One of the most vital skills needed by psychotherapists and hypnotherapists is the ability to relieve or completely eliminate trauma and its related disorders. In this blogpost we will be looking at highly effective ways to remove the effects of horrible past events and help clients find a better future; a future that is free from emotional and physical pain.
As a hypnotist and educator, I don’t provide clients with the means to live with their suffering. Instead, the aim will always be to clear up the negative influences that are quite literally keeping them “stuck” in what can seem like a necessary evil. An intervention doesn’t always work. But when it does work, the result can seem like magic.
Amazingly too, it doesn’t seem to matter at all how long the person has had the problem. A fifty year old phobia can be relieved as easily as the effects of something that happened just last week.
Having worked with sexual assault victims, phobic people, PTSD and those who’ve suffered horrible loss and grief, I have seen absolute transformation happen in front of my eyes, as frightened, dysfunctional sufferers regain their dignity and happiness.
I am not a doctor or a psychologist. But I’ve trained many medical professionals (including psychiatrists) who are now using the very same techniques that we’ll be looking at.
But first a caveat:
This information is not a substitute for medical or psychological care, nor is it intended to help diagnose or solve anyone’s problems. It is purely educational, and examines the techniques and methods that (in my opinion) work quickly and also thoroughly.
So let’s begin…
What exactly do I mean by trauma?
Trauma is a very general term for a negative emotional state, caused by mental or emotional stress, or physical injury. In this category, we can put phobias, PTSD, etc., that result in fear, depression, avoidance, and a lot of other things.
But let’s keep it simple, with the definition I use:
Trauma is the negative effect on someone due to something bad that happened. Whether it’s a car crash, loss of a loved one, financial ruin, or sexual abuse, it all has a bad effect. It also includes events that the person believed happened, whether or not they actually occurred. That’s because we don’t respond to “real” world events. We respond to how we internally represent them in our own minds.
When I teach my students, they learn to work with the principle: Detraumatize first.
This means that whatever symptoms or needs a person comes in with, eliminating the negative power of the past will give them a head start so they can at least begin to function normally again.
THE SWIMMER AND THE GOLD MEDAL
For example, I worked with a world-class swimmer a few years ago. He came to me because although he was extremely fast, when he swam the 200 metre freestyle race, he would always miss his third and final turn. In his excitement of being ahead of the other swimmers, he’d turn too soon, and go from being in the lead, to finishing dead last.
Naturally, I could have worked with him to install hypnotic suggestions to turn at the correct instant, which is what I eventually did. But when I interviewed him extensively, I detected a lasting effect from his most recent race that made him feel terrible.
He was suffering trauma from his failures, and his self-confidence had taken a beating. He felt humiliated in front of his peers. So following my own advice, I de-traumatized him first. I ran a program to release the negative charge from the failed swimming events. By taking away the negative effects, he became free to work on building some positive resources.
The result of this session was an immediate change that lead to him winning gold medals at the world Police and Fire games.
Although I might have been able to help him get there without removing the effects of his past failures, starting with a clean slate probably made all the difference. You can think of it as removing shrapnel before stitching up a wound. It just makes sense.
EFFECTS OF UNTREATED TRAUMA
Trauma that is left untreated can result in numerous ongoing problems. It makes little difference whether the initial trauma was physical, like a car accident, or emotional, such as a seeing horrific event. In either case, the person may have ongoing symptoms, like insomnia, confusion, sadness, or anxiety. There may be panic attacks, digestive disturbances, nightmares, or chronic pain.
Amazingly, by simply removing the effects of the past event, symptoms can often vanish completely, regardless of how long they’ve been present.
A RAPE VICTIM’S STORY
In the mid 1990s I had an office in the upscale Beach area of Toronto. I was seeing a lot of clients in those days, many who were sent to me by their physicians. One in particular stands out in my mind, because of the severity of her symptoms, and how rapidly she improved in one session.
Maureen (not her real name) was an attractive and personable woman in her late thirties. She had experienced the horror of a series of multiple rapes by a male relative, when she was a young girl. A friend had sent her to me to see if I could help her.
Her suffering was terrible. She had near-constant back pain, headaches, stomach cramps, flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety. If you extended your hands toward her she would panic and become violent.
Amazingly, in a little over an hour, she transformed in front of my eyes. Her pain and anxiety disappeared in that one session and to the best of my knowledge, never came back again.
