This page contains some of my occasional short writings and case histories about hypnosis and related topics.
The views expressed are mine and do not necessarily represent the views of any hypnosis association, counselling/psychotherapy community or other hypnotherapists.
Names and details in the case histories (except mine) have been changed.
Please do not use or republish these articles without acknowledgement of authorship and my permission (which I will almost certainly give).
LIST OF ARTICLES(1) Past Life Regression
Past Life Regression
Along with smoking, weight loss and perhaps the antics of a stage hypnosis show, hypnotists and hypnotherapists are known for what is termed “Past Life Regression”. That is, the ability to regress or take people back to remember a past life from another time.
Apart from “recreational” regression, a typical therapeutic scenario might be: a client has a pain in their side and although they have had comprehensive medical examinations, scans and X-rays, nothing is found at a physical level to indicate the source of the pain. The hypnotherapist “regresses” the client to another life where they find that they were a Roman soldier and they were speared in their side. Then the pain disappears.
In my youth I was fascinated and inspired by Morey Bernstein's book, “The Search for Bridey Murphy” (1956). In an author’s note at the front of the book he said ‘This is a report of actual events involving real people” and then goes on to report his exploits into amateur hypnosis where he regressed a “normal American housewife”. He found she could describe in convincing detail her life as Bridey Murphy in nineteenth century Ireland. The book was a best seller in its time and was made into a film. It raised questions of reincarnation and life after death and perhaps was responsible for generating the interest that we still see today in past life regression. Unfortunately it was later found that there was no evidence of the existence of a Bridey Murphy.
"Despite extensive investigation, it could not be established that Bridey Murphy (Bernstein, 1956) ever existed, nor could any of the people, places, and events she described be verified. . . . Furthermore, it has been reported by Gardner (1951) that Virginia Tighe, who became Bridey Murphy in hypnosis, was very devoted to Mrs. Anthony Corkell, an Irish widow who lived across the street from Ms. Tighe during the latter's childhood. It is possible that source amnesia was implicated in this case also: Mrs. Corkell's maiden name was Bridey Murphy, according to Gardner's information."
--from chapter 5 "Hypnotic Age Regression Techniques in the Elicitation of Memories: Applied Uses and Abuses," Perry, Laurence, D'Eon, Tallant, in HYPNOSIS AND MEMORY, Helen M. Pettinati, ed.
There have since been a number of books published promoting past life regression, the best known being: "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Brian Weiss MD, who is now possibly regarded as the foremost expert in this subject.
I do, at this point, have to declare myself. I have a deep conviction and belief in the existence of past lives, however I am yet to be convinced that hypnosis can access memories of those past lives. There has never been verified and documented evidence proving otherwise.
So what is it that is going on in past life regression?
Most people are aware of the two parts of the mind. The conscious, verbal, analytical mind and the subconscious (or un-conscious) mind that keeps our bodies running and is the source of our deep beliefs and creativity. I won’t go into any depth here on the properties of the mind, but suffice to say that we know that people in hypnosis can access the subconscious. My work with artists and performers is about reconnecting with their creative subconscious. Our subconscious also holds all our memories of this life and with the right techniques we can access those memories and make them available to our conscious mind. However it also has to be said that what one remembers may not be entirely accurate. This was made painfully clear when ‘False Memory Syndrome’ became a real issue during child abuse cases in the USA.
Many times in the course of my own clinical practice clients remember (under hypnosis) something happening to them at a certain age and yet on reflection after the session realise that they couldn’t have been that age in that place for reasons like not having moved into that house or that place until they were older etc. I myself have vivid conscious memories of events that I swore took place in my childhood that I now know never did and know them to be a fantasy. Our subconscious mind is very fertile and creative but unfortunately does not distinguish easily between fantasy and reality. Most of us have at one time or another had the experience of wondering if something really happened or “Did I just dream it?”
I also believe that we have a powerful drive to resolve issues. “Why is it so?” is a question that drives the advance of the human race. We hate it when we can’t solve a puzzle or a problem. We need a resolution, a completion, closure or fulfilment.
