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 2

Life Review

While philosophers make much of reason, the most complex parts of the mind evolved to help us create communities.

Community starts with the family – we look at our parents’ faces and find comfort or distress. Sometimes those responses are instinctive: when we smile, blood is forced into the brain and we feel happy. Perhaps intuitively we understand then that it is good when our parents smile. They are happy and reward us with their attention.

But other expressions seem arbitrary. Why make a raspberry, for example?

Well it turns out that not everybody does. Thus comes the problem of community: we wander away from the family and encounter other ways of relating. Rather than a raspberry, another person may snort to show disdain. It is the social center of the brain that allows us to see past the differences to build trust.

Eric and Joan Erickson studied personal growth to social maturity. Their “Stages of Development” recognize that what we learn at an earlier stage supports our success at later stages. In the early stages, however, society expects us to accomplish each stage by a certain age. That means that even if we have not mastered an earlier stage, we will be forced to move into the larger social setting as shown in the table. It’s expected of us.

Age Partner Issue Success
0-1 Mother Will the world provide for me? Trust
2-3 Parents Can I control myself? Autonomy
4-5 Family Can I control my environment? Initiative
6-12 School Can I succeed? Industry
13-22 Peers/Father Will society accept me? Identity
23-35 Lover/Spouse Can I be emotionally responsible? Intimacy
35-55 Workplace Can I be socially responsible? Generativity
55-65 Society Does life have meaning? Integrity

When the shift to larger concerns occurs too soon, we can feel like an alien, like we “don’t fit in.” Sometimes that’s not bad. We’ve all heard of children that were “precocious” – mature beyond their years. But most often it’s a problem for us – we say and do things that are inappropriate, making others uncomfortable and suffering their rejection.

The fulfilled life closes without regrets. Most of us muddle through, surrounding ourselves with people that don’t mind our quirks. At every step we do the best that we can and often find friends at hand when we need help. When that doesn’t happen, we are left with a trauma – and the regret that comes with it.

A good way to think about trauma is a muscle cramp. We strain against some force (like a heavy weight) and the muscle contracts until it gets tired and stops. If we are forced to hold the muscle at that position (perhaps by our own stubbornness), eventually it begins to cramp. Because the muscle tissue tears during a cramp, the effects can last for weeks or even years. During that time, we shift its burdens to other muscles. Those muscles become stronger, but that very strength can cause twisting of the posture that can itself become disabling.

I had several muscle injuries when I started yoga in my fifties, and posture problems to go with them it. While it was painful and frustrating, with discipline and patience they have healed. I learned to relax the compensating muscles so that my posture straightened, and then stretched and strengthened the original muscle.

Having done this work, I find that I move with greater grace and dignity. People stop to tell me how wonderful my posture is.

I spend all this time on muscle cramps because as regards social growth a similar opportunity is available to seniors after retirement. With the pressures of daily life behind them, they can revisit painful experiences in the past and apply their adult wisdom to heal them.

This is the opportunity of life review. The first goal is to prevent social trauma from affecting the choices we make in the present. But as the earliest social traumas ripple down through the rest of our lives, they affect our intimates as well. Our traumas infect others, and theirs infect us. Life review branches out to encompass others. Guided by the Stages of Development and other frameworks for personal growth, we attain insight that leads us toward forgiveness.

On my own journey, I eventually realized that all the people who hurt me were “doing as was done unto them,” looking all the while for someone strong enough to show them how to heal.

Retirement living also drives social change. We leave work and search for new ways to serve our community. Friends and partners retire, move away to be with family, or leave us behind when they die. No longer finding satisfaction is maintaining a large residence, we seek to simplify. One side-effect is to find ourselves in close contact with others in facilities designed to stimulate the formation of new friendships and romantic interests.

In recognition of these facts, Joan Erickson suggested a ninth stage of development in which all the earlier stages were revisited. That occurs in retirement. What better opportunity to revisit old wounds and gaps to heal and strengthen our spirits? And find deeper fulfillment in the years that remain! A sensitive and compassionate therapist bears witness to those capacities, ensuring that we recognize and celebrate new growth.

The power of hypnotherapy is always to give courage to the subconscious mind that seeks safety. With gentle and persistent encouragement, it comes forward to reveal depths of experience that are known to few, as we’ll consider in our next post

Part 1 | Part 3

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

Book Reviews, Relationships

Imaginary Friends

Natural selection (Darwin’s evolution) drives animals toward faster, stronger, and more lethal. Greater specimens act freely, while lesser creatures scrabble in the shadow of death. Imagination changes that picture: lesser creatures still submit, but may observe and plan to turn the tables on their oppressors.

In society, the immediate merits of action and planning are obscured by ritual, rules and rights. The Greek philosophers admired the tyrant – a man capable of driving an entire city toward a common goal. To temper his excesses, the Fathers of the Catholic Church invented the feudal hierarchy: ownership was ceded to the tyrant, but the Church agreed to manage property (including vassals and serfs) only if the tyrant defended the commandments (foremost being “thou shalt not murder”). History tells us that to escape these constraints, the kings established secular universities. It was then left to their vassals to organize parliamentary procedures to reign in the tyrant.

In “Quiet”, Susan Cain dissects the status in America society of the balance between action and planning. As offered by Jung, the preferences carry the labels “extroverted” (for those that prefer action) and “introverted” (for those that plan).

The struggle is intensified by the tendency of individuals to prefer one or the other as a competitive strategy. From the title, you might expect that Cain is partial to introversion, and indeed she uses personal illustrations as she catalogs the costs of America’s deference to extroversion. The projection of ego has been designed into education, work, and social interactions. This allows the aggressive extrovert to monitor and disrupt planning. Cain implies that this is undermining the creativity that is the foundation of vibrant economies. Yet while Cain is sympathetic to the plight of introverts in this culture, she draws a balanced picture of the two types, concluding that they form natural partnerships.

