John Teleska, M.Ed., NBCCH

Integrative Medicine Department, Clifton Springs Hospital &
Private Practice, Pittsford, NY (near Rochester)

Hypnosis in Support of Recovering from Trauma

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Reclaiming ourselves:
A frame that supports working through the effects of trauma

Author: John Teleska, Rochester, NY

“Whoever can give his people better stories than the ones they live in is like the priest in whose hands common bread and wine become capable of feeding the very soul.”
—Hugh Kenner

At least a third of my practice consists of working with people obviously suffering the effects of trauma. Clients come because they are periodically experiencing strong, uncomfortable feelings, often fear, or they are gaining a clearer sense “that something bad happened,” perhaps accompanied by specific memories. Or they may just have a feeling that “something is wrong.” The symptoms of trauma take many forms: physiological, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional. Here is a short summary of what trauma is and the process of healing from it:

1. Trauma occurs when we are overwhelmed and can’t keep up with what we are experiencing.
2. When we are overwhelmed we do something brilliant: we split off the overwhelmed part of us for safekeeping in order to stay as functional as possible.
3. We begin to reconnect with our split off part when two conditions are met: a) we have enough resources to sort through the past experience without being overwhelmed; and b) we are ready to move forward in our life in a way that requires a part of ourselves that we split off from in the past.
4. Recollections come in many forms: cognitive, visual, auditory, emotional, physical, and combinations. Unlike cognitive recollection in which we know we are remembering something from the past, emotional recollections don’t have any time sense associated with them. As a result, an event in our lives can trigger an emotional response that we don’t know is mostly a recollection. Part of untangling the effects of trauma is learning to recognize when we are having an emotional recollection.
5. As we reconnect with and reclaim the split off part of ourselves, we can use feelings of fear or of being overwhelmed that may arise to tell us how slowly to go so that, this time, all of parts of us can keep up with the process.
6. Just as a therapist might offer verbal suggestions that we find useful, for some of us, the molecules in drugs may offer suggestions that our body can use to do something it may have forgotten how to do.

Below are pieces of an imaginary conversation I might have with a client in her early forties. She is in the process of untangling herself from the constraining effects of the old trauma of having been abused as a child. In this example, this client frequently feels frightened and overwhelmed with her own emotional responses. My role is to frame her experience in a way that promotes her sense of sanity, competence, and well-being while simultaneously moving the interaction towards a therapeutic outcome. Specifically, trauma and this client’s symptoms of trauma are framed in a way that 1) acknowledges the brilliance of her responsivity, 2) calls out and supports her natural abilities to recover from the constraining effects of trauma, 3) considers her experience of her symptoms as being on behalf of (as well as evidence of) her healing process. As with any therapeutic interaction that utilizes client responses, the framing in this example emerges out of the interaction and becomes clearer as it progresses.

Not a portrayal of therapy
This hypothetical therapist/client exchange is not a portrayal of a complete therapy; it is used only to convey ideas about trauma and trauma recovery. It leaves out the many aspects of an effective therapy that depend on the interaction of therapist with a particular client at a particular time in a particular circumstance.

