Basics, Mind Management

Hypnotherapy and Polyvagal Theory

In the basic Kappasinian Theory of Mind, we all need balance between adventurous (euphoria-seeking) and protective (fear-avoiding) behaviors. The goal of all therapy is to establish and maintain a healthful balance for the client. In this post, I consider how Kappasinian practices relate to Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory (described wonderfully here).

As emphasized by Porges, our bodies are designed to seek homeostasis (the restful state in which we “feed and breed”). When threatened by unfamiliar or overwhelming experiences, we drop into a simple decision-making process: should we fight (“Can I eat it?”) or flee (“Can it eat me?”). If neither of those tactics resolves the conflict, we simply freeze (conserve energy until an escape presents itself). In the animal kingdom, survivors use shaking and quivering to discharge the residual energy, restoring homeostasis.

These kinds of experiences are traumatic, and if repeated drive us into protective behaviors. On the other hand, in safe social circumstances, those same kinds of experiences can evolve as play. When playing our pretend threats are accompanied with gestures and statements that reassure our partner. The classic pet behaviors are the dog crouching on its fore-paws, or the cat gnawing on our finger in between licks. During play, both euphoria and fear are at elevated levels.

The nerve that mediates our overall physical state (the vagus nerve) has an ancient (reptilian) part that manages the freeze response, and a more recent (mammalian) part that controls excitement. As these responses involve complex coordination among all the body parts, the vagus returns ten times as much information back to the brain as it sends out.

One of the challenges in overcoming traumatic experiences is that fear suppresses our ability to exchange reassuring gestures and statements. This permanently suppresses our ability to feel euphoria, leaving us at the mercy of fear. That prevents us from restoring homeostasis, leaving us in a perpetual state of self-induced stress that damages our physical and mental well-being. If the trauma occurred early in childhood (such as a difficult birth), we may be unable to remember the circumstances, and thus release the trauma.

Porges’ solution is to deal with the problem symptomatically. Exposing the sufferer to soothing sounds, sights or sensations overcomes the blocks to reassuring stimulation. When accompanied by mindful relaxation, the mind learns to tie that reassurance to homeostasis.

The classic Kappasinian therapy for fear and anxiety builds an experience that mixes these same elements – but with the amplifying factor of hypnosis (our optimal learning state).

Therapy begins with a progressive relaxation that establishes homeostasis.

If the trauma is mild, circle therapy is used to walk the client through a remembered experience. If the fear is irrational or of unknown origin, systematic desensitization is used to command the subconscious (the true source of the reaction) to produce the emotion. Ideomotor finger raising is used to control the level of anxiety. When discomfort is visible, the client is told to lower the finger and “pass it,” directing them back into homeostasis. As the process is repeated, the mind becomes confident in its ability to control the transition, and eventually chooses homeostasis.

If the trauma is deep, these practices are preceded with sessions that build a safe haven in the subconscious landscape, ensuring that the learned skills take root in a context free from debilitating memories. For this purpose, today’s practitioners will often use therapeutic imagery, but even they will reinforce that work with a staple of Kappasinian therapy: a staircase deepener that projects a positive, confident self-image into the subconscious.

The final element of Kappasinian therapy is to suggest that the client begin to chuckle and smile as they come out of hypnosis. As the therapist smiles and speaks soothingly, this reinforces the ability to exchange reassuring signals. Of all the suggestions offered by Kappasinian therapists, this is the most playful.

Porges first articulated his polyvagal theory back in the early 1980’s and the therapeutic practices were not popularized until well into the new millennium. Hypnotherapists trained with Kappas’ methods have been performing these therapies since the sixties. Not only do those techniques have the same effect as those offered by Porges, but they are coupled to far broader strategies for overall behavior development.

Basics

Is Hypnotherapy Expensive?

Most hypnotherapists will charge anywhere from $75/hr to $250/hr. The rate depends upon experience, talent and locale.

Prospective clients may be surprised at these numbers, often because they are used to insurance co-pays for mental health services. Hypnotherapy is not covered by most insurance plans because we don’t often deal with mental illness. We are dealing with optional, quality-of-life concerns – things that can be avoided by taking a different route to the store or seeking a different job. They are also far more common than mental illness, which is why they are excluded from insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, those optional concerns can become the seed from which true mental illness is born. Remember when the uninsured would wait until they were sick enough to get admitted to the emergency room? It’s something like that. Sometimes literally so: failure to deal with cigarette, alcohol or drug addiction can lead to serious long-term medical consequences. In the arena of mental health, failure to deal with a phobia can build until the client can’t leave their home. The quality-of-life issue becomes a mental illness.

But still, if the issue is not yet that severe when we start work with a client, why should hypnotherapists charge rates similar to those charged by doctors and lawyers?

