What follows is a summary of a talk I gave to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society about Hypnotherapy and its uses with MS and other Autoimmune Diseases.
I found it very interesting to learn that Autoimmune Disorders occur almost exclusively in developed countries. People in underdeveloped countries without our modern amenities like clean running water, washing machines, flushing toilets, and good healthcare don’t really experience these diseases. It doesn’t make sense, except, if you look at the difference in life styles.
So what’s difference? In a busy, modern society, we do little to get rid of stress. We sit a lot, do little to work with, or exercise our bodies, have little time to relax, and have not been taught to pay attention to what our body tells us. We drive instead of walk, buy most of our goods in one place rather than walking from shop to shop, and have little time to sit and relax with family and friends. Certainly in developed countries our food is more processed and we are exposed to more chemicals and pollution as well. In this article, I’m going to focus more on listening to, and working with our body, and how that relates to the mind.
Hypnotherapy has shown to be very successful in helping patients resolve allergy issues. And Autoimmune Diseases are in many ways like allergies. In fact, some scientists say that an Autoimmune Disease is like “an allergy on the inside”. Allergies involve an unacceptable immune response toward something external to our body, such as a food, bee or material. An Autoimmune Disorder involves an unacceptable immune response towards something within the body itself. With an allergy, something external to our body causes an abnormal reaction in our immune system. With an autoimmune disorder, something within our body causes an abnormal reaction in our immune system, in essence, causing our immune system to fight the body itself.
Let me dispel some myths about Hypnosis. It isn’t mind control. It isn’t someone getting another person to act like a chicken. It isn’t about getting someone to disclose all their secrets against their will. It isn’t about getting people to do whatever you want them to do with the simple snap of a finger. What you may have seen on stage is just that, stage hypnosis. It’s people acting and it’s fake.
There is a difference between Hypnotherapy and hypnotism. There are a lot of people out there who advertise as hypnotists, and, while I’m not trying to disparage their work, they are not trained Psychotherapists. Hypnotherapy, while often being the major focus, is rarely the sole treatment for anxiety, Autoimmune Disease, phobias and even habits. Because of this, I believe it’s better to see a trained and licensed Psychotherapist for the treatment.
So what is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is simply a state of heightened awareness, sometimes called a trance, that’s achieved through guided relaxation. That’s pretty much it. The person being hypnotized is always in complete control, they can never be made to do or say anything they don’t want to, they have complete freedom to accept or reject the therapists’ suggestions and can come out of the trance state whenever they want.
In a trance state, the unconscious mind plays more of a dominant role in treatment. Now, you may wonder if you’re able to go into a trance state. Here’s the test. Did you ever leave work to drive home, and get lost in your thoughts until you find yourself in front of your house without knowing how you got there? You drove home in a trance state.
Did you ever get so involved in a book or movie that you didn’t hear the phone ring or didn’t hear someone talking to you? That’s also a trance state. The answer is, everyone can get into a trance state. There are no special skills, no special traits, no special qualities you must have.
Since a trance state involves the unconscious mind, let’s talk a little about it. Cognitive neuroscientists have conducted many studies that have shown that only about 5% of our cognitive activities, activities such as emotions, actions, behaviors and decisions is conscious, while the remaining 95% is generated in a non-conscious manner, or by the unconscious mind. Think about that for a minute. 95% of our mind that we use minute to minute, is on the unconscious level. As you’re reading this article, are you reminding yourself what word each string of letters forms and its’ meaning or do you somehow just “know”? The unconscious mind remembers the meaning of words, what letters form what words, and what a string of words put together means so that reading flows.
Suppose we think of the mind as an iceberg. What do we see when we look at an iceberg? We see the part that’s above water. But we know that the bulk of the iceberg, the main part of it, the part that gives it it’s strength, lies beneath the water. Only a small percentage of the iceberg is visible above the water. The mind is like the iceberg. The conscious mind is the small part we see above the surface, while the unconscious mind is the huge mass that lies below the surface. The conscious mind, the part of the mind most of us equate with our mind, is used for about 5% of our activities while the unconscious, is used for the other 95%.
The unconscious mind holds all awareness that is not in the conscious mind, it’s like the warehouse of our minds. It keeps the body running and functioning, has memory of every event we’ve ever experienced, and is the source and storehouse of our emotions. The unconscious mind is really where all learning, beliefs, habits, and behavior is created and is also where change occurs.
