Sunday 22 November 2009

HYPNOTHERAPY: Can it help victims of crime? Part II

Hypnotherapy is not a new phenomenon in the science of treating people who are ill. It more or less began in the latter part of the 18th century with Franz Mesmer, a Viennese physician who used it to treat his patients. Because of his mistaken belief that it was an occult force, (he had his patients sit in vats of water which contained ground glass or iron filings) he was soon discredited and it wasn't until after World War I that hypnotherapy began to be taken seriously and in the 1950's hypnotherapy suddenly increased in popularity with many psychiatrists using it when treating some of their patients.

Most hypnotists, (entertainers and hypnotherapists alike) recognize that no two people react to hypnotic suggestions in the same manner. For example, some people can be put in a light trance (somewhat like day dreaming) and be susceptible to a major suggestion of having an entire limb go numb. When I was practicing hypnosis, sometimes I could create a blister on a subject's arm while he was in that kind of trance by placing a coin on his arm and telling him that it was red hot. There is nothing magical about this at all. It is simply convincing the subject that what the hypnotist says, is true. The subject believes it and his body defences react to the suggestion and a blister forms. I suppose the word 'hypnotism' can be best described as 'salesmanship'. The hypnotist sells his subject on the idea that whatever the hypnotist tells him, it is absolutely the truth. Once accepted, the sale is made.

If the person however does not believe that he can be hypnotized, or doesn't believe that the hypnotist can hypnotize him or doesn't trust the hypnotist, then the person cannot and will not be hypnotized. It follows then that hypnotherapy only works for those people who want it to work for them.

There are many uses of hypnotherapy but for the purpose of this piece, I intend to only deal with hypnotherapy which is used in treating crime victims who have suffered from current or distant emotional trauma.

Alice Robertson (a pseudonym) was three-years-old when her step-father began molesting her. The molestation continued for the next two years and ended when she told her mother. Upon being discovered, he abandoned the family and was seen no more. Alice pushed the memories of the assaults out of her conscious mind as she grew older and by the time she was in her late teens, the memories didn't remain in her conscious mind any longer.

But alas, sexual assaults on very young children sometimes have a way of hovering in their subconscious minds as psychological wounds that never really heal; wounds that are as traumatic as if the assaults just happened. Memories of events like that are buried deep in the subconscious and yet they have a way of resurfacing out of the depths of one's mind and reaching out to the conscious state, albeit very subliminally, to scar the conscious mind in a way that the victim is not even aware of the psychological damage his or her mind is undergoing.

As Alice grew older, she was uncomfortable in the company of boys and when she was in her early twenties, she found herself even more uncomfortable in the presence of men. She would refuse offers of dates and began to get quite surly to men who even hinted at wanting to go out with her.

Human beings have a natural instinct to want to be loved and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that she began going out with women her own age and within a year, she became intimate with one of them. They shared an apartment together and soon became regular lovers. Alice's introduction into the life of lesbianism came about because of her subconscious hatred and fear of men and because of her feelings of guilt. She didn't feel guilty for what had happened to her but she had told her mother what her stepfather was doing to her and as a result, he subsequently left them, and for this, she needlessly later felt responsible and guilty for the breakup of the family.

Traumatic situations result in emotional conditioning rather than in responses learned through reasoning and problem solving. The trouble facing victims of incest and other crimes is that it is easier for them to shut out the experience from their conscious minds rather than face it head on and try to solve it.

For children, it's almost if not impossible for them to face the trauma. In one sense, this is a good thing because no one wants to be forever remembering traumatic experiences as if they just happened a short time ago. It's our way of coping. But these experiences have a way of returning and consequently, exposure to similar situations tends to reactivate the emotional response (in Alice's case--it was fear and hatred of men and the guilt which was hidden even deeper)) instead of accepting a rational explanation (her childhood experiences with her stepfather in which he alone was the guilty party) for her attitude towards men.

The after-effects of her sexual experiences with her stepfather lingered on because her mother didn't do anything to reassure Alice of her love. This may have been difficult for the mother since the discovery of her husband's criminal sexual assaults on her daughter resulted in him leaving her forever, thereby forcing her to live a loveless life without another man. She, unwittingly abandoned her daughter to a loveless childhood.

As Alice grew into middle age, her hatred of men was even more pronounced and she had difficulty in keeping jobs where she had to work with men as co-workers and if she was alone at night, she would walk across the street rather than walk towards a man approaching her on her side of the street. Strange as this may seem, Alice was completely unaware of why she had this hatred and fear of men. Her childhood experiences with her stepfather were buried so deep in her subconscious that if they resurfaced, it was of such a short duration that she didn't really fathom what was bothering her.

This is where hypnotherapy can help. But in order for Alice (or anyone suffering as Alice has suffered) can benefit from hypnotherapy, she must have absolute trust in her therapist. It is extremely difficult for an adult such as Alice to bare her soul to a friend and tell of her stepfather's incestuous relationship with her and it is sometimes even harder to tell all to a complete stranger. If she could have done that, she could have got it off her chest and faced the unpleasant memories easier. By facing these unwanted memories, she would eventually learn what turned her into the woman she was. But unfortunately for Alice, her memories of the assaults were hidden so deeply, she didn't even remember them. But they were there and like unseen insects biting here and there, they began gnawing at her, until the incessant gnawing into her conscious mind altered her concept of what men were really like. Her mind would no longer accept men as humans capable of tender love and affection, but rather, she saw them as animals who would hurt and abuse her.

The sexual abuse thrust upon her by her stepfather literally destroyed this woman. If she had been given psychiatric treatment coupled with hypnotherapy at an early age, it is possible that she may have been able to lead an ordinary life and got married and had children of her own.

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