How Hypnotherapy Helps Post-Traumatic Stress & PTSD

PTSD and post-traumatic stress symptoms wreak havoc in the lives of millions of people. They can keep us up at nights, make our tempers quick and unpredictable, and lead us to always doubt ourselves. They can tempt us into toxic habits and unhealthy relationships for a temporary sense of peace, which ultimately leaves us exhausted. Post-traumatic stress keeps us locked in an echo chamber of fear who’s instigators have long since past. In its grip we feel helpless to find the cause even as it torments us.

Using hypnotherapy, I’ve been able to provide a safe, gentle, quick and permanent way out of the post-traumatic nightmare for my clients.

In common usage, we often use the words “PTSD” and “post-traumatic stress” to describe our habitual, stressful reactions caused by past events. In these cases, our “PTSD” reactions seem like they have a life of their own and trying to address the cause often makes those reactions even worse. Hopelessness is the common result. In the cases where we have no memory of the cause, the mystery can make the frustration even worse.

When people visit my office for the first time, they’re almost always asking, “Why?!” Why do I have these troubling thoughts? Why won’t these habits go away? Why can’t I feel good?

Hypnotherapy transforms this bundle of frustration, hopelessness, stress and anxiety into a newfound sense of peace. They leave knowing what led to their disturbance. Relief and freedom replace the negative emotions that once held them hostage.

“The part of my brain that wanted to drink isn’t there any more. I can’t find it.” – Emily H.

Our hypnotherapy sessions…dove deep and helped to dislodge fears and unresolved struggles I’ve had for years…I have seen dramatic improvements in my anxiety and stress levels, in my IBS symptoms, and in my relationship with myself. – Mika T.

Like most hypnotherapists I don’t use the diagnostic model that created the formal definition for PTSD. Hypnotherapists look at wellbeing a little differently. We’re experts in helping people utilize the part of the mind that is normally subconscious to make positive changes in their lives. When people talk about PTSD and post-traumatic stress, they’re talking about trouble with the subconscious. The conscious mind might know the trouble is over but the subconscious hasn’t received the message. Hypnotherapy helps us update the subconscious mind so that our bodies know the threat is gone.

Here are some recent examples from my practice involving post-traumatic stress:

  • A woman who was attacked a year prior while walking her dog suffered debilitating anxiety every time she walked her dog or heard him bark. We spent two sessions on this issue. She is now completely relieved of those anxieties and continues to walk her dog with no problem.
  • A man panicked when he drove his family over a mountain pass this last summer. He had to pull over and let his wife drive. In hypnosis we discovered the roots of his fear. He had almost driven over a cliff more than a decade earlier. His fear of driving on mountain passes was resolved in one appointment.
  • A woman watched her uncle’s house burn down a month prior and could not stop thinking about the situation. Her mind was in a continual loop of watching the house burn, stoking her initial horror. Her uncle had survived in good condition, but at the time she was watching the house burn she believed he was trapped inside. After our appointment the looping and feelings of horror stopped.
  • A woman who had been molested as a child had feelings of guilt and shame that wouldn’t leave her alone. Her earlier attempts to deal with these feelings through counseling had put her in a psychiatric ward. After our engagement of 3 sessions on this subject she was able to release the guilt and shame associated with being a victim of molestation, and was able to foster new feelings of appreciation for herself. She also reported feeling a new sense of inner peace.
  • A woman who had witnessed the death of her son three decades ago was suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Her Irritable Bowel symptoms were significantly better after our session, and she was able to process the grief for losing her son that she had put off for three decades. Until our engagement she hadn’t made the connection between her Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the death of her son, even though the IBS started shortly after her son’s death.
  • A woman who was frequently physically and emotionally abused by her former spouse wanted to find a suitable mate but was suffering from overwhelming fears about finding a match. After our engagement of 2 sessions she realized that she had gained the discernment to choose men who are not abusive and felt free to date again.
  • A medical adviser experienced an inability to help her customers during the COVID epidemic. The resulting feeling of helplessness left her in a chronic state of overwhelm for 2 years. 20 minutes into our first session she was completely free of her overwhelm and has been free of overwhelm since then.

Each person above was suffering because of an earlier overwhelming incident which resulted in prolonged stress and anxiety. Some of them suffered for decades, while trying everything at their disposal that might help, before getting relief with hypnotherapy.

Why does this kind of prolonged suffering happen?

The following are 5 points about how trauma works:

  • Trauma and traumatic events. A traumatic event occurs when our nervous system becomes overwhelmed and is no longer able to handle the stress in a given situation. The extra stress of the traumatic event is then internalized. The stress remains stuck and frozen within us until we find a way to resolve it. The internalized stress from a traumatic event is referred to as trauma.
  • Lost memories. The explicit memories (sights, sounds, words, events, etc) of the traumatic event can become subconscious when we’re overwhelmed during a traumatic event, thus we become unaware of the causes of our resulting stress.
  • Triggers. The implicit body memories (the bad feelings and resulting stress) from the traumatic event can also become subconscious until we are reminded of it. Reminders of the traumatic event are often called “triggers” because they trigger a negative stress reaction that can bring the sufferer back into the original traumatized state.
  • Confusion. Implicit body memories of a stressful event without the context of explicit memories can be incredibly confusing. For example one might suddenly feel anxious and not know why. This is especially common in early life traumas and in extreme traumas. However, it can also happen with other traumatic events that don’t seem like they should be that big of a deal to the sufferer or bystander. For example, the man who was experiencing overwhelming anxiety when driving over a mountain pass didn’t connect his anxiety with the fact that he had almost driven off a cliff a decade earlier. He believed he had completely gotten over that event long ago. His anxiety seemed to come out of nowhere.
  • Prolonged Suffering. Even if we do have explicit memories of a traumatic event, and consciously understand why we are experiencing overwhelm, the implicit body memories can still leave us in a constant state of stress. Of course, this continuing stress can result in a myriad stress-related illnesses, thinking patterns and behaviors. The implicit memories must be resolved for us to get relief.