How do we know the unconscious mind is always at work? Do you consciously tell your eyes to scan from right to left when you read, and then do it again and again? Do you will your pupils to enlarge when the text is too small to read? Do you tell yourself to breathe every time you inhale and exhale?
If as I said, we are conscious of only about 5% of our cognitive activity, then it follows that 95% of brain activity goes beyond our conscious awareness. So that means that most of our decisions, actions, emotions and behavior depends on our unconscious awareness. The unconscious mind understands the world that the mind and body must negotiate. It gets our hearts to beat, our bodies to digest food, allows us to drive home without studying the route each time, turn on appliances without reading the manual each time, etc. It gets us to feel amorous or angry when our spouse looks at us a certain way, to tear up when we read sad passages in a book, and feel on edge when we hear a door slam.
With relaxation and trance, we’re moving the tip of the iceberg aside, so we can access and communicate directly with the unconscious mind. The conscious mind remains awake and observant, but is just resting. That allows the trance state to make the person better able to respond to suggestions, which makes Hypnotherapy particularly useful in helping change certain behaviors, like smoking, or in helping change perceptions and sensations, necessary for treating pain.
Deepak Chopra said that “every thought and emotion you experience touches every single cell in your body. So what do you think happens to your body, when you constantly feed it negative thoughts?” Well, it probably experiences a negative emotional state which then leads to either physical pain or discomfort. And we know that one of the major contributors of Autoimmune Disease is related to our emotional and mental being.
And what controls our thoughts and emotions? WE DO! We control every single thought that comes into our mind. Our thoughts control how our body responds and we control our thoughts. Is it possible to reprogram our thoughts about a particular health belief we have about ourselves? Certainly! And remember, changing our thoughts will change our behaviors, and will change our body’s reactions and response.
Milton Erikson, a famous Psychiatrist and one of the fathers of Hypnotherapy once said, “The subconscious mind is like a warehouse of resources and most people go into the warehouse with a little flashlight rather than turning on all the lights.” In other words, we have a choice what resources in our unconscious mind we want to use at any given time. So why not use the ones that will empower us the most?
Many difficulties we have, many diseases, illness, compulsions, nervous disorders, and mentally generated illnesses involve some part of the unconscious. It is hard sometimes to understand that the very area that is creating a problem is the same area that protects us from harm and danger every day. If we only use our conscious minds, 5% of our minds, we are creating boundaries and limitations.
Hypnotherapy is extremely effective in relieving pain. Pain perception really has two parts. First is the sensation of something uncomfortable happening to a part of our body, and second is our reaction to this information.
Pain is important. We don’t want to get rid of it because it lets us know that there is damage being done to our body. It helps us protect that part of our body and warns us to get away from the thing that’s hurting our body. So we need pain. But what about when the pain becomes chronic, is with us for a long time? It’s already done its job of warning us, we’ve probably already treated it or protected that body part from the harmful stimulus, so we no longer need it to warn us. Maybe we’ll still need a slight discomfort to remind us to not overdo things, but we certainly no longer need the pain. This is where Hypnotherapy can help.
Let’s go back to my example of sitting in a movie and getting so engrossed in it that you don’t hear your phone ring. As I said before, that’s being in a trance state. Did you ever go into a movie with a headache and get so engrossed in the movie that you forgot your head hurt? Or, did you ever think so much about your headache that it seemed like it was going to explode? That is a prime example of how our thoughts control how our body responds.
Using relaxation and focused concentration to change the way we think and to change our thoughts about the way we feel, can help us gain more control over pain and get our body to feel more comfortable. Hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation which helps the mind focus allowing the unconscious mind to become responsive to suggestions. You don’t have to try to respond, it just happens, just as pain just happens. In your state of relaxation and focused attention, the Hypnotherapist can give your unconscious mind the information, suggestions and tools it needs to become more comfortable and to relieve the pain.
In summary, our thoughts have a major impact on how our body feels. In fact, our thoughts can regulate how our bodies feel. We are in control of our thoughts, therefore, the implication is that we can control the way our body feels. But sometimes, we need help in doing that. Sometimes we get stuck in a thought pattern that leaves our body feeling unwell, unhealthy, in discomfort. Hypnotherapy can help get us unstuck, to begin to use different parts of our minds to think differently, to change the way our body responds and to help us feel, act, and behave in ways that are more healthful and helpful.