Seattle PTSD Counseling Therapy Hypnosis NLP Case Study
It is not unusual in my practice to encounter clients with post-traumatic stress disorder (also called PTSD). In my practice in Seattle, Washington and elsewhere, I've had people with the following kinds of traumatic events:
• Violent or stressful events in military service
• Violent or stressful events in home life, or out in public
• Violent or stressful events in school
• Stressful events in work or career
• Stressful events in relationships
• Physical, sexual or verbal abuse in childhood
• Deaths of friends or family members
• Mistakes that caused other people harm
• and more . . .
The way people often respond involuntarily to stressful events, making them traumatic, include the following:
• Intrusive, involuntary memories, flashbacks, fears, recollections, nightmares, and body-based signals like nervousness or shaking
• Numbing of feelings, responsiveness; amnesia for part or all of some experienced situations; reduced range of feelings; a sense of a short or limited future; and a desire to avoid activities, people, symbols, thoughts, feelings or conversations that are reminiscent of traumatic events.
• Very strong feelings and overly robust responses to situations, hyper-vigilance or intense fears, intense guilt or shame, difficulty sleeping, or excessive startle responses.
• Frequent or intense examples of the above experiences over time.
Most of these responses are involuntary, have good intentions, or are appropriate in their original contexts, and most importantly, are able to be healed via precise, personal change methods provided by NLP and hypnotherapy.
Can PTSD Be Completely Cured?
I use NLP and hypnotherapy to reduce the frequency or intensity of these symptomatic, traumatic responses to stressful events. While I am uncertain as to whether PTSD as a disorder can be completely "cured" permanently, I am certain that healthy enhancements of thinking have given my clients better, more relaxed feelings relative to past events, and also help them become more functional in a variety of situations in life. Also, my clients gain hope that they had lacked, a view of their future that draws them out into the world to make positive contributions, and acquire the knowledge that they need not be victims of their own memories.
To accomplish these goals with PTSD, these sets of outcomes are needed:
• A commitment to the process
• Activation of a strong third-person viewpoint
• Learning to revisit and heal traumatic memories
• If there is guilt, shame, or self-criticism related to traumatic memories, identifying events that caused the feelings
• Healing the whole self, as needed, by making amends for events, if needed, as determined by a person's conscience, through creating a new life plan for the future, and living by that plan
An Encounter with a Client with PTSD
In this article, I will use a particular case to illustrate the process of taking care of PTSD symptoms with hypnotherapy and NLP.
A man called me up to schedule an appointment for counseling, saying that he needed help. (I will call him "Gary" which is not his real name.)
When Gary came in for his session with me, he said that he was a war veteran. He described having a great deal of difficulty adjusting to life away from the battlefield, and that he wanted help. His experiences were what post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
In our first session, I began a process of counseling to take care of the symptoms of PTSD. I asked him to describe the difficulties that he was having in adjusting to life back on the home front.
He responded by listing a number of different experiences he had been having:
• He felt numb in lots of situations, particularly in discussions with people that were intense.
• He said that he was frequently fearful in many situations, looking this way and that way, surveying the scene. He was constantly "on alert" in order to determine if there were dangers. This was in situations where there were no apparent dangers, and where it was unlikely that there would be any danger.
• He had frequent nightmares that brought back horrific scenes of violence, war, dangers, and many other kinds of stressors and metaphors of stress.
• Frequently, his memories of stressful events intruded into his mind in situations that were unrelated to those memories.
• He reported that in his family relationships, when there were disagreements, he frequently either completely shut down for fear of his own temper, or engaged in outbursts that other people felt were way out of proportion, and completely unreasonable.
• He also have difficulty forming new relationships with people who have not had similar experiences as his in the war. In addition, he felt intermittently numb and intensely guilty in relationship to memories he had when he and done things in war that in retrospect seem immoral or perhaps unlawful.
• And he often felt profoundly isolated and alone.
In the course of this initial discussion, I asked Gary to tell me what he thought were the general causes of his symptoms in terms of experiences he had had any time in his life, including his war experiences.
