Could help you beat your tensions
Across my desk the young man looked tense and determined. Even more tense and more determined than a young, under-forty executive needed to look.
“Doctor, I understand hypnosis can stop my drinking.”
He obviously wanted to say more so I didn’t interrupt.
“I've heard hypnosis can do it but I've heard other things, too. I understand the effects of hypnosis eventually wear off. and that I would have to keep coming back all the time for more treatments. I need some help and I’m willing to pay for it. But I can’t keep paying for ever.”
He was right — in part. He had the gist of the facts though to be more accurate he should have said “might possibly stop my drinking.” And he did not know about the one answer that might fit both his problem and his pocketbook.
It was “autogenous training,” or for those not afraid of the word, auto-hypnosis. (An American form of the phrase is “autogenic” training.)
Today, six years later, at the mid-forty point in life where many a stable man starts to come
apart at the seams, this young man has his feet more firmly planted on the ground than ever before. He is twice as valuable to his firm and is paid accordingly, his family life has taken on a real and cherished meaning for him, he never touches liquor and actually enjoys being without it.
It would be rash to give auto-hypnosis all the credit, or to claim this as the predicted pattern for all who tried it. But there is no doubt that this new (on this continent) method made it possible for this young man and others like him to quit leaning on the bottle long enough to use their own intelligence to help themselves. It can do the same for many more.
And drinking is but one problem that lends itself to do-it-yourself hypnosis. Overweights, heavy smokers, neurotic victims of tension, insomniacs and many others can find a new way to deal with a particular difficulty, a new way to attack the whole problem of living. But more of this later.
There are a score of methods of dealing with problem drinking. Most of them have some value in some cases. But here is a gim-
mick that can be useful to many. It is estimated that eighty percent of the population can be hypnotized; perhaps half that number have the determination to learn this practical device for self-help and self-improvement.
Autogenous training was developed by the Berlin psychiatrist J. H. Schultz many years ago. It is well known and widely used in Europe, but has been slow to take root in North America. The word hypnosis frightens North Americans. It rings w'ith accents of Svengali and the stage performer.
Schultz let his mind run backward to stumble on his stratagem. He noted that hypnotic subjects in a trance almost all showed or reported similar physical symptoms—heavy arms and legs, slow' deep breathing, a warmth in all limbs and particularly in the pit of the stomach, a coolness of the forehead, a pleasant sinking sensation — not unlike descent in an elevator — and a generally secure feeling, as though nothing mattered.
If these sensations could be created in some other fashion, by the subject himself, he might actually be able to
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Here’s a test you can try to see what influence your mind can exert on the actions of your body
induce his own hypnotic trance when needed. Thus Schultz reasoned. Thus it came about.
It came about through that strange and unexplained human facet, the imagination. Under direction of a trained psychiatrist or psychologist, and following a very carefully planned sequence, the patient is taught to imagine himself into a trance.
Stranger than anything is the fact that imagination actually makes these physiological symptoms occur. The temperature of the arms, legs and stomach really does rise and this change can be measured. The forehead temperature actually drops a shade and the pulsé slows down at the command of imagination, though we have long considered the heart an involuntary muscle.
The “exercise” as it is taught is relatively simple if the trainee has some ability to concentrate, and even more simple if his or her imagination is a lively one.
Step one, mosi important, is to find and cling to a picture of quietness—a clear mental image. The patient conceives his own. It may be based on fact or recoliection, sometimes out of childhood, often from memories of a summer vacation. It should be a mental picture of warmth, ease, relaxation. It can be peopled by friends if they are the types who add to this sense of relaxation. But it should be passive, not active. It should create the sensation best described by a patient: “There is nothing bothering me, nothing I have to do; this time is absolutely my own. There are no demands on me. It doesn't matter if I just lie here and quit thinking about everything.”
You can see already the oriental connotation of not being, the touch of yoga with its suspension of life activity. There is a similarity here; perhaps Schultz has westernized this useful sedative factor of Eastern philosophy for us.
This picture becomes the prized property of the trainee. At first he used it as a preamble to the other steps in the imaginative process of self-hypnosis, a conditioner to set the pace. As he continues training, the picture becomes a symbol of the hypnotic state itself and sometimes is alone enough to produce a light trance condition.
