OK so this is the third post in a series on hypnosis and NLP for pain relief. This is another piece, and a very important one. The previous two posts can be read…
Here – A Technique to Relieve Pain
and Here – Pain Relief Hypnosis, Further Thoughts
I also talk about it in this Skype interview here – Pain Relief Video
How To Make Sure Someone Stays Better
This is the story of a delightful man called Arthur who came to see me about fifteen years ago. Arthur was in pain, a lot of pain. He had twisted his back a little playing golf some thirty years earlier. It hadn’t really bothered him at first, and he had finished the round of golf and gone home.
That night though, Arthur hadn’t sleep well, and when he awoke in the morning the pain was much worse so he went to the doctor. He was duly given painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs and told to take some time off work and rest. He did that, but the pain got worse. So he went for X-rays, took stronger meds, spent some time in traction. The pain got worse…
Fast forward 30 years…
There he was, aged about sixty now, sitting in my office and he had been in complete and total agony for thirty years. But the first thing I noticed about him, apart from the fact that his face showed the strain of these three decades of agony, was this sparkle in his eyes, and he told jokes, lots of them, and was genuinely funny. And I thought, ‘there is an amazing spirit inside this person’.
I was, I will admit, a little anxious as to whether I could help him. I had seen people for severe migraines who had reported that they no longer had headaches but I had not seen anyone like Arthur. To be fair, I haven’t since. I had told him I did not know how effective I could be but that I would do my utmost to help and he was OK with that. After all, he had spent thirty years in various therapies, it had become a lifestyle…
He Had Tried Every Therapy And Treatment For Pain Relief Available
At least, that’s the way it seemed. This included hypnosis for pain relief. He had undergone procedure after procedure including nine operations on his back and legs, had had nerves severed in his back, the works. And the doctors still had no idea why he was in pain. He definitely was though. When I saw him, he had a box semi built into the side of his body. This box contained a cocktail of painkillers which were fed, by a tube, directly into the base of his spine… The only pain relief he had experienced over the years was when they had introduced morphine into the mix, and the effects of that had worn off after a couple of weeks, so he had come off the morphine. It was either that or being totally out of it, and he didn’t want that.
Calibrate The Feeling…
‘On a scale of one to one hundred’ I said, ‘if one hundred would represent total agony and one represents total comfort, how is the feeling in your back right now’. (I stop calling it pain and start calling it feeling pretty much straight away)
‘One hundred’ he said.
‘OK’, I continued, ‘what numbers does the feeling vary between day to day, do you think?’
He just gave me a look…
‘It doesn’t really vary,’ he said, and he had stopped smiling.
‘So what number would you like, then?’ I asked, and the look he gave me got blanker. In fact, I had to repeat the question three times before he could get his head around it. He was so used in thinking of the pain, or trying not to think about the pain, or worrying about the pain, or being angry about the pain, and so forth, that it was really hard for him to think of his back in any way which wasn’t related to pain. The idea of having a totally comfortable back was alien to him. Eventually, though, he said he supposed ‘one’ would be nice, so we proceeded.
And for the rest of that one hour session I went through the technique outlined in the link at the very top of the page.
The ‘Feeling’ Had Reduced
‘What number would your back be now, Arthur,’ I asked him, whilst he was still pretty spaced out from the work. He thought about it, and he thought about it and eventually he looked up in vague astonishment and said..
‘I think it is about fifty’. And his wife burst into tears. This was the first time in thirty years he had experienced any reduction in the pain, apart from the brief time he was on morphine. Of course I did my best to look like this was exactly what I had been expecting but to be honest I think I was as surprised as he was. It was a lovely, touching moment and I tried not to feel smug. I smiled at him and said to him…
‘We can do this Arthur, I am sure of that now’. I would have been pleased if he had said ‘ninety-five’…
Anyway, Arthur rang me back the next day with bad news…
‘It’s back to one hundred again’, he said, sadly. I remember not being too bothered about this at the time, apart from feeling sorry for him, as I was now sure I could help him.
The Pain Came Back
When he came back for the next appointment he was sorry to report that, unfortunately his back had stayed at ‘one hundred’ for the whole week. However, there was an important difference now. He knew that it was possible to experience a reduction in the pain, and so did I. This time we went straight into a slight variation on the technique described in the other blog (link at top of page), for pretty much the whole hour. I really went for it. And at the end, he opened his eyes wide and for a few moments couldn’t speak. Eventually he said…
‘I can’t feel my back’, and he started grinning. And his wife burst into tears again.
Well he could feel his back, but the number he now gave it was ‘one’, that is, total comfort. It was lovely. I was ever so pleased with him, and ever so pleased with myself.
That is, until he rang me back the next day, close to tears, and informed me that it was ‘one hundred’ again. Now if you experienced in this field you will know why his pain came back….
He Was ‘Used’ To The Pain
For years and years his daily life had been filled with the feelings of pain and the thinking about the pain. I realised what he had been doing in between sessions. He had been asking himself questions like, ‘is this going to last or is the pain going to come back,’. He would have been worrying about it, talking to himself about it, thinking about his back, looking to see how bad his back was feeling. And there is a fair chance others would have been saying things, unwittingly, that would have taken him back into the habit of pain. A simple question from a caring wife such as ‘how bad is your back today’, well meant, would not have been helpful;
So how was I going to get him to stop thinking about the pain?
