The time has come for…
A new look at BODY SYNDROMES
as applied to hypnotherapy.
The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe. – Dr. Michio Kaku 1http://www.wnyc.org/story/michio-kaku-explores-human-brain/
As a full-time certified hypnotherapist, certain topics from my education keep bubbling to the top as applicable to clients on a daily basis. I reach into the toolbox time and time again to retrieve the same items. However, none of those concepts taught at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute seemed more open-ended or thirsting for further exploration than “body syndromes”. 2Kappas, John. “Chapter Six – Foundations, General Guidelines, and Treatment Modalities.” Professional Hypnotism Manual. California: Panorama Publishing Company, 2009. 113-116. Print.
If you are a hypnotherapy client, you have more than likely had these ideas presented to you. Perhaps you went in for certain chronic pain issues that just couldn’t be handled by allopathic medicine. Your hypnotherapist might have asked you a series of questions that seemed unrelated to that pain, but you felt relief at the end of your session. Why did hypnotherapy work when prescribed medicines and other methodologies didn’t even scratch the surface?
As a fellow hypnotherapist, you might have forgotten the name of this working theory, but you have been applying the founding concepts daily in your practice. You could be reading this and thinking, “Oh, yeah! I remember learning that. I just don’t call it ‘body syndromes’ with my clients.” In fact, if you are working with any clients regarding pain mitigation, I guarantee you’ve been working with body syndromes.
So, the time has definitely come for a better look at this foundation of therapy – regardless of how you refer to it or integrate it into your practice. For you clients, delving deeper into this theory will help you better understand your mind-body connection and it may help you to recognize and alleviate ongoing symptoms.
Psychosomatic Medicine, according to Wikipedia, is “… an interdisciplinary medical field exploring the relationships among social, psychological, and behavioral factors on bodily processes and quality of life in humans and animals.”3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychosomatic_medicine The entry goes on to speak to the origins of this idea.
Looking back to the Islamic Golden Age4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age, there were psychologist-physicians 5Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi was a Persian Muslim polymath: a geographer, mathematician, physician, psychologist and scientist. Haly Abbas was a Persian physician and psychologist most famous for the Kitab al-Maliki or Complete Book of the Medical Art, his textbook on medicine and psychology. who were taking note of and studying the correlations between physically and mentally healthy patients and also between physically and mentally ill patients. They developed an early understanding of illness due to the interaction of the mind and the body – realizing how a patient’s physiology and psychology can have an effect on one another.
By the early 20th Century, other psychologists and physicians emerged to further the studies and theories bolstering psychosomatic medicine. Among them were Franz Alexander 6https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Alexander , who led the search for the dynamic interrelation between mind and body, and Sigmund Freud 7https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud, who pursued a deep interest in psychosomatic illnesses following his correspondence with Georg Groddeck8https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Groddeck, who was also considered a pioneer in psychosomatic medicine.
Moving forward to the 1970’s and beyond, the theories behind the psychosomatic phenomena have been refined and influenced by other branches of biology, medicine, semiotics, and beyond. Several key figures played prominent roles in this transformation of our thought, including Jakob von Uexküll 9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakob_von_Uexk%C3%BCll and his son, Thure von Uexküll.10https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thure_von_Uexk%C3%BCll Through their work, they established the field of biosemiotics 11https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosemiotics based on Jakob’s semiotic theory of umwelt.12https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umwelt (You are urged to research these topics further, although they will take us beyond the scope of this article!)
Unfortunately, just as a broad understanding of these theories emerged and acceptance (albeit with some criticisms13https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umwelt#Critics) began to gain ground, terminology became mixed and popular culture started using references to “psychosomatic illness” in movies, television, and more. We came to use terms like “mind over matter” and “it’s all in your head” to minimize the notion that people were truly suffering.14https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychosomatic_medicine#Connotations_of_the_term_.22psychosomatic_illness.22 This confusion in the field of medicine and psychology led to new terminology. Somatic Symptom Disorder is now used to describe “physical symptoms that suggest physical illness or injury – symptoms that cannot be explained fully by a general medical condition or by the direct effect of a substance, and are not attributable to another mental disorder (e.g., panic disorder). In people who have been diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder, medical test results are either normal or do not explain the person’s symptoms, and history and physical examination do not indicate the presence of a known medical condition that could cause them…”15https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatic_symptom_disorder There are many reasons that this new classification still falls short of actually helping us understand a client’s issues16https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatic_symptom_disorder#Controversy, however, hypnotherapists use “practical models” to help the client and we don’t have to “get lost in the weeds” of a full diagnosis offered by the DSM 17http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/content.aspx?bookid=556§ionid=41101775.
