Self Hypnosis and the Healing Process

By Marriott, Judith A

Abstract The concept of self-hypnosis as an attitude of mind rather than a state to be induced is discussed with reference to healing; and the role of self-hypnosis in so-called psychic healing is briefly explored. A case history is presented to illustrate the use of self-hypnosis with resulting accelerated healing in a burns case.

The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” In one of the systems of Hindu philosophy it is propounded that in the beginning there were only two principles: briefly translated as the observer and that which is observed. These may be referred to as the Soul and Primordial Matter. The latter possesses no quality of its own but has the potential to take on any kind of form. The Soul on the other hand can only be conscious through matter. The observer gazes upon that which is observed and certain processes are set in motion… consciousness occurs, and then, necessarily ego-awareness and other-awareness…the “I” becomes manifest…and from there layers of illusion to protest the ego. In other words, through a process of involution the subtler principals descend to more gross levels of manifestation, which they both form and support.

However, all is not lost: awareness of the reality of truth still exists on a level of the mind or psyche. For the whole person, the potentiality for perfection and all-knowing exists – it may never manifest in the persons lifetime because of various beliefs, illusions, and delusions about life ranging from mere disinterestedness and closed-mindedness through neuroses and psychoses. All therapy, then, is geared to break through these outer layers in order that the person may see or contact this knowledge, i.e. to bring that which is obscured by the layers of defence or self-suggestion into the light. The basic concept of psychotherapy is, then, to lift that which is unconscious to the conscious, to deal with it, and then, that which was unconscious having been brought to the conscious and dealt with makes way for bringing that which is unconscious to the conscious – through layer after layer after layer, or level upon level. This involves long and tedious work for those who are prepared to attempt it, with no hope of being completed in a person’s lifetime in some cases; or painful but relatively quick if a person is determined and there’s no other way to go, or a revelation that inspires change overnight – like Saul on the road to Damascus.

All levels of a person, if one considers the whole, relate, so by the same token the perfect form exists on the physical level. Kirlian photography (Hagen, 1981) may picture an amputee with the limb still intact i.e. it is gone but not gone – the hypothesis then in phantom limb pain could be not that the limb is not there, but that it is there. Physically of course it is not, it has been removed. But on some level it remains for a while, just as by the same token a broken off part of a living leaf remains. Now presuming there indeed exists on some level a perfect limb, it obviously can’t be re-installed in the flesh – or if it can such a thing is beyond our range of comprehension and would not be a goal to aim for in healing. On the other hand, if the photography is correct, it then should follow that a damaged limb, or organ, or what have you, also exists in its perfect form on that level. And damage can be repaired.

It could be said then, that the real power in healing does not come from a false indoctrination of health – an illusion, but from the ability to actually contact that level and to normalise the problem to see how it works and reverse it. What are we doing in treating a person with hypnosis? It seems a temporary illusion is created. For example, the illusion of being a confident speaker at a Rotary meeting may last long enough to show a person he or she can be a confident speaker at such a meeting, and so generalises – they can be confident speaker at any gathering. That is, a learned habit is unlearned, or a dehypnotising takes place (Brice, 1985). An old belief about the self is shown to be wrong i.e. “speaking at Rotary meetings would cause my mind to go totally blank and my knees to shake…and worse”. Simultaneously the life decision that, “I would rather die than get up to speak at a Rotary meeting”, becomes obsolete and change takes place. Using another example, the hypnotist may create the illusion that you, a smoker, are a non- smoker, its good to be non-smoker, you feel better, you are more healthy, you will be ill if you smoke… whatever… and this created illusion may last long enough to break a habit or belief, which is an acquired illusion that you must smoke if you are to exist as “I”. In effect, an illusion is created to break an illusion and if the created illusion fits observer’ truth it becomes a reality as opposed to illusion. But if other illusions pertaining to “I am not me unless I have cigarette in my hand/mouth, and therefore cannot exist without smoking” and in some cases. “I would rather die than change”, are too solid and real to you, to admit the created one, the hypnotists created illusion collapses. Treatment is a ‘failure’. The above serves to illustrate that mind and body are inextricably interwoven…changes don’t occur in one area with out influencing the other, and without change in one area, it may not be possible to make changes in the other, even though the latter is the primary concern.

