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Hypnosis for War Trauma

Combat neurosis is often triggered more by stress than predisposition, but the equation for hypnosis treatment of combat trauma is, “Predisposition plus stress equals neuroses. . . . Motivation plus insight equals cure.” (Watkins, 1949, p.39). Predisposition means the history of the person. Stress means the immediate pressure from the environment preceding and during the individual’s breakdown. Every person can reach a point of breaking with enough stress applied. The treatment is insight and motivation. Four factors are involved in this process: dynamics, symptoms, secondary gain, and the desire to heal. Direct suggestion is useful in temporary alleviation of symptoms and attitudes, hypnotherapy is used for trance interviewing, vertical and horizontal uncovering of relevant information through regression and hypermnesia. Theoretically, neuroses is an interrupted reaction to an unfilled striving to complete something. The repetitive nature of neuroses is the attempt to bring closure to something. Gruzelier (2006) proposed that the symptoms of PTSD were parallel to those of hypnosis in that the experience of trauma produces symptoms such as physical and verbal stupor, numbing, identity distortion, amnesia, dissociation, automaticity, and absorption.

“There are three distinct styles of hypnotic suggestion: directive, permissive, and Ericksonian. Each represents a certain ‘philosophy of life’ (Brown & Fromm, 1986). Hypnosis is a time saving approach using direct suggestion, hypnotherapy involves uncovering, hypnoanalysis involves uncovering with a psychoanalytic perspective. For work with traumatic memories such as war neuroses, psychoanalytic experience is not required. For analysis of transference and counter-transference, psychoanalytic experience is required (Wolberg, 1945). Direct suggestion is beneficial in reducing stress and promoting relaxation, a limited use of hypnosis. Non-directive hypnosis taps a “vast resource within the subject. Within each person is an unlimited supply of self-knowledge, wisdom, strength, creativity and capacity for abundant living” (Hickman, 1985, p.49). Brown and Fromm report that directive hypnosis is the first emergent style of hypnosis with the hypnotist positioned in the role of expert. Permissive hypnosis emerged from modern research with the hypnotist positioned in the role of collaborator. Ericksonian hypnosis is a conversational, informal, indirect approach of eliciting unconscious search processes intended to reorganize the inner world and beliefs without a formal induction. There is no one style of hypnosis that is effective with all individuals.

The use of hypnosis rises and falls with cultural shifts in perceived value. From the 3000 year old Ebers Papyrus, to the Greek temples of Aesculapius, hypnosis has an ancient history. Anton Mesmer brought hypnosis from the world of religion into the scientific world with a veil of mysticism and a theory of animal magnetism. This era of hypnosis ended when Benjamin Franklin commented that the people were getting well by their own imaginations, and the use of mesmerism decreased. James Esdaile performed surgeries using mesmerism as anesthesia and was thrown out of the British Medical Association. James Braid renewed the scientific use of this natural state as a medical tool by renaming it hypnosis. Instead of animal magnetism, eye fixation became the tool of induction. Liebault and Bernheim claimed that it was suggestion not animal magnetism that produced cures. Freud studied with Liebault and Bernheim and began to use the talking cure. Breuer and Freud discovered abreaction by having clients relive an experience while in trance. Hypnosis again decreased as Freud abandoned hypnosis and developed theories of transference, free association and interpretation of dreams. The suffering of the World Wars brought hypnosis back into use again as the volume of war fighters and their symptoms overwhelmed the existing services. Hypnosis has a broad range of capacities from the hypermnesia of enhancing memory retrieval to the numbing of pain that allows for surgery without anesthesia (Cooke & Van Vogt, 1965; LeCron & Bordeaux, 1947; Elman, 1964; Geers, 1994; Hickman, 1985; Watkins, 1949; Wolberg, 1945).

The length of time for healing varies between people. Two or three hypnosis sessions are sufficient for some people. Others may require a session or two a week over a more extended period of time (Hickman, 1985). Treatment begins with suggestibility testing, and education about hypnosis and hypnotherapy processes, this is called a pretalk. After the pretalk, trance is induced and the client’s capacity for deep state hypnosis is assessed. Direct suggestions are given for well being. This may be the end of the first session. The next stage of treatment involves an interview to determine the client’s response to hypnosis, further questions, identifying of the problem area, then trance is induced and uncovering methods are used to explore the identified problem. The first line of approach is often the easier topics, with more intense topics saved for later (Watkins, 1949). Hypnosis is proposed to be helpful with those suffering from skull trauma, “simple conditioned fears” (Wolberg, 1945, p.236), amnesia, and the stress of natural disasters and exposure to war.

Freud (as cited in Brende, 1985) theorized amnesia triggered an intrapsychic split which can only be resolved with rehearsing and abreacting the traumatic experiences. Age regression via hypnosis was used to re-enact the experience, evoke abreaction, and emotionally relieve the pent up unresolved emotional load. Freud and Breuer (as cited in Brende) observed that reliving a traumatic memory and abreacting the emotions related to it appeared to provide only temporary relief of symptoms, and concluded that direct suggestion and abreaction did not resolve deep seated problems. Hickman’s (1985) use of non-directive hypnosis indicted that the client needed to repeatedly relive a traumatic experience until the emotional load is gone. Hickman observed that with a complete release of the emotional load, self correction often occurred. This can be achieved by asking the client to tell the story repeatedly, fleshing in the details with each telling until the client is calm and quiet in telling the story.   Continue to Page 2


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