Case Studies

in Clinical Hypnosis

The following true clinical examples are taken from daily office practice. Specifics of age, gender, and situation may have been modified in order to protect the privacy of the person involved. The stories themselves and the results are true and accurate.

Fears: 1. Fear of flying

Anxiety: 2. Test-taking “freeze-up” 3. Panic

Performance Enhancement: 4. Sports 5. Public Speaking

Chronic Illness: 6. Digestive Problems

Chronic illness Continued :7. Bowel Distress 8. Muscle tension headaches

Sleep Problems: 9.”Turning off” the mind

Pain Management: 10. Automobile accident injury

Medical Procedures: 11. Tests and “Claustrophobia”

FEARS: Fear of flying
Alexa was 25 years old, and had not flown since she was a teenager. Her only experience in an airplane was at that time, and bad weather had produced a turbulent flight, with much “bouncing around.” Since then she had refused to use air transport, and vacations with her husband and young daughter were “driving vacations.” Certainly this was somewhat limiting, yet it was not a significant issue until the extended family was planning a long weekend at Disney World. How could she possibly take part in this adventure if she was unable to fly? This young woman decided to use hypnosis to assist her in facing her fear.
   Three sessions were required in order to answer all her questions thoroughly, and teach her the self-hypnosis skills necessary to overcome her fear. In this case, Alexa placed herself in a deeply relaxed state as soon as she entered the airplane, and maintained it throughout the flight, eating her lunch and using the comfort facilities while in a light state of trance. She called from Disney World to describe her joy and sense of power and control over her fear.

ANXIETY: Test-taking “freeze-up”
Ben was a student, and doing quite well. He found the course work interesting, the writing assignments challenging, and the social scene stimulating. As the time for final exams drew near, his grade point average was almost 3.0. Ben wanted desperately to sustain this level of performance.
   However, all through high school, tests had been his downfall. He had no problem studying. He memorized material well and knew his notes “cold.” Unfortunately, when confronted with the actual exam, it was almost as if he hadn’t prepared at all! More often than not, the youngster found that his mind was “blank.” He just couldn’t remember the most basic aspect of the course work that he had studied the night before. He was terrified!
   Ben’s mother had heard that clinical hypnosis could be used in these situations. She called for an appointment. This young man was quite hesitant about anyone “controlling his mind.” Once he was reassured that hypnosis was designed to increase his control, and then actually experienced the sense of relaxation that hypnosis can produce, he learned to easily and quickly produce states of comfort that made his test taking abilities much more congruent with his study habits.

Margerie was quick, extremely bright, and had a very high-powered job. Big rewards for few mistakes, “No problem.” Unfortunately, her latest project was creating a little too much pressure: one small miscalculation, and they would be down two or three hundred thousand dollars. In a tight bid situation, that could be the end of Margerie.
   She started to notice the tightness and inability to breathe as she would pull in to her parking space in the morning. It would last nearly all day, and on some days she would take it home. Then Al and the kids got the brunt of what she had been absorbing all day. Her doctor did a lot of tests, found no medical condition, and reminded her that she was a “classic type-A personality.” He suggested a couple of medications, but Margerie didn’t want to take pills. A hard charger, to be sure.
   Margerie reminded me of the athletes I see: she was prepared academically and professionally for the job, but thought that as far as stress and panic go, she could just show up with her cognitive and professional skills intact, and they would somehow carry her through the stress. Wrong!
   The real world of business requires stress management skills as an integral part of the package. Margerie learned hypnotically-based cue-induced relaxation as quickly as she had learned everything else in her life. A daily regimen of 10 minutes of quiet relaxation, safe-place imagery, combined with quick hypnotic tension reduction just before stressful meetings was the perfect solution.

