The following true clinical examples are taken from daily office
practice. Specifics of age, gender, and situation may have been
modified in order to protect the privacy of the person involved.
The stories themselves and the results are true and accurate.
FEARS: Fear of flying
Alexa was 25 years old, and had not flown since she was a teenager.
Her only experience in an airplane was at that time, and bad weather
had produced a turbulent flight, with much "bouncing around." Since
then she had refused to use air transport, and vacations with her
husband and young daughter were "driving vacations." Certainly this
was somewhat limiting, yet it was not a significant issue until
the extended family was planning a long weekend at Disney World.
How could she possibly take part in this adventure if she was unable
to fly? This young woman decided to use hypnosis to assist her in
facing her fear.
Three sessions were required in order to answer
all her questions thoroughly, and teach her the self-hypnosis skills
necessary to overcome her fear. In this case, Alexa placed herself
in a deeply relaxed state as soon as she entered the airplane, and
maintained it throughout the flight, eating her lunch and using
the comfort facilities while in a light state of trance. She called
from Disney World to describe her joy and sense of power and control
over her fear. | ^top
Ben was a student, and doing quite well. He found the course work
interesting, the writing assignments challenging, and the social
scene stimulating. As the time for final exams drew near, his grade
point average was almost 3.0. Ben wanted desperately to sustain
this level of performance.
However, all through high school, tests had been
his downfall. He had no problem studying. He memorized material
well and knew his notes "cold." Unfortunately, when confronted with
the actual exam, it was almost as if he hadn't prepared at all!
More often than not, the youngster found that his mind was "blank."
He just couldn't remember the most basic aspect of the course work
that he had studied the night before. He was terrified!
Ben's mother had heard that clinical hypnosis
could be used in these situations. She called for an appointment.
This young man was quite hesitant about anyone "controlling his
mind." Once he was reassured that hypnosis was designed to increase
his control, and then actually experienced the sense of relaxation
that hypnosis can produce, he learned to easily and quickly produce
states of comfort that made his test taking abilities much more
congruent with his study habits. | ^top
Margerie was quick, extremely bright, and had a very high-powered
job. Big rewards for few mistakes, "No problem." Unfortunately,
her latest project was creating a little too much pressure: one
small miscalculation, and they would be down two or three hundred
thousand dollars. In a tight bid situation, that could be the end
She started to notice the tightness and inability
to breathe as she would pull in to her parking space in the morning.
It would last nearly all day, and on some days she would take it
home. Then Al and the kids got the brunt of what she had been absorbing
all day. Her doctor did a lot of tests, found no medical condition,
and reminded her that she was a "classic type-A personality." He
suggested a couple of medications, but Margerie didn't want to take
pills. A hard charger, to be sure.
Margerie reminded me of the athletes I see: she
was prepared academically and professionally for the job, but thought
that as far as stress and panic go, she could just show up with
her cognitive and professional skills intact, and they would somehow
carry her through the stress. Wrong!
The real world of business requires stress management
skills as an integral part of the package. Margerie learned hypnotically-based
cue-induced relaxation as quickly as she had learned everything
else in her life. A daily regimen of 10 minutes of quiet relaxation,
safe-place imagery, combined with quick hypnotic tension reduction
just before stressful meetings was the perfect solution. | ^top
Ana was an up-and-coming young tennis player. She practiced her
strokes. She ate the correct foods. She was in superb physical condition.
She was a great "team player." She listened to her coach. There
was one big problem: Ana had a temper, and she took her mistakes
out on her concentration! Which meant that Ana lost when she was
frustrated with herself. Every athlete knows this experience: the
inner self-talk after a couple of mistakes became so critical and
constant, that Ana would sometimes actually just play it out to
get off the court. Unfortunately that didn't stop the talk, even
if it did stop the match.
Ana was ready to try anything. Fortunately, her
motivation, desire to improve, and readiness to practice were a
perfect match for self-hypnotic skill building and learning to use
her mind to program-in and program -out specific behaviors. Ana
quickly brought her "mental" training up to the level of her ongoing
"physical" training. Now she didn't just show up for a tennis match
physically prepared, she took the time to prepare her mind as well.
