September 13

Anxiety Client Has Hypnotherapist Overwhelmed

Emotional Release Work


Q: I am working with a client who suffers from anxiety.  After several weeks she doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  She tells me that she feels like she is in a dark hole and that it is going to take time to come out of it.  Any attempts to work on past hurts or connect with feelings are very difficult for her to do.  She wants to know why.   I’m feeling like I’m in over my head . . .

It sounds like you're dealing with multiple issues.

First, there is the client's presenting issue which is the anxiety. 

Second, there is the lack of progress.  

Third, there is the client resistance to connecting with feelings.   

No wonder you're feeling overwhelmed! Take a breath and read on.

When the client comes to us with an emotional issue, we’re often their last resort.  Inside of them the pressure has been building up while they attempt to find relief through more “conventional” approaches.  By the time they come through our doors, they’re in overwhelm.  The trick is not to join them.

As a teenager, I used to spend time with my friends at the river.  The river can be a dangerous place and there were no lifeguards.  One day a friend was in trouble and crying out for help.  At a glance I could tell right away – he was drowning.  

His arms were flailing above his head and he was repeatedly dunking below the surface. And no one else seemed concerned by his cries for help. My first instinct was to dive into the river to help him.  I was unprepared for what happened next.  

He was like a cat in a bathtub – all arms and legs.  There was no reasoning with him.  In his panic, he was pushing me under the surface of the water. Fortunately, I was able to seize control and get us both out of the dangerous pickle we were now both in.

If you feel like you're in over your head . . .

When the client brings you a problem, and you're not sure what to do, it can feel like you're in over your head.  If the client's issue has you feeling overwhelmed, don’t let it drag you under.  Don’t succumb to self-doubt.  That will only cost you your confidence.

You know what to do.  It’s just that every client is different.  Clients don’t come in text books.  Each is an individual with his or her own unique history.  And not one client will come to you with an owner’s manual for their mind.  A lot can happen in a session that you weren't expecting.

Clients who share similar symptoms have one thing in common - they don’t know where the problem is coming from.  

Neither do you.  That’s okay. It’s not up you to figure it out. Your job to take charge and guide a process that reveals where the problem is coming from.  That's it.

To do that effectively you need to adapt to the needs of each individual client. Even if you’ve had a hundred clients with the same problem, it's never exactly the same problem.  That's because the problem is coming out of that person's unique history.  Realize, the problem is unique to them.

My friend was drowning.  That's a problem.  What he failed to realize was that he was floundering in less than six feet of water. The water wasn't the problem. He was overwhelmed by his own fear.  That was the real problem. 

I didn't need to rescue him.  I needed to get him to take action to rescue himself.  I knew that if he just stretched out his legs, he could touch bottom with his toes.  That would put him back in control.  From there, I would be able to guide him back onto the shore. Had I tried to do things his way he would have dragged me under with him.  No question.  

Don't let that happen to you.

Remember, somebody needs to be in charge.  It had better be you! When a client gets stuck in the need to know “why”, recognize this as evidence that their conscious mind has been struggling with the problem for too long.  

Like my drowning buddy, your client's conscious mind is struggling for control.  It's grasping at straws because it needs reason and logic to feel in control.  You know the problem is coming from the subconscious level of mind.  But if you try to dive into emotions too soon, you're bound to run into resistance.  And if you don't know what to do you can end up feeling overwhelmed.   So what do you do?

Don't just dive into the hypnosis.  

Don't be in a rush to dive into the feelings.  Instead, take the time to listen. Let the conscious mind have it's say.  If you  take the time to satisfy the conscious mind’s need to be heard, it won't need to block you from making any progress.  

If you give the conscious mind the opportunity to feel heard before you begin the hypnosis, the doors to subconscious mind will open wide.  This is because, while the conscious mind is communicating, the subconscious mind is evaluating whether or not to trust you.  

Preliminary Uncovering Questions

Before beginning the healing process, uncover the answers to following 3 preliminary questions.