Before she left my office, I did an experiment with her permission. I extended my hands toward her to test my work. Then I grabbed her gently around the throat and shook her. She burst out laughing. The violent terror was completely gone, and she was all smiles.
Maureen sent me a lot of her friends and associates as clients. They testified that she was a transformed woman!
THE NEUROSCIENCE OF TRAUMA
So what exactly is happening when a deep and limiting trauma is completely relieved?
About twenty-five years ago, I studied with a Swiss psychologist, who provided an interesting model of trauma and recovery. The model is particularly interesting, because it’s not psychological, it’s neurological. It explains things in terms of the human brain and its connections.
Basically, this model (which I’ve adopted) believes that trauma is stored in the right hemisphere of the brain as an electro-magnetic disturbance, which over time is dissipated. In this theory, the electrical charge is what the person is experiencing as bad feelings, and by shifting the charge through different pathways, the client experiences that the bad feelings go away; usually forever.
In order to understand this model, let’s use grief as an example.
Grief is something we all go though. The loss of a loved-one eventually happens to everyone, leading to deep sadness, and sometimes depression. Nevertheless, in 80% of cases, in about two years, the sadness fades enough that the suffering person can lead a relatively normal life.
According to the model, the electro-magnetic disturbance in the right brain has eventually faded naturally. This fading out caused the negative feelings to fade too.
But for the other 20% of people, the grief can linger on.
It is in these cases that powerful and effective detraumatization techniques can quickly eliminate the right brain charge, and bring relief.
The methods that we use are classed as Power Therapies.
Power Therapies are methods that have been proven to rapidly relieve negative emotions, like fear, out of control anger, sadness, and other trauma symptoms.
Although the therapies may differ from each other to a large degree, It’s my opinion they all act the same way, quickly dissipating right brain disturbance, and helping the client feel better, and get on with his or her life.
Naturally, talk therapy, in which the therapist and client spend multiple sessions discussing the problem do not fit into this category. That’s because in this model, we are less interested in studying the past than we are in fixing the problem.
We summarize this by saying WHY something happened is less useful than HOW can we fix it.
All of the Power Therapies address the problem directly, and are judged entirely by how the client feels at the end of the session or sessions. It’s important to do thorough work, and the client is the best gauge as to whether the technique has succeeded or not.
Regardless of the Power Therapy chosen, it’s important to get a baseline at the beginning of the session. The baseline comes from how badly the person feels about the problem; his or her subjective units of distress, or SUDs.
THE STORY OF THE WOMAN AND THE CAT
For example, a woman came to see me regarding a combination of grief and guilt; both negative feelings. The painful emotions were due to her suffocating her sick cat, because she couldn’t afford euthanasia. Although it was merciful and intended to ease the animals suffering, she felt terribly guilty about taking the cat’s life. Any time she saw any cat, it made her feel horrible.
As she put it, “I murdered my best friend...”
Upon asking her how bad out of ten that felt, with zero being nothing at all, and ten being as bad as it could be, she responded that it was a nine.
I ran a specific method to relieve the horrible sadness and guilt, and in fifteen minutes, she reported the SUDs were at zero now.
At this point, I was able to give her ego strengthening suggestions, to help her get on with her life from this point, as she’d reported being “stuck”. By the time she left my office, her entire demeanour had changed, and the bad feelings were eliminated completely.
Imagine the different result I would have had with her if I’d chosen to spend the session (or sessions) talking about the past and how bad she felt. In reality, she didn’t want to talk about what she had done at all! She wanted to be free of the sadness and guilt, and that’s what happened.
This is a good example of an effective way to proceed. First you find out what the problem is and how bad they feel. Then you go about eliminating the power of the underlying past events. Then I’ll go on to build resourceful states, now that the subject has cleared up the past.
If you think in terms of building a house, it provides a useful metaphor.
You don’t build a house on top of an outhouse or garbage dump. First you clear it all out and take out the trash. Then you are free to build a solid foundation and start fresh.
Another metaphor is a wound filled with shrapnel. A surgeon will take care to clean out the debris before she puts in the sutures. Otherwise, healing will be incomplete at best, and at worst, infection could set in.
That’s how the detraumatize first approach works. It clears out the negative emotions and creates a fresh new starting place for change.
YOUR TRAUMA AND PTSD POWER THERAPY TOOLKIT
This is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list, but these are the methods that I’ve found to be immensely effective.
