In recent columns, we’ve explored the evolutionary development and potential of the human brain and how new approaches, including mindfulness, can use this knowledge to better manage our emotions and chronic pain.
Clinical hypnosis is a technique used by specially trained health professionals to help an individual engage the subconscious mind to reinforce positive thoughts, emotions and behaviours. It can help you visualize a positive healthier future. The hypnotic or trance state is an altered state of consciousness we naturally fall in and out of each day. Remember the last time you were in a movie theatre totally engaged in the characters and story on the screen? Remember awakening from that trance when the credits rolled and you walked out of the theatre? How often have you walked or driven home when your mind was elsewhere and you found yourself at home sooner than you expected without thinking about it?
You were in trance as an impressionable toddler and child, during emotionally charged experiences in the past, in a new place that engaged your senses, when you fell in love for the first time, and when you were lost in thought earlier today.
In these uncontrolled trance states, our unconscious is highly sensitive to suggestion. We may have accepted incorrect beliefs about the world, other people and ourselves and these incorrect or maladaptive beliefs shape the stories we tell ourselves. In turn, our personal stories affect our outlook on life and our conscious perspective.
Having suffered from chronic pain in the past, I’ve recognized how easy it is to fall into negative thinking traps or cognitive distortions that actually increased my suffering. Negative thoughts about our pain can include the following. “The pain is just going to get worse.” “I have to take something (drugs or alcohol) to manage the pain.” “I have to find the right test or treatment to cure the pain.” “Because the pain gets worse with activity, I must be causing harm and I have to lie down and rest.” Our subconscious mind can accept these beliefs without question.
Similarly, negative beliefs and assumptions we accepted in the trances of early life, can contribute to anxiety, depression and unhappiness throughout our adult lives. “I’m not good enough.” “I have to be perfect.” “The world is a dangerous place.” “Something’s wrong with me.” “People can’t be trusted.” “Life is unfair.”
With mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, we can uncover maladaptive thoughts and beliefs, and step-by-step replace them with those that are more accurate, adaptive and empowering. We can become conscious and aware co-authors of our own life stories and agents of positive change in our personal lives and in our world.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. We allow the conscious mind to relax and engage the subconscious mind using imagery. We often start with deliberate relaxed breathing. Unlike mindfulness meditation, we control rather than simply observe the breath.
In hypnotic inductions, we use the breath as a vehicle of progressive relaxation and imagine the whole body letting go with each successive breath. When we reach a stage of deep relaxation, we offer positive suggestions to the subconscious. These suggestions reinforce the new more adaptive neural pathways that will enhance our coping with life’s challenges and allow us to visualize ourselves mastering our lives and achieving our personal potentials. This creates a positive blueprint for our minds.
Because clinical hypnosis is not appropriate for every person and every psychological or physical health condition, it should only be used by experienced and appropriately trained professionals.
If you would like to find one, contact the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BC Division) at hypnosis.bc.ca. This non-profit society offers training to professionals in medicine, psychology, dentistry and other allied professions including a training workshop in February of each year.
In upcoming columns, we’ll explore how you may use the practical strategies of cognitive behavioural therapy to manage chronic pain or difficult emotions.
Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.