#1. How old is the client?

The older the client, the more history there is to the presenting problem.  The more “water under the bridge”, the greater the intensity of feeling.   And the more pressure.  While the volume of emotional content will tend to be less the younger the client is, the more mature the client, regardless of age, the more resources you will have to call upon when it comes to resolving the cause of the problem.

#2. Do they have a diagnosis?

A diagnosis is usually a relatively recent development.  For our purposes as hypnosis practitioners, a diagnosis is nothing more than a label.  The label is what allows the doctor to prescribe medication.

Recognize that a label has power in the mind of the client.  Labels tend to stick when delivered by an authority figure like a doctor.  As a result, a diagnosis can be contributing to the client's overall problem.

#3.What meaning is the client giving to the label?

If the client has been given a diagnosis, find out what the label means to them.  There could be an unconscious conflict about what’s possible. The doctors say one thing, but their solution isn't working, which only leaves the client feeling stuck.  That just adds to the problem.  Add to this the fact that most medication have unwanted side-effects and there's more going on than just the presenting issue.

Remove the label.

While having a label can help satisfy the conscious mind’s need for a reason, it also makes the problem more “real” and, therefore, more resistant to change.  If your client seems resistant, this could be the reason.  This is why it's best to remove the label before you proceed with the hypnotherapy.  

Resolving this issue, before beginning the work on the underlying emotional issue, will make your job easier for the following reasons.

First, you'll provide the client with a taste of relief, thus proving it's possible to feel better.  

Second, you can get rid of unnecessary subconscious resistance that says, "Yah, but, the doctor said . . . ”  That can only get in your way.

Solve the right problem.

The client's presenting issue is "anxiety".  The problem is that anxiety isn't a feeling.  It's a label. When it becomes generalized, as in “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD),” you've got your work cut out for you because the underlying emotion has been anchored to multiple triggers.

GAD expresses as a pervasive fear that influences every part of a person’s life.  Because the unresolved emotional pattern is impacting so many areas of the client's life,  resolving the anxiety might take a while simply because there are so many aspects involved.

GAD is a complex issue requiring patience and persistence.  And GAD clients can be difficult.  These clients are not being resistant.  It’s just that they are masters at avoiding.  They’re in a constant state of fear, and avoiding feelings is their learned coping strategy.  

They really do want relief so that they can have a normal life.  It’s just that it's not safe to feel their feelings.  We need to be unconditionally accepting of our clients, neither criticizing nor rescuing.  Wherever they’re at – that’s okay.  That’s where the work begins.

I had a GAD client who, in her teens, came home to discover her father had committed suicide by hanging himself in the basement.  As if the trauma of finding the body wasn’t enough, a few years later it happened again.  She found the body of her best friend dead from a suicide.  That’s trauma.  But it wasn’t the cause of her systemic anxiety.  The underlying cause was rooted in childhood fears.  

Mom and Dad fought all the time.  This seeded the fear.  Some bullying in the schoolyard, followed by rejection in her teens, nourished the seeds of fear that had been planted early in life.   Being first on scene – twice- to discover dead bodies brought it to full bloom.  And over time,  like a Morning Glory, the fear put down roots in every area of her life until she was house-bound.

The feeling was there for a reason.  There was nothing wrong with the feeling.  It was serving a positive function.  The question was - what emotion were we dealing with?  

Anxiety is not always about fear.  It could be unresolved grief.  It might be anger.  Anxiety is sometimes a fear of one's own bottled-up anger.  But if your client isn’t yet ready to face her feelings, your job is to make her ready.  Until she's ready, the only thing she's got left is medication.

The problem is a feeling inside.  

This is why medications, like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, are often prescribed. They're designed to block feelings.  In certain cases, these chemical "lids" can offer much-needed, short-term relief from intrusive emotions.  Where they become problematic is with long-term usage.

The problem with anti-depressants is that they are non-discriminating.  They block ALL feelings – good and bad.  The result is the client walks through life without having to feel the lows.  But they don’t get to feel any of the highs, either.  They just feel flat.  Emotionally, they're the walking dead.  