Note that the choice of therapy isn’t important. What matters is how the client feels at the end of the session. If the client has let go of the bad feelings and is able to function normally again, then the therapy is a success. It’s vital to always remove the negative feelings completely, regardless of the therapy chosen.
HYPNOSIS AND HYPNOTHERAPY
Hypnotherapists have a long and well-documented history. The late, great, Dr Milton H. Erickson, and Dave Elman, being two of the most shining examples. Hypnotists are able to create and utilize trance states, to access the subject’s unconscious mind directly, and facilitate the release of trauma.
A good hypnotist can rewrite the subject’s past, providing a completely different series of events from what actually happened.
In the early days of hypnosis, it was believed that the person had to re-experience the negative event while in a hypnotic trance. This kind of emotional release is known as abreaction, and it did often produce good results. Now however, it’s recognized that putting the subject back through the problem with all its pain is not necessary to get excellent results.
Hypnosis is a highly-flexible method that works well on its own, or as an adjunct to other therapies. Check out our flagship online hypnosis training here.
NLP FOR TRAUMA
Neurolinguistic Programming was the creation of Richard Bandler and John Grinder. By modeling highly effective therapists, including Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson. Bandler and Grinder were able to distil the essence of what made the therapists great. The methods were codified, making them easy to learn. Check out Part 1 of our Podcast series on All About NLP here.
An NLP practitioner might use highly specific language to clarify the client’s situation. An intervention would then be chosen to quite literally rewrite the trauma in the person’s brain. By having the client make a movie in her mind about the trauma, and then editing the movie, the problem feelings would disappear.
An NLP related therapy from Dr Tad James that works with the way the client perceives time. Originally, basic time line work was part of traditional NLP training, but James’ reworking of the NLP version is, in my opinion, a tremendous improvement.
TIMELINE THERAPY is very comprehensive, and is useful in a wide variety of situations. It has the advantage of clearing trauma and negative feelings “from a distance” so the client doesn’t have to go through the bad events again. It also works very well as a resource technique to create a better future.
Over the last few decades, a host of so-called “tapping”, or energetic therapies have arisen. The first of these was Thought Field Therapy (TFT), which was the creation of psychologist Dr Roger Callahan. Originally coming from the use of acupuncture points to relieve phobias, TFT has a broad application, from relieving sadness, to playing better golf. By simply tapping with the fingers on certain points, negative emotions quickly dissipate.
A host of related energetic therapies have arisen, including EFT, Faster EFT, TAT, BSFF, and my own 6 Step Tapping as discussed in this podcast episode. One of the great advantages of all of these methods is that they are easy to teach to clients. Tapping methods become a psychological first aid kit than anyone can learn, and that is always available when needed.
Kinetic Shift (or just "KS") is the brainchild of hypnotherapist Karl Smith of the UK (watch interview here). While Karl admits that there’s nothing new in KS, his re-packaging and organization of the foundational NLP and energy based techniques of KS form a very useful stand-alone therapy.
KS is incredibly effective on phobias, anxiety, emotional pain, bad memories, etc. It’s also extremely fast, both in application and result. Many therapists are now using KS as their detraumatization method of choice.
The creation of Richard Hill and Dr Ernest Rossi, MIRRORING HANDS is another method that has broad application. It’s also noteworthy as a therapy where the therapist does the least amount of actual work, being entirely client centred.
In this methodology, a client spontaneously develops a learning trance, with her hands floating in front of her. Through subtle feedback and incomplete questions from the therapist, the client does all the work. This gentle, but powerful system accesses the 90 minute ultradian rhythm to continue therapy when the session is officially ended.
The newest member of this Power Therapy list is MINDSCAPING or MS. As its creator, circa 2013, I admit to being biased, but therapists worldwide are now using it as their first choice for numerous problems and issues.
MS accesses the subject’s own unconscious metaphors, and presents them on an internal map. By changing the items and symbols on the map, the client’s life changes too.
An advantage of MINDSCAPING is extreme flexibility of application. It may be used equally well, to deal with a horrible past, or smooth the way to an excellent future. MS may be used alone, or to begin a session, or to tie up any loose ends at the end of a therapeutic intervention.
Doubtless, there are more Power Therapies that belong on this list, and more will be developed in the future. Although far from perfect, these are the methods that I continue to use, with excellent results. It is my hope that coaches, psychologist, hypnotherapists and social workers, will be prompted by this blog to look into these fascinating methods of personal transformation.