As I mentioned above, no therapist in his right mind would work with a client to re-instate an amputated limb. But there is a fallacy in the teaching of self-hypnosis or mind-expanding techniques today – that of “beating” a problem before “owing” it. Self-hypnosis becomes self-delusional – a kind of indoctrination of joy if you like – “Everyone can rule the world – if you come and learn the right techniques from me”. This joyous positivism may be referred to as trance logic. A good example of trance logic is the negative hallucination produced in the hypnotised subject. In order not to see something, the hypnotised subject must see it to know it is not there. Subjective reports from clients indicate they experience either the presence in the room of something ‘peculiar’ with a ‘not-to-be-inquired-into’ aspect, or the existence of a white space where the thing is. There is no incongruity in the situation from the subject, though it might seem quite peculiar to the viewer. Now if the hallucination denies the presence of a seated person, the client will find some reason for avoiding the chair. The hallucinating person will not unintentionally sit in the invisible man’s lap. Trance logic is quite simply illogical. Things, which are manifestly illogical to an impartial observer, are seen as quite logical to a hypnotised person if that is what he must believe to maintain the integrity of his belief system. Therefore, if he believes that the person has left the room, even though that person is obviously present, he will accept whatever illogical notions he must accept to continue denying the person’s presence (Shaw 1977). In a way then, the personality splits into two parts, similar to the hidden observer idea as described by Hilgard (1977) – the conscious part or aspect which is unable to see that the person is in the room, and the second ego, or unconscious that was quite aware of the person’s existence, but which has been forbidden by the hypnotist to inform the conscious part. One would expect that these two parts of the person’s mind could ‘get together’ at a later date and produce a dream-like memory of the experience, but by then the purpose of the exercise – whatever it might have been – would have been achieved.

Trance logic is quite common. It is seen everywhere in the followers of certain religions and religious cults, for instance, where illusion becomes conviction. Only the followers ofthat cult will get to heaven and/or reach enlightenment, and all manner of illogical statements and beliefs will be used to support and maintain the belief. Indeed, all that seems to be good or beneficial, but is not of the particular cult, is considered by the believers as trickery and the work of the devil. (The leaders of these organisations are often somewhat worldlier and tend to do rather well by earthly standards.)

Almost anyone who holds a strong conviction about something will show signs of trance logic if he is confronted with evidence that belies his beliefs.

There are many other examples, but one of the most tragic examples I have come across in my own practice was that of a client, a woman with cancer of the liver and extensive metastases, who requested hypnosis. She had opted out of chemotherapy with approval of the hospital because of the far advancement of her condition. Her husband accompanied her. Both were keen for her to have hypnosis to learn self-hypnosis to make her enjoy a special diet which was to cure her. This diet consisted of liver juice, vegetable and fruit juices, nuts etc., no animal protein whatsoever, no animal fats because animals “eat indiscriminately and all sources of food must be pure and organically grown”. Another essential aspect of this magical treatment was a coffee enema twice daily. Her problem was that she could not retain the enemas – not surprisingly – nor could she stomach the juices. Consequently she was surviving on a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato at meal times and had lost nearly 2 stone in weight in the last 2 weeks. Her husband, who obviously cared deeply for her, was barely concealing his anger with her for not sticking to the diet, accusing her of not trying to live. But the light of conviction was in their eyes. A dynamic and authoritative man had done his work well in talking so eloquently of the inevitability of “complete cure” so long as his Organic diet’ is adhered to rigidly. His literature included many examples of such cures, not only of cancer, but apparently every scourge known to man from leprosy to multiple sclerosis, from arthritis to old age. So here she was, under pressure from this promise of cure, anxiety and pressure from her family members, who were so anxious for life that they were wasting what time she had left. It took four weeks before they were prepared to face this for themselves. This had to be handled indirectly because, as we’ve seen, trance logic does not lend itself easily to direct assault. It was felt that knocking the perpetrator of their indoctrination would only serve to produce animosity. Therefore during this time she became so weak she had to be carried up the stairs by her husband and it wasn’t until then that they really faced the facts. But at least she enjoyed what she ate during those four weeks – her diet was supplemented by some fish and cooked vegetables (previously a no-no because cooked vegetables “contained no nourishment” and fish was “filled with pollutants” according to their indoctrinator). This was after the obvious was pointed out, i.e. if the cancer didn’t get her, starvation would. In that time she and her husband were assisted to sort out a great deal in regard to how they felt about one another and themselves, and their quality of life. They consequently discovered that rather than waste time struggling to survive, both could give more to each other in the little time left than they had ever done in some 15 years of marriage. And who knows, without the dreadful burden of guilt and “fault” and with her new found acceptance, she may well live a few days, weeks, or even months longer. “As you think, so you are”, we are told. Too true, and what are we if what we are exhorted to think we are by these propounders of the good life is based on trance logic? To summarise and to look at the above somewhat obliquely in psychological terms, we might consider the individual development of human personality through three levels:

1. Existential – the highest level – separation of the individual from the environmental

2. Physical – separation of mind (mental function) from body

3. Mental/psychological separation of ego/persona (the personal conscious, or that part of personality socially displayed) from the personal unconscious (or repressed aspect of consciousness). (Wilbur 1977).

