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Hypnosis and Skin Disorders
The Mirror of Our Emotions
By Ursula James, BA, D.Hyp (Dist), FBSCH


An overview of the treatment with hypnosis of non-viral/bacterial dermatological conditions

The skin is a mirror of the inner self, and we frequently use phrases which reflect this: 'getting under your skin', 'thin skinned', 'thick skinned', 'itching to do something' for example. These all reflect the fact that it is recognised as a measure of our vulnerability. We use these phrases without thinking about them. It is only when the skin begins to malfunction that these expressions really start to have a meaning. To understand where non-viral or bacterial skin conditions come from, it is appropriate to look at where the skin develops when we are in embryonic stage. The epidermis and nervous system originate from the ectoderm, and as such, when the embryo fully develops a strong series of connections exist between the two. Therefore, an imbalance within the nervous system may frequently be reflected in the epidermis itself. It can be a signal of an implicit vulnerability to a situation, or a response to that initiating trigger itself. Therefore, treating the symptom alone for psychogenic disorders is not as effective as treating the trigger as well. This is why hypnosis for skin conditions can be so productive.

Hypnosis is effective for the treatment of dermatological conditions in three specific ways. Firstly, treatment of the root cause; secondly, remission of the symptom, and finally through treating the conditioned response to the symptom. It is very important to be aware of the very distressing effects which these types of condition have on the individual, and their sense of self. An initial consultation would consist of, among other things, finding out what the patient enjoys doing, and what they do to relax. This information is then fed back to the patient in hypnosis to establish biofeedback connections with positive associations. When talking about something we enjoy, we begin to come out of ourselves, and take our mind off things which are a concern. This demonstrates that there are times when the patient is not so aware of their problem, and this they do naturally by becoming occupied in something else. This is done also to establish that the symptom is not always constant, and therefore manipulable. One of the most important questions which the therapist must ask before treating the patient with hypnosis is to find out which of the three component parts of the problem, the cause; the symptom; or their reaction to the symptom is the thing which is of most concern to them. The emphasis here is on which element of the condition they wish to take control of first.

Control

With any condition with a psychogenic component, the patient suffers from feelings of being out of control and this is made worse by the visibility of the symptom.

This visibility has social implications and can hold the patient back from forming the social bonds which in themselves can take them away from the problem, i.e. manipulate the symptom.

Unlike standard treatment, where the patient is booked in for a course of sessions, the patient is asked to initially come back after a three week period.

This is the length of time usually considered for an idea to become sufficiently fixed in the mind. The patient will then designate the speed and frequency of subsequent sessions. This is to allow the patient another area of control which strengthens confidence in themselves and their commitment to the therapeutic process.

Stress

Stress increases the vulnerability of the autonomic nervous system and this has a direct effect on the epidermis. This increases the dermatological symptoms and sets the patient into an anxiety loop. The worse the external stress becomes, the more the autonomic nervous system reacts in response, the worse any dermatological reaction. One of the most effective ways the therapist can help in alleviating the symptom is to teach the patient self-hypnosis for stress reduction. This allows the patient to regain a level of control of certain autonomic functions of the system, such as breathing and regulation of the heart rate. This serves the twofold process. It demonstrates that autonomic functions can be manipulated using hypnosis, and by reducing the stress component of the problem, the symptom itself will reduce.

Treating the Trigger

There are two categories into which individuals with a problem fall. The first is those who need to know why they do something before they can move away from the problem, and those who feel they have already dealt with that aspect of the problem and simply require a remission of the symptoms. Those people who need to know why they have their problem require treatment involving analysis or regression. The aim of these techniques is to give an insight into the root cause of the problem. This work can be done in a context free manner, so it is not necessary in hypnotherapeutic treatment for the material to come to consciousness, only that the emotional content is released in a cathartic manner. The underlying principal is that the release of the emotional component will eradicate the need for the symptom. For those whose primary concern is the eradication of the problem, i.e. those who feel that the initiating reason for their condition is not relevant to them anymore, the trigger still needs to be dealt with. In these instances, dissociation techniques are often used. These techniques concentrate on a resolution or re-integration of a problem part – the part which caused the problem. With dermatological conditions which provoke a conditioned reflex such as scratching, the most distressing aspect for the individual is the feeling that they are scratching without any conscious awareness, such as in their sleep. The principal of dissociation brings back the part which scratches, and re-integrates it into the whole, therefore eradicating the need for the symptom, and bringing the trigger under conscious control.

Dealing with the symptom

As the symptom provoked can itself cause additional problems, such as poor self image, and a lack of confidence, this aspect is addressed through ego-strengthening techniques.


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