The second experience, which I will relate here, concerned a female patient who I had known and who had been visiting my clinic on a regular basis for all of two years and more. Over that period of time, we had used progressive relaxation, which later proved to be a useful ‘door’ into a lightly induced hypnosis and in which, once again, the “ego strengthening” routine had featured prominently. When I had first come to know Fiona, her prognosis was poor and she was both unwell and extremely anxious. Moving out of doors had come to present a real problem for her and night sleep came only fitfully. Over the weeks and months, much of that changed in that she was now sleeping well at night and able during the day to go on regular shopping trips with her daughter. Fiona remained fairly well for a time but at length – and undeniably – things began to change for the worse. Her disease was once more progressing, requiring further palliative treatment, although on the whole she appeared to continue to cope pretty well.
One night, I returned home quite late from the usual round of clinics, home visits with some teaching ‘thrown in’. There were no mobile ‘phones in those days and my wife, as always, updated me on telephone calls received throughout the course of the evening. One received around 8.30pm and now well over an hour ago had been from Fiona’s husband, Alan. My wife added that there had at the time appeared to be some urgency about Alan’s call and so I promptly returned it. Initially he was full of apologies but nevertheless glad to speak to me. It seemed that that afternoon, Fiona had received a ‘phone call from her sister in South Africa. They were, I knew, in the advanced stages of planning a holiday out there within the next month or so, although all of that now seemed very unlikely to materialise. Alan told me (to use his own phrase) “that since speaking to Margaret and Sophie (Fiona’s sister and niece respectively) she appeared to have ‘lost it’ altogether”. He had hoped she might settle as the evening wore on but unfortunately that had not been the case.
My first response was in the form of an offer to visit right away. However, at a quarter to eleven at night and with the prospect of a 40-minute journey either way, Alan would have none of it. I then talked to Fiona – and to cut another rather long story short – we agreed and arranged to switch the bedroom extension telephone onto “speaker” mode so that Fiona could hear me from her bedside. Alan also listened in from downstairs so as to know when to switch off and then, also by prearrangement, he ‘phoned me back around midnight, with the good news that Fiona was now sleeping peacefully.
She was up and about and almost her usual cheery self when I called the following day. In some ways, her telephone call from South Africa had acted as a catalyst and there was important work to do, which we just got on with. I will quote here from a letter received from Alan a couple of months later, in which he wrote, “I think I always knew they couldn’t cure her…I just hoped that someone might be around with that healing touch that she needed”. The simple truth, of course, is (as, I seem to remember reading somewhere in a moving account about a certain Jesus of Nazareth, who once walked the dusty plains of Palestine long ago and who, on a given occasion, had appeared to respond to another’s deep-seated need for healing) “It is Your faith that has made you whole”.
And now for my final account of hypnotherapy in action: When our third and youngest son was about to enter his school attendance days, he passed through a torrid time with nightmares and the like. Indeed, so severe were these episodes at times that they began to create something of an aversion to the onset of evening and night-times. Our own GP, a most conscientious and caring man, listened sympathetically to my wife and then ventured the view, “You know, your husband should be able to come up with an answer to this kind of thing”.
One evening I returned home to find my wife embracing our youngest son as he wailed and sobbed, having just emerged from a terrifying and traumatic sleep. Once he had calmed down somewhat, he and I sat side by side on his bed together in silence for a moment. Then anxiously he enquired of me; “What are we going to do Daddy?” As it happened, I had recently read somewhere or heard of something, which supplied the germ of an idea. I had a friend and colleague, who was both a medical practitioner and pharmacist. In fact he owned and maintained a small chain of chemist shops in Glasgow, one of which remained open until midnight. So I responded, “I haven’t suggested this before because I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary but you know Dr Fraser” (a colleague) “don’t you?” “Well I heard just the other day that he has developed the most amazing medicine for dealing with bad dreams and the like. I don’t know how it works but apparently a single dessertspoonful taken before going to bed in the evening spells the end of all bad dreams and nightmares and the like for good and all”.
I tried as skilfully and sensitively as I could to lay a foundation via simple suggestion and his response was just as I had hoped it might be. Could you get some tonight Daddy?” my son inquired eagerly. I went to the telephone in the downstairs hall but still well within Martin’s hearing. “Stuart, hello, how are you?” I enquired. “Look, I’ve heard of this marvellous dream medicine…(pause)…Do you happen to have some in stock at present?…you do?…then I’ll just drive back into Glasgow right now…,. The shop?..Yes I know the one…on the south side…I’ll be there in less than half an hour…great; see you shortly:
A little over an hour later, I returned home with a small medicine bottle appropriately labelled. My son was of course all-agog. He climbed back into bed and took his dessertspoonful (of what in fact amounted to a mixture of apple juice and a soft drink known in Scotland as “Irn Bru”. I continued to talk quietly and reassuringly. “This I am pretty confident will do the trick. You may very well continue to dream from time to time, since everyone dreams but they’ll be pleasant dreams and you might well be unlikely to recall them anyway. You’ll just sleep every night; almost from the moment your head touches the pillow. Dr Fraser is confident that his dream medicine will take all the fears away and in fact, he thinks you’ll probably begin to look forward to bed and sleep, etc”. Never again was my son troubled in that way and nightmares and the like swiftly became a thing of the increasingly distant past. My He is now a successful senior graduate officer in the RAF, the thought of whom (together with my other two sons) fills me with pride. I did, of course, seek his permission to relate this entirely factual account to you and well, he didn’t and doesn’t mind a bit.
This then is the story of hypnosis and hypnotherapy: incomplete I readily own, but adequate enough to better inform you – especially concerning the concept of self-suggestion – than perhaps you were, say four blogs back in time. Also and hopefully – as you read though all blogs in this series on ‘Routes to…Relaxation and Healing’ – you will feel better fitted to bring together the elements or ‘ingredients’ of an easily understood and comfortably applied method for self-support. This is what we are now almost ready to embark upon and which, I am confident, will help to reinforce and strengthen your own inner sense of resolve and overall ability to manage on a day-by-day basis
One final thought about the subject explicit in the title of this blog, i.e. “hope”: One day a patient, well known to me and now in complete remission commented, “If only I could be sure…really know if you see what I mean”. My response did, I think surprise her. “So hope for the future in this regard is now to be discarded” I enquired. “Certainly not!” she exclaimed; why should you think that?” “Well…” I replied, if you really think about it, “Its because if you have absolute and total certainty about anything and you really “know”, hope…a bit like faith I suppose…is as irrelevant as it is redundant”. (C) SB.