ENHANCEMENT: Public speaking
Frank was a salesman, and a very good one, too. He liked people.
He liked talking to them about what they wanted. He was careful
to point them to products that were just what they were looking
for. In his spare time he liked to go outdoors, hiking, biking,
and skiing. Yet as good as he was with people one-to-one, Frank
never liked groups, unless he knew everybody, and even then, he
preferred to be just one of the crowd.
One day, Frank somehow found himself needing to
give a speech to his ski club, and he panicked. He absolutely knew
that he was going to stumble, mumble, and lose all his social skills.
He called regarding hypnosis out of desperation, as there was no
way around the public arena this time.
Frank was such a natural talent in hypnosis that
it only took one interview for him to develop the skills to manage
his "performance anxiety." He called nonchalantly the next day to
say how easy it had been to be as relaxed in front of a group as
he had been with individuals. | ^top
ILLNESS: Digestive problems
Mary had had gastro-esophageal reflux disease -- "the GERD," as
she called it -- for years. She was taking a lot of medication,
but the medication wasn't having the proper effect. Of course, the
fact that Mary smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day, regularly
ate spicy foods, and was not really "too health conscious" were
all contributing factors. Her doctor was frustrated with her. She
was frustrated with herself, and angry at her body for letting her
down. Unfortunately, she was consistently losing weight because
of her trouble keeping food down, had little energy, and was actually
getting depressed over the situation. Her gastroenterologist mentioned
that surgery was the next step, if she didn't feel better soon.
In mentioning these symptoms to her general practitioner, he suggested
that Mary try hypnosis to assist her in complying with her diet
Mary had reservations, but she was desperate.
She agreed to come for one, and only one, office visit, to see if
hypnosis could work, "as long as you don't make me cluck like a
chicken." Obviously she had seen a stage hypnotist on TV. I reassured
her that it would be she, not me, who was in control in the trance.
No one would force her do anything that didn't make absolute sense
to her, I reassured her. I, however, had my doubts about the helpfulness
of using only one session, but I agreed to try. One must often work
within the patient's limitations. As it turned out, Mary agreed
to come to see me twice!
In our second appointment Mary quickly entered
a deep state of trance, and was able to focus her mind on exactly
what she wanted: fewer cigarettes, more compliance with the correct
diet, daily practice of relaxation to reduce her stress. She returned
from the experience refreshed. She thanked me for my help, and left.
Five months later Mary called me. She had gained
twenty pounds, was sticking to her diet more and smoking much less,
and she was using very little medication, compared to previously.
She had gone from three attacks per day to about one episode
every six weeks. | ^top
ILLNESS: Bowel distress
Dylan was really embarrassed about his symptoms, and preoccupied
with ensuring that he was in a position to control them. He would
awaken in an anxious state, knowing that if he was going to get
to class, he would need to leave at least 45 minutes early in order
to find a bathroom. If he ate too fast or too much, he later felt
cramps, pain, and the urge. In fact, Dylan felt that "torture"
was the only word that really described what his life had become
in living with his doctor's diagnosis of "irritable bowel syndrome."
He was taking medication to "manage" the symptoms. He
was actually depressed, too. His family doctor prescribed an antidepressant,
and agreed that counseling and stress-reduction would be helpful.
I was just beginning to experiment with a research
protocol designed specifically to drastically reduce the symptoms
of irritable bowel syndrom when Dylan called the office. Of course,
he was interested! The treatment consisted of eight face-to-face
hypnosis sessions, spread over a twelve-week period, and nightly
use of a fifteen-minute audio tape at bedtime.
Results didn't appear until session three. From
that point on, Dylan experienced markedly reduced intestinal sensitivity,
the gradual decrease and then the total ceasing of abdominal pain,
and increased control over his bowel habits. Life was no longer
torture, and he wasn't stressed and in pain all of the time. | ^top
ILLNESS: Muscle tension headaches
Angie had learned to hypnotize herself as a child, in order to "leave
her body" during the times that her uncle would do "bad things"
to her. She never called it hypnosis, but she did use her talent
in "spacing" herself out in other situations where overpowering
affect or emotion needed to be regulated.