The reason we do is because you are asking us to help you care for your mind. If you don’t value your mind, then the subconscious is going to pick up on that and not buy into doing the work.

Your subconscious is seven times more powerful than your conscious mind. I don’t want to have to fight its lethargy, so I charge enough money to ensure that the subconscious knows that success is important – and as soon as possible.

It’s also enough that every client should take picking their therapist seriously. Interview more than one, and from more than one school of treatment. Here in Ventura, we have graduates of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, including myself, drawing upon over a thousand hours of training. That training emphasizes the importance of protecting the integrity of the client’s personality and is reflected in the way we interview, customize therapy to the client, and use dreams. Our rates reflect our skills – and our investment in caring.

The least sophisticated practitioners will use one-size-fits-all methods and scripted therapies. Those are effective for many clients, and particularly so if you feel that you have good rapport with the therapist. In between is a spectrum – you’ll almost always be able to find someone that you’re comfortable with.

But if the therapy doesn’t work, don’t let yourself be told that “You can’t be hypnotized.” That’s not true: you just need a more sophisticated practitioner.

Basics

Personal Development: Table of Contents

While we are all unique, life imposes certain facts upon us. We are born, grow, learn, create and relate to those around us. Each opportunity builds upon those that come earlier.

For the fortunate, life becomes deeper and richer with age. For others, life is a rut that can’t be escaped. In either case, just as a map guides a mountain climber, so a basic map of personal development guides our growth to maturity.

This blog series builds a road map around the relationship between the conscious and subconscious mind – the relationship managed most directly through hypnotherapy. The mind divides in childhood to soften conflict between the self and the world. Unfortunately, that division generates internal conflicts. Which creates conflict with the world, leading to conflict with the self, and on and on until we realize that we need to include others in our circle of concern. As harmony is rebuilt, the mind reunites, and we enter the realm of spiritual experience.

Part 1: Change Matters – Unlike most animals, humans make their most important changes in the mind.
Part 2: Theory of Mind – Explaining why the mind is divided between conscious and subconscious.
Part 3: Path to Maturity – Laying out the steps toward maturity and the roles characteristic to each stage.
Part 4: Survival (dependent) – We are social creatures: survival depends upon partnership. The first partnership is with our parents. When family experience is painful, hypnotherapy can help limit the impact on our adult lives.
Part 5: Sex (hedonist) – The sexual urge drives us out of the home and into peer relationships. Again, many of us have work to do as adults to heal the damage caused in those chaotic years.
Part 6: Exchange (consumer) – Euphoria and fear control our preferences, but also bias our behavior when we expect one more than the other. That bias arises in infancy, making it hard for us to adjust our patterns when they cause problems.
Part 7: Healing and Trust (healer) – When we come to accept that our bias is our problem, sympathy for ourselves extends to include others, and we begin the work of building relationships around trust. This is the sweet-spot for hypnotherapy.
Part 8: Truth (partner) – Life involves many relationships, and only in honoring the truth are we able to sustain true partnerships. Hypnotherapy allows us to smooth over any rough edges carried forward from the past.
Part 9: Creativity (inventor) – In the security of partnerships, we get to choose both who we want to be and what we wish to accomplish. Sustaining harmony is the challenge, as trauma disrupts everyone’s plans. Hypnotherapy helps both with harmony and healing.
Part 10: Imagination (liberator) – This final post looks (somewhat speculatively) at the final step into maturity. The barrier between conscious and subconscious dissolves, and we enter a realm of spiritual development that is qualified by our ability to sustain harmony in the realm of ideas.

Basics

Personal Development: Part 10

Imagination

Our journey of personal development has reached its end-point. Thus far, the journey has been incremental, each step building upon prior progress. In a broad sense, we can see that in the first three stages (survival, sex and exchange) the goal is to explore opportunities for personal expression. The second three stages (healing/trust, truth and creativity) shift to collaboration and social responsibility.

Hewing to the priorities of the hypnotherapist, our focus has been on changes in behavior. That growth may bring conflict with the self or others. Each segment has surveyed the tools hypnotherapists may offer to support those struggling with a transition.

Psychiatry offers some detailed insights. The brain also changes as we mature. When learning to survive, the brain is designed to capture as much experience as possible. Neurons form dense webs of interconnection. During adolescence and early adulthood (sex and exchange), the brain sheds many of those connections, focusing its energy toward identifying and amplifying social advantages.

Along with those gross changes, the brain develops new structures. Reason and relationships are our highest cognitive functions, and as we learn neurons are recruited to their service. Each new node requires the services of its predecessors. The highest relationship function – altruism – often develops only in our mid-twenties (in the region called the posterior superior temporal sulcus).

From these insights, however, we have no reason to expect that the basic model of behavior development might begin to break down. Remember how this goes: due to the complexity of social existence, around eight years of age the brain divides into the conscious and subconscious, with exchange mediated by the critical mind. Could it be possible that as we age, the more powerful subconscious might come to trust our abilities to survive in society, and come back into the light?

