After a month free from abusing cocaine, 23-year old Sara found she could not deal with her inner demons on her own and sought out help from a therapist. In her initial therapy session, Sara shared her story: As a child, Sara was abused by her father. Now, as the mother of a 3-year old son, she had developed an unrelenting fear that she might “harm someone.” Sara’s anxiety had gotten to the point that she could not hug or hold her son. Sara said, “I am afraid that when I touch him, I might hurt him. I know this is absurd, but I cannot get rid of this thought. I am in constant fear and cannot relax.”
The therapist quietly listened and then invited Sara to close her eyes and focus on the natural rhythm of her breathing. The therapist then encouraged Sara to pay attention to the various sensations in her body but with a sense of detachment. Once Sara settled into a steady flow of rhythmic breathing, the therapist guided her to find and explore an inner calming space. The therapist suggested that Sara enjoy the soothing sounds, sights, smells, and other pleasant sensations there. Gradually, Sara’s body began to relax, and she slowly started to sway back and forth in her chair. The grimace that previously dominated her face was replaced by a pleasant smile.
After a short while, the therapist helped Sara return to the office. Sara then slowly opened her eyes. Following a moment’s silence, Sara stated, “Thank you. This is the first time I have truly felt relaxed and at peace.” When asked, Sara described what she had experienced. The inner world Sara entered had a field with beautiful white, orange and yellow daisies. Following the therapist’s suggestion, Sara clipped an orange-colored daisy and touched it to her face. Sara said that she was lying in an open field with her legs and arms outstretched while basking in the warm sunlight and a gentle breeze that embraced her cheeks.
What Sara experienced and benefitted from was hypnosis, which involves suggestions that help focus one’s attention in deliberate ways. The purpose of hypnosis is to create an inner setting or milieu in which an individual can create and explore a new awareness along with specific possibilities for transforming their life. Before her hypnotic journey, Sara was completely wrapped up in past traumatic memories and fearful thoughts. Afterward, she had shifted her focus entirely.
Hypnosis is based on a very basic principle: What you focus on, you amplify. In Sara’s case, the therapist employed hypnosis to help her create a new focus and to reconnect with and utilize her inner strengths and resources.
A recent Harvard University study found that “the brains of hypnotized people responded to the suggested experiences rather than the actual stimuli.” Thanks to recent neuroscience findings, we now know that nerve cells (neurons) in the brain grow and develop different firing patterns in response to new experiences. Hypnosis creates new experiences and thus new neural connections. Sara reported that her anxiety level decreased tremendously after her first session. Following some additional hypnosis plus EMDR-TRM sessions, Sara found she no longer had any concerns with holding her son tightly.