What is trauma?
C.: “I feel like I’m in two parts: The adult me and the frightened little kid me.”
T.: “We humans have this wonderful ability to divide ourselves into parts under certain circumstances, for instance, when we are overwhelmed. Trauma is when we are so overwhelmed by painful stimuli that we can’t hold ourselves together. There was too much coming at you with too little support. At the point of being overwhelmed you did something brilliant: you split off the part of yourself that you associated with the overwhelming experience. We typically identify the part that is left (which is the part we are conscious of) as "me." We build a wall around the overwhelmed part—which becomes a part of ourselves and our experience that we no longer relate to or associate with. This is an adaptive and natural unconscious ability we all have. This strategy is brilliant for two reasons. First, splitting off the overwhelmed part from the rest of you allows you to keep going, to function and focus on what you can do, rather than getting taken down by what is overwhelming. Second, it puts in safe-keeping the part of you that was overwhelmed.”
The overwhelmed part in safe-keeping
C.: “Why would I want to put the overwhelmed part of myself in safe-keeping? Why shouldn’t I just get rid of it?”
T.: “Because the split off part contains resources that you may want later in life. When we suffer trauma, it is as if we bundle up everything associated with what is overwhelming—good stuff along with the bad stuff, including some of our abilities to think, to feel, to be connected with ourselves, and some of the intelligence with which we respond to the outside world. We tie it all up like a package and put it away. For instance, if a child is physically and emotionally traumatized by repeated beatings, he may split off from some of his emotions and body. That child brilliantly (but unconsciously) bundles up all that is associated with being overwhelmed—including some of his connection with his emotional and physical responsivity—and puts it away. While this allows him to keep functioning, he no longer has access to these bundled up parts of his emotional intelligence and his physical sensitivities. Later when he grows up and the time is right for him, he may begin to unbundle the package, sift and sort through it, and reconnect with previously split off aspects of himself that are useful and valuable to him in his life now.”
C.: “Most of the time I feel like I can barely get to that little kid part of me.”
T.: “That’s because on some level you knew how important it was to preserve that overwhelmed part of you. You really did a good job putting that part of you safely away where nothing more would hurt it.”
C.: “Yeah, I actually remember thinking I was going to put part of myself away where nothing more bad could happen to me, where nobody could get to me.”
When the time is right
C.: “How would I know when the time is right for me to unbundle this split off part of myself?”
T.: “The time is right when two conditions are met: 1) We are ready to move forward in our lives and, in order to do so, we need some part of ourselves that is packed away in a previously split off bundle; and, 2) we have acquired the resources to sort through the bundle and separate out what is useful from what is not. It appears that when these two conditions are met, people spontaneously begin the process of reconnecting with and sorting through the split off part of themselves.”
What part of me decides that the time is right?
T.: “Just as you didn’t make a conscious decision to split off the overwhelmed part of you then, you don’t consciously decide to reconnect with it now. Some other intelligent part of you decides. I’ll tell you a story. Jeremy Taylor is a Jungian dream therapist. In his experience working with thousands of dreamers, he learned that dreams always present something new and useful. Dreams never draw the dreamer’s attention to a situation that the dreamer can’t do something about. He tells of being on a team of psychologists working with Vietnam veterans suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. The psychologists learned by experience to divide patients into two categories: Those that never reported having any dreams, and those that regularly had nightmares. The patients that did not dream did not to respond well to psychotherapy; they were treated by simply making them as comfortable as possible. The patients who had nightmares responded well to therapy, processed through their trauma, and eventually got better. Just as our unconscious doesn’t provide dreams about which nothing can be done, our unconscious is too brilliant and efficient to provide us feelings or recollections that we are unequipped to respond to in a way that provides us more options on behalf of our well being. It will not waste our energy bringing to our attention something that isn’t useful, or that we can do nothing about.”
Spontaneous recollections of traumatic experiences are part of the healing process
