Walter Varan, M.S.W.
Walter Varan on Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis
Use Hypnosis (Or Relaxation) to Enhance
The Effectiveness of Many CBT Techniques
by Lynn Mollick & Milton Spett
On July 30, twenty-five NJ-ACT members attended a small group seminar on “Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis” led by ACT member Walter Varan. (We apologize to those who couldn’t attend because the seminar was completely filled.) Walter defined hypnosis as a state of heightened concentration that is like meditation or relaxation, followed by suggestions. Therapists who are not trained in hypnosis can substitute techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, followed by suggestions. [Note: Research has found that relaxation techniques are more effective when they are labeled “hypnosis” or “self-hypnosis.”]
Walter demonstrated his technique with a group hypnotic induction for seminar participants. His technique included scanning the body from toe to head, followed by suggestions to “let go,” “let the relaxation flow through your body,” and “with each breath, become more and more relaxed.”
Walter also demonstrated a more elaborated hypnotic induction with a volunteer from the audience. The induction began with a brief massage of the volunteer’s neck. (Therapists should be cautious and always obtain permission before touching patients.) Then Walter held the tip of a pen very close to the volunteer’s eyes and suggested that her lids would become more and more heavy, and that she should allow them to shut. They did.
Walter then made many suggestions that the volunteer relax. Periodically, he lifted her arm and let it flop back into her lap. Each time her arm was more limp, and the volunteer was presumably more relaxed and more deeply hypnotized. Walter then asked the volunteer to extend her arms and legs, and made suggestions that they would be stiff like iron bars. When he pressed on her limbs, they did not bend. He stroked the back of her hand and suggested each stroke would make the hand more numb. When he pinched the back of the volunteer’s hand, she did not experience pain.
He offered the following non-hypnotic suggestions:
-- Always tell patients what you are going to do before you do it. Always have their permission. Do not Introduce the hypnosis (or relaxation) technique in the first session — wait until the patient knows you, understands hypnosis, and trusts you.
-- Make liberal use of imagery. Images strengthen suggestions, e.g. “imagine that your arm is a rubber band that shakes around when I touch it.”
Hypnosis for Psychological Problems:
Worry: Never tell a patient “everything will be OK” because you can’t be sure that it will. When treating worry or catastrophic thinking, use the self-hypnotic suggestion “I’ll deal with that effectively when it happens.”
OCD: If thoughts are intrusive or obsessive, suggest separating anxiety from the thoughts, then work on reducing the anxiety with hypnosis.
Fear: Ask patients to imagine coping with past or present situations that they fear.
Trauma: Repeatedly re-experiencing a difficult or traumatic event under hypnosis (or relaxation) can reduce the intensity of the negative emotion associated with a past event or the fear associated with a future event. Walter described an age-regression intervention for a patient who had been traumatized by his father. He asked the patient to re-imagine the scene, but this time imagine himself standing up to his father
Phobias: Re-frame and restructure phobias. If a patient has an airplane phobia, re-label the sensations of flying as “feeling the plane’s power.” The image of “the plane’s power” can preclude thoughts or images that the plane will crash. But all patients are not alike, always create a thought or image that is relevant to each individual.
Hypnosis for Medical Problems
Pain: Use suggestions of numbness to counteract pain. Or suggest that the patient’s hand is numb and that he or she transfer the numbness to the painful area by touching it with the numb hand.
Wounds will heal faster with hypnosis as well as suggestions such as “Imagine a material over the wound that stops the bleeding.”
Practicing prior to the actual use of a self-hypnotic procedure is important. Patients can improve their self-hypnotic skills at home with a CD or tape.
Walter reported that research does not support the effectiveness of hypnosis for smoking cessation unless it is combined with counseling. He suggested contacting the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis for further training.
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