Seven days later Arthur came back for his next session wearing a look of hope mixed with anxiety. I told him ‘we are going to do something new today,’ something to make the comfort more and more natural through time. We did a quick 20 minute version of the disassociation technique to begin with, and he reported that the ‘feeling’ was now about ‘ten’. He was pleased with that. And then I said this…
‘I know you are going to worry about the pain coming back’, I told him (in an incongruent way), and he relaxed a bit. After all, he had been worrying about the fact that he was worrying the pain would come back. I carried on, ‘I could tell you that if you start talking to yourself about the problem then I want you to learn to use a soft and gentle voice, or a voice with really silly tonality, or a cartoon voice.’ And I got him to practice this a bit. He didn’t realise he could learn to change the way he talked to himself. But mainly, I did the following. Because it’s fundamentally hypnotic, the grammar may look a little unusual in places, this kind of thing is best heard…
‘Whenever you begin to find that you are starting to think about the old ‘feeling’, I began, ‘I want you to look for comfort. Because whatever posture you are in, some parts of you, where the muscles are naturally more relaxed because of your posture, and this is only natural.’
I ignored his vaguely puzzled look and continued. I asked him if his left arm was completely comfortable and he said that it was, as far as he could tell…
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘in your mind, I want you to go to a little patch of skin, the surface of your skin, on your arm, in a place that’s soooo comfortable you aren’t even aware of it, now go to this little patch of skin, and imagine it to be the size of a small coin, and then, really, really, slowly, imagine that from this place, the comfort is beginning to spread, in time, and this will get easier.’
Arthur looked up uncertainly and told me he didn’t think he could do it properly, he couldn’t feel his arm relaxing, I was expecting that…
‘Oh you don’t actually have to feel your arm beginning to relax,’ I said, ‘just pretend to begin with. Now imagine what it would be like if a pretend feeling of comfort begins to spread very slowly into your arm, and along the surface of your skin, and around and inside, all the way, gently pretending to spread the comfort down into your wrist, do this slowly, and also ease the imaginary lovely feeling up into your elbow, and give it a colour if you like, a nice colour, a colour you like, now allowing your imagination to imagine, inside your mind, spreading the comfort slowly over the back or your hand, and into the palm of your hand, slowly up inside your fingers, and ease it into your thumb, into each knuckle, one knuckle at a time, up to the very tips, and also smoothly up into your shoulder, just pretending, and slowly imagining the relaxation easing inside the side of your neck, and now into your face, slowly into your chin, and easing inside your lips and into teeth and all around your tongue…’
Now you, the reader, will begin to get the idea. This is done slowly. very slowly, with very detailed descriptions of the areas and body parts that the imaginary comfort is spreading into. After a few minutes of this, I got him to begin to spread comfort from another place, this time, as his head felt neutral, from deep inside the mind, a little globe of comfort, gently expanding through the brain, and into and over the scalp, and gently into the eyebrows etc etc.
Pain Relief Hypnosis And Future Pacing
That’s the NLP jargon for when you do your very best to ensure that the useful, positive, ecologically sound changes, are lasting changes. I told him that EVERY time he had a thought about the old ‘feeling’ in his back, he was to STOP, pause, be glad he had noticed his thought, and immediately start the process of looking for comfort, being patient with himself, and being gently relentless. I told him it was quite ok to think it wasn’t making any difference, and to do it anyway. Arthur expressed doubt that he could do it well enough so asked him to stop and tell me what number his back was right now. He paused…
‘One’, he smiled.
Next day, when the phone rang, I just knew it was Arthur and when I asked him what the feeling was, he told me he thought it was about ‘eighty’. I was delighted. Obviously I would have been more delighted if he had said it was ‘one’, but on the other hand this was a major difference. In all, I saw Arthur seven or eight times, and gradually over that period the old ‘feeling’ became smaller and smaller until it had pretty much disappeared.
The Use Of Metaphor In Pain Control
So on one level the above can be a useful thing to do if you are suffering from pain. On another level it can be a useful thing to do if you are a therapist or practitioner who sees clients to help them with this kind of issue. But its use can be much wider than that.
I tell versions of this story to many of my clients, not just those seeking hypnotherapy for pain relief, as the entire thing can be viewed a metaphor for helping any client aim for the solution, rather than them trying to move away from the problem, when you think about it. Because many people are going to be out there wondering if their problem is going to come back, and we really don’t want that. What we do want is for them to aim themselves AT solutions, and in fact for this to become automated, and the use of metaphor can be a very powerful tool to help them to do so, in my experience.
And on the level of metaphor, with all the hypnosis herein, and all the presuppositions, and the overall structure of the story itself, the intention is also to help you, the reader…
I have learned so much from many people, and hopefully continue to do so. That ‘spreading softness’ I first heard from Richard Bandler. It goes back much further though, it is a core principle, for example, in Chi Gung.
And of all the teachers I have ever learned from so far, my client Arthur was one of the best…
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To visit the JustBeWell main page on pain control and hypnosis please click here