Such a change is not incremental. It completely upends our concept of self.

This is the nature of the final stage of personal development, the stage of imagination.

The dissolution of the critical mind begins in dreaming. Dreams are the forum in which the subconscious invents new behaviors, free from the prejudices of the conscious mind. But the process is inefficient at best and often obscure. Many remembered dreams are vague if not incoherent. But if through dream analysis we cultivate a dialog, the subconscious learns to be more precise. And when that dialog is pursued gently and respectfully, it eventually begins to call upon the conscious mind during sleep, allowing it to help resolve choices. This is called lucid dreaming.

Dream researchers and enthusiasts have developed methods to cultivate lucid dreaming. The first wanted accurate descriptions of the content of dreams and later discovered that it could be used to overcome trauma. The second enjoyed the thrill of the dream. It is important to remember, however, that unstructured dreaming is a critical part of behavior development. My recommendation is to allow the subconscious to open the door naturally, according to its own understanding of the benefits of greater conscious participation.

Beyond lucid dreaming, however, comes lucid waking. Trust works both ways, and when the conscious mind respects the creative powers of the subconscious, it can facilitate their activation without falling asleep. This is the natural state of many artists: they switch rapidly between abstract analysis and physical sensation as they work. Hypnotherapists call this mental pattern “somnambulism,” and discovered that many neuroses are related to “hypersuggestibility”: the tendency for the subconscious to reinforce negative thought patterns. But when the conscious mind is disciplined to cultivate positive thoughts, when a new opportunity presents itself it can drop into a meditative state to ask the subconscious “Where does this lead?” A rich set of possibility are presented immediately.

As the critical mind continues to dissolve, eventually a new brain state emerges: the gamma state. Observed in dedicated meditators and religious devotees, the gamma state appears to be the most highly energized of the known brain states, operating almost 50% higher than the beta state that we entered when alarmed.

These experiences all lead to increased imaginative capacity. But there is far more open to us in the space of imagination.

To understand the richness of that experience, I must challenge the psychiatric model of thought. Observing that damage to the brain causes loss of cognitive function, psychiatrists believe that all thinking occurs in the brain. Another possibility, however, is that the brain is an interface to the soul. Damage to an interface also causes loss of function.

My experience of the space of imagination led me to that second model: the brain is a kind of multi-channel receiver that tunes into a realm of ideas. In that space, injection of noise is the worst disaster. It disrupts the coherence of ideas. To gain full access, therefore, we must learn to sublimate our concern for the physical self, guarding against the impulses of greed, anger, fear, envy, lust, etc. In fact, failure to do so activates powerful intellectual antibodies that hurt our brains.

Psychologists might recognize my “space of ideas” as Jung’s “collective unconscious.”

Now ideas obviously strive for expression, and with our complex brains, human beings are a wonderous partner in the evolution of ideas. Unfortunately, we are still in transition from the long era of biological evolution (running back almost three billion years) that was driven by competition, conflict and pain – sources of noise that degrade the coherence of ideas. Intellectual evolution took root in us only when we learned to moderate our primitive impulses. That evolution, unfortunately, is a known threat to our evolutionary predecessors – including people that were not raised into intellectual opportunity. To avoid extinction, they are suspicious of intellectual change.

Our religious avatars explore the path through this thicket of mistrust. Buddha offered the concept of “compassion for all sentient beings.” Christ went further, promising “unconditional love.” In both cases, the avatar achieved intellectual authority only by resolving to witness sorrow as an intermediary for ideas that accumulate power from the gratitude of those that receive healing. Buddha tortured himself to achieve that status; Christ surrendered himself to death at the hands of those he loved.

The ongoing work done by our avatars is a transformation of the spiritual ecology in the space of ideas. Unconditional love seeks virtue in all things, transforming eventually even our vices. Anger becomes passion; destruction becomes creative transformation. Of course, the primitive impulses resist that transformation. Their program of repression, however, is frustrated by the sacred martyr, who endures physical wounds as a method of infecting the motivating ideas with love’s virtue.

Trapped in the world of material exchange, such acts seem insane. What history teaches us, however, is that material exchange is a dead end. It creates nothing that endures. Despite all the promotion and wailing of the 20th century, the most enduring personalities in our cultures are our religious avatars. When I was a child in the 1960’s, we still hated Hitler. Now only a few remember him, and increasingly they are ridiculed as anachronisms.

The future lies in acceptance and celebration of our differences – differences that permutate in the space of ideas to build ever richer possibilities for the expression of love.

