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Accidental Hypnosis

by Thomas A. Ritzman

Category: Hypnosis


A common criticism of the speciality of Medical Hypnoanalysis concerns its simplicity. The remark, “that’s too simple, it will never work,” comes to us with persistent regularity, particularly from the members of the mental health community. It is true that the underlying theories are simple, that the diagnosis and treatment is consistent and direct, and that the cure rate is high. All of which verifies its simplicity; but on the other hand, it is the very reason why it does work. The problem with many therapeutic modalities is that they are so concerned with behavior that they fail to recognize that behavior problems have a cause. Also, that attempts to modify behavior without removing the cause only strengthen the problems or, at best, provide temporary relief after considerable time and expense. This leads to the unfortunate belief that the more the effort, the better the cure. Actually, the reverse is true. Many severe and seemingly hopeless problems have very simple causes, and the therapy can be easy and quick.
I would like to discuss one of the causes of emotional and behavioral problems which is possibly the simplest of all and to point out that many such problems can be cured in a few sessions-—not only completely, but permanently. In doing so, I would like also to make this presentation simple and direct. I am referring to the phenomenon of “accidental hypnosis.”
There are many definitions of hypnosis, but I am going to use one which will best explain what is to follow. “A hypnotic state is a state in which the conscious mind is so preoccupied or confused, that a thought created by a statement or by experience can bypass the critical factor and pass powerfully into the subconscious mind. If not removed by subsequent conscious logic, the thought will remain as an ongoing and powerful force.”
There are a number of ways in which this state can be created. The most obvious is clinical hypnosis in which the conscious mind simply goes to “sleep” and ceases to create thought, while maintaining its awareness. In such a state a therapist can then communicate effectively with the subconscious asking for information which will then flash upon the screen of the conscious awareness. Thus it can be told to the therapist, while suggestions from the therapist will pass on through the conscious and into the subconscious to be retained as ongoing active thought.
Another such state exists automatically in every person during the early years of life because the conscious ability to create thought and thus to criticize, or modify, or totally block incoming suggestions is not yet completely formed. During these early years, powerful experiences which create emotions and thoughts such as transference of prenatal thought from mother to infant during pregnancy; or the frightening experience of birth itself; or the suggestions given to small children at times of emotion, may create thoughts of such power that the individual’s life is governed by the thought from that time on. There are, however, occasions when a thought can be created instantly, powerfully, and with such emotion, that the critical factor of the conscious mind is unable to oppose it. If the thought is not reconsidered and then forgotten, it can remain as a powerful entity, causing emotion and compulsions at various times thereafter, which the victim is completely unable to oppose and control. It is these hypnotic experiences that we refer to as “accidental hypnosis,” and they can originate at any age.
It is this type of hypnosis which Dave Elman refers to in his chapter on “Waking Hypnosis” in his book Hypnotherapy. It is important because the words which parents use to communicate with their children or the words that physicians use to communicate with their patients, carry a great deal of power. Both children and sick people are automatically in a hypnotic state and ready to believe anything which is said to them. They are especially susceptible to suggestion. A child who is told that he is a bad boy and must never do that again, will eventually accept that he is a bad boy and increasingly act it out. The parents, simply by a poor choice of words, have compounded the situation instead of correcting it. If, on the other hand, the parents respond to a misdeed with the words, “You’re a good boy, you really should be ashamed for doing such a bad thing,” they possibly would end up with a paragon of proper behavior.
A physician who says to his sick patient, “This is a serious illness, and at least fifty percent of these cases die; but I will do my best to cure you,” is simply instilling the thought that the patient has a fifty percent chance of dying. If the victim remembers that the last patient he knew who had been treated by this physician recovered, he is apt to accept that as a suggestion and become subconsciously convinced that his time has come. However, if the physician says, “You certainly have a severe illness, but at least fifty percent of these patients recover, and from what I see you seem to be in that fifty percent,” the physician might have done more in that statement to cure his patient than in all of the treatment to follow.
The mind is powerful but it can only proceed to the result toward which it is directed. The ability to use this power is a grave responsibility. Parents should be aware of the impact of not only what they are telling their children, but how and when it is said. Not only parents, but anyone who has contact with small children—such as teachers or people working in day care centers, should be thoroughly informed and educated in the creative methods of talking to their charges. This is an area which has been seriously neglected; but in the light of modern knowledge, it is high time to make this information available.
There are a number of typical problem situations in which accidental hypnosis plays a part, and the ability to recognize them can save a great deal of time, since it is usually very easy to deal with them. The problem results from the patient’s compulsion to conform under specific circumstances, to a very specific thought. This thought can be easily brought out under hypnosis by placing the patient in the problem situation, recreating the emotions that result from this situation, and then asking for the “thought” on his mind at the time. This will usually be expressed, simply and concisely. The thought may be the actual words used by the person who originated it at the time it was implanted, or it may be the way the subconscious mind interpreted the thought at the time. In any case, it is a direct statement of a single, powerful thought to which the patient is compelled to conform.
