All the talking therapies have one thing in common – an awful lot of talk. Freud is credited with the invention of Psychotherapy, but Carl Rogers perfected the idea. Hypnotherapy has always been regarded as the almost perfect short cut to a cure, but it seems that there are even quicker, more effective ways to turn your client’s life around. Some are so radical, they border on common-sense.
I get depressed when I see hypnotherapists (or any other kind of alternative therapist for that matter) advertising to schizophrenia in their list of potential cures. Schizophrenia is a genetic disease of the brain, a real mental illness, and is something that is best left to the bona-fide physicians and psychiatrists who are best qualified to deal with that sort of thing. Schizophrenia is not depression – a condition the hypnotherapist has at least a sporting chance of improving.
Dealing with depression is depressing in itself. People who come to me and say they are depressed represent a real challenge, one which I take up with alacrity. The conversation usually goes something like this;
“I’m depressed…” “You’re depressed..! You should try sitting here and listening to this all day!” or perhaps, “What do you expect me to do about it?” There is usually a stunned silence that can be measured in microseconds while the client comes to terms with the fact that I am not there to listen to lengthy sob-stories. There then follows a quick investigation as to what exactly is making the client depressed, when it started making them depressed, and what they think should be done about it. Useful tricks of the trade include picking a celebrity they admire, or best friend or favourite uncle, to give them imaginary advice.
“If you could talk to Princes Diana or Uncle Fred, what do you think she/he would tell you to do..?” that sort of thing. All that happens, is that thanks to Carl Rogers, the victim, er, sorry, client, gives themselves advice, based on what, deep down, they knew, or at least suspected to be true, in the first place.
Then I do some hypnosis, employing Emile Coue’s tried and tested repetition of phrases encouraging greater self-respect, self-confidence, and self-assuredness. Then I tell them to fuck off. It always makes me feel better. Alternatively, one can opt for the more altruistic approach; Start by saying something like “oh, I’m sure we will be able to sort this out and have you full of the joys of spring in no time, say about six sessions! Then by a process of mental arithmetic, you multiply six by £200 and the answer equals three weeks in the Seychelles. Me? I prefer to see the back of these people as soon as possible.
This may sound a radical, if rather harsh approach, especially if you are one of the ‘do-gooding’ types or have a penchant for hugging trees. The problem is, dear fellow professional, I have doing this for nearly thirty years now, and I found very early on that a lot of what I was taught at the beginning simply does not work! This depressed me more than I can say, so in the end, I knew I had to find a better way. I did. And I did it by using my common sense and my experience of life.
Sometimes, one has to be cruel to be kind. Confronted one Monday morning with an over-large and extremely slovenly individual (female) with long and very greasy hair, wearing flip-flops (in the middle of winter) on dirty feet and smelling extremely sweaty, I decided that whatever this woman’s problem was (it was depression) I was not being paid enough to let her soil my expensive leather Stressless recliner or breathe in her sweat germs.
“What makes you think that you can come and see me looking like that..? When was the last time you had a wash?” I enquired in my most genial manner. The woman (in her early thirties I would say) looked genuinely astonished. “Tell, you what” I continued, “Why don’t we reschedule your appointment for Thursday afternoon at three-o-clock, when you can turn up bathed, hair washed, wearing smart clean clothes, with a proper pair of shoes on your feet, and generally looking human? Because I’m not prepared to see you looking like that.”
The lady in question did return on the Thursday, wearing a clean dress, with her hair tied up in a bun and with a relatively clean pair of shoes. She smelled of perfume and had applied a little make-up, badly as it happens, but that’s not the point. For the first time in God knows how long, she had made an effort. The very first question I asked her was about how much better she felt now that she had smartened herself up a bit. Much better… thank you, was the preordained answer. And that was precisely my point. Feeling better, like charity, begins at home. Next, I made sure she cleaned her pigsty of a home up and persuaded her to get into some kind of regular routine. “If Queen Victoria was giving you advice, what do you think she would tell you to do..?
Over the next few weeks I saw this woman about ten or twelve times, but only for up to ten minutes at a time. The real work had been done on her first and second visits. We did the rapid induction and the repetition a lot, always tailored to her needs of the moment. She lost enough weight that she no longer waddled into the room, but walked in like a human. Then one day, she decided that she didn’t need me anymore. She had thought things over and decided that she wanted to go it alone. “Oh… was it something I said?” I asked. She smiled and pulled out a bottle of red wine as a parting gift. Maybe it was because I had told her things that even her closest friends would not tell her. I had told her the truth, and that was, after all, what was needed. Or maybe it was because I had thought outside the box.
