Workshop on Hypnotic Techniques to

deal with Anxiety and Illness

Gloria May is employed by the NHS at St Mary's Hospital in the department dealing with HIV positive patients. She uses hypnotherapy to help patients absorb the shock of diagnosis, deal with medical drug side effects, overcome addictions and alleviate anxiety and depression, bringing to this difficult task a wealth of experience. Her work has also included running self-hypnosis and meditation classes for stressed office workers and adult education groups in Wormwood Scrubbs Prison and the Working Men's College in London as well as teaching guided imagery techniques to a support group of recovering cancer patients.She has been a hypnotherapist for 25 years.

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The James Braid Society's March 2005 meeting provided members with important insights - and techniques - for dealing with the incapacity caused by both anxiety and illness.

Gloria May, one of the founding members of society, presented a workshop during which she explained the methods she employs in her work with patients who include those who have recently been diagnosed as HIV-positive or with terminal cancer.

But as well as hearing explanations, therapists at the meeting were given opportunities to practice the techniques and discuss them with Gloria.

Her workshop began with a description of anxiety (dithering with urgency according to a comedian) and its effects which serious illness so often has upon patients. These effects include:

•  loss of sense of humour

•  loss of concentration and interest

•  repetitive and negative thoughts

•  never having enough time

•  loss of control

•  perceiving change as a threat

•  actions become clumsy

•  learning is halted

According to Adler anxiety is an expression of desire and ambition as much as of fear - so some anxiety can be stimulating and turned to good use.   Too much paralyses.

Some goals for a person with anxiety-overload to aim for are:

•  change in attitude

•  self-acceptance and self-respect

•  mindfulness and calmness

•  restoration of meaning in life

"In chronic and debilitating illness, the same as those for anxiety often apply," Gloria explained.  

"Added to these are physical pain and the danger of falling into a state of self-pity.   The goals for the sick person to aim for are the same as for anxiety but with the addition of an ability to deal with physical pain and a determination to live as well as possible and thrive under difficult circumstances.

Milton Erickson described hypnosis as a state of focussed awareness when limitations dissolve.   He went on to say that hypnotherapy is the reassociation of internal life (in a more brutal moment he said 'enter their reality and mess it up').

From this it is easy to see how hypnotherapy can benefit both the anxious and ill patient enormously.   However, there are a few pitfalls into which therapists can fall. Some of those are:

•  insensitivity to the extreme vulnerability of an anxious or ill person

•  too many personal stories

•  too many inspirational examples (no accident that Erickson used the metaphor of a growing tomato with a dying man - no competition)

•  sympathy (client and therapist both get stuck)

•  apathy (therapist protecting self and losing contact with client)

•  echo (therapist's own experience appears the same as client's)

"The therapist needs to maintain empathy.   There are many techniques to help with this but by far the most important is concentration of what the client is saying and a genuine interest in them as a person.   A good analogy is being totally involved in reading a story and, although it is somebody else's story, connecting with it totally."

The next part of the workshop was experiential with the group being led through guided imagery designed to address some of the 'pitfalls' highlighted above. This work set out to show ways of:

•  regaining control

•  promoting self-assurance

•  healing a particular part of the body

•  embracing uncertainty

A general discussion followed and exchange of ideas between the audience and speaker.   The evening ended with a quote from St Augustine:

'Miracles do not happen in contradiction to nature, but only in contradiction of that which is known to us of nature.'                  

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