You'll get clients come to you for help getting off antidepressants because they want to be able to feel their feelings, again.   Resolving the feelings that the drugs were meant to contain gives the client their life back.  However, these drugs can make regression work more challenging because they put a chemical lid on the client’s feelings.

While it can make your job more difficult, it’s not impossible to be successful working with a client whose ability to feel is being chemically suppressed.  You just have to amplify the feeling before attempting to bridge back.  

Get a medical referral.

Almost every issue that comes into the offices of hypnosis practitioners has emotions either causing or contributing to the problem.  But before you do anything, get a referral.  If the client is taking medications that suppress emotions, their prescribing physician will need to closely monitor the dosage. 

One of the things that can happen is, when you start releasing the internal pressure, the drugs will get stronger.  The dosage will need to be carefully monitored and adjusted as the client comes back into balance.

Skip the script.

Applying a script to an emotional issue like anxiety or depression is the mark of an amateur.  At best, you'll  get temporary results.  When the symptoms return, the client will decide "hypnosis doesn't work." And rightly so.  But now they have exhausted all avenues or relief.

You can’t pep-talk a person out of anxiety or depression. You can’t tell the subconscious mind to give up it’s protective strategy.  And you can’t override an emotion with reason and logic. The way to resolve a feeling is to feel it.  Fully.  Then it’s over.  

Real and lasting change is possible.  But the client must be prepared to dive into her feelings. This is where the real work begins - preparing the client for the work you will do together.  The client must be willing to face those uncomfortable feelings.

What is The “Dark Hole”?

The “dark hole” is a classic description of depression.  Ask your client to describe it to you.  How do they experience this "dark hole?" This will give you a very useful image to work with. 

When you work with the client's own imagery you're working with their subconscious mind.  The language of the subconscious mind is image and emotion.  You can use the image of the “dark hole” to find the feeling trapped inside it.  Just keep in mind that depression isn’t the problem.  Like anxiety, depression isn’t a feeling.  It's a label

Understand that nobody gets depressed all of a sudden. Depression is the result of unexpressed feelings stacking up over time.  You cannot be successful trying to resolve the depression because it isn't just one thing.  What you'll find beneath the label are emotional layers.  You need to resolve these layers one-by-one to get to the root of the problem.  That can take time.  

Remember, it took a while to dig that hole.  So, it’s reasonable to expect that it might take a while to dig the client back out.  Just know that at the bottom of that “dark hole” you’ll find the real pain - and the key to liberation.

Depression is a coping strategy.

In the story, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore the donkey moans, “Oh, well, it wasn’t much of a tail, anyway.”  In other words, “It’s impossible, this can’t be fixed, it’s hopeless.”   This is the final decision that brings on the “depression.” Listen carefully because you’ll hear the voice of a Child who, after many failed attempts, has finally given up on ever getting her needs met.  That's the tail end of a problem that has been stacking up over time.

The inability to meet one’s own needs is a threat to survival, especially for a child.  Children are dependent on the people around them to ensure their survival.  When the grownups fail to meet the needs of the Child, thesSubconscious mind steps in to protect.

Remember - protection is the subconscious mind’s Prime Directive. Depression is how the subconscious mind protects us when the internal pressure gets to be too much.  The depression isn't the problem.  It's the subconscious solution to the real problem.

Consciously, the client just wants to be happy.  Their subconscious mind wants that, too, but not at the cost of survival. Something in the client’s past was perceived as a threat.  And her subconscious mind has been protecting her from it ever since. 

The depression is helping the client avoid facing the event that caused the fear in the first place, which is exactly where she need to go to find her healing.  That's why Rule #1 needs to be to provide safety.  Safety is completely aligned with the subconscious mind’s Prime Directive.  

The last thing you want to do is get into a wrestling match with the subconscious mind.  You need to make it safe for your client to go there. Always look for ways to work with the subconscious mind. Earn it’s trust and it will show you where the bodies are buried.