Ana was an up-and-coming young tennis player. She practiced her strokes. She ate the correct foods. She was in superb physical condition. She was a great “team player.” She listened to her coach. There was one big problem: Ana had a temper, and she took her mistakes out on her concentration! Which meant that Ana lost when she was frustrated with herself. Every athlete knows this experience: the inner self-talk after a couple of mistakes became so critical and constant, that Ana would sometimes actually just play it out to get off the court. Unfortunately that didn’t stop the talk, even if it did stop the match.
   Ana was ready to try anything. Fortunately, her motivation, desire to improve, and readiness to practice were a perfect match for self-hypnotic skill building and learning to use her mind to program-in and program -out specific behaviors. Ana quickly brought her “mental” training up to the level of her ongoing “physical” training. Now she didn’t just show up for a tennis match physically prepared, she took the time to prepare her mind as well.

Frank was a salesman, and a very good one, too. He liked people. He liked talking to them about what they wanted. He was careful to point them to products that were just what they were looking for. In his spare time he liked to go outdoors, hiking, biking, and skiing. Yet as good as he was with people one-to-one, Frank never liked groups, unless he knew everybody, and even then, he preferred to be just one of the crowd.
   One day, Frank somehow found himself needing to give a speech to his ski club, and he panicked. He absolutely knew that he was going to stumble, mumble, and lose all his social skills. He called regarding hypnosis out of desperation, as there was no way around the public arena this time.
   Frank was such a natural talent in hypnosis that it only took one interview for him to develop the skills to manage his “performance anxiety.” He called nonchalantly the next day to say how easy it had been to be as relaxed in front of a group as he had been with individuals.

CHRONIC ILLNESS: Digestive problems
Mary had had gastro-esophageal reflux disease — “the GERD,” as she called it — for years. She was taking a lot of medication, but the medication wasn’t having the proper effect. Of course, the fact that Mary smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day, regularly ate spicy foods, and was not really “too health conscious” were all contributing factors. Her doctor was frustrated with her. She was frustrated with herself, and angry at her body for letting her down. Unfortunately, she was consistently losing weight because of her trouble keeping food down, had little energy, and was actually getting depressed over the situation. Her gastroenterologist mentioned that surgery was the next step, if she didn’t feel better soon. In mentioning these symptoms to her general practitioner, he suggested that Mary try hypnosis to assist her in complying with her diet and relaxing.
   Mary had reservations, but she was desperate. She agreed to come for one, and only one, office visit, to see if hypnosis could work, “as long as you don’t make me cluck like a chicken.” Obviously she had seen a stage hypnotist on TV. I reassured her that it would be she, not me, who was in control in the trance. No one would force her do anything that didn’t make absolute sense to her, I reassured her. I, however, had my doubts about the helpfulness of using only one session, but I agreed to try. One must often work within the patient’s limitations. As it turned out, Mary agreed to come to see me twice!
   In our second appointment Mary quickly entered a deep state of trance, and was able to focus her mind on exactly what she wanted: fewer cigarettes, more compliance with the correct diet, daily practice of relaxation to reduce her stress. She returned from the experience refreshed. She thanked me for my help, and left.
   Five months later Mary called me. She had gained twenty pounds, was sticking to her diet more and smoking much less, and she was using very little medication, compared to previously. She had gone from three attacks per day to about one episode every six weeks.

CHRONIC ILLNESS: Bowel distress
Dylan was really embarrassed about his symptoms, and preoccupied with ensuring that he was in a position to control them. He would awaken in an anxious state, knowing that if he was going to get to class, he would need to leave at least 45 minutes early in order to find a bathroom. If he ate too fast or too much, he later felt cramps, pain, and the urge. In fact, Dylan felt that “torture” was the only word that really described what his life had become in living with his doctor’s diagnosis of “irritable bowel syndrome.” He was taking medication to “manage” the symptoms. He was actually depressed, too. His family doctor prescribed an antidepressant, and agreed that counseling and stress-reduction would be helpful.
   I was just beginning to experiment with a research protocol designed specifically to drastically reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome when Dylan called the office. Of course, he was interested! The treatment consisted of eight face-to-face hypnosis sessions, spread over a twelve-week period, and nightly use of a fifteen-minute audio tape at bedtime.
   Results didn’t appear until session three. From that point on, Dylan experienced markedly reduced intestinal sensitivity, the gradual decrease and then the total ceasing of abdominal pain, and increased control over his bowel habits. Life was no longer torture, and he wasn’t stressed and in pain all of the time.