When the thought has been identified, it can be traced back to its origin, which is an event consciously forgotten by the patient. Frequently all that is needed to be said to the patient is, “Now I want you to return in your memory to the time when you first created this thought and felt exactly the way you are feeling right now. I will count to ten to give your inner mind time to organize this for you; and when I say the word “ten,” a memory will begin to form in your mind and continue until it becomes clear, and you will be feeling just the way you feel now.” When this has been established and the memory recalled has been abreacted, the thought is removed in the usual fashion, by providing conscious understanding of the situation. By reminding the patient that either an untrue thought was accepted or that the thought, although appropriate at the time, became inappropriate when the situation was completed and now can be removed. This actually occurs with the recollection and subsequent understanding, but can be reinforced by using the image of pulling a weed out of the “garden of the mind.”
A number of actual cases from our practice will illustrate this concept.
Not long ago we saw a young man about thirty years old with an interesting problem. He was completely unable to urinate in a public facility. He had always been rather sensitive and shy, but he had no such problems as a boy and with his friends. The problem started when he went away to school and continued throughout school and college to his time of treatment, obviously causing him a great deal of embarrassment and inconvenience. Under hypnosis he was placed in a public facility and asked how he felt. He said he felt fine and was having no trouble relieving himself. When asked to describe the facility he said, “I’m all alone at a roadside rest area.” When it was suggested that other people are now entering the facility he said, “It’s no use, I can’t do it.” He was asked to tell the reason why using the counting to ten method described previously. His answer was, “You must never pee where someone can see you. It’s all right at home, but when you’re away visiting, it’s very rude.” Spontaneous regression on this thought took him to the age of five, when he found himself in the yard of a new family in town where he had been taken to play with their small daughter. When nature began to call he asked if he could go into the house and use the bathroom. He was told, “Just go behind the bushes, no one will care.” Against his better judgment he did. Unfortunately the neighbor’s mother saw him from the house and addressed him with the exact words he had repeated under hypnosis. He was so shocked and ashamed that he had to go home. When he told his mother she advised him to forget about it, which he did. His inner mind however, did not forget and when he left home in later years he was compelled to obey instructions. When all this was brought out under hypnosis, he promptly got over the problem.
Many scholastic problems, either poor study habits or repeated failure to pass particular examinations such as bar exams have invariably been caused from episodes of accidental hypnosis. Since the patient has made it into law school in the first place, he or she is obviously intelligent; and the problem is the inability to pass an examination. Multiple choice exams present the chief problem, since they are really an exercise in intuitive thinking, while essay questions or direct questions and answers allow the student to express him or herself directly. Only three sessions were needed to achieve the result. The first consisted of a short history with the usual opening questions and the rest was limited to anything in the past that might have been pertinent. The patient was then introduced to hypnosis and immediately asked how he felt. The underlying “thought” was then brought out and expressed. He was then directed to a time when that thought was first given to him, and this experience was explained and removed, and proper supportive suggestions were given. The second session was devoted to producing, by post-hypnotic suggestions, a relaxed, concentrated state under studying circumstances, after which a personal tape was made to use at home. The third session was devoted to producing automatic intuitive thinking in any exam. This is illustrated by the following reports.
A forty two year old male was seen because of repeated failure to pass his bar examinations after graduation from law school. He had never done well in school, and made the statement that “I can study all right, but when I have to take an important exam, I lose it.” Out of three chances to pass the bar he flunked the first two. He was introduced to hypnosis and then asked to imagine himself at the time of his last exam, sitting down and picking up his examination paper. He was then asked, “What do you see?” He responded, “Nothing! I can’t see anything.” He was then age-regressed to a time in school when he first became aware of the problem. He found himself in the second grade at age seven, unable to copy material from the blackboard because of rapidly advancing myopia. He accepted the suggestion that he was not able to do his work properly because he could not see, and not until the suggestion was thoroughly implanted and reinforced was the real problem detected and glasses provided. It took only a few minutes to find and remove the suggestion, and he has had no trouble since.
A sixteen year old boy was seen because of consistently poor grades, resulting chiefly from an inability to get adequate examination marks. He had always been large and strong for his size, and compensated for that by unusually gentle and considerate behavior toward his contemporaries. When placed under hypnosis he immediately said, “I can’t do anything in school.” This thought was traced back to age seven, when he was taken into the principal’s office after inadvertently hurting one of the children with whom he was roughhousing. He was told, “You are bigger than your friends. From now on you must realize that you can’t do the things that the others do because you might seriously hurt someone.” His feelings of remorse were so great that his understanding was bypassed and he accepted the suggestion completely. He was seen for one more session to reinforce this new belief. His mother called recently to say that his grades this year were B’s and A’s, and that he was a much more relaxed and happy young man.