I just want to acknowledge there are a lot of new terms in the last five points. I’ll reiterate them here because they’re important to understanding why the subject of trauma is so tricky.

  • Traumatic event. An overwhelming event that occurs when we are not able to fully process the stress at the time.
  • Trauma. The remaining internalized stress from a traumatic event. Therefore the stress remains stuck and frozen in our nervous system.
  • Explicit memories. The memories that we seem to hear, touch, taste, see, and smell with our senses.
  • Implicit memories. The memories that we feel in our bodies that can appear without explicit memories.
  • Triggers. Events, things, or people that can invoke traumatic memories and resulting behaviors. Again, when we experience a trigger the memory might only be implicit, which can be profoundly disorienting.

How does hypnotherapy help?

It helps clients get relaxed and focused. The use of hypnosis to help clients get deeply relaxed and focused is an immense benefit for those suffering from post-traumatic stress. It enables the client to work through difficulties that would be too overwhelming in a normal state.

It helps create context and meaning. In the continuing relaxed and focused state, hypnotherapy techniques can help the client match the implicit body memories with an explicit memory that helps give context and meaning to the stress symptoms the client has been having. This happened very quickly with the man who almost drove off a cliff. He soon realized he was feeling anxious driving over mountain passes because of the earlier near-miss with the cliff.

It helps resolve the root cause of the issue. Further hypnotherapy techniques help the client reunite with the part of themselves that was frozen in the overwhelm of the traumatic incident. Continuing with the driving anxiety example above, the man realized he was suffering from enormous guilt because he was driving recklessly when he almost went over the cliff. He could have killed his wife along with himself. Resolving the guilt involved realizing that he doesn’t drive recklessly like that anymore and that everyone involved was okay. He had learned his lesson. Therefore, he no longer needed to be scared about driving over mountain passes. He can now trust himself.

It updates and resets our nervous system. In other examples, such as being a victim of child molestation, hypnotherapy is a wonderful tool to help create a reunion between the adult self and child self who experienced the trauma. Through hypnotherapy the adult realizes the trauma happened a long time ago to a version of themselves who lacked the tools they now have. The fact is they are no longer helpless. Part of the recipe for freedom is realizing the memories of helplessness are just memories and not a current reality. Another crucial part of getting free is for the adult to wholeheartedly accept the traumatized child as worthy of their continued love and support.

It’s worth re-emphasizing that hypnotherapy can free a person from trauma incredibly quickly, gently, and permanently. Most of my engagements are 5 sessions or less. When the post-traumatic stress has complex roots in multiple and varied traumatic incidents it can take longer than 5 sessions. Sometimes very deep traumas that are hidden under layers of other traumas can also take a few sessions to find and then heal.

For example, I helped a man recently who had several traumas as a child, but it wasn’t until the 5th session that we were able to uncover the root trauma which happened at birth. This was the trauma that was keeping him in the grips of a habit he desperately wanted to kick.

Special Strengths of Hypnotherapy

It can reach and resolve very deep traumas. As illustrated by the birth trauma above, deep states of hypnosis enable hypnotherapists to help clients with traumas that are out of reach for other modalities. It is common for me to help people with traumatic incidents that happened when they were 2 years old, 1 years old, infants, and even before birth.

How do we know the memories are real? We know by the results we get. Freedom from fear, freedom from unwanted habits, freedom from thought patterns and feelings that were a way of life since the traumatic incident.

It can be very quick. I used to believe that big problems take a long time to heal. In the examples above, my clients were experiencing big problems that were all resolved in a matter of weeks. This isn’t to say that all traumas can be resolved this quickly. However, it is possible to relieve symptoms that are making people incredibly miserable in a single session or in a few sessions.

It’s gentle. The problem with post-traumatic stress is that the root cause is overwhelm. In normal states, approaching the root cause is too much to bear. Hypnosis solves this problem for many people who have tried other methods without success.

Who Makes a Good Hypnotherapy Client?

Your sincere desire to be free from fear is a good indicator. If you catch yourself thinking something like, “I’ve had it!” in regard to uncontrolled habits, thoughts, and feelings you’re probably a good candidate. Many times hypnotherapy engagements involve regular homework so that healthy habits can be successfully created. Lifestyle changes are often necessary for people who have entrenched habits.

My education in trauma and hypnotherapy includes learning directly and in-person from the best in the business including:

  • Bessel Van Der Kolk MD, author of The Body Knows the Score
  • Deb Dana, author of several well regarded books on trauma including Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection, Anchored, and Polyvagal Theory in Therapy
  • Linda Graham, author of Resilience, Bouncing Back, and Neuroscience for Therapists

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