by Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., C.C.H.
A man who had been a “golden-boy” as a child and who became a successful businessman as a young adult, suddenly and without explanation falls into a deep and overwhelming “funk.” [His name for it.] An elderly woman is deeply unhappy. Twice widowed, she marries a third time, but rather than experiencing solace and companionship, she experiences deep suffering, with many physical problems.
Here are two people suffering from depression, one acute, the other chronic. The condition is so painful, and the depressed person so needful, that skilled help is essential. However, most hypnotherapists I know do not touch the problem of depression, either out of fear or lack of training. Also, almost nothing is written about the use of altered state methods in helping alleviate repressive symptoms, or in getting at their root causes. Most counselors who use “talking out things” as their basic therapy are used to dealing with depression and anxiety. However, for many people, talk therapy can seem to take forever; and, often, even when the reasons for the depression are known, the depression symptoms remain.”
What is depression? How does it affect people? Depression is not “the blues.” Feeling blue is a temporary condition. Depression seems like it will never end. It can last for weeks or months–even many years. Long-term depression is insidious because it can give rise to other conditions and symptoms, some of which can be very serious. Chronic depression can lead to loss of memory, loss of appetite (or a ravenous appetite), nutritional deficiencies and physical problems. It can lead to difficulty in thinking ahead, procrastination over even small tasks, feelings of great sadness that never lift and tremendous guilt: “How can I feel this way when I have everything – good home, good family, etc.” Depression can lead to daily suicidal thoughts.
Depressed people often dislike being with other people, in part because they fear that the serious nature of their depression will be discovered. This can develop into full-blown agoraphobia, where the sufferer cannot stand to be outside at all and therefore becomes more and more isolated. The irony is that a depressed person needs the help of others, badly. Yet, they find it difficult to reach out for the help that could save them. The embarrassment and guilt, plus belief that others don’t understand what’s happening to them, sends out negative energy that repulses others, and, thus, increases the depressed person’s isolation.
One of the major reasons depressed people cease asking for help are the responses they are likely to get. “Pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstrap philosophies” may work for “the blues,” but they are totally unhelpful to a person caught in a serious depression. Loved ones who must deal with a depressed spouse, parent or friend find themselves very frustrated. If they have never experienced depression themselves, they are inclined to make suggestions about exercising, getting out more, finding things to do, see a doctor, etc.
One of the major symptoms of a deeply depressed person is the inability to do anything at all, even small things. It is not that the person isn’t aware that “getting out” of themselves would help; it is that they feel incapable of doing so. All the conscious desires in the world do not seem to conquer the dreadful and overwhelming experience of apathy. That is because it is imbedded in the “unconscious” part of the mind – not the conscious level. It is in the unconscious mind that real changes must take place.
Treating depression with hypnotherapy.
More frequently than not, debilitating events, hurts or negative evaluations are absorbed by and buried in the subconscious memory. The victim is totally unaware of the sources of these troubled feelings, fears, self-doubt and depression. Other than temporary “blues,” or depression due to being caught in the midst of what seems like an unending problem, the causes of most chronic depression lie hidden. They are like the center of an onion. Layers of denial and other experiences have grown one on top of the other over a period of time, obscuring the root causes of depression. To get to the heart of depression, these layers need to be peeled away, one by one, and each successive layer tenderly cared for until it is time to move on to the next. Peeling is healing.
Hypnosis can help the “peeling” process move more quickly, and easily, than traditional talk therapy. Through hypnotherapy it is possible to set aside the conscious mind so that a person can seek, locate and uncover detrimental memories that adversely affect their personality. In discovering and understanding such problems, people are freed from the past and are helped to open new doors for opportunity and health.
Hypnosis can help with many aspects of depression. It is not intended to replace counseling or medication, nor is it a “magic wand” that miraculously causes all symptoms to evaporate. Yet, it can be a very powerful therapy, for many reasons. Hypnosis can help a person function with less medication or, possibly, do without medication, entirely. It can help speed the healing of physical issues. It can assist a person to find the motivation to take actions and to make decisions. It can change negative talk and cynicism into a positive affirmation of life.
Two examples illustrate the power of hypnotherapy:
A depressed young man
A 35-year old male client of mine had been the “golden-boy” of his family and schools all through his formative years and had become a successful, well-to-to businessman at an early age. Suddenly, without warning, he went into a deep depression. He had never experienced anything like that before and could not understand why this had happened. His counseling sessions had revealed nothing. He came to me because a friend had suggested that hypnosis might be helpful.
After an extensive intake/interview, and some basic hypnotic testing, I led him into a deeper relaxed state, or trance, that is, state of hypnotic awareness. After giving suggestions concerning his feelings of comfort and assurances of security, I asked the deeper mind, of Higher Consciousness, to take him to the initiating event that caused the depression. In doing what is called “age-regression,” we came upon an experience when my client was three years old that was of special importance in understanding his depression. As a 3-year old child, he had misunderstood some relatively simple occurrence. Simple incidents, especially when taken negatively, may serve as destructive symbols later in a person’s life. With this recollection, my client recalled that his own son had just reached his third birthday. At an unconscious level, the mind had made a connection between his 3-year old son and his own 3-year old self. Once this connection between past and present was revealed, and the childhood event was reinterpreted, the client’s unconscious misunderstanding was cleared, and his depression lifted.
A depressed elderly woman
An elderly woman came to me in despair. She was in deep depression, had many physical problems, and had been in profound grief for over twenty-five years. Her childhood had been a nightmare, and her first marriage, to a man whom she did not love, was a way of escaping a deeply disturbing family situation. Her first two husbands had died, and, currently, she was married to a third. Yet, she was very unhappy, preferring to live a life that made her miserable to having to face living alone.
