Can Hypnotherapy Help PTSD?
“The trance state induced by hypnosis allowed them to find words for the things they had been too afraid to remember: their terror, their survivor’s guilt, and their conflicting loyalties. It also struck me that these soldiers seemed to keep a much tighter lid on their anger and hostility than the younger veterans I’d worked with.” (Van der Kolk, 2014)
“Hypnosis can induce a state of relative calm from which patients can observe their traumatic experiences without being overwhelmed by them. Since that capacity to quietly observe oneself is a critical factor in the integration of traumatic memories, it is likely that hypnosis, in some form, will make a comeback.” (Van der Kolk, 2014)
Bessel Van Der Kolk in his ground-breaking book on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score, speaks highly about hypnosis and its benefits in general trauma recovery, but what about hypnosis for PTSD?
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition of the mind and body triggered by a traumatic event or events. PTSD historically correlates with soldiers returning from war, also called shell shock or battle fatigue. The assumption is that PTSD is the long-term result of severe terror. Constant fight or flight, feeling as though your life is under threat. However, more recent experiences tell us something different.
Developments in technology have changed the way countries fight war. Nowadays, drone pilots sit in a room, down the road from their home, and fly drones in another country. Their life is not under any threat. Yet their rates of PTSD are as high as those of the soldiers in the war vicinity. According to retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and author Dave Grossman, killing is just as likely to cause PTSD as anything else. Also called moral injury and defined as
“Intentionally doing something that you felt was against what you thought was right”. (“The Wounds of the Drone Warrior (Published 2018)”, 2022)
The evidence for this lies in the low rates of PTSD amongst servicemen, such as sailors and medics, during WWII, who were in as much danger as infantrymen but rarely killed. Neurologist Robert Sapolsky believes that while we continue to override the natural inhibition to not kill and use personalised intentional killing, it will cause psychological distress that may manifest as PTSD.
PTSD Hypnosis Therapy
War is not the only cause of PTSD – other dangerous or life-threatening events may cause the same symptoms. In addition, witnessing a traumatic event, accident, or natural disaster can cause PTSD. You can also suffer with PTSD when a friend or family member experiences danger or dies suddenly. Sometimes the symptoms take weeks, months, or years to appear.
Grossman says PTSD is like trying to flee from a memory, and that “You try not to think about the event. You cannot not think about the event. You have got to make peace with the memory.” (“The Wounds of the Drone Warrior (Published 2018)”, 2022)
PTSD hypnosis therapy will help you make peace with your memories.
Hypnotherapy for PTSD
As explained by Van Der Kolk, hypnosis achieves a state of calm, the same as meditation. Your feelings remain, but in hypnosis you find a state of tranquillity that stops you needing to flee. For PTSD, hypnotherapy is worthwhile. However, it is important to find a therapist and an environment in which you feel safe. A main facet of trauma is the feeling of trying to escape. When you begin therapy for trauma, you will face the feelings and sometimes the memories, hence the importance of a safe space.
Hypnotherapy will help you with your challenging thoughts. If you work with a therapist experienced in mindfulness, you will learn how to live mindfully, in the moment, rather than in the memories. However, for trauma recovery, it is beneficial to combine this with body work, such as yoga. There is controversy about whether reliving the trauma during therapy is beneficial. Research shows that it is sometimes advantageous, providing you do not feel overwhelmed by it. Your hypnotherapist should know how to help you relive the memory without overwhelm, and how to move away from the memory should you suddenly feel overwhelmed.
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Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score. UK: Penguin Books.
The Wounds of the Drone Warrior (Published 2018). (2022). Retrieved 5 May 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/magazine/veterans-ptsd-drone-warrior-wounds.html
PTSD healing process must have balance. (2022). Retrieved 5 May 2022, from https://www.army.mil/article/8785/ptsd_healing_process_must_have_balance