War of the Psyche – 5 of 6

A Hypnotherapist’s View: Re-Integration

When dealing with combat stress and its follow-on disorders, hypnotherapy is an adjunct to treatment by licensed clinicians – both psychologists and medical doctors.

All caregivers recognize that combat stress drives the warrior into an extremely protective posture toward the world. In fact, the shift begins in training. The armed services cultivate a mentality that in the Army is known by the acronym “BATTLEMIND.”

As recognized in “After the War Zone,” the mentality poses challenges to post-deployment reintegration in civil society.  The authors – clinical psychologists working at a veteran’s center – consider each piece of BATTLEMIND one at a time, cautioning the returning warrior to prevent those elements from poisoning his relationships with family, friends and employers.

This is an attitude comfortable to the warrior: confront the problem and defeat it. Thinking as a hypnotherapist, however, it has serious deficits. The subconscious does not understand “no” very well. If fact, “don’t do that” often reinforces the importance of whatever “that” is. In other words, lacking a positive alternative, the subconscious tends to stick with what it knows.

To address this deficit, I suggest a “HOMEHEART” perspective that actively seeks to restore adventurous, heart-centered relationships. Re-integration should be built around experiences that build confidence in the world.

The emotional charge in undertaking these steps should not be underestimated. The warrior fights to preserve our emotional privileges under conditions in which those privileges are brutally punished. Each privilege may associate with a traumatic event. If and when those are discovered, however, awareness of specific connections is a powerful aid to licensed therapists and adjunct professionals seeking to facilitate recovery.

  • H – harmony. This could be found in music, poetry, art, chanting or nature.
  • O – openness. This could be experienced by sitting passively while others offer physical and emotional closeness (rather than intimacy).
  • M – mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice of being in the present moment. Drinking a mug of water, tying a shoe, or walking in a garden are all safe avenues for focusing on the simple pleasures of the now.
  • E – empathy. Doing charitable work, growing food, and caring for other living creatures are all means of re-establishing this connection to the world.
  • H – healing. This is the gradual experience of allowing the blocked heart to open to receive positive energies from the world.
  • E – ecstasy. Experiencing the exciting tingle of intimate contact with our friends, our children and our lover.
  • A – allowing. Making decisions based upon what brings pleasure, rather than what guarantees safety.
  • R – relating. Negotiating full participation in our social system of family, friends and employers.
  • T – trusting. Any bond of the heart is mutual – when our heart is open, to be loved is a felt experience. Confidence in those bonds is strengthened by success in our relationships.

The great benefit of hypnotherapy is in facilitating consideration of these experiences by the whole mind before they are practiced in life with loved ones that may be vulnerable to fear, anger and hostility carried over from combat.

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War of the Psyche – 4 of 6

Hypnotherapy Helps the Warrior Heal

When dealing with combat stress and its follow-on disorders, hypnotherapy is an adjunct to treatment by licensed clinicians – both psychologists and medical doctors. Further information on hypnotherapy and combat stress reactions and PTSD is here. A perspective on the psychic battle against death concludes this series.

As a particle physicist trained to believe that time only flows forward, I wasn’t prepared to accept a fact known to many warriors: the brain is a time-travel device. Once I did, I developed a completely new understanding of trauma: in the event, the survivor reaches deep into themselves to find resources, and receives them from their own future.

Thus survivors of trauma relapse. As they develop strength, their past reaches out to claim what was necessary to survive. My counsel to those that survived personal trauma was to recognize the dynamic and respond to the need in an organized way. When the event crashes through the walls, don’t fight it, but offer to that earlier self:

I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.

While effective, that advice was offered as an intuitive layperson.

Professionally, the gatekeepers for trauma recovery are licensed psychotherapists and psychologists. Their goal is simple: keep the sufferer in the here and now. The techniques used include stress inoculation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy. The strength thereby created is essential to recovery, but insufficient: it masks off the past rather than healing it.

Alternative healing modalities address the psychic process head-on. Methods such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy) broaden the perceptions of the mind-body to diminish the hold of trauma.

Hypnotherapy enhances all these techniques. The traumatized mind is wide open – the barrier of the critical mind has fallen, and so information is taken in as absolute truth. This victim is often susceptible to paranoia and conspiracy theories. By taking the client into deeper hypnotic states and then out into conscious dialog, the procedure of hypnosis rebuilds the barrier of the critical mind.