Our personal preference is fundamental to the personality, evident in infancy and persisting through adulthood. The origin of the preference is obscure; Cain spends several chapters surveying the studies that explored the relative impacts of nature (genetics) and nurture (life experience). I concluded that there seems to be a missing factor – perhaps the biochemical milieu during gestation and infancy?

But the studies do illuminate the behaviors that distinguish the extrovert from the introvert. Planning requires information, and thus introverts are “sensitive.” The introvert in unfamiliar surroundings is hypervigilant to the point of exhaustion. This makes them shy of the public performances dominated by extroverts. Conversely, extroverts commit prematurely to goals, a tendency that can drive them to expensive mistakes (Cain references disastrous corporate mergers).

Cain prescribes two paths for strengthening the introvert’s hand. The first is the power of purpose in projecting introverts into public dialog. Cain uses her personal history as one illustration. As a legal advisor, she was terrified of public speaking. While still anxious before presentations, she is stimulated by the worthiness of her mission (coaching introverts to greater influence). Her first recommendation, then, is that introverts seek work that they value.

Using Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as examples, Cain’s second path illuminates the power of collaboration. The illustrations in this last section of the book become a little testy, particular in vignettes of group work in school that tend to bullying by the extrovert. But she concludes with vignettes that emphasize the value of allowing each party to lead in their domain of excellence.

Cain’s study is a valuable read for the hypnotherapist, but also sends up a warning flag for the Kappasinian practitioner. Kappas elaborated the categories as “Emotional” and “Physical” types of suggestibility and sexuality. Those distinctions are a powerful aid in therapy, but Cain’s exploration of introversion and extroversion is proof that psychologists are working toward those same insights. While Kappas’ theory is more pervasive – covering learning, communication, intimacy, and child rearing – it’s only a matter of time before those aspects are integrated under Jung’s terminology.

Book Reviews, Mind Management

Myelin and Mind

To play a musical instrument, it’s not enough to put your fingers in the right place. They have to arrive there at the right time. Getting to the right place is controlled by the wiring of the neurons. Right timing is controlled by myelin.

Myelin is a fatty sheathe around the axon – the part of the neuron that carries signals out from the cell body. Just as neurons form new connections as we learn, so the brain adds myelin to axons. Special cells called oligodendrocytes wrap myelin around the axons that carry the heaviest traffic. Each wrap causes the signal to move faster.

This improved speed helps us to think faster. This applies to all forms of thinking – logical deduction as well as muscle movement. That isn’t always a good thing – we’ve all heard the term “motor mouth,” somebody who talks faster than we can follow. To correct for such problems, myelin gradually decays, slowing the speed along the affected pathways. To maintain optimum performance, then, myelin must be constantly restored.

Building optimum performance is the subject of The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The book sings the praises of myelin and the processes that refine its placement. The most heartening insight is that talent – broadly understood to be the capacity to respond rapidly and precisely – can be cultivated through proper training.

Both internal attitudes and external feedback (coaching) figure in the development, refinement, and maintenance of myelin networks. Attitudes include commitment, caring, challenge and consequences. Commitment is recognized as the belief that a life will be built around execution of our skill. Caring manifests as an emotional response to competence: irritation at failure and joy in achievement. Challenge is the restless seeking beyond current skill – to always be in pursuit of greater aptitudes. Lastly a demonstrable connection between skill and social recognition is the honey of consequence that draws others into challenge with us, giving us the stimulus to continue to improve.

Coyle sees these factors at play in many settings: sports, music and academics are highlighted. While explicitly considered only in the afterward, every example highlights the value of tension between creativity and discipline. Creativity is the goal, but can be cultivated only when the student believes that what she does makes a difference. In the proper setting, then, negative feedback becomes a positive when self-awareness (shame or guilt) is followed immediately with repetition that is rewarded with approval when competence is achieved.

From this, it is clear that mentors are critical to the development of mastery. It’s not a one-size-fits all proposition. In the early stages of talent development (what Coyle calls “ignition”), the mentor must build an emotional connection between the student and their skill. As mastery is approached, the mentor creates conditions of constant challenge. Performance is driven by practice with others of high skill, and the mentor intervenes mostly to help the competitors leap-frog past each other.

In this pursuit, myelination alone is insufficient. In a competitive setting, mastery is not repeatable, because competitors will adapt to its demonstration. This requires endless variation that can be achieved only by composing smaller elements as sequences. Part of coaching is to break skills down into chunks that can be creatively sequenced. Coyle illustrates this with a detailed breakdown of how a master coach teaches a quarterback the drop-back. The most telling proof of the principle, however, is in the failure of chess masters to recall random board configurations, where they can instantly recall actual game configurations. The chess master sees actual game configurations in “chunks” of related pieces.

While hypnotherapists are not life coaches, the insights of The Talent Code are critical to our discipline. Emotional attachment is the foundation of excellence. Hypnotic rehearsal builds myelin networks in the brain, but must be tied immediately to myelination in the rest of the body. Habits are best maintained under variations that instill challenge, and best undermined by substituting alternatives to feed higher behaviors. Recovery from loss may be facilitated by seeking actively to tie high-level networks to new contexts for expression (“chunking-down” instead of “chunking-up”).

Perhaps most importantly, however, is in managing client expectations. Learning is not life-long – it must be actively maintained, and constantly evolves as others adapt to our capabilities. In fact, that tension is critical to skill. The subconscious may resist change, but great accomplishments derive from the struggle to overcome that resistance. In some sense, the properties of the myelin system are how the brain comes to understand what is really important to us.