He began describing a horrific, traumatic, incident after a battle where a number of his soldier friends had been killed.
To prevent him from reinforcing his stress by improperly recalling the memories of the incident, I gently interrupted him, and indicated that we could discuss the details a bit later in the process when we set up a safe mental format for his mental imagery.
I told him that the way I worked with people who had the symptoms of PTSD was to take them through a process of healing, by enhancing thinking. The process, I said, was not an attempt to get him to forget the horrific actions that he experienced . . . that we're not going to completely "cure" him and make him totally free of what is called PTSD. I emphasized instead, a process that would enable him to learn to transform his remembered experiences into modified memories—memories that would feel more normal when away from war and occupation—memories that would enable him to learn from the events and the situations in such a way that he could go forward in his life in a healthy manner, given what he had experienced.
He then asked me to tell him what would be different in his life after I had used my process with him for taking care of his PTSD symptoms.
I told him that when I used hypnotherapy combined with NLP for PTSD, that a number of things would be different.
I said something like this: "The violence and horrific scenes of suffering that you experienced, would have a different meaning for you afterwards; that the guilt that you experience that you had described to me earlier, would turn into something positive, and that you'd feel different. The nightmares that you had experienced would be transformed into a more positive kind of dreaming. The hyper-vigilance that you've felt in situations that were not dangerous would taper off and may even vanish. The outbursts of anger, the ever-present sense of suspicion, and other emotions that you experienced as intrusive and uncontrollable, would likely be transformed into emotions that were more positive and appropriate for the situations you are going to be in, away from war and occupation."
He asked me another question. He said. "What will this treatment be like?"
I answered, saying roughly this: "The treatment would involve you initially learning to visualize in new ways and from new and different perspectives; that you would learn to go into and light, medium state of trance—like a daydream—one that you could control yourself. I will not be in control, except as a guide to increase the freedom he had to think in precise images for the purpose of healing—and you would be in control. You will begin to feel more and more comfortable with your memories, and happier with the future you imagine for yourself in relationship to the experiences that you had been having."
With a sparkle in his eyes, he said that all sounded fine to him and he was eager to begin.
I began by asking him if he understood the difference from experiencing a memory in first person, versus experiencing it in third person as an outside observer. The said that he wasn't sure.
Step 1: Using the Third-person Point of View
in the Theater of the Mind
To Reduce the Intensity of Traumatic Feelings
I asked Gary whether he had ever parachuted before. He said yes. I asked him to visualize himself parachuting. He began to do so, and then looked a bit afraid. I then said, "Okay, let's pause that mental movie in your mind's eye." I asked him this: "Tell me what you saw when you visualized youself parachuting."
He said that he was looking out of the door of the airplane, that he heard the rush of the air going past the open door, and that he saw the patchwork of land below him, and it was scary, as parachuting often is.
I said to him, "Okay, if you see it from that point of view, particularly if you haven't parachuted a lot, it will be scary."
I asked him to him picture parachuting from another point of view. I said, "Imagine that you are on the ground below the aircraft, looking up. Imagine that you are watching yourself from the ground, UP THERE jumping out of the door OF THAT AIRPLANE IN THE DISTANCE with HIS parachute on, and SEE HIM falling, and watch HIS chute open up and gently carry HIM down safely." He began watching this movie he was making in his mind—a movie from a third-person point of view—like that of a movie director, or a person in theater.
I said to him, "Go ahead and keep watching. Watch yourself high up there, gently floating down, and notice how you are feeling as you see this mental movie."
He said he felt very comfortable. I said, "Okay, what is the difference, in terms of how you feel, between imagining yourself parachuting from from the point of view of the parachuter in the aircraft, verses watching yourself parachuting from the point of view of an observer on the ground looking up at the aircraft?" He said they felt totally different. I said "Good."
This is important to be aware of I told him. Why? I explained to Gary that I was going to ask him to see himself from a safe and comfortable distance experiencing some of the traumatic, horrible events that had been I had been plaguing him as memories. He said okay.