People overeat for one of two reasons. Either they love the taste of food (perfectly normal) or they guzzle for emotional reasons (abnormal). When people are sad or anxious, food is like a drug, exciting the pleasure centres to such an extent that for a short time, they forget they are ballooning like a whale. Carbohydrates and fats are thought to elevate a person’s mood by lowering stress hormone levels, and in the case of carbohydrates in particular, by increasing the amount of a mood-altering chemical messenger in the brain. Even just the taste of food can alter mood (mmm… lard…) and emotional states. Sweet foods are believed to induce the release of pain suppressants in the brain and to activate the pleasure centres.
This is obviously a vicious circle; the more they eat, the more pounds they pile on, and the more depressed they get about it afterwards, so to avoid depression, they eat, and so on. What is truly amazing is that the loss of a mere couple of pounds gives them immense pleasure too – the trick is, to replace the old pleasure with the new one. Either that or save up and pay for the liposuction. Either way, the danger times are when the patient is feeling depressed, disappointed or let down; worried or emotionally upset; lonely; when the patient is feeling restless or bored (this is a very common one) or when the patient is afraid, irritated or angry.
So in short, the danger times are when the individual is experiencing any kind of negative emotion, which for most comfort eaters, is most of the time. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the secret of the cure lies not in the hands of the therapist, but within the client. Carl Rogers knew it, and I learned very early on that he was right. The client already knows what is wrong and what should be done about it – the therapeutic situation merely provides a comfort zone in which it is appropriate to explore these issues and the almost infinite possibilities for behaviour modification.
The most common phobias are related to either creepy-crawlies like rats, mice, spiders and er, more spiders, or creatures associated with slime, such as snakes, frogs, toads, slugs, and estate agents. Some very clever scientists believe that both these categories, the creepy-crawlies and the slimies, are the result of fears which are inbuilt, that is, genetically passed on rather than fears which have been learned. Opinion is still divided over this issue, but it might be worth considering that we are born with some instinctive emotions (protection of our children, the ability to laugh, a sense of awe, and so on) that these fears may indeed be inborn and not learned.
Spiders spin webs which many phobics find really disgusting because they are sticky and clingy and often full of dead flies. By the same token, rats and mice remind us of rotten food and disease (the plague and the black death of the Middle Ages immediately spring to mind) whereas frogs, toads and snakes look slimy even though they are dry and leathery.
But does it really make any difference when all you have to do is to sit the subject down, and make whatever it is he/she is frightened of a figure of fun – wellington boots, a top hat and a clown’s red nose on a spider is a popular image? Here’s a better example;
A young woman came to see me because she had a dread fear of being called in to see her boss, which happened at least once a week. He was over six foot tall and rode a motorcycle. He also had a rather loud, booming voice and she was terrified of him. A little relaxation, and some creative visualisation, in this case the certain knowledge that, like all men, he had at some stage in his life been down on his knees begging a woman not to leave him. And then in all probability begged her not to tell his friends he had done it. My client began to giggle and then laugh out loud. She was never afraid of her boss again. The whole process, from initial investigation to cure, took less than ten minutes. That is the sort of case I like, because you can make a difference, a spectacular difference, in a very short time.
In a lot of cases, fear of flying may have been brought about by an experience involving turbulence in an aircraft, or stories from other people about bad turbulence (I have heard many such stories about people being flung around aircraft cabins or of drinks hitting the roof of the aircraft due to a sudden loss of gravity.) Most of these stories will turn out to be urban myths, repeated and embellished for the delectation of both the teller and the listener. I always point out that most people are willing to pay large sums of money and queue for hours to go on rides like that in amusement parks, rides which are inherently more dangerous than flying. This is the real point – fears like the fear of flying are based on lack of information and therefore fear of the unknown.
And so onto one of the more complicated problems faced by hypnotherapists, and that is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD.) OCD is an odd one, because in some cases OCD may well just be a learned habit, for example glancing in mirrors at every available opportunity, or constantly twirling strands of hair. Continually stroking one’s chin whilst deep in thought is certainly not OCD, but continually stroking one’s chin whilst deep in thought in order to keep the evil spirits away, very definitely is.|
On the other hand, some of the greatest scientists and artists who have ever lived could be said to suffer from OCD; composers who can’t stop composing, painters who can’t stop painting, cleaners who can’t stop cleaning. The search for perfection is often obsessive, compulsive, but not necessarily a disorder. It all depends on one’s perspective. Composers who continually turn out fabulous music are not obsessive compulsives, rather, they are geniuses. Nevertheless, it is always tempting, when talking about OCD, to differentiate between the artists and the cleaners. The woman who continuously cleans her house from top to bottom may be obsessive and compulsive, but only if that obsession is borne out of a pathological and unreasonable fear of germs. There are women who just enjoy cleaning… and they should come round to my house once a week.
