Healing Power of Hypnotherapy
Posted On May 11, 2017
Unlike cartoonish representations of hypnotherapy depicted on screens big and small, today’s practice proves both effective and participatory for issues mental, physical, and spiritual.
ILLUSTRATION by Tina Berning
As Stephanie Skiba was being wheeled to the operating room to start a grueling breast reconstruction process, her mind was not busy with fears and negativity, as one might expect. Minutes before the operation, Skiba was in a hypnotic trance.
In 2007, Skiba was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. The tumor, which had metastasized to several of her lymph nodes, required an aggressive treatment plan to excise it. She underwent a double mastectomy, 16 weeks of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, and breast reconstructive surgery. The distress of having a life-threatening illness produced physical and psychological challenges for Skiba—ones that her doctors were all too eager to medicate.
Skiba, on the other hand, was less than enthusiastic to expand the already large collection of medications she was ingesting daily. In addition to the chemotherapy drugs, her physicians supplied an analgesic, a sleeping pill, and an anti-nausea pill that ironically made her feel sick. But with the chemotherapy port positioned near a nerve, her pain grew, and prescribed relief was necessary.
Much too often, images of hypnosis are laced with mysticism. Any mention of the practice is likely to elicit the following image: a subject seated in a comfortable chair, staring vacantly into the distance as a hypnotist swings a pendulum before his eyes. As his eyelids begin to droop, the unsuspecting subject slowly relinquishes control over his mind.
Having no prior experience with hypnosis, Skiba was skeptical of its ability to subdue her pain. Yet the cancer threat had been keeping her body in a constant state of fight-orflight, and in desperation she agreed to listen to a hypnotherapy CD specially prepared for her, titled MindfulHealing. To her great surprise and relief, her pain abated and her mind experienced a long-lost sense of calm. Hypnotherapy’s effect on one phobia—a deep and sudden fear of needles—convinced Skiba of its incredible potential.
Her fear was severe enough to make her lose consciousness, yet her treatment required frequent proximity to needles. Her doctors offered prescription pills to curb her anxiety before getting blood drawn, yet the medication made her drowsy.
Once she mentioned the problem to her hypnotherapist, he supplied her with an MP3 specifically for this issue, to be used before any frightening appointments. After a week, the crippling anxiety went away. The breast reconstruction process, which Skiba underwent two years after receiving the diagnosis, was the most taxing part of her treatment. Prior to surgery, she listened to a five minute hypnosis MP3 that employed progressive muscle relaxation, an explanation of how the nurses would prepare her for surgery, and positive affirmations to reassure her that medical personnel were present to relieve her discomfort. Receiving positive suggestions before the operation, Skiba says, helped her heal faster and with less pain. The nurses assigned to her care after the surgery, who had no knowledge of her presurgical hypnosis session, noted the remarkably fast recovery. Skiba was the last patient out of surgery and the first back on her feet.
The theatrical myths surrounding hypnotherapy go so far as to permeate children’s cartoons. A 1935 blackand- white episode of Popeye, titled “The Hyp-Nut-Tist,” features a stage hypnotist who, with a dramatic quivering of the hands and a suggestive Richard Nongard, a Dallas-based certified professional hypnotist and a leading expert in the field of clinical hypnotherapy.
The author of 14 books, as well as countless videos and educational materials, Nongard demystifies hypnosis by debunking popular myths. Having successfully used hypnosis to conquer his fear of flying and quit smoking, Nongard assures skeptics that subjects remain fully conscious, and may even be hyper-attentive when in trance. Brain-wave activity during hypnosis is demonstrably different from sleep and can be detected using a simple device such as an electroencephalogram, or an EEG.
It is known as the theta level of brainwave activity, notes Nongard, which is induced when subjects are calm and relaxed, maintaining focused awareness. Coupled with guided sensorial experiences, these characteristics constitute a “trance state” most commonly associated with hypno- “You are now a chicken, a chicken!” turns Olive Oyl into a clucking hen. Her knees invert, her elbows go up, and she moves across the stage, pecking the floor with her nose.
While many ascribe magical powers to the hypnotist, accusing him of controlling his subjects and stripping them of their will, hypnotherapy experts and practitioners alike insist that the process is very natural and common. Trance, they maintain, is not an otherworldly phenomenon. Rather, it is a state of consciousness we all experience on a daily basis.
HYPNOSIS: A MISNOMER?