Step 2: Revisiting and Healing Traumatic Memories
After the parachuting visualization exercise, I led him to visualize himself on a movie theater screen, while sitting in the middle section of seats in the theater.
I explained to Gary that by watching himself on the screen, he created additional distance in space and time between him HERE IN THE PRESENT, from the memories of traumatic events he would be watching IN THE PAST, OVER THERE, BACK THEN.
Gary recalled the parachuting story and realized that the distance from the images would enable him to stay more calm and relaxed by this movie theater set up in his mind's eye or mindscape.
He then said he was ready to proceed with the processes of reducing the intensity of his traumatic experiences, thereby beginning to heal them.
I asked him to choose a particularly disturbing memory that had been re-occuring. And he picked a particularly difficult, traumatic memory.
He began describing the events I had interrupted earlier.
He began watching himself on the screen, the day after a particular battle. He saw himself get assigned along with several other people, the job of battlefield clean up in the recovery of the dead. He spent quite a long time picking up the dead and pieces of the dead. He wanted himself on the screen taking several hours—his friends—mostly as body parts.
I asked him to watch that scene, on the screen, over there, back then. A few times when he appeared to be drawn into the scene, I asked him to put the movie of the memory on pause. Then I gave him a choice of a number of visual parameters to help him detach himself emotionally from the scene. He chose to make the movie smaller, black and white, and a bit fuzzy. Then he proceeded to watch the rest of the scene as a smaller TV-like box on the screen, in black and white, and somewhat fuzzy.
As he watched the horrific scene that he had experienced this way, he felt surprisingly comfortable.
He said. "I can hardly believe that I can revisit this experience in such a way that I am not drawn into it, reliving, and reexperiencing the horrors I've experienced every other time I've remembered it."
He continued watching the scene, while listening to the soundtrack of the scene, pausing it when he needed to. As he went through what happened, he appeared very calm as I watched him.
Once he finished the scene, he gently opened his eyes and said "So now I've seen it and it seems different—more distant."
Having used this method of seeing from third person in hearing from third person, I asked him to describe to me the meaning of what he had just experienced.
He said that he had a new way of seeing this memory and others. It wasn't at all painful.
I asked him then to picture over there on the screen the image of himself that he saw at the end of the scene that had been so horrific.
He said. "Okay, I can see him."
I said, "what do you think he needs from you, his future self?"
He said, "Somebody to listen. Someone who cares."
I said okay. You have completed phase 1 of this process for this particular memory. "Let's go on to phase 2 of this part of the process."
He said, "Okay."
I asked him to look at the snapshot of himself on the screen over there, back then, at the end of that scene you visualize. He did.
Then I said, "Since he needs for you to listen to him, and to care, go ahead and turn the theater into a three-dimensional stage and walk down there to talk with him—to listen, and to show him that you care."
He nodded his head indicating that he was there. I said to him. "Okay sit with him ask questions and listen and respond in whatever way seems natural" helpful and healthy. Take your time . . ."
As he listened to his younger self, he began experiencing a mixture of different emotions: love for his younger self; the relief of being able to begin feeling better; and the emotion of deep grief. He began to cry.
I gently told him that crying was about healing, and that I wanted him to feel comfortable crying to heal, or feeling sad to heal, and otherwise acting in accordance with how he actually felt.
[Later he told me that both images cried together.]
He went on to visualize more of the stressful events of his time in the war in this way. He said there were many many other days that were like that, days that were horrific, difficult, traumatic, and stressful. He wanted additional help with the after-effects of these other stressful experiences, and his memories of them.
Over a few more sessions, I guided him through several additional situations, following roughly the same steps, varying them, as need for his own successful healing. This took three or four hours over a few weeks.
I asked him also to repeat this process later with the audio recording I gave him, and in dreams with other incidents—incidents that are good examples of the types of stressful events that need to be taken care of. I taught him a technique for guiding his dreams by communicating with his dreaming part.