Why then, can’t the subconscious invent past life scenarios and in doing so help resolve, explain or rationalise issues? I have had clinical success with "Future Life Progression" techniques, so what does that say? Have we already lived our future? I think not, but there again I am sure some would argue for that point of view!
I believe that “Past Life Regression” can be a useful tool and if it helps a client to resolve an issue and it works for them, then fine, if they want it, I will use it. But I do believe it is nothing more than a process that enables the subconscious to resolve issues by constructing metaphors and fantasies in much the same way that dreams seem to.
I know there are many hypnotists / hypnotherapists out there shaking their heads in disapproval, but I also know that there are quite a few others who will be nodding in agreement.
You have the choice to believe what ever you wish, because after all. “Your Belief is Your Reality".
Amnesia and the recovery of lost memories - A Case History
“I think I’m losing my mind” she said. “I can remember grocery lists, phone numbers and all the unimportant things in my life but I can’t remember the really important things”. Further questioning revealed her distress was her not being able to remember the details of a huge argument she had with her 23 year old daughter that resulted in her demanding that the daughter pack her things and leave her house and move on, which she did, three weeks ago. She knew they had fought and she knew that she ordered her daughter out, but had no memory of the incident. It was as if she had erased all details from her memory.
She had seen a counsellor a few years ago to help her deal with the emotional trauma of two armed robberies that she had experienced at her business. The counsellor had impressed upon her that she must take all steps to protect herself because she was in a business that carried a good deal of cash and it could happen again at any time. She then transformed her business into a mini fortress, having installed a variety of alarms, security screens, shutters etc. and now felt safe in the knowledge that should she be threatened at gun point again, bullet proof security screens will drop down and protect her.
Using standard hypnotic techniques she regressed back to the evening of the argument, and part way through the session a look of relief came over her face as she said “Now I remember, we can stop now.” She never revealed what the argument was about but she did want to know why she had the memory block. We talked about how the emotionally charged argument had possibly triggered a memory of the trauma of the hold -ups and maybe, her ever watchful subconscious had dropped in its own security screen to protect her. She left happy and relieved that she had not lost her mind.
Asthma and Hypnosis: My own Case History
As a child of seven I developed into a chronic asthmatic and by the age of 15 after being seen by almost every doctor known to man and having endured almost every known mainstream and alternative cure, my parents took me to see a hypnotherapist as a last resort (of course!). The Hypnotherapist, Peter Murray, ran a practice from his home in North Road Oakleigh, a Melbourne suburb. I remember him as a tall almost awkwardly gangly Englishman with what seemed to be a huge reclining chair that mysteriously emitted his disembodied voice and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata from speakers hidden deep within the head rest. Very high tech for 1959! He even had a new fangled reel to reel tape recorder installed in his desk.
My treatment consisted of weekly one hour sessions that lasted for about three months. Peter Murray's initial approach was to introduce me to the concept of relaxation and the possibility that I could control my symptoms through self hypnosis. "Do your relaxing exercises" my mother used to say to me at the first sign of an attack of asthma. The first real change my mother noticed in me however was my increased confidence. (Ego-strengthening taking effect?) Having been bullied most of my school life, she began to notice that I was standing up for myself.
My asthma attacks seemed to have a pattern. Every Sunday without fail, I would develop a massive attack and when we went to visit my grand parents I also developed a debilitating attack. There were other times of course but these stood out as regular occurrences. I remember my parents blaming the dust or the cat at my grandparents place for my condition. However Peter Murray uncovered the fact that at the age of seven, as an only child at a Christmas celebration at my grandparents place, and with an eight month pregnant mother, my aunt said to me,"Just as well you got plenty of toys this year, because you won't get as many next year when the baby arrives." This was reinforced several times by my aunt and obviously sunk deep into my subconscious. When I think about it I was probably "mesmerised" by the toys and the excitement of the Christmas and therefore in a state of hypnosis and very receptive at that time. At an unconscious level I had worked out that I was going to lose the love of my parents and be displaced and disadvantaged by the birth of the baby. Also at an unconscious level I had determined that I could regain attention if I were sick. Need I say more?