The problem with OCD is that certain people often confuse reasonable (though repetitive) behaviour with obsession or compulsion. A client of mine thought she had OCD because she experienced an overwhelming desire to wash her hands every time she shook hands with a person who had abnormally sweaty or clammy palms. That is not OCD; that is NORMAL! Likewise the woman who came to see me with what she believed was an unreasonable fear of stepping in vomit on the pavement, so much so, that if she was out at night and spied a pool of someone’s lager and donner kebab, she would avoid it at all costs. Again, this is not obsessive, compulsive behaviour, it is NORMAL.
The examples cited above simply do not constitute unreasonable behaviour at all. In fact it is quite the opposite. Normal precautions are perfectly er… normal. Neither woman’s (completely rational) wariness stopped them going out or meeting people. They had just got the idea in their heads that something was wrong with them because they had seen something about OCD in the media and jumped to the wrong conclusions. Why? Because they were suggestible. My job was to utilise this suggestibility and simply reassure them that they were in fact, completely normal, which of course they were.
Now, there’s just time to take a quick dip into the new and exciting world of Virtual therapy. We have already seen how a slow introduction to the stimulus of a fear or phobia (for example, a spider) has been accepted as a tried and tested way of curing those same fears and phobias. Recreating these objects of fear on a computer screen though, is something relatively new and is proving to be something of a success. Before we look at this in any detail, suffice to say that one of the great advantages with this method is that the client/patient can operate the mouse on their own and can therefore retain total control over the speed at which the session progresses. Another advantage is that the therapist does not have to have cabinets full of creepy crawlies on stand-by with which to terrorise his clients.
The goal of the treatment is a new word with an old meaning; Habituation. I think the word is self-explanatory. It’s a method of learning whereby a response to a stimulus is diminished as the result of repeated exposure.
Three dimensional computer simulations are the best because they add that touch of reality. In any case, simulations are less likely to result in patients backing out of treatment. They are in full control of the process and understand that they can hit the panic button at any time. Obviously the treatment doesn’t work with people who have a phobia of panic buttons.
At present, it is estimated that only 2% of therapists in the United States are making use of virtual reality therapy, but this number is bound to increase as the technology becomes more readily available. It represents a paradigm shift in the way we may start to practice therapy in the future for the simple reason that therapy will no longer be mostly talk. It seems that the age of Freudian psychoanalysis is mercifully drawing to a close and not before time, being replaced with a ‘getting straight to the point’ type of therapy.
So where does this leave hypnosis? It might be worth reminding ourselves that the imagination is the ultimate virtual reality machine anyway and there is no reason, as in the case of pretty well every other type of therapy on offer, why hypnosis cannot be used in conjunction with virtual therapy to provide added strength. It would be a poor choice to replace hypnosis induced imaginativeness with a computer in the same way that it would be unthinkable to replace a symphony orchestra with a synthesizer.
Any therapist who has been involved in talking cures knows the immense value this sort of treatment can provide. It is just as effective as antidepressant medicines although the disadvantage is that it takes more time and care – much more time and care than the two minutes it takes to write out a prescription.
It’s advantages however, shine through in the long and short term. It can be anywhere from two to four weeks or longer for chemical antidepressants to begin to show results, whereas talk-talk is capable of producing results with immediate effect. In addition, the results last many times longer than the chemicals and drugs aggressively marketed by the pharmaceutical companies, and there are rarely any side effects. It can accomplish changes in the brain in processes associated with depression and usually only has to be administered once a week. Thanks to the most modern of modern technology, these changes can be, and have been, measured on PET and MRI equipment, much to the delight of the psychotherapists and the annoyance of the drug companies. If we can use all this information sensibly, there should be no reason why we should not be able to achieve equally spectacular results. The talking therapies do go beyond simple suggestion, although suggestion plays an enormous part.
Psychology has been described as common sense dressed up with fancy words and to a certain extent that might be true. Psychology has come a long way since Freud and the future of psychological intervention looks promising. However, amongst all the legitimate and scientific uses of psychology based therapy, there still lurks the spectre of charlatanism and psychobabble, something that we will look at in due course and in more detail in the chapter ‘The New Mesmerists.’ And then we’ll have some fun!!!
For more information about psychopathology, unusual behaviour, and how to deal with it, read All in the Mind – Hypnosis, Suggestion and the New Mesmerists. Available from this website.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2009. All rights reserved.