T.: “So when a woman in her forties begins recollecting bits and pieces of sexual abuse that happened 35 years ago asks, ‘Why is this coming to me now? Is something wrong with me?’ I might respond, ‘No, something is very right with you. After all these years, you now have more resources than you did then when you were overwhelmed by what happened. Some part of you has decided that you now have enough resources to have these recollections and feelings and sort through them—without being overwhelmed—in a way that promotes what you want now.’”
C.: “So, one of the ways I let myself know I’m ready to work through an old traumatic event is that I start to remember it.”
T.: “Yes, in all the various ways we are capable of experiencing a recollection, such as how it felt then—for example, fear or hopelessness, some visual memory, or a particular memory of a moment or sequence of events from then.”
Different kinds of recollection: How feelings felt now can be recollections of the past
C.: “Sometimes I get stuck feeling like a little kid, terrified, abandoned, alone, with nothing I can do to make anything any different.”
T.: “So, you are already remembering the feelings of what happened. And you know you haven’t lost connection with that part of you, even if part of what you connect with includes feelings of stuckness, terror, abandonment, and hopelessness.”
C.: “Remember the feelings? I’m having these feelings in my life now!”
T.: “There are different kinds of recollecting. You can remember something you did yesterday. You can remember what you had for a meal yesterday and there is no confusion—you know you are remembering what you had then, you know you aren’t eating now. You very nicely remembered to me some of the awful experiences you had—you told me what had happened when you were a little kid. And you told it with no confusion—you knew you were telling me something that had happened years ago… then, not now. With this kind of remembering—cognitive recollection—we know our recollection happened in the past. Our body can remember things, too. When you will stand up and leave at the end of this session, your body and your nervous system will remember how to walk, without you giving it a conscious thought, without any awareness of all the experiences you had learning how to walk. We can also have emotional recollections. Something can happen now that triggers an emotional memory—we feel a whole set of emotions we felt in the past. And in remembering these emotions, we feel, in the present, the same emotions we had then. Unlike cognitive remembering, nothing in an emotional recollection tells us what time period it is from. Sometimes emotional recollections have some hints that it is from the past. For instance, something triggers your emotional recollection from when you were a little kid. You feel like a little kid who is terrified, abandoned, alone, and powerless. You didn’t say it, but you probably feel overwhelmed, too, because that’s how that little kid probably felt then.”
An example of a specific feeling as an emotional recollections of past traumatic experiences
C.: “I do. Overwhelmed, and powerless, and like nothing will ever get better…”
T.: “Right. That’s the emotional re-collection. You remember now how that little kid felt then. And in her circumstances then, she felt like nothing would ever get better.”
What happened to you wasn't your fault
C.: “…and when I get into these feelings, I feel bad, like there is something wrong with me.”
T.: “When a young child’s parents argue, yell at each other, or even separate, the child thinks it’s his or her fault. That child doesn’t yet have the sophistication to consider that Mom and Dad might have their own reasons for not getting along. At that age we don’t yet know how to adopt someone else’s perspective. As a youngster, the only explanation we have is it’s our fault. Can you imagine that little kid that you were then only knew how to make sense out of the awful things that happened to her by assuming she must be bad, and that there was something wrong with her? Maybe now when you recollect how that little kid explained to herself why those overwhelming things happened to her, you can notice the perspective you have now that you didn’t have then. A part of you is increasingly coming to know that what you thought and felt then is different from what you can think and feel now.”
Spontaneous recollections of traumatic experiences as evidence that the healing process is underway
C.: “Why do I feel this way at all?”
T.: “Because you are already so far along in your process of healing. You’ve got the cognitive recollection of your experience then, which you know was then. And you are getting the emotional recollection of your experience then, which you are in the process of learning is about what happened then, which is different from now. And you are in the process of putting cognitive and emotional recollection together—so that when you have the emotional recollection, you know cognitively that it is about your experience then, not now. You are in the process of metabolizing the old trauma.”
Metabolizing the old trauma: Going slow enough so no part of you is left behind
C.: “How am I ‘metabolizing the old trauma’?”
