Can hypnotherapy help me?
April 30, 2010 2:47 PM   Subscribe

I have been in psychotherapy for some time with some success, but I am wondering if hypnotherapy would be able to help me uncover the/a source of overwhelming anxiety that pervades my everyday life.

Psychotherapy is helping me deal with adult reverberations of childhood traumas [violent parenting] and I am glad to have my therapist as a guide through painful territory. Last week in a statement of frustration about my ongoing panic and anxiety issues, I said I don't feel I am ever going to get truly better. In response to this, my therapist revisited an ongoing therapy thread about the work of the therapist/client, and where we are in the process - and she volunteered something beyond her usual interaction with me. She and I have agreed that so far there has been 'containment' - so that I am out of suicidal thinking habits but that we have to go 'deeper.' Her training and work with me lead her to feel that there is something beyond any of the childhood/early adulthood events I have described and discussed in therapy, that terrifies me. To the point that I will not consciously call up the memory through our sessions, her questioning, discussions etc, but the evidence of this terror is palpable to her.

She is a highly respected therapist who travels internationally to deliver papers etc, so I don't write to AskMeFi to help me to dismiss her observations or question her integrity or statements. I know there IS something even more traumatic than all that I have so far delved in our therapy sessions but I cannot 'touch' it - panic attacks take over whenever I feel like am close to uncovering what it is, or I feel like I am going to black out. [If you have had this, maybe you could let me know if this is a 'thing' or whatever?]

In short, I wonder if hypnotherapy, and I mean with an experienced/qualified/referred person would be a way to help me uncover or address the cause of this panic somehow. Of course, writing to internets strangers is not going to give me a definitive answer, but at the start of my consideration of this idea, am I on/off track? Or what, if anything, should I do beyond keeping up with my therapy sessions?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Did she suggest hypnotherapy, or was her observation related to work the two of you would do together in your sessions, perhaps through other techniques she hasn't used yet? I know that my therapist does sometimes refer to a hypnotherapist, and I know at least two licensed counselors who are also experienced/certified in hypnotherapy. I don't have personal experience with it, though.

The "black out" feeling may be a reaction to getting close to your memories, yeah. I have had something similar in dealing with a traumatic event, although not to the extent you describe.
posted by catlet at 2:56 PM on April 30, 2010

Does your current therapist have experience with hypnotherapy, and would she be the one performing these sessions? If so, I think it sounds like you're in pretty good hands.
posted by hermitosis at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2010

Do you want to uncover the cause of panic, or do you want to experience less panic? The two are no longer regarded as synonymous in all schools of therapy. I heartily recommend this book by Claire Weekes for the latter; no reason you could not use it in conjunction with your therapist's approach if you are committed to working with her.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:03 PM on April 30, 2010

All I can say is that back when I was in therapy and asked the therapist about hypnosis to uncover some childhood memories, she said that there was a reason I couldn't remember and to trust that my mind was protecting me by blocking out the memories.
posted by amro at 3:50 PM on April 30, 2010

I'm not a psychologist, but I do have a history of chronic anxiety and a background in scholarly research. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven in research to be particularly effective in helping people cope with anxious symptoms.

Perhaps you need the tools to deal effectively with the anxious response before you start to ponder the hows and whys of its origin.
posted by lilnublet at 4:02 PM on April 30, 2010

I did a hypnotherapy session with my psychiatrist and found it very helpful. I didn't have any repressed memories or anything like that, but it helped me to really get to the bottom of what I was feeling at the time.

I think if you go into it with a relaxed attitude and don't expect too much it can be beneficial. If you go into it expecting to find some lost memories and find nothing it could be hard for you to accept that there isn't just one thing that is making you the way you are. I was hoping there was some event that if discovered I could just 'work through' and be cured. Turns out there wasn't and I just had to keep working on myself.

I'm not a mental health professional, this is just coming from my own experience.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:34 PM on April 30, 2010

Hypnotherapy for trauma is complicated. First, it may not be able to give you the "real" memory because you may already know it or there may not be a particular one.

That is, you already know that having had a violent childhood has made you hypervigilant (anxious, alert, can't sleep) alternating with dissociative. In other words, you have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: highly anxious states linked with sensory experiences that are similar to those that involved violence during your childhood, alternating with "spacey" "not there" "watching life in a movie" states that are also triggered by emotions or experiences.

A dissociative experience or "dissociation" is what you are having when you feel like you are "almost" remembering-- an extreme dissociative state can make you pass out or feel like you are about to do so. It is common for these to occur following experiences that seem likely to "trigger" the memory-- they were your brain's way of protecting you at the time and that's what they are now, too.

Trauma extreme enough to produce dissociation in itself can destroy memory-- so this, too, is another reason why you might never figure out what "it" is.

It's also possible that whatever made you the most anxious occurred before you were physically capable of having any verbal memory at all (0-3 or so)-- so for that reason too, there might not be anything to recall other than the terror, which you are already recalling quite clearly.

That said, being hypnotized might help you better deal with dissociative states and might help you put the memories you do have in context-- so for that reason, it might be worth doing.

Learning to hypnotize yourself could also help you deal with situations that typically make you dissociate in a way that is more controllable- and this could reduce anxiety, too.

