Living with chronic pain can be a lonely experience. Maybe this loneliness is due partly to the invisibility of pain. Other people are not able to see the pain, and may even doubt that it is really there. Even when a person with chronic pain has a strong support system and is surrounded by family and friends who would like to help, ultimately, the pain is felt by just one person.
How on earth can hypnosis be helpful to a person in that lonely place?
“All Hypnosis is Self-Hypnosis”
The answer, I think, lies in the concept that “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.” Patients often ask when I am going to hypnotize them, viewing themselves as passive recipients of a technique which will transform them from the outside.
My colleagues have taught me a good response to that question. Does your soccer coach “soccerize” you? Does your piano teacher “pianize” you? Those people guide and instruct students to gain skills and improve their abilities in a given field, but the students are the ones actually playing soccer or piano.
It’s the same with hypnosis. I don’t hypnotize patients. Rather, I guide and instruct them in developing the skills to hypnotize themselves, going into a natural state of intense absorption which nearly everyone already experiences spontaneously.
In other words, during a clinical hypnosis session, a person learns more deeply how they can help themselves.
Alone in an Empty Room
We might think of a person who is disabled or debilitated by chronic pain as being alone in an empty room. On the other side of the wall is a wider world of increased comfort and less suffering, more joy and less despair, more participation and less isolation. My job when conducting a hypnosis session is to help the person get out of that room — while acknowledging that as much as I might want to (and they might want me to), I cannot carry them out.
Depending on the situation, people need different types or levels of guidance:
- Sometimes, people feel overwhelmed, and by learning to calm their anxiety, can make enough emotional energy available to look around and find a way out all by themselves.
- Sometimes, people have assumed (or been told) that there is minimal chance of escape. In that case, a guide or coach telling them that there is actually a door or window to be found provides enough of a boost that they can begin to explore and make their own way out.
- Sometimes, a person may need to be shown where the door is, or how to open it. During the session, they might even get a glimpse of that wider world, reminding them of the possibilities and providing some encouragement and motivation to keep working on it.
- Sometimes, a person needs a companion to walk beside them and point out a few different paths which might take them in the right direction.
Escaping the Empty Room
It can even happen that a person walks out the door without realizing it. Many times, I have had a patient come into a follow-up session, discouraged because they are still having pain and aren’t feeling any better. However, then they might mention that they have been able to attend school every day that week, or walk a whole mile, or go back to a favorite sport.
At those times, I have to stop and point out to them how much their function is improving. They have made their way back into the wider world, and can anticipate feeling better the farther they get from that empty room.