[The following article appeared in the book Therapy Through Hypnosis, by Raphael H.

Rhodes, 1957, pp 232-2238]

By Dr. S. J. Van Pelt
[S.J. VAN PELT, M.B.B.S., Psychiatrist, London, Eng. President of the British Society of Medical Hypnotists and Editor of the British Journal of Medical Hypnotism. Author of HYPNOTISM AND THE POWER WITHIN (Skeffington & Son, London, Eng.)]

Lest the reader should form the wrong conclusion from the title of this article, let the writer hasten to explain that he would be the very first to deny that hypnotism is a panacea for all human ills. Nevertheless, it is hoped to show that there is a far greater scope for its use In medicine then is generally recognized. Nobody, no matter how fanatically he may be opposed to hypnotism, can deny that in this science we have the most powerful and effective method of controlling the mind, and through the mind, the whole body. When a few words by suggesting paralysis, for instance, can render a hypnotized person powerless to mive, although fully conscious and able to reason, who can doubt the power of hypnotism? When hypnotic suggestion can cause the mouth to water, change the heart rate or cause the sweat glands to function, who can fail to be impressed with its possibilities in medicine? More and more is heard these days of the influence of the mind in medicine and recently, in an article in the British Medical Journal entitled “In Praise of Idleness,”1 the importance of the role it plays in the so-called “stress diseases” – thyrotoxicosis, duodenal ulcer and non-renal hypertension – was pointed out. Gain, in another article “The Mind and the Skin,”2 in a different issue of the same Journal, a long list of skin diseases was given in which the psychogenic factor was stated to play a part. This list included such conditions as acarophobia, dermatitis factitia, trichotillomania, neurodermatitis, pruritus ani and vuvae, atopic eczema, rosacea urticarial, hyperhidrosis, cheiropompholyx, seborrhoeic dermatitis, psoriasis and alopecia areata! Nevertheless, in these articles, although the importance of the mental factor was clearly shown, no mention was made of the most effective method of controlling the mind. Treatments advocated and discussed varied from major operations to divorce, and giving up work, but the simplest of all treatments, that of medical hypnosis, was not even considered. What is the reason for this attitude? Mainly, of course, it is due to the fact that hypnotism has been given a bad name as the result of crude but spectacular stage performances. One can hardly blame a doctor for hesitating to recommend hypnotism to a patent, for the latter would, more often than not, recoil in horror at the suggestion. Stage performances, often in very bad taste, blatant and wildly extravagant claims of medically ignorant amateur hypnotists, sensational stories of the Svengali-Trilby type, lurid articles in the Press, foolish radio plays with “master criminal hypnotists,” and the “occult” flavor

