Hypnotherapy for Treating PTSD
Martin, a retired policeman, came to me suffering from stress, obsessive and compulsive worrying about his close family members and inability to sleep. The golden years of retirement were turning into a nightmare.
Upon interviewing Martin, it became apparent that one of his major problems was that he had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I hoped that if we treated PTSD, this would help him sleep and handle stress.
In the U.S., 1 out of 11 people have PTSD in their lifetime. About 3.5% of the population suffers from PTSD. The main symptoms: uncontrollable flashbacks that often trigger anger and fear. The person tries to avoid cues that might trigger the flashbacks. Commonly, the person has negative thoughts about themselves.
Most cases of PTSD develop by witnessing or being involved in a terrifying event. However, I have worked with nontypical PTSD caused by the death of a loved one due to cancer.
As a young police officer, he was the first to arrive on the scene of a murder-suicide. “I opened the door to the basement and was met with a horrific smell. I immediately turned to my partner and asked him to wait at the top of the stairs. I had an idea of what I was going to see, and I didn’t want him to exposed to this.” Martin then proceeded down the stairs and saw the tragic scene (I will not go into graphic details as these are not relevant).
Martin had uncontrollable flashbacks and negative thoughts, “maybe if I had gotten their a few minutes earlier, I could’ve saved them?” Throughout the rest of his career, he experienced similar situations; one-time young children had died in a car accident, “Why did they die so young? Life is meaningless.”
He felt that exposure to these other events reinforced his anxiety, and he had to take a desk job for the last 15 years of his career. Martin didn’t like that he had to take a desk job; he felt weak and unable to serve.
During a person’s lifetime, we all have to deal with loss that usually does not result in PTSD. I wanted to see if I could utilize Martin’s natural strategies for dealing with pain and sorrow. I asked Martin to tell me about the loss of his parents. He described that they had grown old and that they died within a few months of each other, after having lived a full life. He said that his sister was devastated by their passing. However, he was there for her and helped her through the pain. He then described how he had helped several other people through tough times.
I then asked him if he had ever suffered from heartbreak. “When I was 22, my first love broke up with me. It was excruciating the first few months, but then the memory of her stated to fade, and I wanted to start dating again.”
There are four things I decided I wanted to try in hypnotherapy that came forth when talking with Martin:
1. See if I could help him change the narrative about the meaning of what he went through
2. Refocus the story on how he protected his colleague from being traumatized. And how he was able to help his sister cope with her grief.
3. Try to utilize his natural ability to make memories fade.
4. Focus on how he helped other people.
My favorite induction technique is deep relaxation. I said to Martin, As you relax, you are falling into a deep hypnotic state. And in this state, you can easily think in new ways that will help you and allow you to really understand and connect with a deep feeling of meaning, inner peace and security.
Martin fell readily into the hypnotic state. I next weaved in the new narrative. Martin, your first thought was to protect you, colleague. You saved him from years of suffering, didn’t you? Just like how you’ve helped so many people, like how you helped your sister -and that gives life meaning -something to really think about, something to really understand. And because you understand this, this will allow you to finally let the painful memory go. Because when we truly and deeply understand something of importance, we no longer need to hang on to that memory, it can just fade, it can finally fade away because now you see how you protected your colleague, just like you protected your sister. Like how peaceful the passing of your parents, that gives life a deep meaning, that gives every memory a deep meaning. And now the memory can finally fade because you really see the meaning of protecting, serving, and taking care of others. The painful memory has faded away, and when you awake, you will always focus on this. In all situations in your daily life, this is what you will focus on.
The hypnotic session had an immediate positive effect. I worked with Martin over three months, reinforcing the main themes in the first session. At first, the PTSD was reduced, and by the end of therapy, it was no longer an issue. The other symptoms resolved themselves. He was able to sleep and cope with stress much better.