The therapy was a complete success and although I have remained free of asthma for over forty years I would be cautious about making any categorical statements about asthma being a "nervous disorder". While I have no doubt that it was the case with me, I believe that in some cases there could be other physiological factors to consider. I also believe that some people have a predisposition to asthma or a "weak chest" and this needs to be taken in to account.
Asthma is a very debilitating and sometimes terrifying condition for sufferers that often sets off a fear response, and fear breeds fear. It seems to me that fear, in one form or another, is underlying almost every condition presented to me as a hypnotherapist. Addressing the fear, first at the level of the symptom by teaching the client how to relax and control their body is something all asthmatics can benefit from. Addressing other aspects of fear at a deeper level could be problematic. It is much harder to convince people that they could be causing their own asthma, because, like my own parents found, it is easier and seems more logical to blame the dust, cats or the weather. Why would anyone consciously want to give themselves asthma?
Gambling - A Case History
By chance, he found my brochure at his feet as he walked out of a local bank having drawn out money to play the machines. The wind had blown it down the street and the words - Hypnosis can help! - caught his eye, he explained on his first visit. He was desperate and had contemplated suicide. He had lost a successful business, his wife, his house, his family, his friends, his boat, car etc. to his gambling addiction.
He started gambling as a social activity with his business acquaintances and ran up huge losses, which meant he lost his house and business. He attempted suicide and as a result, his then wife of 14 years left him. He entered another relationship almost immediately and his new partner who he now says “hates him” fell pregnant and they now have a small son. His son, he says, is his reason for living and although he lives with his partner at her parents place there is no relationship. He now has a small contracting business and continues to live on credit not knowing just how he will pay his bills. When he came to see me he said he was playing the poker machines (slots) and regularly fed hundreds of dollars into them each week. He got no pleasure from playing, and in fact didn’t even watch the screen, it was just a mind numbing experience. He knew what he had become and wanted “to be strong again”.
We started by talking about the things he liked doing and the things that he was good at. He identified certain things and revealed that he was a good football player and he recalled the “best moment of his life” was when he was responsible for his club winning a final and his team mates carrying him off on their shoulders. Later in the celebrations they put him on stage and played a particular stirring song. He felt so strong, so powerful and so confident. King of the world!
He always got the urge to “play the pokies” when driving home from a job. He said it was almost like an invisible force that drew him. He felt almost like a “zombie” and just had to go. Had the machines hypnotised him? Certainly the environment and ambience of the gaming halls promote trance-like states!
While we worked towards the underlying causes, I felt that it was important to address the “urge” and at least stop him from feeding any more money into the machines. Working with his strengths rather than his weaknesses seemed the most logical thing to do, so I found a copy of that “particular stirring song” and recorded it back to back and on both sides of a cassette tape, so he would never need to rewind it to access the song. He kept it in his car and when ever he felt the “urge” to play the machines he would play the song. It was a wonderful way to access those good feelings that gave him strength and confidence to take control. It worked really well and he stayed away from the machines until 9/11 and then ignored the tape and went straight to the machines and lost over $1000. He saw me two days later, filled with remorse and unable to explain why he went back to the machines. This time in hypnotic regression, he went back to his childhood and recalled a car trip where his father lost control and crashed and then watched his mother dying on the road.
Everything now started to fall into place for him. The horror of the images of September 11 had triggered the same emotions of horror that he experienced watching his mother die. His retreat (escape) into the trance like state of comfort that the “Pokies” gave him was explained. Maybe even being in a car had a deep connection for him. Even his hasty taking up with an unsuitable new partner “immediately” his wife left him seemed to be explained.
We didn’t solve all his problems and issues but the “Pokies” no longer have a hold on him and he is now attempting to rebuild his life free from the urge to play them.
Stress and “Playing the Game”
She was single in her early forties and was stressed. Her place of work had undergone a process of “downsizing” and she felt threatened and anxious, and having witnessed many of her friends and work mates retrenched, she too was waiting in fear for the axe to fall. As is usual, the work of those who had gone, fell to those who remain, so predictably her workload had increased significantly. Her supervisor was aggressive, domineering and given to “sounding off”. She felt powerless and abused in his presence but also felt she had no option but to accept his “in your face” manner and endeavour to meet his unreasonable demands.