Secondly, hypnotherapists rely upon dreams to monitor the evolution of the subconscious landscape, and interpretation of dreams was always a central feature in therapy. Dreams occur in sequential episodes during the night, and until hypnotherapists learned how each episode affects the development of behavior, attempts to interpret dreams could heighten client anxiety. Once the episodes were understood, recurring dreams (such as flashbacks to traumatic experiences) could be passed and eventually expelled from the subconscious. This is valuable to trauma victims whose haunting dreams often wake them in the middle of the night.

As the strength of the critical mind is restored, hypnotherapy’s third goal picks up pace: rebuilding assurance that the client is safe, freeing the conscious mind to restore and reactivate the circuitry that suppresses the fight/flight response. In this stage, in transmitting insights directly to the subconscious, hypnotherapy is an amplifier for psychotherapy.

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War of the Psyche – 2 of 6

A Hypnotherapist’s View: Combat Stress

The mind is born with two responses to a threat: fight and flight, marshaled by the survival instinct in the primitive part of the brain. Fight and flight are meant to be temporary. In nature, the mind-body quickly returns to rest to heal, grow, and learn.

The experiences that we survive without harm are accepted by the mind-body – it is the unknown that is uncomfortable.

The early mind has two basic emotions: euphoria and fear. These emotions cause us to see experiences as “good” or “bad.” Both reactions have survival benefit: euphoria builds social bonding while fear guides our self-preservation. The newborn learns from their parents how to balance the two. This control comes from the thinking part of our brain, which learns to intervene in the activation of the fight/flight response.

Around eight years of age, as we venture out into the world alone, unknowns threaten to overwhelm us. To control the exposure of the mind-body to new experiences, the brain develops a barrier called the critical mind. Atop the barrier is the conscious mind that uses logic, reason, and analysis to test information. Below the barrier is the subconscious mind that adapts the body to meet the demands placed upon it. While our ego (or self) lives in the conscious mind, the subconscious does seven times as much work for us. When there is a conflict between our conscious goals and subconscious motivations, the subconscious generally wins.

Military training develops mechanisms in the conscious mind to control the fight/flight response. An important element of training is to sustain readiness to fight while waiting for orders from superiors. This creates anxiety in the mind while maintaining heightened readiness in the body. The professional warrior is capable of this self-control. It is a point of pride.

In deployment, that skill is confronted with the ugly reality of combat. The years of moral guidance and training weaken. The primitive mind takes over and those that survive receive deep validation of their reliance upon violence. Each experience chips away at the control of the conscious, until a particularly intense experience reverses the tide. The conscious and subconscious may join in forcing the warrior into a nearly permanent state of fight and flight. When death seems inevitable, however, an even more primitive solution arises: the psychic casualty freezes in place, conserving energy in the hope that an escape will present itself.

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War of the Psyche – 1 of 6

When Alexander the Great set out to conquer Asia, he marched under the commission of the sages of Ancient Greece. They ordered him to spread Greek culture to the Pacific Ocean. To assist in the mission, one of their number marched with him. After his death in what is now Afghanistan, Alexander testified:

The seer won more battles ever than I.

Alexander was known for his uncanny intuition in combat, leading his mounted Companions in charge against the enemy lines at exactly the right moment to turn the field. His testimony reveals his reliance upon his advisor’s psychic skills to guide him.

A thousand years later, Central Asia was dominated by walled cities that resisted conquest. It was Ghengis Khan, considered by the Mongols to be not just a warrior but a great shaman, that brought an end to these empires, bringing gun powder from China to the battlefield. This innovation turned warfare into massacre. Men no longer fought face-to-face, but at increasingly great distances. Massed formations were marched zombie-like into artillery barrages. In a single day, losses of tens of thousands were not uncommon.

It was the will of their generals that sent men into slaughter – an indulgence only broken by World War I.

In the modern era, those with grievances against the state no longer dare to rebel openly – the lethality of state security services is overwhelming. The rebellious fight as insurgents, intimidating civilians and setting off bombs in public places.

Peace keepers must walk exposed through those spaces, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. These contradictory roles – peace keeper and warrior – create an internal psychic conflict that builds over days and years without cease. The modern warrior is always close to those that would cause harm – the enemy hides in plain sight until the moment of attack. In the field, there is no respite from the exhausting demands of fight and flight.

Part 2