Behaviorist, author, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist Carl Allen Schoner provides a multitude of proven techniques for managing pain in his new book
"Dream Psycles - A New Awakening in Hypnosis."
We all live with pain, but people suffer from pain in different ways, based on their own personal experiences and associations with the pain in the past. For example, a person who suffers chronic back pain after falling on a skiing trip is likely to report a different intensity of pain than the person who suffered a similar back injury after jumping from a second floor window to escape a fire that destroyed his home. The emotional image associated with pain plays a big role in our perception of the experience of pain.
Consider this: Shock is our body's reaction to a traumatic injury, and one of shock's symptoms is the complete elimination of pain. Unfortunately, as an unregulated response to pain, shock can also lead to death through heart failure, respiratory failure, or low blood pressure. Still, there are some people who can produce a physiological state very similar to shock, and they use this to perform amazing feats of endurance and resilience. Many of us have seen people on television who are able to dramatically slow their heartbeat and respiration to the point that they can survive with very little oxygen for extended periods of time. We have seen people perform body-piercing demonstrations to illustrate their own personal control of the physical pain response. Fortunately for the rest of us, there are far less dramatic techniques that can be used to demonstrate our successful control of pain.
One of the simplest, yet most effective techniques for controlling pain is to visualize pain as an object that you can manipulate by changing its size, shape, color, form, distance, and any other characteristics that comes to mind. In traditional hypnosis, a common method for controlling the pain-tolerance set-point involves visualizing a slide control, which can be physically manipulated to adjust the set-point for pain, much like we would set our home thermostat for temperature. By visualizing the set-point as an object that you can directly manipulate, you are then able to take direct control over the pain itself.
It is also possible in traditional hypnosis to numb various parts of the body at will, using a very simple but effective technique called "glove anaesthesia." In this technique, the hypnotist first shows the subject how to completely numb a hand (which is currently pain free), and then how to pass that numbing sensation to other parts of the body by touching with the numb hand, thereby eliminating the sensation of pain.
You might juxtapose pain as your enemy and resolve to eliminate it from your body altogether, or you might embrace pain as a friend who you can talk to in order to learn more about what is going on in your body.
It is also possible to redirect your attention (and awareness) away from pain by focusing your conscious thoughts on the contrast between the pain and how you would feel in the absence of pain. This technique is based on the principle that no two opposing thoughts can occupy the mind at the same time.
You can also manage pain through various visualization techniques that first diminish the intensity of the pain before attempting to eliminate it completely. For example, I was attending a seminar recently when I began to develop a migraine headache. I have had several experiences with migraines in the past, and I knew that I needed to eliminate this pain before it progressed to the debilitating stage. I excused myself and went into the lobby of the hotel where I found an unoccupied seat and sat down. With my back straight and my hands folded in my lap, I closed my eyes and imagined myself lying on a beach towel on a white, sandy beach. I associated my headache with the sound of a passing ocean freighter, which kept blowing its horn in the distance. The more distant the ship, the less noticeable was the sound of the horn, and the further removed I was from my pain, because my pain was transferred to the sound of the horn. After about 10 minutes I heard only the sound of the ocean waves and sea gulls chirping overhead. My headache was gone.
We all know that one of the simplest classical remedies for a headache is a bag of ice placed directly on the head. You might instead soak a towel in ice-cold water and then fold it and lay it gently over the eyes and forehead. But have you ever considered why these remedies work so well? While you might be tempted to think that the ice somehow numbs the throbbing, the truth is that in the case of a headache, the ice redirects your attention away from the pain of the headache, and instead forces you to concentrate on the coldness of the ice itself. If the towel is sufficiently soaked, the sensation of the cold water dripping down the sides of ones head and temples also redirects the attention away from the pain and to the cold. In no time at all, the headache is usually gone.
This same principle of redirection works extremely well for managing pain under hypnosis. With experience, it is possible for one to imagine that one has an ice-cold towel over ones eyes and forehead, and this imagination itself is an extremely effective way to redirect attention away from the pain of a headache. But this same technique can be used for any type of pain - not just headaches - because it is the redirection of ones attention that is the operant factor here, not the kind of pain one suffers. In other words, if I had a sprained ankle, I could just as effectively mute the pain of that injury by using the "ice-cold towel on the forehead" trick as I could by imagining an ice bag placed directly on my ankle. In fact, the ice cold towel on the forehead trick might work even better, because that trick diverts the attention even further from the source of the pain than the bag on the ankle trick.
It is no secret that pain is so bothersome to us because it demands our attention. Uncontrolled pain is a master at redirecting our attention away from the pleasures in life, and it effectively forces us to focus on the misery it inflicts. But it is precisely this facet of pain that gives you a powerful handle on it; when you learn to redirect your own attention away from pain, then pain loses its power over you.
You can even give yourself post-hypnotic suggestions during a pain free period of your life so that you are better able to deal with pain when it arises. In fact, it is this power of post-hypnotic suggestion that makes hypnosis so effective, so it only makes sense that you would use its power now to develop skills that will help you to manage pain later. In other words, you can use hypnosis to instruct your body on how it should react the next time it experiences pain.
About the author: Carl Allen Schoner holds a degree in behavioral science and is a certified clinical hypnotherapist as well as an author and artist. He has published seven books, and his articles and cartoons have appeared in many prestigious publications such as Consulting Magazine, The California Law School Journal, Chess Life Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post. Interested parties can learn more and preview his books by visiting his web sites listed below.
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