When this picture is# firm, in the trainee's mind, when it has the mood of ease and relaxation that rejects the harassments of the world, he goes on with the next steps. In brief he creates a series of mental pictures: “My arms are heavy and warm. My legs are heavy and warm. A strong warm sun beats down on them. A cool breeze blows over my forehead . . .”—and so on. The body obediently becomes heavy and warm, the breathing deepens, the pulse slows. Physical relaxation sets in. The condition so achieved is not unlike that produced in a hospital when an agitated patient is dunked into a warm bath with cool applications to the forehead. To the skeptic it sounds unbelievable.
But if you need convincing, here is one test you can try. It won't hypnotize you but it should indicate the seemingly
mysterious degree of force the mind can actually have over the physical actions of the body:
Stand erect with your back to a solid wall, your heels about six inches out from the wall. (.You will have the security of knowing the wall is behind you.) Now concentrate your gaze on some bright object directly in front of you. Get someone to hold a ring or a small light steady —anything that will keep the eyes from wandering and the attention with them. As you stare at the “fix point” just keep thinking over and over “I’m falling backward, I'm falling backward. In spite of anything I can do, I'm falling backward. The wall is there and I’m safe. I'm falling backward.”
Unless you are one of the rare ones who appear to be untouchable by hypnosis, you will fall. At the very least, you will find yourself rocking a bit as your defensive self (that contrary side of your personality that wants to prove me a liar) fights the tendency to fall. Your imagination will have destroyed your physical equilibrium.
But enough of these parlor games. The scores of cases that have been trained in my office, the hundreds more trained by other doctors and psychologists I know, have authenticated this useful medical tool.
The post-hynotie “cure”
Now, back to the young, heavy drinker in my office. How did auto-hypnosis actually help?
First, he happened to be an excellent subject or student. He had good average intelligence, a bright imagination, fair powers of concentration, and a determination (motivation would be a more exact technical word) that kept him on the job.
He trained in ten weeks, well under par for the course. Most trainees take five or six months. Some longer. Constant practice at every opportunity seems to have much to do with success as it does in most skills.
Once trained to entrance himself, he was ready for the real work.
Post-hypnotic suggestion is the “cure.”
In any routine hypnotic trance, the subject will, if told to do so, accept certain instructions and ideas (not all) from the “operator” or hypnotist, hold these dormant in his mind and put them into effect only when he awakens. The autohypnotized .patient does exactly the same to himself.
Naturally, he gets a little help from the doctor during training. While teaching auto-hypnosis, the medical man will also use straight hypnosis to get the needed ideas into the patient’s mind for him, until he can do the job himself. The doctor will hypnotize the patient off liquor until such time as he can handle the instruction work himself. He will also, if he wants to help the trainee succeed, throw in a suggestion or two about keeping up the practice at home between visits. It doesn't hurt to nudge people, especially if they show signs of giving up easily.
Young Mr. Executive practiced dutifully at least twice a day, often five or six times. In a couple of months he was on his own, giving his own directions. “1 hate liquor. Dislike the taste, even the appearance of the bottle.” This latter to counteract the lure of cool, refreshing photographs in ads. With my agreement, he invented some instructions of his own. “I enjoy not drinking. I like being with my friends in the club. But I prefer to avoid alcohol in any form.”
Before coming to see me, he had thought long and seriously about quitting drink. One thing that had discouraged him had been the long faces of others he had seen give up drink. “They look like lost souls,” he said. “No fun. No spark. Just seem to drag themselves around with a tragic righteousness.”
Edmund Wilson, years ago, had described such a tragic figure, the fellow at the cocktail gathering “who said he was on the wagon and was afraid he wouldn't enjoy the party.”
My patient’s idea of avoiding this was to suggest that sobriety would be fun. He was right — and successful. I have watched'him at cocktail parties since. He has more fun than most guests, is anything but noticeably teetotaling. “What’s more,” he reports with a grin, “the next day I remember it all.”