imparted by those who imagine themselves to be “psychic,” have all combined to present hypnosis as something to be feared and shunned as “not quite nice” by the majority of people, lay or professional. Almost as bad is the credulous belief of those who are impressed by the antics of a few stage “stooges” and who fondly imagine that it is only necessary for the hypnotist to exert his “amazing power” to “force” the patient to give up his symptoms. Such people regard hypnotism as some sort of “magic” and consider that it is sufficient to say “hocus pocus, now you’re well,” in order to cure anything from ingrowing toenails to decayed teeth. Before it can be hoped to make progress with the use of hypnosis in medicine, these foolish ideas must be corrected and hypnosis stripped of all its nonsensical and mysterious trappings, so that it can be presented as a simple, serious and straightforward method of medical treatment. As a first step towards this, some indication of how it “works” must be given. At lectures to B.M.A. Divisions, for instance, the writer has often been asked “Hw is it that one method of treatment can help cases so widely different?” Doctors are naturally, and quite rightly, suspicious of anything which claims to be a “universal cure.” The field in which hypnosis can be useful is so wide that, at first sight, it may appear like claiming that some new “wonder drug” will cure everything. However, when the matter is examined more closely, it will be seen that there are sound scientific reasons for using hypnosis in such widely varying conditions. Nobody would deny the importance of the automatic nervous system and the part it plays in regulating the functions of the body. No organ or gland can work without the appropriate orders from the system. Similarly, nobody can deny that in hypnosis there is a greatly increased control over the autonomic nervous system. This is not just a matter of theory, for such control has been scientifically demonstrated. Even in the waking state it is possible to influence the autonomic system by suggestion. It is well known that it is possible to bring “tears to the eyes” or “make the mouth water.” Suitable suggestions can make a person blush or feel angry, sad, happy or afraid and often evoke all the bodily symptoms which accompany these conditions. Of all the phenomena which can be evoked in hypnosis, the one which is common to all stages, even the lightest is increased suggestibility. Thus we can see that, in hypnosis, even the lightest, we have an increased control over the autonomic nervous system, and indirectly, of all the organs and glands it supplies. This complex system supplies all those muscles and glands which are not under voluntary control and normally it achieves the desired results without any conscious effort on our part at all. Such vital processes as the heart action, activity of the sweat glands or digestive processes and dilatation or contraction of the bronchi and blood vessels are all under its influence. This whole system, with everything it controls, is profoundly influenced by emotion, so that it is easy to see how vital functions of the body can be affected by hypnotic suggestions. As Fulton3 says, “The heart and circulation may be worked just as hard and just as much as a detriment to the body as a whole from an armchair…as from a rower’s seat.” With a proper understanding of the above, it becomes more understandable how such widely varying conditions as those described in the following cases can

benefit from hypnosis. One factor is common to all of them and that is FEAR – and fear, no matter of what it may be, produces a disturbance of the autonomic nervous system. Resultant physical symptoms frighten the patient still more until a vicious circle is established. The patient literally becomes “afraid of the symptoms of fear.” Hypnosis, properly used, can break this vicious circle, and by enabling the patient to really listen to calming and reassuring suggestion, restores the balance of the autonomic system with a consequent disappearance of unpleasant symptoms. Consider the following typical cases: 1. Restoration of hair color and growth. The patient, a young married woman, suffered a severe accident. Shock ad worry caused the hair to turn white and fall out “in handfuls.” The patient developed a great fear of baldness and the loss of her husband’s affection. After several sessions of hypnosis, she was able to adopt a calmer and more philosophical attitude. Some months later she was able to report restoration of normal growth and color of her hair. Such a result may appear incomprehensible until it is remembered that fright, through its action on the autonomic, can cause blood to be withdrawn from the skin – in this case the scalp – with consequent lack of nourishment to the hair. 2. Migraine. This young man reported with a history of severe attacks of migraine over a period of eight years. The condition began while studying for an important examination in which he feared failure. Fear of the condition, which had resisted all orthodox methods, including injections, had kept it going. Several sessions of hypnosis with reassurance and relaxation were sufficient to bring about a cure. 3. Insomnia. The patient, a middle-aged man, reported that he had been unable to sleep without heavy doses of rugs for years. The condition followed a period of worry and anxiety over business and domestic affairs. Fear that insomnia would lead to “madness” had kept it going. Several sessions of hypnosis during which he was reassured and shown how to relax properly, were sufient to enable him to sleep without drugs. 4. Anxiety state. A middle-aged married man complained of severe trembling, sweating and palpitations and a feeling “as though his inside was turning over” at the slightest excitement. The condition followed a shock at the sudden death of a relative, when the patient developed a great fear of death himself. Explanations and reassurance during several sessions of hypnosis were sufficient to enable him to regain his normal confidence. 5. Asthma. This patient, a young man, reported that he had suffered from asthma every night for years. Following a heavy, indigestible meal, he had awakened one night and felt “unable to get his breath.” Fear of this unpleasant feeling had done the rest. After several sessions of hypnosis, he was able to relax completely and sleep naturally, with consequent disappearance of his asthma. 6. Blushing. The patient, a businessman, reported that he had blushed ever since he had been made a fool of by a superior during his early days at work. Fear of looking foolish had so disturbed the balance of his nervous system that he blushed at the slightest provocation. A few sessions of hypnosis were sufficient

