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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Clinical Hypnosis and the Mind-Body Connection

During the last 15-20 years mental health and medical experts have become increasingly aware of the strong connection between our emotions and our physical health and well-being. 

Clinical Hypnosis and the Mind-Body Connection

As medical experts become more knowledgeable about the mind-body connection, clients with certain physical problems that were once treated by doctors solely as medical disorders are now being referred to licensed mental health professionals with an expertise in clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy) due to a more sophisticated understanding of how our emotions affect us physically and the effectiveness of clinical hypnosis.

The following vignettes, which are composites of actual cases, with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrate the connection between medical problems, the mind-body connection, and the effectiveness of clinical hypnosis:

Migraines and other Headaches:
When Lisa began having severe, debilitating headaches, she went to her medical doctor for help. She explained to her doctor how her headaches got so bad at times that she was unable to get out of bed. This resulted in significant time off from work as well as her husband having to take over most of the household responsibilities. These headaches were also starting to make her feel depressed and anxious. She tried most of the over-the-counter medications, to no avail.

When her medical doctor could not find any physical reason for her headaches, he referred her to a neurologist who conducted a battery of tests and tried various prescription medications to alleviate Lisa's headaches. But her neurologist ruled out any physical reason for her headaches and, not only did the medications not work, but they produced many annoying side effects.

As a result, the neurologist consulted with the medical doctor and they both agreed that whatever was causing Lisa's headaches had its origins in some emotional issue. They both concluded that Lisa could benefit from seeing a hypnotherapist to get rid of her headaches. Since Lisa knew nothing about hypnotherapy, at first, she was stunned and somewhat leery of their recommendation.

Clinical Hypnosis and the Mind-Body Connection

But her primary care doctor explained that many physical symptoms are derived from emotional issues, and he took the time to explain the mind-body connection of many different medical issues. He also explained the difference between stage hypnosis and clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy). He told her that when hypnotherapy is performed by a licensed mental health professional who is a trained hypnotherapist, it is an effective and well-respected form of treatment. He explained how Lisa would be in a relaxed state during hypnosis and in control at all times, maintain a dual awareness of the here-and-now as well as whatever she and the hypnotherapist were working on.

Lisa trusted her primary care physician, and she accepted his referral to a local hypnotherapist. She was a little anxious at first, but the hypnotherapist helped to set her mind at ease by patiently answering all of her questions during the initial consultation. Lisa was amazed that, within three sessions, her headaches were gone. Even more amazing to her, the hypnotherapist taught her how to do self hypnosis so that she could proactively manage her stress levels and prevent further occurrences of her debilitating headaches. Her hypnotherapist followed up with her in a month and then again in three months, but there was no recurrence of Lisa's headaches. At this point, it has been over three years since Lisa has had a headache. She continues to use self hypnosis to manage her stress. She no longer feels depressed or anxious, and she is grateful to be fully engaged in her life again.

Back Pain:
Robert woke up every morning with severe back pain in his lower back. When his primary care physician, his chiropractor, and a physical therapist could not find any medical reason for his back pain and medication only provided temporary relief, they all agreed that the origin of Robert's back pain probably had an emotional connection. They also all agreed that Robert could benefit from seeing a hypnotherapist.

Robert didn't know anything about clinical hypnosis and, even with their detailed explanations and the literature that they provided to him, Robert didn't feel comfortable seeing a hypnotherapist. He began taking painkillers, which helped for a while. But he soon found that he had to take higher and higher doses to get temporary relief from his back pain.

Clinical Hypnosis and the Mind-Body Connection

His primary care doctor warned him that the painkillers were addictive and Robert needed to be careful not to become addicted to the drugs. So, Robert stopped taking the medication and he decided to tough it out for a while. But after a week, he could barely get out of bed, he could no longer have sex with his wife, and he was falling behind in his work because he could hardly sit still at his computer, due to his excruciating back pain.

Reluctantly, he asked his doctor for a referral to a hypnotherapist. Robert approached his initial consultation with the hypnotherapist with a lot of skepticism, but he was desperate for a solution to his back pain so he listened attentively and tried to keep an open mind as the hypnotherapist explained the mind-body connection. The hypnotherapist answered all of his questions and concerns. Robert was especially fearful that he would lose control during the hypnotic state, and being in control at all times was very important to him.

To help ease Robert's mind, with Robert's permission, the hypnotherapist helped Robert to get into a relaxing, hypnotic state. Robert was amazed--this was the most relaxed that he had ever felt in his life. He was aware of the ticking clock in the office, the sounds coming from the street outside the office, and he felt that, if he wanted to, he could get up and leave at any time. It was just as the hypnotherapist had said--he was able to maintain a dual awareness of everything around him at the same time that he was enjoying this relaxed state. He was even more amazed when he returned to his usual state that he was only in this hypnotic state for five minutes. His experience of the hypnotic state was that it felt timeless.

Having had this relaxing, positive experience of clinical hypnosis, Robert was now ready to have the hypnotherapist use hypnosis to treat him for his back pain. Within five session, Robert was pain free. The hypnotherapist also taught Robert how to control his stress levels on his own through self hypnosis. A follow up session after one month revealed that Robert had no new occurrence of back pain. And after two years, Robert continued to report to his primary care physician that he continued to have no back pain.

These vignettes are just two examples of many that demonstrate the mind-body connection and the effectiveness of clinical hypnosis for pain management. Clinical hypnosis is also an effective tool for smoking cessation (usually within 3-5 sessions).

If you are suffering with a physical problem and your doctor cannot find a medical cause for your problem or if you have decided that you want to stop smoking, you could benefit from clinical hypnosis.

Getting Help - How To Choose A Hypnotherapist:
If you're considering clinical hypnosis, it's important to make sure that you see a licensed mental health professional who is a trained hypnotherapist and not a "hypnotist." There are important distinctions between a hypnotherapist and a hypnotist.

A hypnotist might have learned various hypnotic techniques, but he or she is not a therapist, not licensed, and will not have any mental health training. A hypnotherapist is a licensed mental health professional who understands the mind-body connection and who has been trained under the guidelines of a professional organization like the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). For more details, you can visit the ASCH web site:

About Me:
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find our more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

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