Which brings us back to sex. Sex has a biological expression in male and female forms. That expression has a parallel in the space of ideas, in principles that I call “masculine” and “feminine.” The masculine principle facilitates change and must achieve temporal and spatial isolation to accomplish that end. The feminine principle sustains continuity through temporal and spatial diffusion. Even in our age, few appreciate the transformative power of their integration: transformation under the guidance of prescient intuition. The possibilities are literally magical.

But I have drifted into speculation, and the reader, following experience, must be wondering what hypnotherapy has to offer in this process. The answer, unfortunately, is “nothing.” Hypnotherapy is necessary only to divided minds. Those operating in the space of imagination no longer suffer from that limitation.

Of course, a hypnotherapist operating in the realm of imagination is an incredibly powerful aid to personal development. John Kappas and Milton Erickson are recent examples. I am suspicious, reading the reports of his faith healings, that Jesus also deserved the title.

Basics

Personal Development: Part 9

Creativity

For a loving couple, the womb is a sacred vessel in which spirit is joined to flesh. In the instant of germination, the sperm and ova merge the intentions of parents. The spirit of the growing fetus guides the seeking of cells as tissues and organs emerge. Mother, with patience and forbearance, attends, filters and provides all that is necessary for growth. Father protects the sacred process, affirming the emerging virtue and clearing away psychic weeds.

We don’t usually talk about pregnancy with the focus on spiritual process. We talk about eating, exercising, working, stroking and growing. But each of those physical acts has a corresponding spiritual consequence. It is in the service of creativity that those correspondences become clear to us.

No participant wholly determines the way a child enters the world. Any one can corrupt the outcome, creating wounds that may take a lifetime to heal. But pregnancy unfolds according to its own timing, each serving in their own way, and only with birth is the outcome known.

Truth empowers us to create change. In creating a child, parents manifest that fact at the cellular level. After birth, the susceptibility of a child continues to expose our strengths and weakness. We cannot impose adult expectations upon our children; character emerges in stages. We must respond to children as they are, rather than as we imagine they should be, while still seeking to support them as they become what we hope they can be.

A parent’s surrender of control seems obvious – we cannot see what is going on in the womb, nor would we hope to control our child’s every act. Why should we? We have lives of our own.

This long introduction is offered to prepare us for the change in perspective involved when we enter the realm of creative collaboration. Living in truth, as loyal partners we learn that commitment remains as we emerge from the psychological chrysalis. To change is allowed us; our partners adapt with us.

Given that privilege, we naturally ask “Who do I want to be?”

This seems to return us to the second step on the path to maturity (Sex). The difference is that we aren’t driven by untamed urges. We have years of experience managing personal and professional relationships. In working with our partners, we identify skills, attitudes and behaviors that we’d like to add to our personality.

The introverted accountant might wish to project the personal warmth of the sales representative. The pragmatic housewife could learn to paint. The jet-setting athlete may yearn increasingly to remain with family.

What controls those choices is the weight of our involvement in the realization of goals pursued by our community. That community might be a household with school-age children, a high-tech corporation, or a society confronting a drug epidemic. Under the right circumstances, a single person might be committed to serving each of those communities.

But under no condition is anybody able to focus exclusively on a single community. We all serve in multiple roles. The housewife will be asked to authorize pediatric vaccinations and sex education. Consent implies informed trust in the medical system and school board. Objection might require home schooling of her children, and compliance with complex educational standards.

Again, this seems to reiterate the considerations of an earlier stage of development – exchange. We must weigh costs and benefits to each action and seek to maximize the return to our community. The difference is that during exchange the community’s commitment to our survival is contingent upon the value we generate. When we are creative, we instead find our security in spiritual immersion.

As we inspire and adapt, the barriers between self and other begin to melt. Our intellectual, physical and emotional strength is dependent upon theirs. We discover gratitude for the gifts that we receive from them. Life isn’t about measuring and counting – it’s about being in harmony.

The greatest challenge in expressing creativity is the dislocation experienced by those still in earlier development stages. Those persons are not fully immersed in the creative process. Change is continually forced upon them, undermining the behaviors they use to survive. If they fall back into fear and anger, the creative gestalt can be wounded.

A sophisticated hypnotherapist helps to manage those boundaries and heal those wounds.

Within the community, an old self-centered behavior pattern may not be triggered except in specific circumstances. When those arise, a session or two with a therapist can release the pattern so that the creative effort can be resumed.

Other situations are less malleable: relocations, marriages, divorces, births and deaths focus the need to change. Group imagery sessions can help communities visualize change and prepare for a smooth reorganization. When dislocation comes as a sudden shock, individual or group grief process can be facilitated by hypnotherapeutic imagery.

Individuals also benefit when hypnotherapy is used to focus attention and energy for key events: corporate board meetings, final exams and a sports competition are all examples. Hypnotherapeutic imagery is again a powerful tool in ensuring effective outcome in contexts certain to include distractions and disruptions.

Part 1 || Part 8 | Part 10