The importance of understanding
I believe that as a therapist - no matter whether you're a hypnotherapist or any other discipline of therapy - understanding is key to helping people.
I have spent many years studying psychology, biology and neuroscience in the hope that, when a patient comes to see me, I can help them understand in simple terms what is happening to them.
Mental health issues can sometimes be confusing and scary. Many clients ask themselves what is happening to them. Why do they feel like they do? Is there something wrong with them?
Empowering clients to understand how their emotions, biology and neurology are working in most cases normally, but have created a maladaptive response to what is going on in their lives, allows them to begin to understand. With support, they can then plan positive changes in their lives.
To give an example of this, we can look at the role of trauma and how it encodes in the brain.
When an individual suffers a traumatic event, the limbic system (which is the central part of the brain and, evolutionary-wise, is one of the oldest parts of the brain) becomes more active. The limbic system includes structures like the amygdala and hippocampus, as well as the pituitary gland - also known as the master gland. This is one of the brain structures responsible for the production and release of neurochemicals (the chemicals that influence emotion and allow the transference of information across neurons via dendrites).
When this section of the brain becomes more active, the prefrontal cortex becomes less active. Our prefrontal cortex is the structure of the brain that is largely responsible for our planning, preparation and problem solving and is also where most of our conscious awareness comes from. It's the part of the brain that allows us to organise information and make sense of the world.
So, when a traumatic event happens, the limbic system kicks into overdrive. It does this to keep us alive and, for the most part, it does a very good job. It does, however, mean the part that allows us to correctly and accurately encode our experience works less well. This can mean our experiences during trauma can be encoded incorrectly, like an old computer that desperately needs defragging. The files in the brain are thrown around all over the place.
This means the brain can't organise that traumatic experience correctly. This is how some PTSD survivors can have that condition heightened and made to feel worse by a seemingly unconnected stimulus to the original trauma. A bang could be an explosion, a colour could represent the colour of a vehicle involved and other connections the brain makes incorrectly, all making the trauma feel worse.
When you understand how your body is working and what is happening, we can begin to change the way it responds.
One example, in the case of PTSD, is a technique called EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing). This technique works by facilitating the brain to reencode those experiences in a state of calm focus. To go back to my example, it runs a defrag on the brain, puts the files back in the right places and allows the trauma to be processed properly. It puts it in your past, so you no longer get made to feel worse by certain sounds, smells or other sensations. It really is possible to put trauma in the past.
So, understanding is, for me, a first but important step in helping others create real change in their lives.