Active Aging, Specializations

Hypnotherapy in Later Life: Part 5

Life in Harmony

Developed in the third quarter of the 20th century, the Ericksons’ Stages of Development end at age 65. Today if we live to 65, we have a 50% chance of living to 90. Given that nearly a third of life can be lived after retirement, we would expect to find stages on that journey into mortality. Indeed, after her husband’s death Joan added a ninth stage of development in which prior successes are challenged as the organism and mind weaken.

Louise Aronson (in “Elderhood”) applies a model arising from the medical community. It aligns with the ninth stage of development but distinguishes social and medical challenges. Retirement, as a social challenge, often occurs while we still have physical and mental vitality. As in Erickson’s model, these “seniors” (as Aronson labels them) are concerned with sustaining the integrity of a personality that slowly is cut off from the pillars that support its expression. It is only among the “old” that accommodation must be made for slacking vitality. Among the “elderly” medical concerns dominate, while the “aged” hope for dignity in the process of dying.

In both cases, of course, we have a sense that the final stage of life is a desperate gripping by the fingernails as the cliff tilts up and back over our heads.

To escape this dread, I add the liberating dimension of spirituality. The practices are:

  • Life review to remove limitations to personal growth.
  • Spiritual deepening as a loving management of the boundaries between “I” and “we.”
  • Inner peace as stillness and sensitivity that guide us into beneficial relationships.

The goal is a life lived in harmony and balance.

Let’s elaborate now on why that is hard. As a child we adapt to the culture defined by our parents. The middle stages of development are driven by conflict between those behaviors and society. To manage that conflict, the conscious mind evolves to engage society and validate experience. The subconscious – the original “naked” mind – continues to operate, but never fully integrates our social experience. Conversely, the conscious mind operates without full access to the physical and spiritual resources managed by the subconscious.

If to live in harmony is to expose those resources, then harmony requires that we heal the divide between the conscious and subconscious minds.

How does hypnotherapy facilitate this process? By helping seniors achieve the Stages of Development in their new living environment, thereby removing resistance to spiritual growth.

I myself began this journey in my adolescence. As a child of the ‘60s entering adulthood in the ‘70s I realized that our society needed to change. I choose love as the fulcrum for that change. In 2005, my exploration of that principle had revealed:

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing wisdom, understanding and energy to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities.

One manifestation of this principle came as my unconscious father clung to life on his last day. I stood at the head of his bed to announce “Dad, a big brain party is waiting for you in heaven.” The hospice nurse, noticing the change in his face, announced “I think that he heard you.”

Seniors have a unique opportunity to cultivate such capabilities. As harmony grows, it becomes palpable to others as a presence of peace. Its effects include dissolving anger and fear, exposing hypocrisy, redirecting resistance, and encouraging collaboration. Those benefits unroll to shape the future. Reaching into the past, peace recovers parts of the personality trapped in sorrow or trauma. Through these gifts, the elder draws to them those less experienced or fortunate. They are beloved not for their ability to entertain, but for their abilities to heal and guide.

In a study of nuns in the Order of Notre Dame, another inexplicable benefit was seen. The academics saw the simplicity of the community as an asset, allowing them to expose the biological preconditions for dementia. As part of the study, the Sisters agreed to be autopsied after their death. The surprise came when the autopsies showed that women in their 90s, fully functional and active, had brains like those suffering from late-stage dementia.

How can this be? My sense is that when life and soul are fully aligned, the brain is no longer necessary to the expression of our intentions. The soul immerses itself directly into the tissues it needs to control. In exploring this new process of living, the soul surrenders fear of separation from the body. When the time comes, it lets go gracefully.

The last post in this series will consider the contrasting outcome – a long, debilitating decline into incoherence – and how hypnotherapy can minimize the associated trauma for both beloved and caregivers.

Part I || Part 4 | Part 6

Active Aging

Hypnotherapy in Later Life: Part 3

Spiritual Deepening

The conscious mind serves to protect our personality from accepting harmful judgments. Sometimes those judgments are positive, such as when a caregiver is told “but you’re doing a great job” when a request for help is refused. Sometimes judgments are opportunistic, such as up-selling by a car dealer. But mostly they are negative. “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re not pretty,” or “Nobody will ever love you like I do.”

While the protection of the conscious mind is admirable, it comes with consequences. The most potent negative messages program our body to ignore its needs. Whether we’re overweight or simply robust, “you’re fat” implies that we should eat less. To avoid weakening of the organism, the subconscious must suppress the influence of the conscious mind on the body. We become divorced from ourselves.

The power of hypnotherapy is in re-establishing those lost connections. That is possible only upon a grant of trust by the client that allows the hypnotherapist to bear witness to their subconscious landscape.

The figure presents the main features of that landscape. The conscious, reasoning mind explores the world, systematically building experience. When transitioning through sleep or during dangerous situations, that information is passed through to the subconscious mind that is concerned with doing and being. “Doing” is expressed through the body; “being” is the province of the soul.

While I introduced the conscious mind as the gateway to the world, that does not mean that it is the most direct route to the subconscious. This is evident when confronted with a trauma. While some among us will try to analyze the situation, others will act immediately to control the physical environment, or we may turn first to a higher spiritual source for strength and guidance.