Hypnotherapy Simplifies The Conversation
One of the beautiful aspects of the application of hypnosis is that while other models of therapy can get stuck in loops, dancing around an issue, hypnotherapists go directly to “cause” as being presented by the client. What this simply means is that we have a real and meaningful conversation with the client. We can elicit many of the answers directly from the client and we can begin work immediately.
Being properly trained in the Body Syndromes theory allows us to listen to the organic language that our clients use when describing parts of their lives and routines and interactions. Hypnotherapists hear what others discard as “noise”. John Kappas described organic language as a sort of “verbal extension” of body syndromes. He theorized that this type of language relates an emotional thought that causes a physical reaction in a certain area of the body.18Kappas, John. “Chapter Six – Foundations, General Guidelines, and Treatment Modalities.” Professional Hypnotism Manual. California: Panorama Publishing Company, 2009. 113-116. Print.
Take a moment to think of the clichés that we all use or have used at one time to describe physical pains or issues. More especially, think of the ones that tie together emotions and physical ailments. Do any of these sound familiar?
- “Dealing with those meetings is a pain in the neck.”
- “I just get sick to my stomach when I think about what happened to her.”
- “This headache is blinding.”
- “I’m shouldering all of the responsibility in this family.”
- “I’m sick and tired of always trying and coming up short.”
Can you now grasp why we listen to what our clients actually say? We can dice these kinds of statements into simple “cause and effect” evidence about what’s going on with our client’s emotional state… and physical state. Going a step further, we can look at these cause and effect statements as bi-directional. When we look at the actual body syndrome definitions, it becomes clear that a “mysterious shoulder pain” can have a simple explanation to a hypnotherapist. (Of course, all responsible hypnotherapists will ask their clients about their interactions with doctors. We’ll ask for and seek medical referral any time we believe that there could be an underlying medical etiology.)
After all, we know positively that our body responds to emotional influence. Some of us blush when we’re embarrassed. Some of us fear speaking in front of crowds and our hands tremble. Our genitals become aroused at the anticipation of sexual contact. Our eyes water when we become “emotionally invested” in a sad movie. Our bodies manifest our mental state all the time. These body reactions pass with time, though. The speaking engagement ends. The movie is over and the credits roll. Our emotional state rebounds and the symptoms stop. What if we’re just not aware that our minds are being influenced in ways that make certain body responses chronic? If a person isn’t aware or simply ignores that all of the responsibility being dumped on them by others is what is dragging them down, that shooting pain or ache in the shoulders is a mystery to them. Hypnotherapy helps solve the mystery.
Body Syndromes Described
The Body Syndromes model provides a practical view of areas of the body affected by psychological or emotional influences. Each syndrome looks at a specific region of the body and enumerates the physical (or physiological) symptoms common to the area while also listing the mental and emotional symptoms. Again, looking at this in a bi-directional manner helps us to direct our therapeutic approach during hypnosis.
The Crying Syndrome
The first body syndrome covers the area from the center of the chest and upward. This includes the chest, the head, and the back of the neck.
The primary cause of the Crying Syndrome is the inability to make a decision. This could be due to someone else’s role influencing the client or simply because of past conditioning of the client.
Headaches are the most common manifestation of the Crying Syndrome. However, in my own practice, I’m starting to see more of the other easily recognizable symptoms: watery eyes or inexplicable crying, glassy eyes, sinus congestion, raspy voice, grinding of teeth along with jaw pain, stiff neck, and acid reflux.
John Kappas goes on to explain how these symptoms tie together:
“Each one of these physical reactions can be associated with an emotional or mental cause. For instance, the head pressures represent inability to make the decision; watering eyes and sinus congestion symbolize not wanting to see the situation that is causing the indecision; constriction in the throat, tightening of jaw muscles, or grinding of teeth, result from not wanting to express anything about the area of indecisiveness.”19Kappas, John. “Chapter Six – Foundations, General Guidelines, and Treatment Modalities.” Professional Hypnotism Manual. California: Panorama Publishing Company, 2009. 113-116. Print.
Without having the Crying Syndrome properly addressed, the client can – over time – allow the indecisiveness to grow into frustration. Frustration can lead to melancholy, depression, and futility. These issues will grow and start to affect the client in ever-evolving ways.
The Responsibility Syndrome
The parts of the body affected by this syndrome are the shoulders, the upper back, and the upper spinal area.
The primary psychological cause is an overloading of responsibility and/or the fear of the weight of that responsibility. However, neglecting or not accepting nor facing responsibility will manifest similarly.