It isa fact, as any hypno-therapist quickly and happily admits, the one thing that responds effectively and quickly to hypno-suggestion is that vacillating and sometimes terrible demon, the human, meed. “You will feel bright, cheerful and confident,” he says. The patient comes up smiling. “I will feel happy and relaxed without liquor,” says the trainee. He does.
This is a good point to say again that the training takes effort. Autogenous training is no new' miracle solution that will wipe out alcoholism. Hypnosis can be applied pretty generally but autohypnosis has to be learned, and while successful trainees look on their results as miraculous, there is no doubt it calls for wholehearted application — backed, of course, by the strong desire to be out of the clutches of drink. The wish to be saved is needed in most alcohol “cures.”
And because this wish is a transient thing, here today and gone tomorrow, present with the hangover and gone again when health returns, the hypnotherapist will usually make use of direct hypnosis during the training period in somewhat the same way a medical man might use drugs such as antabuse. “You just cannot drink. The smell of liquor in any form makes you violently ill.” If the patient’s resolution is so weak that he cannot hold out between training sessions, the combination of alcohol and this post-hypnotic suggestion will usually be drastic enough to bring him back on the rails. When the medico-hypnotist says “violently” ill, the effect can be just that.
Suggestions for the most part are positive in their phrasing, whether administered by the doctor or by the fully trained auto-hypnotist himself: “You hate
liquor,” rather than “You do not like liquor.” “I am happy when drinking pop at the bar” rather than “I don’t mind not drinking with my friends.” The affirmative message seems to register more readily and more deeply on the entranced mind.
At the outset, I made it clear that autohypnosis was not wholly the cure in this or in any other case. It is principally the key to the treatment. Uncontrolled drinking is often based on some hidden difficulties that have got a grip on the drinker's mind, perhaps simply the welter of problems that need solving in the average day of a busy person’s life. As
long as the sufferer is using drink to kill off the torments, to produce a form of anesthesia, he is not facing these problems, not even finding out exactly what they are. In this direction, the psychiatrist or psychologist can be of real help, but only if he can get the patient to keep away from alcohol, stay lucid enough to discuss problems and to practice facing them. Strength for this is available to many through hypnosis and auto-hypnosis.
Just how many can be helped it is hard to say. Chances that a person can
be hypnotized are about four out of five. But those given to alcohol are likely distressed, inattentive, less able to concentrate. Of those that do, and learn to use autogenous training, how' many will keep it up long enough — through the years—to get themselves completely out of the hole?
There are no statistics. Too few patients report back with the details of their success. The failures often reappear. And in their case, a second try sometimes does the trick.
Whatever the score, it is reasonable to
suppose it would be considerably better if hypnosis itself enjoyed a better public understanding. As it is, the auto-hypnosis student frequently has to make an effort to hide what he is doing from family and friends so they won’t think he has really gone over the edge. An open and frank look at hypnosis, and. through that, a frank appraisal of auto-hypnosis, would help make this useful weapon the servant of many more who now need it.
The dangers of hypnosis? This is a natural question.
They are so few, and unproven, as to
be negligible — at least in the hands of an experienced medical man. In the case of most patients (all consciously or unconsciously express some fear) a few direct answers will set the mind at ease. The more inquiring need to be directed to some of the excellent, readable and explanatory books on the subject.
The greatest worry seems to be a simple question. “What if I don't wake up?”
The answer is that you will just drift over into a normal sleep. In fact, autohypnosis might well prove to be the most effective non-drug answer to the twentieth-century’s big insomnia problem.
This brings up what is perhaps the most important factor about auto-hypnosis: its myriad of uses. I have already mentioned some—fatties who know they should go on a diet of some sort but just can't bring themselves to face the “suffering.” Autogenous training offers them something they really lack, a sense of power, of control, of prestige. This feeling that they have power over themselves, power over their nagging though “human” desires about food, will give them the needed motivation. For once the whole nasty business of dieting will seem possible, realistic.
Others with compulsions of different sorts, heavy smokers, nail-biters, aggressive or quarrelsome people who are nasty to live with though they don’t really want to be—these are types that respond to the Schultz method, to the calmness that leads to reason and suggestion.