The word “hypnosis” is derived from the ancient Greek word “Hypnos,” the personification of sleep in Greek mythology. Ironically, subjects in a trance state are far from asleep. If hypnosis involved putting subjects to sleep, they would not hear the suggestions and the treatment would be rendered void, according to Dr. medical
EAST MEETS WEST
Stephanie Skiba lives free thanks to great doctors and hypnotherapysis. More importantly, a hypnotist does not “get a subject into trance.” A hypnotist is involved in what Nongard refers to as “trance utilization.” Since trance is a naturally occurring phenomenon experienced throughout the day, such as while daydreaming or watching a movie, a hypnotist simply coaches individuals to utilize those states to affect change in their lives, says Nongard.
This explains the wide range of applications for hypnosis, which is currently being used in smoking cessation, weight loss, stress relief, pain management, sleep facilitation, anxiety reduction, and other complaints. As hypnosis studies increasingly demonstrate, the practice enjoys an impressively high success rate.
IF YOU CAN THINK IT, YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT
Hypnotism capitalizes on one of the greatest metaphysical truths, says Nongard, which is that nothing exists or can exist without being an idea first. This, he says, is perhaps at the core of why hypnosis is effective. Nongard explains that hypnosis creates a state of mindfulness in which individuals set aside stresses— effectively putting space between themselves and their compulsions, fears, or regrets—then draw on their inner resources and creative capacities.
This allows subjects to get a clear view of how the solution to a presented problem fits into the bigger picture. Oftentimes the conscious mind rejects positive suggestions, Nongard adds, because the mind has to process lots of information. Hypnosis gives subjects a chance to germinate suggestions that may have simply been mentally filed away during a more active time of brain function, which become apparent and can be matured in this state of clarity, and later manifested into reality.
Skiba, like many others practicing hypnosis, was able to manage her pain and reduce her anxiety because she learned how to regulate and direct her awareness. An individual utilizing hypnosis is able to walk out of surgery without taking narcotics, explains Nongard, because “trancework” teaches subjects how to shift their attention away from rumination, which is what prolongs and intensifies the experience of pain.
In hypnosis, the mind is trained to recognize useful thoughts and focus on those instead of being lost in a whirl of nonproductive rumination that only serves to increase agitation. Furthermore, Nongard says the use of suggestions is not particular to hypnotherapy. Media, marketing, houses of worship, and everyday people use suggestions to affect behavior. And it works both ways. Skiba recalls her doctor asking, “How badly does it hurt?” when referring to skin burns from radiation therapy, noting that the question itself was a hypnotic suggestion that she ought to be in serious physical pain
The goal of hypnotherapy, according to Nongard, is to teach clients problem-solving skills so they no longer need the therapist. This, he says, contrasts sharply with traditional psychotherapy, which seems dependent on the patient continually visiting the therapist’s office. Nongard tries to train clients how to use trance states formally or informally throughout the entire day.
For Skiba, who is now cancer-free, hypnosis continues to be a coping mechanism and a source of positivity in her life. She does not live fearing a recurrence. Hypnosis has endowed her with an enduring readiness to face challenges as they come. She recalls one of the suggestions given during a session, which years later, can still instantly put her in a state of ease. “Each and every day, feeling better and better,” she repeats softly.
Your Brain Under Stress
? Hypothalamus activation. Once alerted of a stressor, the hypothalamus coordinates the endocrine response, which results in the secretion of epinephrine.
? Sympathetic nervous system activation. The fightor- flight response is triggered, which results in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
? Increase in beta brain wave activity. This high frequency wave is observed during high stress situations and when concentration and problem solving are needed. A brain that is chronically under the influence of stress is at much greater risk of developing physical and psychological disturbances. A high influx of cortisol for a long period of time has been shown to suppress the immune system, and cause damage to the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for forming new memories. Your brain under hypnosis
? Reduced cortical arousal. This manifests as a decrease in cerebral blood flow in the thalamus and brainstem (areas associated with vigilance).
? Decrease in sympathetic nervous system activation. A reduction in oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide elimination; lowered blood pressure and heart rate.
? Increase in theta brain wave activity. Theta waves are linked to dreaming, deep relaxation, and visualization. The deep state of relaxation experienced when in trance makes an individual more receptive to suggestions and produces further physiological benefits by curbing stress. Theta and alpha brain waves can also result in greater creativity and better performance on numerous tasks.