CHRONIC ILLNESS: Muscle tension headaches
Angie had learned to hypnotize herself as a child, in order to “leave her body” during the times that her uncle would do “bad things” to her. She never called it hypnosis, but she did use her talent in “spacing” herself out in other situations where overpowering affect or emotion needed to be regulated.
   Eventually, Angie entered psychotherapy in order to work out the personal problems that she believed she suffered, as a young woman who had been abused as a child. Among the many symptoms Angie described, were a large number of chronic physical problems, for which she repeatedly sought medical treatment. Stress-related muscle tension headaches were frequent. Her doctor was not happy with her use of pain medications for these headaches, as he feared that she would become dependent upon them. The headaches were unique in that it was also felt that, like a migraine, Angie’s pain was related to both muscle tension and vascular pressure.
   As it turned out, Angie was able to reduce the intensity and frequency of the headaches quite easily. Like many survivors of psychological trauma and abuse, she was skilled in using her mind to change situations. These “dissociative experiences” of childhood adaptation were a training ground for using hypnosis with a professional. All she needed to do was learn to utilize this skill in a systematic fashion. This she did quickly. Self-hypnosis, in order to loosen her muscles when she experienced the start of a headache, was one step. The second was to learn to warm the temperature of her hands – a hypnotically based skill measured in the office with the used of a digital finger thermometer. As the muscles loosened, and blood moved from her head to her hands to warm them, the headache was eliminated. It was almost too good to be true for Angie. She had refined a skill learned to avoid psychological pain in order to reduce and eliminate physical pain.

SLEEP PROBLEMS: “Turning off” the mind
Patricia couldn’t seem to get herself to sleep. She’d get in bed, turn off the light, and her mind would continue to run “on, and on, and on… for hours.” She was starting to feel like she was worn out. Then she discovered sleeping pills. Not too groggy in the morning, and a good night’s rest. Excellent!
   Except for the developing dependency. Pretty soon Patricia was asking her doctor what else she could do in order to get to sleep. She tried exercise. She tried getting up to read. She only used the bed for sleeping and intimacy. She refused to nap. She avoided caffeine, even though by now she craved it! Nothing was changing.
   Patricia’s mother had used hypnosis for her weight, and encouraged her to try it. She was really quite unhappy, so she was ready to try anything. Patricia learned the skills to enter a self-hypnotic trance and immediately fell asleep in the office. With a little practice, she was able to reduce her use of sleeping pills, and to feel more in control of her sleep pattern.

PAIN MANAGEMENT: Automobile accident injury
Sheila was referred by her physical therapist because the chronic aches from the rib injury suffered in an automobile accident were a distraction. She didn’t want to take any more pain medicine than necessary, and it seemed that at the end of a long day, she just felt so achy and tired.
   Sheila was a woman who liked her vacations. Before the accident she liked to scuba dive, ride horses, and hunt. Since the injuries, though, she was petty much confined to passive participation. We decided to use her interest in sports, and her active imagination, to create a little hypnotic vacation for Sheila in the afternoon. When she came home achy, Sheila would simply place herself in a self-hypnotic relaxed state, and then use the power of her hypnotic imagination to go snorkeling, or horseback riding. The activities seemed very real to her, providing great satisfaction and comfort. The added benefit was that upon leaving the trance state, Sheila felt refreshed, comfortable, and not nearly as bothered by the aching ribs as she had been before.

MEDICAL PROCEDURES: Tests and “claustrophobia”
Sheila accidentally discovered a side benefit of learning self-hypnotic skills for purposes of stress reduction: the tools of hypnosis can be creatively used by the patient throughout his or her life. A few days after our third session, Sheila was scheduled for an MRI. She was terrified of the “closed” space of the test, and the banging noise reminded her of a jackhammer. She wanted to run, but knew that the test was both expensive and necessary for her doctor. She decided to ask the technician if she could have a minute before sliding into the tube. Sheila then simply went to the ocean scuba diving with her sister, and though she “heard” the noises, and “knew” she was in an enclosed space, the urge to run was gone. The test was completed easily.

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