By Susanna Sweeney, MSC, MBACP, CHT
Hypnotherapy for mental health is one of the most effective tools in my toolbox as a psychotherapist and hypnotist.
In this article I want to talk about how hypnotherapy works and why it works so well for any mental health issue.
To do so, let’s first look at how mental health symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, low self esteem and confidence, and similar issues develop.
In the medical approach where mental health issues are treated with pharmaceutical drugs, mental health issues are seen as resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, Professor Irving Kirsch of Stanford who has researched this topic for 15 years and more, is very clear that the success of antidepressants is not due to improving chemical imbalances, but- wait for it- due to the placebo effect. The patient is taking a drug and is convinced the drug is providing a cure.
So then, if mental health issues are not caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, what IS causing them?
There is a substantial body of research and theoretical papers in the realm of neuroscience that now points towards a lot of different symptoms being caused by accumulated stress factors as well as an accumulation of major and minor traumas over time.
I am going to use the metaphor of a pressure cooker to describe what happens in your mind and body with these issues. For a moment, imagine your mind as a pressure cooker sat on a stove with the heat of life with its pressures to perform in school, college, work, relationships and other areas, providing the hotplate underneath the pressure cooker. Inside the pressure cooker, you have a certain amount of room for what we will call ‘workable stress’.
However, for a lot of people, as they go through life, their exposure to stress and trauma far exceeds the area of tolerance of this band of ‘workable stress’. We are talking about experiences such as developmental trauma during childhood- maybe having your esteem or confidence knocked by an incompetent parent or carer daily, bigger childhood trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, we are talking about experiences of bullying in school, bad relationships, bad breakups, bereavements, being the victim of crime, or even the stresses of living under constant financial pressure.
As you go through life, all these experiences pile up inside your pressure cooker. All the negative emotions that go with them- all that anger, grief, fear, sadness, are typically bottled up. The pressure cooker fills up more and more.
At the same time, the heat of life brings the contents of the pressure cooker to the boil- steam builds, and the time will come when you cannot take any more. This is the moment when people start developing symptoms- either all of a sudden, or over a period of time. You start feeling depressed, anxious, develop a social phobia, feel more and more insecure- the particular symptoms that you develop will be based on your unique history and resources. The point is that the underlying principle is always the same- symptoms come on as a result of accumulated stress factors.
This is where hypnotherapy for mental health is a fantastic tool that can help you reduce and ultimately clear those symptoms.
Hypnotherapy is superior to talk therapy or CBT here because it works directly with the subconscious mind where the issue really lies. Trauma and accumulated stress are encoded in the lateral amygdala. The amygdala is designed to be a warning system. Information about these experiences is seen by the amygdala as essential for your survival.
Therefore, the encoding is done in such a way that the cognitive memory will be closely tied to the strong emotional charge it caused. This charge is kept alive as it is deemed vital information for ensuring your survival.
In terms of evolution, this mechanism goes back to our days of living in nature and having to encode information about things like predators and it worked well for that. But in a complex modern world with a complex social system this piece of biology often does not work out in our favor because there is just too much being encoded.
How do we decode it? That’s the challenge.
Working through the rational mind won’t work well for it, as clients of psychotherapy or counselling can testify who have been in attendance for months or years without feeling much improvement in their quality of life.
As the amygdala is one of the oldest parts of the brain, it cannot be accessed via the frontal lobes, i.e. rational thought.
We can only work with this material safely once we manage to switch off the constant chatter of the rational mind and make the brain feel safe. Hypnotherapy for mental health is a wonderful tool for this job.
Once a client is in trance, rational thought stops. The brain can then be guided to let go of any irrelevant and burdensome information that no longer has a purpose for your life today. There are various hypnotic techniques for this job which all work by stimulating the subconscious mind to self regulate and self heal.
Hypnotherapy for mental health can help you get rid of symptoms fast and to reclaim your happy and lighthearted self that’s buried underneath all that stress and trauma.
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