Clinical Hypnotherapy for Healing
Clinical Hypnotherapy is a well-established treatment for many conditions, including phobias, anxiety and substance use disorders, and is also used to help people make changes such as quitting smoking or losing weight.
Yet hypnotherapy is also often misunderstood. When some hear the word hypnosis, they think of entertainers; others believe hypnotherapy can be used to get people to act against their free will.
Neither is close to what happens during clinical hypnotherapy, as practiced by clinicians such as counselors, therapists and physicians with specialized training. In clinical hypnotherapy, a clinician guides the patient into a state of deep relaxation. In this highly relaxed state, the subconscious mind becomes more active. By tapping into the subconscious mind, the clinician helps the patient explore deep-seated feelings and memories. The goal is to identify the sources of negative self-perceptions or self-doubts, suggest alternative ways of viewing oneself, and identify areas the patient wants to change, says Miriam Stone, LCSW.
Stone is a program therapist at Malibu Beach Recovery Centers who uses clinical hypnotherapy with clients recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders.
“We go back to before they started using, and look at the beliefs that have already developed – ‘I’m different. I don’t fit in. There is something wrong with me. I never do anything right. I don’t matter’,” Stone explains. “Then we utilize the body’s relaxed state in work with the subconscious mind to start to change those beliefs.”
No Swinging Pocket Watches
Because of depictions of hypnosis on stage or in the movies, some mistakenly believe that hypnotized people are under the control of the hypnotist. That’s a myth, Stone said. “During hypnotherapy, people are highly relaxed but fully conscious, and their will isn’t weakened in any way,” she said. “Hypnosis is about exploring the subconscious mind, to better understand underlying motivations or identify whether past events or experiences are causing problems today.”
Clients who enter drug and alcohol rehab have often experienced trauma at some point in their lives. Many people start using drugs and alcohol as a way to escape past hurts, forget painful memories and numb emotions.
To recover fully, patients need to heal their mind, body and soul. Moving beyond traumatic experiences that continue to be a source of pain is an important step in that process, Stone explains.
Stone, who has received over 65 hours of clinical hypnosis training through programs approved by the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists, uses hypnotherapy combined with one-on-one and group counseling for clients in MBRC’s Intensive Outpatient Program, men in residential addiction treatment at the Corral Canyon House and women at the Latigo House.
“Our conscious mind accounts for 10% of our brain functioning. 90% of what is going on in our brain is unknown – the subconscious mind,” she says. “Consciously we may feel that something is off. People might say, ‘Something feels wrong with me,’ but they can’t identify where that is coming from. Cognitively or rationally they may be able to challenge those thoughts. They might say, ‘I live in a nice place. I have a nice family.’ But they still feel bad, so it continues to affect them in their daily lives.”
“The way I describe hypnotherapy is updating the hard drive on a computer. We’re always running a lot of software on the ‘computer’ of our brain. The implicit beliefs that we have about ourselves from our pasts are like trying to run 2017 software on a Windows 95 computer. It doesn’t work. Things get stuck. We need to update the old operating system so it can run smoothly.”
“Some of these beliefs may have formed because of childhood experiences, or how you interpreted things throughout your childhood, even though those beliefs may not be relevant anymore. The goal through hypnosis is to update the operating system based on what we know now – given our age, wisdom and experience.”
As an example, if someone grew up in a household with disengaged parents, a child may develop feelings of inadequacy, or feel they don’t matter. Or, if a parent has abandoned the family, a child may feel there must be something wrong with them to cause it. Even if the adult understands on a rational level they were not the cause, those lingering negative feelings can lurk around in the subconscious, shading how we see ourselves and how we interact with others even in adulthood.
Resolving Trauma with Hypnotherapy
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can result from long-term physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence either witnessed or experienced, or a single traumatic event occurring at any point in life.
“The subconscious parts of the brain keeps interpreting the world as being dangerous, putting people into a perpetual state of fight or flight. Through hypnotherapy, we work to tone down that PTSD response so past trauma no longer continues to cause distress.”
Stone helps patients learn self-hypnosis, so they can use the techniques after they have left residential addiction treatment to deal with difficult or triggering emotions that may crop up.
“I really enjoy this work, and seeing how powerful it can be. Clients can experience healing in each session,” she says. “So often, we are stuck in these old belief systems about ourselves. It hasn’t even occurred to us that maybe it’s not our truth, it’s not who we are, that we don’t have to hold on to all of that past stuff. We can decide our own truth.”