europe to the United States. As early as the 1930s hypnotism began to be used to cure psychosomatic illnesses. In the 1930s and 1940s at places like Yale University American academics studied hypnotism and advanced it through publishing their findings. Later, the armed forces utilized the effects of hypnosis during World War II; the practice helped get soldiers back into the trenches more quickly. After the war, there were so many soldiers with psychological afflictions that hypnosis was used to allow them to relive the trauma and thereby relieve it. The success of these varied outlets regained some of hypnosis’ sullied reputation. By 1948 hypondontia (hypnotism in dentistry) became widespread and the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry (an association of dentists trained to administer hypnotic techniques) was founded. By 1958, even the American Medical Association approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis and encouraged further research.
Following WWII one man remains responsible for bringing hypnosis completely into the mainstream of American healthcare. A double polio sufferer, a poor kid from rural Nevada who had severe dyslexia, profound tone deafness, and color blindness, Milton Erikson became an unorthodox psychiatrist who stressed the wisdom and intelligence of the subconscious mind and promoted the view that it was not a primarily negative force. Further, Erikson’s transformative idea was that hypnosis is actually a state of mind that all of us are normally entering spontaneously and frequently. That television set you’re staring at, that movie you’re watching, that magazine you’re reading, they all put you into a sort of trance. Erikson’s creative theories and successes increased the public’s interest and belief in, plus comfort-level with and acceptance of hypnosis. These days, hypnosis is incredibly widespread. Often used in psychotherapy, it is also a tool in law enforcement, hospitals, psychiatric clinics, jails, courtrooms, sports, schools and religious institutions.
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