A very unhappy seventy year old man with an emotional problem was seen. Whenever he saw his wife talking happily to another man he had a sudden fear that he was being left out. This was accompanied by an anxiety so great that he would become rude and offensive, completely out of proportion to the innocent and very normal situation itself. This had been true for any close relationship he had had with a female as long as he could remember, and it had caused him profound grief and embarrassment over the years. When, under hypnosis, he was placed in that situation, he expressed, “They have something secret between them and I am left out.” He was eventually carried back to a traumatic birth experience. Having survived it, he found himself in his mother’s arms feeling complete relief and peace. Then suddenly, he saw himself in the middle of the room, held by someone else, and seeing his mother now in the arms of another man. His sudden feeling of rejection and isolation was profound, and the now very familiar emotion and thought was strongly abreacted. He was projected on and found himself now held by both his mother and father. Sensing that he was now part of the family, this was followed by feelings of peace. The problem was totally removed, and what had been a lifetime of social disaster was completely resolved.
A thirty-eight year old woman was seen in a state of marked anxiety. She had had severe marital problems leading to a strong desire for a divorce, which she had expressed to her husband. He moved out and began living with another young lady, whom he occasionally brought with him to his wife’s home to visit. It was at this time that her anxiety started taking the form of “terrible jealously.” She expressed it as, “I’m panicked. I have this terrible fear inside—especially when I have to see him leaving with someone else.” When the fear emotion was brought up to the desktop of her mind under hypnosis, she recalled the same fear when she saw her husband leaving on the plane for Vietnam. Returning to the original problem, she found herself at age three. She had an older sister who was her father’s favorite. Her anxiety arose from her perception of her own rejection by her father. The anxiety became concentrated and focused when her father took her sister on a trip, leaving her at home. The abandonment anxiety was implanted in this state of accidental hypnosis to be recalled many years later when she “had to see him [husband] leaving with someone else.” When this was resolved, her relief was such that she was able to go through the divorce with no further distress.
A thirty two year old man was seen with a complaint of complete impotence, which he had as long as he could remember. He had hoped it would clear up after marriage. Two years later it was no better. When asked in the history taking what his problem was he said, “I don’t know Doc, I can’t put my finger on it. We go to bed and I feel great, but then all of a sudden the lights flash up and I’ll do anything to avoid the business at hand.” Having been placed in a “bed situation” under hypnosis, he re-experienced the anxiety and spontaneously regressed first to age seven, when he and a little girl friend were discovering their sex differences after disrobing under the porch. To his horror he found that instead of a penis she had a cavity which upset him enough that he promptly filled it with sand. Her mother was informed and the relationship terminated. When regressed to the origin, he found himself at age three in the living room of his home, and immediately began to abreact with tears and extreme fear. “My father is yelling at me. I’m going to die!” He then remembered picking up a penny from the floor and pushing it into what was an empty lamp socket which had not been turned off. The “light flashed up” and he received enough of a burn or shock to terrify him. In this moment of accidental hypnosis, his equally terrified father shouted, “Don’t you ever put your finger into a hole like that again, because if you do it will kill you!” We received a birth announcement a year later as proof that he was cured.
It must be remembered that however concise these episodes seem to be, not everyone experiencing the same trauma would necessarily have had the same, or perhaps, any problem. Dr. Bryan coined this the subject of voltage. Voltage is the intensity of the underlying fear, and this may have been conditioned before the actual event occurred. The girl with the jealousy problem had, in fact, an Identity Problem, and was later treated for that. The man with the impotence problem could very well have had a Birth Anoxia Syndrome with a death fear previously implanted by an actual death experience. The man with the urinating problem could have had a Jurisdictional Problem with underlying fear powered by the fear of hell and damnation as the wages of sin. This can be determined by the history and word association test. Certainly the patient would be made aware of this and have the option of more extensive therapy if he or she desired it, or if other problems arose. But again, to quote Dr. Bryan, “Treat the patient for the problem he came in for and don’t try to treat him for everything!”
The subject of “Accidental Hypnosis” is discussed and defined as the implantation of a thought and an emotion into the subconscious at a time when the critical factor of the conscious is paralyzed by the emotion of the event. When a similar situation arises later in life, the original emotion may be reactivated and result in an inability to deal with the situation in a rational way, obviously causing severe and/or embarrassing problems. In many such instances a dramatic cure can be achieved in a short time by recreating the emotion and tracing it back to the origin. There is usually little need for much continued reinforcement.

Thomas A. Ritzman
35 Warren Street
Concord, New Hampshire 03301


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