T.: “A big difference between now and then is now you have the resources to finally allow yourself the time and space to sort through what was previously overwhelming. Then you were overwhelmed. Now, you have the re-collected feeling of having been overwhelmed. Now, you can sort through what had been overwhelming, taking all the time you need, this time, going slowly enough so no part of you is left behind. Here’s a story about this process. The parent tells the child, ‘We’re going to visit the ocean!” The child has never been to the ocean, has no idea what 'ocean' is. They go to the ocean. The parent holding the child’s hand, they walk over the sand dune and there’s the ocean! The child has never seen such a thing: stretching out in all directions, waves breaking, the sound. Child and parent walk toward the ocean. The parent is attentive to the child, taking cues from the child. At some point the child hesitates, stops. So much to take in. Perhaps the child looks at the parent, looks back at the ocean. After a while, the child begins to walk, maybe towards the ocean, maybe parallel to it. Gradually getting closer to it, in just the right way. That child is learning about 'ocean,' developing his or her own relationship with this thing, 'ocean.' You’ve seen shore birds… a wave breaks, they quickly walk on their stilty legs keeping just the right distance from the wave. The child knows how to do the same thing while learning about the ocean. Eventually the child walks on wet sand, closer to the breaking waves. When it is just right, a toe or a foot gets wet, maybe an ankle. Backing off from the waves, and then approaching. And when that child comes back for another visit to the ocean, the ocean will be different, and so will the child, and the learning continues, maybe holding the parent’s hand, or sometimes not. And that child continues to develop its own relationship with ocean, learning to swim, play in the waves, play in the sand in a way that is just right.”
Some people, but certainly not all, find specific drugs can be a support for the process of healing--others have objections or simply don't find them useful
[Some people use the support of a therapist to learn to build the internal support for the shift they are ready to make in their lives. Others may also use the support of certain prescription drugs to make a shift towards well-being and then learn how to maintain it without the drug. Others may find it useful to continue taking a drug to maintain a useful and therapeutic shift. What constitutes the right support to make a sustainable change differs for each of us. In continuing the interaction with my imaginary client, below, it is not my intention to take a stand for or against drug usage. In this example, I offer this client a different frame in which she might consider allowing herself the benefit of a drug she has found helpful in the past.]
C.: “I really don’t want to take drugs even though they seem to help.”
T.: “If they seem to help, why don’t you want to take them?”
C.: “I don’t like taking something in and then it does something to me.”
T.: “Sounds like you feel invaded by something that does something to you that’s out of your control.”
C.: “Yeah, invaded! I don’t like it!”
T.: “Feeling invaded, taking something in that does something to you that you don’t like. That’s a recollection of what happened to you then, isn’t it?”
C.: [pause, head nods slowly, makes eye contact, says softly:] “Yeah.”
T.: “I’d like to offer you another perspective. Is that okay?”
C.: “Yeah.”
T.: “You have learned how to use therapists like myself as support for your healing. You have said that, during a session, you can feel better, then you leave and you go through episodes of feeling frightened and hopeless and you feel like you can’t get back to feeling okay. But in a session, or over the phone you know how to use the suggestions of a therapist and use them as support for your own internal process of coming to feel better.”
C.: “Yeah.”
T.: “That’s one kind of support you know how to use. There are other kinds of support. Your body may have gotten into the habit of having the chemistry of fear, anxiousness, and hopelessness. It’s like your body forgets it knows how to feel differently. Well, certain drugs have molecules in them that act as suggestions, reminding your body how to do things it may have forgotten how to do. It’s a suggestion, just like a therapist offers, except the molecules in the drug make the suggestion in a way your body understands and can respond to. The drug helps your body remember something it may have forgotten how to do by itself. Just like you can make use of a suggestion that I might make, your body can use the support of the suggestion the drug makes. And not all parts of a suggestion I might make are equally useful to you, so you take in the suggestion and refine it by your own understandings. Similarly, over time, your body can refine its responses to the suggestions of the drug, refining and eliminating what’s not useful.”
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 Contact information

John Teleska, M.Ed.
(585) 264-9497

 Office Locations

38 Parkridge Drive
Pittsford, NY 14534
SE of Rochester by Powder Mill Park near Bushnell’s Basin exit 27 of I-490
Integrative Medicine Department
Clifton Springs Hospital
2 Coulter Road
Clifton Springs, NY 14432
between Canandaigua and Geneva,
New York

Copyright © 2014 by John Teleska. All rights reserved. Updated 7/7/16.