Step 3: Identifying Events that May have Triggered
Guilt, Shame or Self-criticism
I told Gary that this next phase of our work would involve reviewing incidents that represent or serve as prototypes for the whole set of events and decisions that may have that triggered guilt, shame, self-criticism or related experiences.
[This step and the next are sometimes not needed. If a particular PTSD situation with a person does not involve or include self-criticism, guilt, or shame, then these steps to not apply. Kelly]
I went on to say that these types of behaviors and images may be relevant:
• Violent actions towards others
• Having intrusive images of others whom you may have hurt
• Thoughts of self-doubt or self-criticism, such as saying:
- I shouldn't have X
- I wish I wouldn't have X
- Because I did X, I am a Y (bad) person
With such event, I said:
"Use the screen in your inner theater of the mind to review, as an observer, the incidents. Watch each one that seems relevant, to analyze your actions for regrettable, shameful or guilt-worthy decisions or actions. Take your time.
"Run the film back to the beginning of each such scene, and take a snap shot or mental photo of something at the beginning that identifies the scene. Give the scene a name.
"Repeat this process with several others.
"Then ponder the patterns across the incidents. If there are patterns in your behavior that contradict or violate your own conscience, your own standards of right and wrong, the Golden Rule, or other ethical test, then notice those patterns.
"Check with your own feelings. Notice what you feel about what you did in the past in these scenes. Not to beat yourself up. Or to wallow in grief. But to learn from anything you did that you'd rather not repeat. Or to help others to prevent from having to suffer what you've suffered. Do you feel shame? Guilt? Remorse? Regret? Self-critical? If so, identify the patterns in your behavior you'd like to not repeat, or to improve. Give those patterns names. And consider the idea that you can use this analysis to improve your decisions and actions in the future, in appropriately similar situations."
"We had rich and detailed discussions about the handful of situations, that to him fit into the category of important mistakes and violations of his conscience—violations that kept intruding into his mind, making him feel guilty, ashamed and self-critical.
I said to him, "Would you like a process for dealing with those events in such a way as to forgive yourself, or make amends, or otherwise to transform them into something positive in your life and the lives of others?"
He said, "Yes."
I said to him. "Okay. I'd like to take you through a process that will help you not only forgive yourself for what you did, but will also allow you to turn what you did into a basis for making a difference for others."
Step 4: Healing the the Self
by Creating a New Life Plan for the Future
I said, "Gary, I'd like to help you turn guilt, shame and self-criticism into a more mature, more evolved, more highly developed conscience and help make the world a better place."
I told Gary about a short scene in the biographical movie about Gandhi. I read the scene to him from the film's screenplay: [Gandhi was well-into a long fast, putting his health and life in danger.]
Gandhi Movie Scene
GANDHI: Go – try – God by with you.
The Goondas stand. They glance at Suhrawardy; he smiles tautly and they start to leave, but one (Nahari) lingers. Suddenly he moves violently toward Gandhi, taking a flat piece of Indian bread (chapati) from his trousers and tossing it forcefully on Gandhi.
Mirabehn and Azad start to move toward him – the man looks immensely strong and immensely unstable. But Gandhi holds up a shaking hand, stopping them. Nahari's face is knotted in emotion, half anger, half almost a child's fear – but there is a wild menace in that instability.
NAHARI: Eat! I am going to hell – but not with your death on my soul.
GANDHI: Only God decides who goes to hell . . .
NAHARI (stiffening, aggressive): I – I
killed a child . . . (Then an anguished defiance) I smashed his head against a wall.
Gandhi stares at him, breathless.
GANDHI (in a fearful whisper): Why? Why?
It is as though the man has told him of some terrible self-inflicted wound.
NAHARI (tears now – and wrath): They killed my son – my boy!
Almost reflexively he holds his hand out to indicate the height of his son. He glares at Suhrawardy and then back at Gandhi.
NAHARI: The Muslims killed my son . . . they killed
He is sobbing, but in his anger it seems almost as though he means to kill Gandhi in retaliation. A long moment, as Gandhi meets his pain and wrath. Then
GANDHI: I know a way out of hell.