We talked and uncovered the fact that many of the issues and demands she took on were not of her making and were in fact not her responsibility. Her problem was really how to deal with the aggressive and confronting communication style of her supervisor.
As we talked I played with a small foam “anti-stress ball” and when she least expected it I threw it aiming just above her left shoulder, which she automatically caught. “Why did you catch that?” I asked, to which she had no real answer. I started to explain the game of cricket. (For North America you could use baseball as it is a similar game where you hit a ball with a bat ). I talked about how you watch the ball coming down towards you at great speed and in a split second decide if you are going to hit it or let it go by. It is a choice you make and if you decide to let it go by, the decision is accompanied by an adjustment of the body stance, before resuming the batting stance for the next ball.
We established that whenever she talked to her supervisor her body stance was always full front (as she stood accepting the verbal battering like a punching bag). We began to practice adjusting her body position while still holding eye contact so as not to appear rude or insolent. As she saw the ball (demands etc.) hurtling towards her she could quickly decide if she wanted to take it on or let it go by and adjust her stance accordingly. Turning her body slightly, while remaining in eye contact became a secret signal or trigger that enabled her mind to let “it” go by. Using the metaphor / image of a batsman facing up to a fast ball was a powerful mechanism for her to control her stress levels.
The next week she walked in to my office relaxed and smiling, reporting that her life had turned around completely and just how in control she felt now. I never saw her again.
The use of a Biofeedback Monitor in Clinical Hypnosis
I first saw a Biofeedback Monitor a few years back. It was a device about the size of a packet of cigarettes which emitted a high pitched squeal when you placed your fingers on it. The pitch would change depending on your level of calmness. I thought it was just another "toy" available at the Radio Shack/Tandy/Dick Smith type stores and didn't think that it would have much use in hypnosis. Perhaps it had some novelty value and could be of use teaching people to lower their stress level. I didn't give it much more thought, although I have always thought an EEG monitor would be useful and interesting to monitor brain waves during Hypnosis.
My interest was reawakened after reading Terence Watts and George Philips book, 'Rapid Cognitive Therapy'. In it they referred several times to the use of a biofeedback monitor and I became curious so I began making inquiries. I didn't know of any Hypnotherapist that used one so I emailed Terence and asked about the monitors. He replied that he never works without one! He put me on to a Kevin Gray who runs Hypnotherapy Equipment UK Ltd and who handles a Biofeedback Monitor that Terence says is the 'Industry Standard' in the UK. I handed over my credit card details and within a week Australia Post delivered it to my door. Because of Australia's exchange rate it did work out to be quite expensive however.
It is about the size of two cigarette packets, with a large digital readout and a 2- meter lead that terminates with copper sensors that attach to the clients first and second fingers by velcro fasteners. Very simple really and it works through the galvanic principal measuring the skins resistance to the flow of electrons. Essentially it is monitoring the 'fight or flight' response in miniature. As we know the fight or flight response is driven by the subconscious in response to stressors. The more stressed the client the higher the readout, the more relaxed, the lower the readout.
As the client enters hypnosis the reading should fall and continue to fall until it slows down or bottoms out. The readout gives you a clear idea of how they are going and whether you need to give another deepener etc. Of course you still need to observe the usual signs as well. What is really valuable though, is being able to detect subconscious anxiety and resistance. Even though the client appears to be visibly relaxed, the reading can tell you if you have hit a "No Go" area or they are challenged or uncomfortable with suggestions. Particularly useful with analysis and regression.