Main physical effects of this syndrome are related to the tightening of the muscles in the upper back and shoulders. This then causes strains and long periods of aches and pains.
If this syndrome is not handled, the client does risk some very real physical damage.
The Sexual Frustration or Guilt Syndrome
This syndrome affects the stomach, groin, and lower back.
Emotionally, the causes of this syndrome can include sexual frustration, religion-linked sexual guilt, guilt about infidelity, and feelings of sexual inadequacy. However, in my practice non-sexual guilt manifests just as much.
Physically, the body’s symptoms can include stomach aches and cramps, constipation, upset stomach or indigestion, excessive menstrual cramping, bladder infections, testicular pains, and even kidney problems.
The Fight or Reaching Syndrome
Simply, the areas of the body affected are the arms, the hands, and the fingers.
When a client presents with this syndrome, the psychological symptoms involve the need to express themselves mingled with the denial or suppression of that need. One would possibly also present with the inability to strive for or reach for something they truly desire because they feel that they don’t deserve it or they have a very low self-esteem. Along with this comes a feeling of deep rejection from constantly reaching for seemingly unattainable goals.
We see clients physically manifest with very hot or cold hands, tightening of the joints and muscles in the hands that cause aches, little blisters or sores on the fingers, and stiff elbows.
The Flight Syndrome
This syndrome affects the area of the body from the thighs to the feet.
It nearly always indicates a need to run or escape (emotionally or physically) from a particular situation that the client has found themselves in the middle of. The need to escape stems, psychologically, from the fear of facing the situation because of possible pain or the fear of disastrous consequences. However, this can also manifest as a result of self-sabotage because of the fear of success. I have also seen “boredom” as a factor, though that seems less common in my practice. Those clients are feeling stagnant in their current situation and have a deep need to escape from the boredom.
The physical symptoms are nearly anything involving the feet or legs. We see clients with poor circulation and cold feet, blisters on their feet, as well as complaints of leg pains or knee pains.
Using Body Syndromes as a Roadmap to Relief
It is common for a client to come into a hypnotherapist’s office while exhibiting multiple symptoms. This situation presents one of the most interesting aspects to using Body Syndromes – a method to “decode” what is affecting or causing the symptoms. It allows the hypnotherapist to stitch together a cogent picture of the underlying issues. If the hypothetical client from above who presented with shoulder pain also describes frequent headaches that started recently, we can discern that not only is this client failing to handle increased responsibility, but he’s not making decisions related to those responsibilities. If instead he told us, “Not only am I dealing with this terrible shoulder pain, but now my legs are aching every night and nothings seems to cut down the pain,” we get a very different picture. He is feeling that the increased responsibility is creating a situation that he cannot leave and he desperately wants to escape.
A skilled hypnotherapist will listen to all of the cues from the client during their cognitive portion of the session and be able to build a very functional roadmap for therapy. Being observant of your client’s physiological reactions also adds data. If your client is explaining a recent job promotion with increased responsibility and starts moving their neck around and rolling their shoulders, the hypnotherapist can determine that the increased responsibility is starting to take its toll and it isn’t being handled.
While watching some of the older videos from HMI‘s “Atlanta Series”, John Kappas used an incredibly effective tool with a client presenting multiple issues. The gist is that he presented the client with a basic outline drawing of the human body and asked her to rank the various parts of the body, one to ten, with one signifying that she was least happy with that part and ten meaning she was satisfied. This person was, among other things, wanting to lose some weight and work on self-esteem.
This client ranked her stomach area and her arms the lowest. As decoded by Body Syndromes, we can stitch together that she is harboring guilt (and possibly some sexual dysfunction) and feels, perhaps, that she fails to achieve things that she wants… quite possibly because she feels that she doesn’t deserve them. I found this approach to be brilliant! I apply this method with all of my weight loss clients. An incredible amount of information can be gathered before the hypnotherapist even begins to induce the client.
Before the hypnotherapist hypnotizes the client, relief can begin. During the cognitive portion of the session, openly discussing and explaining the body syndromes with your client starts the process of relieving them. I’ve observed the change many times, even before hypnosis. When the hypnotherapists starts reading back a dialog about the underlying causes and points out those causes, the client starts nodding their head in agreement and smiles as if, “Someone finally gets it!” This is a powerful interaction that kick-starts the journey to feeling better.
Subconsciously, during hypnosis, the hypnotherapist can follow the discovered roadmap and suggest alternatives and new associations to the emotional and psychological causes. This will generally eliminate the cause and distress in a very short time frame. Before entering the hypnotic state, the client has already been primed with the idea that we know what dynamics are in play and we have a plan to relieve the distress, both mentally and physically.
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