In her second marriage, however, she was genuinely in love. In trying to get at the cause of her depression and grief, through the use of hypnosis, more was revealed about the circumstances of her second husband’s death. The woman and her beloved husband had been severely burned in a trailer. Both had been hospitalized. She survived; her husband did not. In fact, she never saw him again after the accident. The awareness that she had never been able to say goodbye – that there had been no closure and that she had never released him – was a profound discovery to her. This startling insight, and the opportunity to “speak” to her husband and say her farewells, immediately lifted the grief of over 25 years. According to my client, after seven years, the depression had never reoccurred.
Deaths of family members and friends can trigger the onset of depression. For some people it is a temporary state; for others it becomes long-term. Dealing with the grief that had held her in bondage allowed other issues to be released, for this woman, while she was in the hypnotic state. She found it necessary to say her “good-byes,” as well, to parents and others who had been injurious to her life, from early childhood on into her young adulthood. With the lifting of this woman’s depression, there was new energy that allowed her to work on other pressing issues: her self-esteem, communication with her current husband and her chronic physical problems. Prior to this, throughout her years of counseling and medical doctors none of this had been possible, at a conscious state. The depression and her other issues were buried deeply within her subconscious self. It was at that level that her transforming work had to go on, in order for those issues to be released, and for her life to be newly defined. Hypnotic tools seem to do this most effectively.
Dealing with Accompanying Symptoms of Depression
Depression may cause low self-esteem, or be caused by low self-esteem. Depression may be unnoticed in early stages, but its influence spreads slowly throughout the mind. It may not be recognized until it is full-blown and demoralizingly destructive. Usually, the primary cause of low self-esteem is negative programming from the past. It may be a product of judgmental parents, teachers or other authority figures. Low self-esteem may also come from humiliating events or prolonged under-achievement.
Hypnosis is especially helpful in building a person’s self-esteem and confidence. It can relieve a client of unnecessary guilt over their inability to cope with incidents in their lives over which they had no control. Such personal issues are at the heart of our ability to function successfully as human beings. One’s self-esteem and confidence level affect every aspect of life. It is difficult for a person to show confidence when he or she views oneself as less than others, or feels unworthy of receiving happiness or success in life.
Hypnosis is an important technique in helping a person do away with unnecessary fears that block them from moving on with their lives. Elimination of any fear of failure (or its counterpart, fear of success) is essential to generating the positive motivation to continue. People need a sense of direction and short-term, quickly achievable goals as first steps to providing convincing proof that their depression is lifting. Over time, the long-term results can be significant. Mood and energy levels increase, compulsive and psychosomatic symptoms fade and emotions become understandable. Clients move toward self-direction and greater interpersonal involvement. Self-derogation is reduced, and positive feelings about life’s possibilities develop, often rapidly.
In working with an issue as serious as deep depression, or chronic anxiety, I cannot emphasize, enough, the important of advanced training in hypnotic work, and in counseling techniques. I feel that hypnotherapists who believe that their basic training allows them to work with any symptom can do much harm. This is an area requiring skill beyond the usual hypnotic suggestions for positive action.
Additional training and experience in methods that go beyond giving positive suggestions is crucial for such problems as depression and deep anxiety. Due to the many symptoms that can be indicative of depression, and the great variation of each client’s history and personality, the therapist who works with these kinds of issues must have a large “kit-bag” of counseling and hypnotic tools, with a sensitive instinct in how to use them. Once the initiation event is uncovered, and the primary depression released, then hypnosis continues to be superb in its ability to help with other symptoms.
The case of the depressed elder, given earlier, is a good example of the importance of using a combination of profound and sensitive counseling and hypnotic techniques. Therapists who work with depression, or chronic anxiety, must be skilled, not just in taking someone back in time to an initiating event. They must have instincts and training that allow them to know what to do once that event is uncovered. The skill is in discerning the best way to help the client release the hold an initiating event has on their psyche, and to discover what the next steps are for total healing. It requires sensitivity and experience to make connections between various events in one’s life, current issues, and anything uncovered during hypnosis. It requires sensitivity and experience to know what to do with those connections.
There are many therapies that can be helpful to a depressed person. Our Western medicine offers medications, and sometimes can locate problems in the body that either cause or exacerbate the issues, such as an endrocine system imbalance. Eastern medicine offers acupuncture and herbs that can help. Homeopathy and naturopathic medicine offer help. Certainly, talk-therapy can be helpful in realizing that many people go through such feelings. It can help a client gain an awareness that may point them in new directions.
Yet, with a skilled therapist, I know of no other methods that are as quick, and work as profoundly at life-long change, as hypnotic processes. Hypnotic processes are methods that work at the unconscious or subconscious aspects of the mind where the real experiences, attitudes, motivation and fears have been programmed. It is necessary to reach that level, through whatever means can reach that deeper self. By doing so, it is possible to release whatever puts the person into bondage, and to reprogram them to move into the future, freely, unhampered by previous physical, psychological and spiritual understandings.
In summary, hypnosis, along with counseling, can be used, effectively, in releasing a person from acute and long-term depression. Hypnosis can be used to build self-esteem, encourage decisions and actions, and turn a negative life-approach to a positive one. It can help a person deal with fears and phobias, assist their body in becoming stronger, and help them toward building better personal relationships. Hypnotic methods can assist the client to deal with many other symptoms they may have exhibited. Most important of all, releasing the hold of the past over the person’s current life allows all of the above to fall into place, far more readily and easily.
Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., Counseling Hypnotherapist Author of the GREAT ESCAPES script books and the NEW BEGINNINGS recording series
TRANSITIONS, a Center for Counseling & Hypnosis and home of New Beginnings Publishing Located in Tacoma, Washington USA
(253) 383-5757; (888) 663-5757 (toll free)