Hypnotherapy for Rapid Resolution of Trauma
Rosemary Crake, Clinical Psychologist
I completed my Hypnotherapy training with ASHWA in 1993 and have used it as a key therapeutic technique ever since. I found the extensive training provided in the ASHWA training program by experts in a wide range of clinical practice areas to be invaluable.
Almost thirty years later, I still use hypnosis every day in clinical work. Trauma has always been a particular interest area for me and I’ve worked extensively in that field. I also trained in EMDR with Francine Shapiro. But with trauma, whether recent or historical, I’ve found that for the vast majority of clients, Hypnosis is the best technique with which to start therapy.
Consider the following clients:
- The teenage girl who experienced sexual assault but feels unable or unwilling to talk to a therapist about what happened or how she feels
- The soldier who has witnessed and experienced numerous traumatic events and may have sustained significant injuries
- The client who experienced significant, painful injuries in an accident
- The client who experienced repeated childhood sexual and/or physical abuse
All have coped with their traumas by mentally locking away the physical and emotional reactions attached to the memories, and avoiding anything that might trigger those memories. How willing are they going to be to participate in traditional therapy that involves giving an account of their experiences and accessing the associated emotions and sensations?
The option of hypnotherapy enables these clients to engage in therapy in a way that addresses the trauma while giving them (or at least their subconscious) control over how much or how little of those memories, emotions and sensations they experience.
Benefits of hypnosis – both in treating trauma and other issues
!. It shortens therapy – ie it accelerates problem resolution and positive change
Hypnosis allows more rapid ‘processing’ of experiences and the associated schema / beliefs / emotions. Whilst the client’s intellect is still aware of what is occurring in hypnotherapy, it effectively takes a back seat while the clinician works directly with the part of the mind that determines whether change occurs at a deep level. CBT and related techniques are of course useful – but if the subconscious doesn’t agree, the client only gets partial benefit or temporary improvement before the issue returns.
Another way Hypnotherapy shortens therapy is that you can achieve a lot of therapeutic changes / cover a lot of issues very quickly – many in the same session eg presenting issues; relaxation; stress-management; self-care; sleep; self-esteem; self-efficacy; behaviour change.
- Clients are more likely to agree to, and persist with, therapy to address highly distressing issues eg PTSD, that they have otherwise been avoiding due to fear of being overwhelmed by the distressing memories and emotions.
In my experience, hypnosis is the most ‘gentle’ and rapid way of dealing with very strong emotional content and core schema – depending on how you choose to use it, hypnosis can minimize the exposure element of therapy, and the associated abreaction.
Clients with trauma issues are much more amenable to participating in therapy that doesn’t require them to go into a detailed account of their traumatic experiences; and / or to re-experience them (describing them, re-vivifying them, accessing the emotions associated with them). EMDR minimises the time spent in exposure to memories but can involve a higher level of distress than hypnosis; and may involve some physical re-experiencing (body memory) of events. Physical re-experiencing is not necessary in hypnotherapy for trauma; with EMDR, it is not necessary but there is no way to control whether this will happen or not – which can be especially harrowing for those who have experienced physical injury or childhood interpersonal trauma.
- The vast majority of clients enjoy hypnotherapy and find it interesting
Even those clients who ‘don’t believe in’ hypnosis report benefits and are often surprised at how pleasant it is. For some, it is the first time in their lives they have felt relaxed and safe. Many clients, having experienced hypnosis, will ask for further hypnotherapy sessions as they progress through therapy.
- Low client drop-out rates
Clients are encouraged by the rapid change they experience with hypnosis, and by the pleasant feeling of the modality.
- Rapid increase in client self-efficacy
Both through direct suggestion, and rapid change, the client’s self-efficacy increases quickly with hypnosis, which creates a positive ‘snowball effect’ for implementing change in their external lives.
Hypnotherapy is effective in building client resources and coping strategies.
Some clients will drop out of CBT therapies because they find they have to continually work hard at actively managing their thoughts – this is often a sign that underlying schema have not been resolved, which does involve addressing strong emotion.
- Hypnosis enhances other therapeutic techniques and strategies
Hypnosis can be used to both deliver, and enhance client integration and application of, other therapeutic modalities such as psych-education; self-awareness strategies; Schema Therapy; CBT; Systematic Desensitisation; Behavioural Strategies; Somatic modalities; Mindfulness; ego-state therapies; emotion-focused therapies; habit / substance use change; and physical health-related modalities. In my experience, clients who have first done hypnotherapy, are able to more easily benefit from EMDR.
- When treating trauma-related issues:
My usual practice is to give the client a brief outline of treatment options, including hypnosis, EMDR and Trauma-focused CBT modalities, and possible client experiences of these. Then I give them the choice. Most opt for hypnosis first.
I generally recommend starting with hypnosis, then, if needed, using other techniques to tie up loose ends and reinforce client conscious awareness of strategies. For example, hypnotherapy may resolve the reactivity associated with PTSD, and the factors underlying it (eg related schema and beliefs about self, others or the world). However the client still needs to experience – where appropriate – in-vivo exposure (eg to reminders, places, people or things that previously triggered a trauma reaction) and be able to apply psychological techniques to assist with this; or a client may have resolved the trauma-related reactivity to an abusive parent, but there will be an element of skills and habit change needed for dealing with others in general, and if they plan to maintain contact with that parent (eg assertive communication, setting boundaries).
In Summary – Hypnotherapy:
- is relaxing for clients
- is effective in building resources and coping strategies
- increases client participation in, and completion of, therapy
- provides more rapid resolution of issues, with less distress, than many therapeutic techniques
- can be used to target cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues at the same time, and address any underlying resistance to change
- can resolve the bulk of negative beliefs, unresolved emotion and physical reactivity attached to trauma without the client having to re-experience the trauma
- can enhance effectiveness, and client application of other therapeutic techniques
Choosing Hypnotherapy Training
The ASHWA Hypnosis Training Program has a number of elements that make it my number one recommendation for professionals:
- Training is provided by a range of registered clinical professionals who are highly experienced in their clinical fields
- This enables participants access to information about fields and techniques they may not previously have considered, but which can enhance their practice eg training in use of hypnosis in pain management can be useful for a broad range of clinicians, as chronic pain is a common issue and can contribute to other presenting issues such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse; or training in hypnosis for anxiety management can assist Allied Health professionals in working on physical rehabilitation with their patients
- Participants have ample opportunity in training workshops to engage in practical activities and seek assistance with tailoring techniques to their particular client groups or setting
- Actual time in training workshops is higher compared to many other programs – and there is no substitute for being able to receive answers to questions as they arise, and have access to guidance during practical exercises
I wish you well in your clinical practice.