How Hypnotherapy Can Help Heal Depression
Depression has many root causes, oftentimes more than one, ranging from psychological, nutritional, psychosocial, and neurological (and other causes; for brevity, I have not listed them all). It can also be a secondary effect of certain physical illnesses.
The Physical Effects of Depression
Whatever the cause or causes, there are commonalities in the effects, including lethargy or an exhausted physical state. It is not uncommon for depression to also create a numbing effect in the body, leading to the sense of being a vessel of thoughts with no physical connection.
The Mental and Emotional Effects of Depression
Mentally, depression can make any decision, even prioritizing what to do next, a struggle. Living with depression can feel like everyone else is gliding effortlessly through the day yet you are left wading through mental and physical mud.
And even though everything feels harder to process, paradoxically, it may feel like thoughts never, ever stop.
Depression Can Increase the Sense of Isolation
Socially, you can also feel disconnected from others, as if in the proverbial bell jar watching the world from an invisible prison.
Depression Tints the World View
Depression (and also anxiety, stress, trauma, etc.) not only affects our sense of self and identity but also influences how we view the world.
Depression tints our worldview to filter and select the information that mirrors our inner state in the outside world. Add to that a general hopelessness and an inability to see a positive future as depression tints the future with our current state of mind.
The Benefits and Limits of Traditional Talk Therapy for Treating Depression
Talk therapy most certainly has a place in the healing profession. We are wired to connect. We oftentimes benefit from feeling validated and storytelling has long been a part of many cultures' ways of healing. We can also get support to reframe our experiences and can learn conscious tools and techniques to support our wellbeing.
However, talking alone in a fully conscious state only engages the conscious part of the brain, which is 20% or less of our brain (some theories suggest our conscious processes and parts constitute as little as 5% of the brain).
Not only that, but all of our long-term emotional responses reside in the subconscious, whereas talking in a fully alert state is a primarily conscious set of processes, so the part of the brain responsible for depression remains unengaged.
And, in some cases, an unskilled counsellor may only compound a client's existing depression by making the client talk through their depression and associated painful memories over and over again if they do not apply any clinical interventions or therapeutic techniques.
Hypnotherapy Works With Your Mind, Not Against It
However busy your mind may be, one thing I want you to know is that there is no need to quieten the mind to be able to enter into hypnosis or benefit from hypnotherapy. And, unlike meditation, no practice is needed; you can benefit from the very first listen or in-person session.
With the right techniques, a hypnotherapist will know how to engage the brain and entertain the conscious mind chatter, like giving a child a toy to play with. At the same time that your conscious mind chatters, your subconscious mind can be fully engaged with the thereapeutic work.
There are many techniques to help both depression and anxiety but one that I lean on quite often for my work, especially when dealing with intrusive thoughts, is to start with pacing and leading. This is essentially talking at a faster pace, then gently slowing the pace of talking.
Hypnotherapy slowly decelerates your racing mind rather than slamming on the brakes.
Hypnotherapy Can Reconnect the Brain and Body
There are many ways to engage the subconscious, but depression needs a gentle approach. By using progressive relaxation, we can achieve not one but two goals:
Create Body Awareness
With guidance, there is a gentle shift in focus away from the mind to the body (this is not exclusive to hypnotherapy but is indeed one of the techniques within the field). Gently directing attention away from thoughts to the body also gives back a greater sense of wholeness to the person, the beginning of regaining a sense of self.
Regain a Sense of Control
Those suffering from depression can feel like life is happening to them, that they have little to no control and a sense of lethargy is actually a veil for hopelessness.
It may seem insignificant, but starting out with regaining control over, at first, smaller aspects of your internal state such as deepening the breath, then greater aspects of your body can be used to rebuild a sense of control in a broader sense.
This sense of regained control can be built upon to foster hope too, subtly shifting a bleak outlook to one that is more optimistic.
But relaxation must come first, a sense of control second, hope and motivation later.
Depression Needs Relaxation, not Motivation
In every case of depression, the nervous system is affected. The brain and body are so overwhelmed that there is a subconscious surrender similar to the "freeze" response we see when an animal is caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
It is a common myth that deeply depressed people need motivation first. This is the equivalent of asking someone who has run themselves to the point of exhaustion to jog another couple of kilometres. "Nervous exhaustion" was the old term for depression and it is indeed accurate in conveying what is happening within a person's depressed brain-body.
Hypnotherapy Engages the Nervous System
In order to tackle depression, we first need to bring the nervous system out of a sympathetic (aka stressed) state and bring it back to a resting, relaxed state, known as the parasympathetic state which we can do through progressive relaxation.
And as hypnotherapy works with the subconscious parts of the brain which are part of the entire nervous system, unlike traditional talk therapy, hypnotherapy can also start to work with the physical effects of depression as well as the psychological causes and effects.
How Guided Imagery Can Heal Painful Memories
Depression can result from long-term stressors, or specific incidents, or a combination of both. It is not always necessary to go back in time, in the case of depression. But, if needed, there are many ways to safely discharge the pain from memories without having to relive them.
Guided imagery is just one way that allows you to heal painful memories without having to directly confront them. Guided visualization does not change the conscious memory; it works by discharging and releasing the emotions attached to the memory so that the memory is no longer re-wounding you every time your recall it.
Hypnotherapy and Identity Work
Depression can linger for years, decades even and, like any persistent mental health issue it can become so familiar that a person may not recall or imagine who they are without depression. In my Rapid and Gentle Depression Healing session, I guide you, the listener, to meet your future self, free of depression, to then merge with this updated identity after receiving some key messages which also help foster hope and optimism.
This isn't a complete overview of how hypnotherapy can help with depression and, of course, every person is unique but I do hope that this article provides some insights. There are many causes of depression and medical help should always be sought to ensure there are no underlying medical issues.
When building trust and going through relaxation techniques, it is important to ensure that the client cannot fail to show how they can regain a sense of control over themselves and their life. Just one example of this is to ask the client to notice their breath wherever they feel it the most rather than directing them to focus on a specific body part, at least at first.
About the Author: Sarah Dresser
Thank you for reading. I'm Sarah Dresser, Clinical Hypnotherapist (M.H., C. Cht) and Coach. I quit a 17 year corporate career to redesign my work life to align with my passions, interests, and values. You can read more about my journey and background here.
I believe that low-cost and no-cost therapy and social support should be available to all as a right, not a privilege. I support a community of over 300k subscribers on my Youtube channel Unlock Your Life
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