But unfortunately, the idea that if you could just remember "the" incident or incidents, you will get dramatically better isn't really supported by research. Many people who never "remember" or can't remember or don't want to go there get better- -and many people who do remember get worse. The thing to do is stuff that feels safe to you-- if that's this therapy, great. If that's this plus hypnosis, great too.

Do be sure however that you don't wind up in a situation where therapy is making you worse. There are some people for whom searching for memories becomes an endless quest and ruminating and looking keeps them focused on the past, rather than learning to do what will make life better now. I'm *not* suggesting this is what is happening now-- I am saying that a lot of people who believed finding *that* memory would help them ended up getting much, much worse because that belief prevented them from moving forward.

I wish you all the best. I am not a therapist but I co-wrote a book with Dr. Bruce Perry, who is one of the leading experts on child trauma, called The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, which might be useful if you can deal with reading about other traumatized kids. Bruce has used self-hypnosis successfully with some kids who have had problems with dissociation.
posted by Maias at 6:58 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was going to try hypnotherapy for a phobia of sick that I have. I didn't end up going through with it because it seemed rubbishy, but I did go in for a consult and the therapist told me that it works for people who feel positively about the therapy. So if you attend your sessions feeling supportive of the therapy, passionate about fixing your issue and trusting of the therapist, it just might work for you.
posted by foxy at 8:00 PM on April 30, 2010

I had a very, very similar experience. I had a therapist for one session (yes, just one!) in which we delved into a dream that had deeply moved me. In it, a six-year-old girl methodically tore each and every leaf off of my favorite plant, at the same time that my ex-boyfriend (with whom I'd just broken up) insulted, threatened, and degraded me. I kept asking them to stop, but they didn't until the plant was entirely defoliated, which I knew would kill it. Now, I'd had a bad childhood too, and had summarized it for my therapist before telling the dream, though at the time I hadn't fully accepted how traumatic it had been for me. As I told the dream, she jumped back in shock (seriously) and blurted out, "what on earth happened to you when you were six years old?!" I honestly didn't know.

Fast-forward a few years, to two years ago, and I had been in therapy (with a different therapist) who said much the same thing yours did — that there was something deeper that terrified me. Even she didn't like the idea, because my childhood seemed terrible enough to her as it was. (This was not something I accepted until getting into therapy with her; it's helped immensely to be able to tell myself that an experienced psychoanalyst, who also treats children, truly believed my childhood to be exceptionally awful.)

As it turns out, I didn't remember until a few months ago, and it happened when I read, of all things, a MeFi thread (the one about the girl who was beaten to death by fundamentalist Christian parents). The context of that horrific book written about how to beat your child, and comments by MeFites who'd been raised around the same time I was and with parents who believed similar things about "the Devil making children cry and protest when punished, so they must be punished harder," brought the memories back in full force. At age six? That was when I had enough cognizance of the situation to realize that, whenever my parents beat me, I should quietly look down, make no noise whatsoever, and just wait until it was over. Wait until I was somewhere alone and safe to cry. Now, all my life I'd burst into tears once or twice a year, and all the more embarrassing, it was when I felt the safest... at school, with my dearest friends and favorite teachers. It even continued into adulthood. I could never figure out what was behind these crying spells, until finally remembering that horrible system I'd had to develop when I was six.

I am very glad that the memories returned when they did, and on their own, because the timing was indeed right, and, sorry I can't find a way to express this more eloquently, they were true, and I knew it without a doubt. I think I may well have doubted if they'd come up in hypnosis (which isn't something my therapist does). The timing was perfect, paradoxically enough, because the onrush of those memories threw me flat on my back, figuratively speaking. And I live in a country (France) where you can get extended, paid sick leave for mental health problems — I was diagnosed with severe depression and have been on paid leave for two months now. (I have a psychiatrist checkup once every two weeks, he's renewed my leave each time, it's ended up taking this long. I also continue seeing my psychoanalyst; in France, only psychiatrists can prescribe medical leave for depression, etc.)

I think, like other posters have mentioned, it may be best for you to trust your unconscious wisdom and let the memories come when they will. To speak in psychology lingo, you'll also be "reinforcing your ego strength" in the mean time. A shorthand way of saying that you'll be working on the healing of other, less grave wounds, so that those don't burst back open at the same time as the (suspected) big one does. I had healed a lot before my most painful memories came back, and it's made a huge difference in my ability to deal with them these past two months. Despite the fact that they nonetheless threw me for a loop the likes of which I've never experienced... (uh, except as a child!! see, I still have a hard time looking at it straight on!) but things took a turn for the better recently, so I hope to get back into life and living again, this time finally knowing why my poor dear child self had been so deathly afraid and hurt.

Feel free to MeMail if you want, by the way.
posted by fraula at 5:38 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

While I'm sure hypnotherapy can be helpful, it sounds like you and your therapist have worked hard to bring you to a safe and contained place. So is it better to stay in a safe contained place and get stronger before revealing the secrets from the past or to unlock the door to the past and live with whatever emotional experiences come from it? I guess only you can decide that. Good luck.
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection at 2:47 PM on May 17, 2010

« Older Is a Florida Learner's Permits (driving permit)...   |   My wife and I will both be working from home.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.