These tendencies account for the richness of the wellness industry. Therapists and life coaches cater to those that analyze; doctors and chiropractors cater to those that seek a physical control; faith healers and reiki masters cater to the spiritual. Working in the gaps between these disciplines we find acupuncture (body and soul), psychiatry (mind and body) and organized religion (mind and soul). But as the figure illustrates, the subconscious mind links all aspects of the self, and so a multidisciplinary approach may be most effective.

For emphasis: in the modern era the virtue of the analytical disciplines is in creating a bulwark against harmful messages from society. Comparing hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, psychotherapy has the cachet of science. For those seeking spiritual depth, however, that comes with a prejudice against spiritual experience. Modern physics has no model for the soul (a problem that I have tried to solve elsewhere). This is a 20th century insanity driven largely by the terror of industrialized warfare. With psychology resistant to direct engagement, hypnotherapy is the best discipline for those seeking to deepen their spirituality. Hypnotherapy is also accommodating of religious orientation: It doesn’t seek to guide, but only to bear witness as the client seeks harmony.

Given that the modern world drives us to analyze and do, how do we know when we have reached the soul, the fundament of being? A survey of the great theologies reveals these precepts: a receding of concern with concrete outcomes and a growing seeking after harmony between the mind and body; a sense of the world entering into us rather than the projection of the self into the world; and a growing confidence that limitless love is the foundation of reality.

These principles have a long track record in supporting people seeking healing. Spiritual deepening facilitates life review.

In our modern society the greatest obstacle is overcoming materialism that encourages most of us to ignore spirituality – even if “scientific thinking” does not cause us to reject it outright. The strategies for overcoming such resistance are subtle, beginning with a survey of moments of inexplicably deep connection to the self and others. To protect against identity confusion, those experiences must be anchored with love. Love preserves and amplifies virtues in us witnessed by others and protects us from corruption. In Cheryl O’Neil’s Therapeutic Imagery, those truths are established as a foundation before undertaking any hypnotic work.

But the end goal of spiritual deepening? That is informed by a simple precept: spirituality is the negotiation of the boundaries between “I” and “we.” It is a process that can occur only in community, ideally among those seeking similar aims. When that condition is lacking, conflict arises. As a core principle, then, spiritual deepening requires inner peace, our next topic.

Part 1 || Part 2 | Part 4

Active Aging, Specializations

Hypnotherapy in Later Life: Part 1

Marvelous Opportunity

Most clients seek hypnotherapy to correct behaviors that limit success. In later years, that motivation shrinks – we don’t have to stand up in front of an audience or look good in a bikini. So why would a senior client seek hypnotherapy?

Certain reasons still apply. Smoking cessation therapy comes up often. Hypnosis for medical recovery is also common. But while many other conditions become less pressing with age, benefits arise that are only available to those with the time to invest in themselves. These include life review, deepening spirituality, and cultivation of inner peace. These bring the elder a new kind of power – the power to guide others toward those same goals.

Sadly for the growing number of Americans pioneering life with cognitive decline, those opportunities gradually slip away. Recent studies indicate that better nutrition and sound sleep can slow that loss. Sleep is particularly important, and here hypnotherapy can help by reducing anxiety as the pioneer begins to lose control over their world. We understand language before we speak and interpret expressions and gestures even earlier. Those capacities remain until the end and can be used in hypnosis to encourage change even when the rational mind has succumbed to confusion.

In this series we’ll consider the benefits of hypnotherapy in each of the areas outlined above. In this first post, however, I’d like to emphasize how hypnotherapy changes when working with seniors.

As aging progresses, we become more vulnerable and thus more sensitive to unfamiliar settings. For this reason, elderly clients may prefer at-home sessions or sessions over Skype. Remaining in the comforts of home, their energies are also preserved for the important work done in the mind.

That work must include exercise of the mind’s capacities. The brain is designed to continually adapt to a changing world, and that includes clearing away unused circuitry. For this reason, deafness is followed by loss of speech comprehension. Conversely, reading of novels appears to help preserve long-term memory better than reading of magazines. Rather than simply moving from one experience to the next, then, activities should be planned to ensure that all sensory and thinking processes are exercised.

The crux of the matter, however, is that life does simplify with age. Retirement not only relieves us of challenge but also orphans the thinking patterns that were unique to the workplace community. Conserving those patterns requires rechanneling into new experiences, and such channeling is always done in dreams. Hypnotherapy can help to focus dream process. With elderly clients, dream therapy is therefore an emphasis.

Along with a shift in attention to these needs particular to elders, the hypnotic process often must be adjusted. Arm-raisings favored by 20th century pioneers may be uncomfortable to seniors. The usual fallback is visual focus, but declining eyesight may frustrate that as well. For elderly clients, then, the hypnotist will use conversational methods: confusion, pacing and leading, and imagery. When deafness or failing comprehension frustrates even that, still the language of expression and gesture remains – and that is sufficient for hypnosis.

Once the therapist enters trance with the client, of course, the magic of hypnosis is that new channels of communication open as trust is solidified. We’ll see that cropping up again and again as we consider in detail the unique benefits of hypnotherapy in later life.

Part 2