Eventually, Angie entered psychotherapy in order
to work out the personal problems that she believed she suffered,
as a young woman who had been abused as a child. Among the many
symptoms Angie described, were a large number of chronic physical
problems, for which she repeatedly sought medical treatment. Stress-related
muscle tension headaches were frequent. Her doctor was not happy
with her use of pain medications for these headaches, as he feared
that she would become dependent upon them. The headaches were unique
in that it was also felt that, like a migraine, Angie's pain was
related to both muscle tension and vascular pressure.
As it turned out, Angie was able to reduce the
intensity and frequency of the headaches quite easily. Like many
survivors of psychological trauma and abuse, she was skilled in
using her mind to change situations. These "dissociative experiences"
of childhood adaptation were a training ground for using hypnosis
with a professional. All she needed to do was learn to utilize this
skill in a systematic fashion. This she did quickly. Self-hypnosis,
in order to loosen her muscles when she experienced the start of
a headache, was one step. The second was to learn to warm the temperature
of her hands - a hypnotically based skill measured in the office
with the used of a digital finger thermometer. As the muscles loosened,
and blood moved from her head to her hands to warm them, the headache
was eliminated. It was almost too good to be true for Angie. She
had refined a skill learned to avoid psychological pain in order
to reduce and eliminate physical pain. | ^top
PROBLEMS: "Turning off" the mind
Patricia couldn't seem to get herself to sleep. She'd get in bed,
turn off the light, and her mind would continue to run "on, and
on, and on... for hours." She was starting to feel like she was
worn out. Then she discovered sleeping pills. Not too groggy in
the morning, and a good night's rest. Excellent!
Except for the developing dependency. Pretty soon
Patricia was asking her doctor what else she could do in order to
get to sleep. She tried exercise. She tried getting up to read.
She only used the bed for sleeping and intimacy. She refused to
nap. She avoided caffeine, even though by now she craved it! Nothing
Patricia's mother had used hypnosis for her weight,
and encouraged her to try it. She was really quite unhappy, so she
was ready to try anything. Patricia learned the skills to enter
a self-hypnotic trance and immediately fell asleep in the office.
With a little practice, she was able to reduce her use of sleeping
pills, and to feel more in control of her sleep pattern. | ^top
MANAGEMENT: Automobile accident injury
Sheila was referred by her physical therapist because the chronic
aches from the rib injury suffered in an automobile accident were
a distraction. She didn't want to take any more pain medicine than
necessary, and it seemed that at the end of a long day, she just
felt so achy and tired.
Sheila was a woman who liked her vacations. Before
the accident she liked to scuba dive, ride horses, and hunt. Since
the injuries, though, she was petty much confined to passive participation.
We decided to use her interest in sports, and her active imagination,
to create a little hypnotic vacation for Sheila in the afternoon.
When she came home achy, Sheila would simply place herself in a
self-hypnotic relaxed state, and then use the power of her hypnotic
imagination to go snorkeling, or horseback riding. The activities
seemed very real to her, providing great satisfaction and comfort.
The added benefit was that upon leaving the trance state, Sheila
felt refreshed, comfortable, and not nearly as bothered by the aching
ribs as she had been before. | ^top
PROCEDURES: Tests and "claustrophobia"
Sheila accidentally discovered a side benefit of learning self-hypnotic
skills for purposes of stress reduction: the tools of hypnosis can
be creatively used by the patient throughout his or her life. A
few days after our third session, Sheila was scheduled for an MRI.
She was terrified of the "closed" space of the test, and
the banging noise reminded her of a jackhammer. She wanted to run,
but knew that the test was both expensive and necessary for her
doctor. She decided to ask the technician if she could have a minute
before sliding into the tube. Sheila then simply went to the ocean
scuba diving with her sister, and though she "heard" the noises,
and "knew" she was in an enclosed space, the urge to run
was gone. The test was completed easily. | ^top