One young man I know was so tense, so electrically tense, that he transmitted his affliction to others. Job after job went down the drain though his employers always praised his talents and earnestness. Until he got a grip on himself through auto-hypnosis, his admirable intellect and great reservoirs of personal energy were exploding all over the place all the time. He was pushful and jittery under the most innocent circumstances. Today, his intellect and energy intact, and properly directed, his body and nerves rested regularly, he runs his department with flair and achievement.
1 found it useful in easing a woman's dreadful asthma attacks — attacks that had obvious neurotic roots. It has worked in helping to relieve another woman’s suffering from eczema; a ballet dancer whose sense of perfection bred its own tension, her outbreaks of this distressing skin eruption so tortured and infected her underarms and legs she had to stop dancing. “My skin will be whole and healthy,” she told herself.
Another woman came to me with a blood pressure reading of 230 over 110. It took four months of treatment to get her launched in autogenous training but the result was worthwhile. Her pressure, without drugs, came down to a consistent 175 over 95. She used no special suggestions about “blood pressure.” She merely concentrated on feeling relaxed and peaceful.
Women, generally speaking, do not appear to be as easy to instruct as men, though for some reason pregnant women seem to grasp the idea fairly quickly. The big requirement is motivation, a need or desire to achieve some objective —to lower one's weight, to stop drinking, to get blood pressure under control. Nervous wrecks who are worrying needlessly can help ease themselves out of their mental rat race. People who are lazy but wish they weren’t can develop energy (more accurately, they can summon it or release it). Decisions can be made easy for those frightened people
who never before could make up their minds.
One “prize student,” as we like to refer to him, uses his training to replace the freezing offered by the dentist, for hypnosis and even auto-hypnosis can exert a control over pain registration. It does not actually “stop” pain. It simply controls the dreadful sensation that pain brings to the human mind.
With this knowledge he simply practiced until he could render his jaw and mouth quickly insensitive to pain. A few Canadian dentists use hypnosis instead of the needle these days. This patient decided to bring his own. His dentist happened to be a particularly gentle fellow who couldn’t stand hurting people. He froze everyone for anything. The dentist was the frightened one when the patient first tried this experiment. Today he is still a little incredulous but accepts it. This particular patient just doesn't get a needle, and doesn't twitch, though admittedly he has not yet been through an extraction.
One of the most unusual cases in my experience was the harassed businessman who got into a panic each year at income - tax time — a more - than - normal panic, that is. It wasn’t particularly that he feared anything. As far as I could see he was completely honest. He simply hated paying income tax and the calculating of how much he had already paid, or owed, sent him into a depression each year. He would be the last citizen to mail in his report on April 30, working late into the night to get it done.
He had been using autogenous training for other purposes when it occurred to him it might be applied to this trouble. The department of national revenue will be delighted to learn that he takes one or two good “Schnitzes” early in March these days, and gets things tidied up with a minimum of distaste and on time.
Auto-hypnosis has been tried on ball players, hockey stars, actors and actresses, according to newspaper reports. The results known are not particularly startling and my impression is that the training effort was usually done in the presence of a press agent and not continued for longer than the time required to take publicity photos. But I have watched a copy writer in an advertising agency, worried because he had run dry in his work, talk himself into the belief and the fact that his mind would be full of ideas. Once he broke the block created by his own tension, his confidence returned. He resumed his work energetically.
An artist I know has tried hypnotizing himself before he launches into a session of tense emotional work before his canvas. It was successful, he reported, but he felt a little guilty about it. “Art is supposed to be suffering,” he sighed. “Doing it this way seems too easy.”
It reads like a list of miracles. And to those who have benefited from autohypnosis there is an air of the miraculous about it. But none of it is that easy. It is not like taking a pill. It requires resolution and hard work. Thankfully the returns can be magnificent.
One more word about my non-drinking executive: it was, of course, not simply the abstinence that made it all worth his while. What auto-hypnosis had done for him in that field showed clearly the opportunities for other gains. He used his new-found power over his own mind to sharpen his wits and attack other habits and weaknesses that were sapping his efficiency. He, and others like him. have gone on to make new and fuller lives for themselves, thanks — in part — to this old-new development in the study of the mind. ^