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What can we learn from a man who undergoes an operation without anaesthetic?

Posted Sep 12 2008 12:04pm
Posted on 23 April 2008

When I was growing up, I was very interested in ‘unexplained’ phenomena like spontaneous human combustion and hypnosis. My interest in the former has waned somewhat, but my interest in the latter remains with me to this day.

More than 20 years ago I went to see a stage hypnotism act while on holiday in Malta. This involved a few people being ‘hypnotised’ to do unusual (and supposedly entertaining) things like clucking like chickens and eating an onion like it was an apple. Some individuals imagine that such stunts are staged. I suppose this may occur, but I actually think a more plausible explanation that hypnosis is a real phenomenon, and a potentially powerful one too.

For example, last week a UK man used self-hypnosis to ‘anaesthetise’ himself prior to having a full-on surgical operation on his hand (saws and all). I suspect even the most cynical would find it difficult to pass this off as a ‘stunt’.

Hypnosis is often said to work by appealing not to the conscious, but the unconscious, mind. In this way, it is thought to bypass the rational, ‘thinking’ mind. That may not sound too desirable, until we appreciate that the unconscious mind has considerable power, and may also be the seat of specific issues that are habitual and quite deeply ingrained.

From my own life I know how ineffective the conscious mind can be when dealing with an unconscious issue: I am spider-phobic. I can cope with little ones, but anything more than about an inch across will generally cause me to feel uncomfortable about the spider being near me. And if it was actually on me, I’d be quite distressed.

Now, there’s nothing rational about my fear of spiders. After all, spiders here in the UK are non-poisonous, and are not big enough to hurt me in any other way. It doesn’t matter how many times I am told this or how often I tell it to myself, the response I have to spiders is, essentially, the same. Clearly, therefore, the issue does not reside in my conscious, rational mind.

In all likelihood, my spider phobia is an unconscious response. And therefore if I wanted to do something about it, then it would make sense for me to take an unconscious approach (like hypnotherapy). I haven’t had any formal hypnotherapy myself, but I have known many, many individuals rid themselves of phobias and unwanted habitual behaviours through this form of therapy, often after only a session or two.

The trigger for me writing about this was seeing a client last week who was struggling with some compulsive eating. (No, it wasn’t the ex-Deputy British Prime Minister John Prescott who recently revealed he has a history of bulimia. For some information on the management of bulimia, see the ‘Related Article’ below). The individual concerned found that when he ate just a little of one specific form of food, that he found it difficult to stop eating it. In all other respects, his diet seemed moderate and ‘healthy’. The symptom of compulsive eating had been evidence for literally decades, and no ‘force of will’ seemed to make it any better or help him get control over the issue.

The great likelihood is this individual’s issue is essentially ‘unconscious’ in nature, and so I didn’t spend much time (any, actually) discussing the issue on a conscious level. I did, however, explain my thinking regarding his issue’s unconscious nature, and made a case for therefore taking an unconscious approach. My experience with hypnotherapy tells me that if he takes this approach, he can be optimistic about dissolving this issue. And quickly at that.

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