For this week’s post I was inspired by recent news events to write something about “relationship problems”, which often means problems in communication- talking and listening. Communication problems always come up when I’m providing counselling therapy to help people with their relationships. Many of these problems result because most people are much better at talking than at listening. Even when the other person is talking, they are not listening at all, but instead thinking of what they intend saying next.
Indeed, very often we don’t really hear what someone says at all, but only what we think they mean based on our assumptions about them. For example, some time ago a politician was criticised after he stated that some sexual offences are more serious than others. All of his critics responded as if he had said something completely different, namely, that some offences aren’t serious at all. Of course he had said nothing of the kind, but his critics responded as if he had. As often happens in politics, the whole purpose of these discussions was merely to “score points”, rather than to find a way of reducing crime. The same thing often happens in relationships, when people use words as weapons rather than as a means of communicating.
We can begin to solve this problem by making the necessary effort to understand what someone is saying BEFORE we respond to them. This hardly ever happens in political discussion, but there’s no reason why it can’t happen in relationships. Some years ago I saw an interview with a religious leader. When asked a question, he paused for about 15 seconds before answering. That’s actually a very short period of time, but on TV it felt like ages! We are so used to questions and answers being thrown back and forth like a tennis ball, that it feels quite strange when someone actually stops and thinks before they speak!
At a hypnotherapy conference a while back I heard a talk by Dr Josie Fraser from Bradford University, on hypnotherapy and stress. Dr Fraser made the important point that not all stress is harmful. Our bodies are well-designed to deal with short-term stress, such as occurs in the natural world when one animal is attacked by another. At such times, our adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol, hormones which assist our response to stress. Cortisol backs up the effects of adrenaline by increasing blood sugar, and closing down processes that are not immediately needed, such as digestion, the immune system and inflammatory process (healing of wounds). In the short term this saves energy and assists survival. However, in the prolonged stress situations that can occur in modern life, lowered immunity and healing ability are serious problems. Dr Fraser’s research measured the secretion of cortisol in stressful situations. She found that people who had been very lightly hypnotised produced less cortisol, as well as showing reduced heart rate and blood pressure. This effect was achieved even with short recorded hypnotic suggestions. Hypnotherapy with a “live” therapist, tailored to the individual client, could be expected to have an even more powerful effect.
Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a huge missed opportunity for the NHS. This common, very distressing problem responds well to hypnotherapy. The NHS gastro-enterology service in South Manchester has been offering hypnotherapy to help with this condition for many years now, with good results, which have been carefully researched and the findings presented in scientific journals. Yet despite this, no other NHS Trust has adopted this treatment method.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common condition in which the intestines move either too fast (causing diarrhoea) or too slowly (causing constipation), without any physical disease to account for this problem. Basically it is an extreme example of the way the intestines normally respond to stress and anxiety. The bowels, like the skin, have a close connection to the nervous system, and respond immediately to mood changes. In IBS, a vicious circle is created when diarrhoea and severe constipation become causes of anxiety in themselves. Hypnotherapy works in these cases by promoting general relaxation, reducing anxiety, and suggesting a more regular and moderate action of the intestines.
In my Plymouth hypnotherapy practice I sometimes meet people who are doubtful whether they could experience hypnosis. Sometimes they have seen a hypnotherapist previously, who having failed to hypnotise them, told them they were “not susceptible to hypnotism”. My own view is that hypnotherapists should never say this.
Having practiced hypnotherapy for 20 years, I have found various reasons why someone might not experience hypnosis on a specific occasion with a specific hypnotherapist. Maybe that particular hypnotherapist is unskilled or inexperienced. Maybe the client distrusts them, for whatever reason. Maybe they fear hypnosis, thinking that the hypnotherapist will have power over them or will discover their secrets. If they seek hypnotherapy to help them make changes in their life, maybe they resist hypnosis because they don’t really want to make those changes.
People I meet socially sometimes try to challenge me, suggesting that they would be “too strong-willed” to be hypnotised. I never rise to these challenges, because they are based on a misunderstanding of hypnosis.
Hypnotism does not involve a “battle of wills” between the hypnotherapist and his client. Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, which the client voluntarily chooses to experience. The job of the hypnotherapist is to guide the client into trance. In every case, the client goes as deep into hypnosis as they are willing to go, at that point in time.