A recent interesting example: A young woman saw me and brought her mother who sat in and watched the session. She was a very responsive client and entered a deep state very quickly. The readout plummeted fast. The next session she came without her mother and on entering hypnosis, the readout fell quickly again and then for no apparent reason it shot back up. Visually she appeared very relaxed displaying no outward signs of discomfort. I responded by working a little harder, a little more deepening etc., and the reading fell. Later during the session it rose again. I was really puzzled as I was unable to link the rises to any subject or area we were dealing with. The session was successful (she has now made the changes she wanted to make) but I felt I had to discuss the anxiety that I saw on the readout. After some probing she said that, as she felt herself going deeper, something inside her reminded her that she was alone in a room with a man. (Her subconscious looking after her welfare?) She obviously felt very safe with her mother in the room and was able to enter and remain in the deep state easily, but with Mum not present in the next session her subconscious took over watching out for her
I have to say that I am now a convert to the point that I don't ever work without my biofeedback monitor! I have heard some colleagues say "You don't need that". Sure, just as you don't NEED a car, but it does make travel much easier. I have found that the monitor picks up emotional disturbances and resistance that I could never have picked up through observation. There is no doubt in my mind that a Biofeedback Monitor is essential equipment for working in deep trance states, supplementing traditional observational skills and making the work more effective.
The Biofeedback Monitor has certainly added a new dimension to my work and I recommend it to any practising professional.
An interesting 'narrative' documentary film that was released around mid 2005
is "The Story of the Weeping Camel"
The film "follows the adventures of a family of herders in Mongolia's Gobi Desert who face a crisis when a mother camel rejects her newborn calf after a particularly difficult birth. Without mothers milk, the little camel will not survive, so in accordance with an ancient ritual, a musician is summoned from a far off village to perform a ceremony that is meant to coax the mother into nursing her baby. Apart from reuniting parent with child, the legend has it that the ritual has the miraculous side effect of causing the mother camel to weep.",
It is a unique, moving film and interesting from a sociological and anthropological perspective but it is also fascinating from a hypnosis view point. The "ancient ritual" performed on the mother camel was, I felt, pure hypnosis. The repetitive droning of the instrument and singer together with the continual stroking of the animal induced a state of trance in the mother camel, who was probably suffering from some form of "post traumatic stress" from the difficult birthing. Once in a trance state the camel relaxed and the milk began to flow and the baby was able to feed. The "miraculous side effect of causing the mother camel to weep" was just the natural hypnotic phenomenon of lacrimation. In deep states of hypnosis the eyes can water.
Well, that is my take on it. As I understand it the "ancient ritual" and the "weeping" were genuine and the tears not computer enhanced. It was in fact not a "miraculous side effect" of the ritual of bonding but a common hypnotic phenomenon proving that you can hypnotize camels!
The film is now on DVD and worth a look if you haven't seen it.
How Does Smoking Work?
We are told that nicotine is terribly addictive. Worse than heroin!
People smoke to relax, right? Nicotine is a poison and a stimulant, right?
Then how does sucking a toxic poison and stimulant into a sensitive organ relax you?
Tobacco is not a relaxant drug like alcohol. The people who try to quit and find it hard naturally look to blame the nicotine. They must be addicted. They need a nicotine fix. Let’s try the patches or the gum. The latest research shows that there is no appreciable difference in using nicotine replacement aids or going “Cold Turkey”. Would you give heroin to a heroin addict? The only benefit that nicotine replacement aids have is a psychological one. Users take comfort in the fact that they have had their fix, so they ‘think’ they will be OK. The down side is that they are still pumping a toxic poison into their body 24/7 and as some have discovered, causing nightmares and other negative physical effects. The drug companies woke up to this and produced the “16 hour patch” encouraging people to take them off at night. The Australian Government now subsidises these patches. Another win for the drug companies who will claim that research shows that nicotine causes chemical changes in the brain thus causing the addiction etc.... Recent scientific research has shown that negative thoughts cause 1400 different chemical changes in the body and brain also.
Smoking is a habit not a chemical addiction. Take a moment to think about the person who bites their nails. It is a habit that those who do it are usually very embarrassed about and most often have tried everything to make themselves stop. Very similar to the smokers who wish to stop. There is no nicotine in nails and yet their struggle can almost parallel the situation of the smoker trying to quit.