One problem of the human personality is that dissociation can occur, producing aspects of personality that are unrelated to each other. This can be distinguished from differentiation in which the separated parts remain related to each other. Anxiety and despair at level three are often confused with anxiety and despair at level one. In summary there is a danger of denying and repressing the environment, body, and unconscious elements of the psyche. These splits are reflected both within the individual and within society (the collective level). During therapy, both the whole person and the dissociated level must be considered. In a way the problem must, at some stage, be given back’ to the person – who is asked what they want to do with it. In healing or treating the self, then, it seems important to:

1. Acknowledge that something is wrong

2. Find out what it is and own it

3. Find out how it is wrong compare it with perfection or the closest thing to it

4. Drop all anxiety, and move towards health in the fullest sense of the word.

The following case history illustrates these four steps in the use of self-hypnosis by a teenaged girl to accelerate healing of 3rd degree burns. This is not presented as a blueprint of how self- hypnosis should be used to heal but rather an account of the way one individual chose to use it with remarkable results.

Case History

The patient, a 17 year-old girl, was admitted to hospital after sustaining 3rd degree burns to her left foot and left hand, and 2nd and 3rd degree burns to areas of the left leg, when the contents of a pan of cooking oil which had caught fire, and which she had attempted to carry outside, spilled over her.

Three days after admission the hand and foot were grafted, the donor areas being the front and back of the left thigh. A course of antibiotics was prescribed as a prophylactic measure. Eight days later she was discharged from hospital, the bandages having been removed the day before. The grafts were sound and healing progressed rapidly. Twice daily for the next three to four weeks’ the grafts were rolled, trimmed, and tulle gras applied. Tulle gras and vitamin E oil was applied to the non-grafted areas. Eight weeks after sustaining the injury healing was complete. There was no tendon contraction or restriction of movement in either the hand or fingers or the foot and toes. Apart from one small area on the leg (non- grafted), which had to be scraped down, there was no build-up of scar tissue.

Some significant aspects of this case were:

1. The patient in question was known to be an excellent subject for hypnosis, capable of active somnambulistic trance, wherein she displayed superior abilities including that of pain control.

2. She used self-hypnosis regularly to enhance her memory and concentration in her studies.

However, from the moment she was injured, she not only vehemently rejected any attempt made to hypnotise her but refused to use self- hypnosis to control or block the obviously excruciating pain. Instead, she demanded injections and consequently received LM. Pethidine at three to six hourly intervals throughout the first few days. This experience seems to refute some claims that persons in shock are always easily hypnotisable (Furst, 1969, and others). In addition, while hospitalised and for a week or so after discharge, she lost all appetite for food, and ate very little. Weight loss was therefore considerable over six kilos in three weeks.

The following explanation for the above anomalies was given in her own words several weeks later. “I was, I think, very shocked after the accident. But my mind was very clear. I could see my foot and my hand and they were things they didn’t belong to me. The pain was terrible. I couldn’t think past it. I couldn’t tell myself it wasn’t there because that would take up too much energy. The injections stopped the pain so I could think straight. Then I could look at that thing on the end of my leg and that other thing on the end of my arm and admit that they were mine and part of me… that was so hard to do, you wouldn’t believe; but I did it. Then I had to compare them to my right hand and foot so I could remember how they should look I had to keep concentrating on the feeling of the blood pulsing and circulating, too, especially after the grafts were done, so that they would grow onto me just like the real skin that used to be there. Even eating wasn’t important to me I needed all my energy for healing. In my mind I would see my fingers and toes moving easily while I flexed and relaxed the muscles to stop them from getting stiff. It was better when the bandages were off and I could move them easily. I couldn’t let you hypnotise me because it would have interfered with what I knew I had to do on my own.”


In short, this patient acknowledged her limitations – the pain which she could not ‘pretend’ wasn’t there. She accepted the problem (the injuries) as her own, saw what was wrong and compared it to how it should be, and moved toward health using all the energy at her disposal. This girl was given no instructions. She was aware of her priorities, saw what had to be done, and did it. In this case, we see self-hypnosis perhaps as it should be – an attitude of mind, not a process; reality rather than delusion; a knowledge, not merely a belief.


Brice, G. (1985).To hypnotise or dehypnotise? The Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis, 6 (1), 15-21.

Furst, A. (1969). Post hypnotic instructions. California: Wilshire Book Co.

Hagen, Z. (1981 ). Kirlian photography. Nature and Health, (2) 4.

Hilgard, E.R., (1977). Divided consciousness: Multiple controls in human thought and action. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Kapila, in Richards, S. (1982). Invisibility. England: Aquarian Press.

Shaw, H.L. (1977). Hypnosis in practice. London: Balliere Tindall, p47.

Wilbur, K. (1977). The spectrum of consciousness. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest.

Copyright Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists Autumn 2008

(c) 2008 Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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