to enable him to control his feelings easily, with consequent disappearance of the habit. 7. Sexual frigidity. The patient, a young married woman, reported her fear of sex, resulting from unfortunate experiences as a child, prevented her living a normal married life. Explanation and reassurance under hypnosis enabled her to develop normal feelings towards her husband and after a few treatments she reported that everything was satisfactory. Such a case is easily understandable when it is remembered that fear, acting through the autonomic system, inhibits sexual feeling. 8. Sexual impotence. The patient, a middle-aged man, reported with this complaint, which had followed a period of worry and anxiety. Intense fear of the condition had kept it going. A few sessions of hypnosis, during which the true nature of the condition was explained, were sufficient to restore the patient’s confidence with consequent disappearance of the complaint. 9. Enuresis. The patient, a young man, reported that he had wet the bed every night since childhood. He was bitterly ashamed of the condition and was literally afraid to go to sleep. After a few sessions, during which it was explained that fear had kept the condition going, his confidence was restored and he reported some time later that he now slept perfectly dry. 10. Intermenstrual hemorrhage. The patient, a young married woman, reported that she had suffered excessive bleeding between the periods for several years. The condition which had followed a domestic upset had resisted all medical treatment and although nothing organic could be discovered, the operation of hysterectomy had been advised. After a few treatments she lost her fear of the condition and the periods became normal. An accident some time later caused some irregularity but this was corrected with a few more sessions of hypnosis. It is common knowledge that suggestion can influence the menstrual cycle. Why not use it scientifically in appropriate cases? Even in cases of bad habits such as alcoholism or excessive smoking, hypnosis can help. Such conditions are usually a result of an attempt on the part of the patient to ease nervous tension and seek relief from its unpleasant effects on the autonomic nervous system. Consider the following typical cases: 11. Alcoholism. The patient, a married man, complained that he had got into the habit of taking excessive alcohol because he felt “all strung up” owing to excess of work. Fear of alcoholism only made him worse. When the patient was shown how to relax properly and reassured under hypnosis, he reported himself free of the habit after a few sessions. 12. Excessive smoking. The patient, an elderly man, suffered from severe bronchitis and had been advised to give up his heavy smoking. He was unable to do this and feared the ill effects on his health. A few sessions of hypnosis by removing his fear and enabling him to relax were sufficient to free him from the habit. When it is remembered that conditions such as these, and a host of others which are closely allied to them, all respond very simply to hypnotic suggestion, it

becomes obvious that there is a very real place in medicine for this valuable method of treatment. Once prejudice has been overcome and the tremendous scope of hypnotism is realized, then we may expect to see a veritable “revolution” in medicine. Then, no doubt, patients with insomnia will no longer be merely “doped” with sleeping tablets, but referred to a properly qualified hypnotist for the appropriate treatment. Those who doubt that “mere words” can ever take the place of drugs should consider the facts put forward in an article “Drug Action and Suggestion” in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal.4 Here it was stated that “clinically the action of the drug can be profoundly modified by numerous factors arising from the vagaries of the intact patient” and further that “the human body reacts not only to physical and chemical stimulation but also to the symbolic stimuli of words and events which have acquired a special significance.”

FOOTNOTES: 1. OGLIVIE, SIR HENEAGE: In Praise of Idleness, British Medical Journal, April 16, 1949. 2. SNEDDON, I.B.: The Mind and the Skin, British Medical Journal, March 19, 1949. 3. FULTON, J.F.: Cerebral Regulation of Autonomic Function. Proc., Inter-State Postgrad. Med. Assemb. N.a., 1936A. 4. British Medical Journal, October 7, 1950, Drug Action and Suggestion.

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