The urge to smoke comes from a sense of anxiety or imbalance. Smokers talk of ‘the cravings’. No one can dispute the fact that there are very physical sensations within the body, but it is not a craving for nicotine but a strong desire of the systems of the body to return to a level of comfort or balance. In other words the body’s own process of homeostasis, in action. Homeostasis is the process within the body that maintains balance involving reactive control using whatever is necessary to bring the body back into balance or the state of easy “normal” comfort level.
At this point we need to acknowledge, the commonly accepted model of the mind that distinguishes the ‘Conscious’ and the ‘Unconscious’ (or sub-conscious). With the person who wishes to quit a habit of smoking, (nail biting etc.) it appears that the Conscious has indicated that quitting is desirable but the Unconscious doesn’t seem to get that message and the urge to smoke continues unabated even though the rational reasoning part of the mind has decided otherwise. The conscious is the part of the mind that uses logic and reason, but the primitive unconscious doesn’t understand reason and logic but only what it knows through past experiences or observation. It is an experiential learner. It has learnt that smoking has the effect of relaxing one. Additionally, the very first learning was within moments of birth when the baby expresses the anxiety it feels by crying and is almost immediately soothed by having something put in its mouth, usually a breast. So the primitive unconscious has strong reason to urge the smoker to continue the habit.
Sometimes it can be a stressful event that triggers the urge, but it doesn’t have to be a highly stressful event, It may be just the fact that you are not doing what you usually do. You always have a cigarette with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee. You always have one after a meal. You always light up at interval. Others are smoking and you feel uncomfortable because you are the odd one out, so you join them. The habit has become part of your normal routine. When you are not doing what you usually do, in other words change your usual routine, the mind senses that you could potentially be unsafe, and a sense of anxiety starts to emerge. The unconscious mind remembers that the last time you had a smoke you relaxed and stilled the sense of anxiety, so the message it sends is... “Have a cigarette as that will get you back into the relaxed state again, like the last time it did.
But how? The nicotine in tobacco smoke is a stimulant and a poison not a relaxant drug.
If you are a smoker, you will recognise the following and if you are not a smoker, the next time you see someone about to have a cigarette, notice the smoker searching for the packet or leaving to have a smoke. They will be breathing short shallow upper chest breaths. Watch them light up and suck right down into the bottom of their lungs, then watch the long slow release of the smoke. It is that, the long slow release of air/smoke that triggers the bodies natural relaxation response. The one thing the smoke has done is stimulate the lungs and literally shock the body into taking a deep breath to start the process of returning to that comfortable relaxed state. As one of my quit smoking clients said after I had explained this to them, “ Oh I see, so smoking is a breathing aid.” The great thing is that we can achieve the same result by just shifting the breathing using the diaphragm. Learning to breathe correctly in the resting state is essential to achieve balance and return the body to a state of comfort.
Another of my health conscious clients complained that he didn’t know why every time that he came out of the gym after doing his regular work out he was desperate for a cigarette. “I am lighting up as I leave the gym...how stupid is that?!” Well it is easy to understand that urge if we realise that as he has just been involved in vigorous exercise his breathing has been shallow and the body’s response is to return to that comfortable relaxed state. The only thing he knows to help in that process is to have a cigarette.
We need to remember the two parts of our mind and know that the unconscious part, the emotional mind is an experiential learner and has learnt that when one smokes a cigarette one relaxes. It doesn’t know or care about the health impacts of smoking. It just wants the body and mind to relax into that comfortable state.
For a seasoned smoker the urge to smoke is very strong because part of the unconscious mind’s job is to keep one safe and balanced, and that drive is linked to our survival instinct which is perhaps our for-most primal instinct.
Breathing is an essential component of relaxation. We do seem to have two types of breathing. A breathing for when we are engaged in physical activity (or preparing for physical activity) which is a rapid shallow upper chest breathing. Great for exchanging much needed oxygen when running or exercising. In the resting state we tend to take slower deeper breaths, breathing with the diaphragm. Learning to control and use the diaphragm is an easy way of achieving an inner balance and the level of comfort that the smoker craves, without having to smoke cigarettes.
© Daryl Wilkinson