Nahari sneers, but there is just a flicker of desperate curiosity.
GANDHI: Find a child – a child whose mother and
father have been killed. A little boy – about this high.
He raises his hand to the height Nahari has indicated as his son's.
GANDHI: . . . and raise him – as your own.
Nahari has listened. His face almost cracks – it is a chink of light, but it does not illumine his darkness.
GANDHI: Only be sure . . . that he is a Muslim. And
that you raise him as one.
And now the light falls on Nahari. His face stiffens, he swallows,fighting any show of emotion; then he turns to go. But he takes only a step and he turns back, going to his knees, the sobs breaking again and again from his heaving body as he holds his head to Gandhi's feet in the traditional greeting of Hindu son to Hindu father.
A second, and Gandhi reaches out and touches the top of his head. Mirabehn watches. The Goondas watch. Suhrawardy watches. Finally
GANDHI (gently, exhaustedly): Go – go.God bless you . . .
Gary and I discussed his reactions to the scene.
Gary said that he found the scene profoundly helpful. He said, "It's really inspiring. It shows that matter how guilty, or shameful, or bad you feel, there is probably something that you can do to turn those feelings into something positive for somebody."
I said to him, okay, "So let's do that. I'd like to pose a number of questions to you."
I posed a number of important questions:
• How can you deal with or even learn from the trauma that you have experienced?
• Do you need to earn self-forgiveness? If so, how can you?
• What plan can you form to use what you've experienced to help you feel better or make amends? And perhaps to help others.
• How can you implement such a plan, if you make one, in the real world?
• How can you forgive yourself?
I began to guide his images in a light, day-dreamy-like trance. I used some particular hypnotic words, to give him the freedom to explore, with precision, the intentions of the parts of him that have been giving him feelings of guilt and shame, self-criticism, flashbacks, and nightmares . . .
"As you look over those revised scenes, begin thinking of what you would do differently, and what additional inner and outer resources that you would like to have done in the situation, or to prevent it from happening.
"Ask the part of you that kept bringing up the traumatic memories, if it would communicate with you. If so, to give you a signal like a feeling or a discreet movement that is involuntary."
(He got a signal . . . we established communication through yes/no questions and answers.)
"Ask the part responsible for bringing up those memories if it would be willing to communicate to you its intentions—the benefits it has been trying to achieve with its signals."
(It said yes with the signal and he began getting images of intentions.)
Gary said the positive intentions of the part responsible for his symptoms were:
• To convince me that my actions were that of a good person in a difficult, horrible situation.
• To make me concentrate on these events.
• To make me learn from what happened. And to help me and others not to repeat any mistakes in such situations. And to help prevent such situations from happening in the first place for me and others.
I said, "And begin a request from your inner wisdom and knowledge to give you elements of a plan for your future that could help to satisfy those intentions and to help turn your errors and bad feelings about them into something positive for you and for others."
All at once, he got a flood of ideas about ways to satisfy the part, he said.
He began writing, and wrote down a detailed plan. This took about 20 minutes.
[It involved an entirely new set of activities for supporting other veterans.]
I asked him how this plan, when implemented, will change the story of his life.
He described how his plan would help make amends for what he had done, and would turn his difficult, stressful war experiences that had given him so much guilt into something positive for others he cared about.
The end result of this process which took place in about 10 hours over the course of several weeks was this: Gary was able to heal the wounds of his trauma; to eliminate most of the systems of PTSD; and to transform his emotional pains into a positive revitalization of his conscience, an enhancement of his relationships, and a furthering of his sense of life mission.
I have conducted this process, and variations of it, to help many clients with PTSD, and PTSD-like experiences.
To see a brief article at Examiner.com summarizing my process for helping my clients for dealing with PTSD, go to this link here. I am the Washington State Mental Health Examiner and write articles as a columnist for them.
If you would like to learn more about my work to help people to take care of PTSD and related symptoms and feelings, please contact me for a phone conversation, or a free initial consultation.