Get the Subconscious Mind working with you.

To get to the bottom of things you need to prepare your client to meet the trouble at the subconscious level of mind.  To prepare the client you need to educate her about the healing process.  Help her to understand why feelings are important.  Remove the unnecessary fears and misconceptions she may have about what’s possible, and what it’s going to take to finally be free of the heavy burden.  That’s what depression feels like.  Heavy.  Burdensome.

When the client finds it difficult to connect with her feelings it’s natural for her to want to understand why.  Based on her experience (so far) it's logical to assume it's going to take a very-very-VERY long time to change (if at all).  That’s the conscious mind stepping in with reason and logic to provide a sense of control.

Remember - the conscious mind wants safety, too.  Unfortunately, it often comes up with reasons that just add to the problem.  So, you need to correct those erroneous conclusions which include, “There’s something wrong with me.”

As you are educating the conscious mind, the client's subconscious mind is listening.  It’s assessing you for safety.  It needs to determine whether or not you can be trusted.  As you educate the client, you can kill two birds with one stone.  Satisfy the conscious mind's need to understand in order to feel in control.  And demonstrate to the subconscious mind that it's safe. Show that you "get it."  You understand how the Mind works and you know how to help.

Help the client to consciously understand there’s nothing wrong with her.  It's just how the Mind works.  Then, reassure her subconscious mind that it's doing exactly what it was designed to do – protect her.  Clearly, it has been doing a very good job of this.  Your job, working together, is to discover what that purpose might be and help it find a better way.

Teach the client to trust her own Mind.  Show her that her Subconscious Mind isn’t the enemy.  It wants her to be happy.  It just doesn’t realize how much PAIN it’s protective strategy is causing her. Affirm how much PAIN the client is consciously enduring.  This informs the subconscious mind that this is a problem and it needs to change.  You can then establish a Therapeutic Goal that honors both conscious and subconscious Parts of the client.

Ask permission.

When you're working with the emotional part of the Mind, it is unwise to breach boundaries and ask for forgiveness later.  Wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am approaches are impressive for stage hypnotism.  But when it comes to healing work, you need permission from both the conscious and subconscious levels of Mind.  Without it, you're going to find yourself in a wrestling match with the client's  Mind.  You do not want that - trust me.  

You need to establish an agreement with the client to let those feelings come to the surface so they can be released.  You can begin by teaching the client how to connect with her feelings in the body. The body is the subconscious mind, so start there. This is a very direct way to work with the subconscious Mind and teach the client how to get some relief.  And because the subconscious mind is qualitative, not quantitative, even the smallest shift for the better can be used as proof that positive change is underway.

Ask if it would be okay to bring up just enough of the feeling so that you can help her to release it.  Releasing the feeling will allow her to feel better.  Ask - would that be okay?  You're asking the subconscious mind to take the lid off a little.  This will allow you to get your foot in the door to proceed with the regression work.

Tap into the feeling in the body.

“Depression” is just a word.  But how the client is experiencing it in the body?  That’s what's real.  Very real. Usually, emotions are felt in the gut, chest or throat.  If you can find a feeling there, you’re tapping into an actual emotion.  That will give you a Bridge to the past.

Whatever we focus on we tend to get more of.  Focusing on the feeling (sensations and emotions) in the body will amplify the feeling.  Feelings don’t come out of nowhere.  They’re attached to thoughts.  So, as you amplify the feeling the thoughts will come with them. As the thoughts and feelings come to the surface, you can then guide your client to release them.  

I like to use tapping as a releasing technique because it’s a quick and easy way to get rapid results. You can teach a client how to tap in a matter of minutes, either prior to the hypnosis or while they're in hypnosis.  Once the client learns how to tap they can continue to use it between sessions to release feelings.  This will help accelerate the healing process.

Tapping also makes a great induction.  It's a great preliminary technique to set up for pillow therapy because it’s non-threatening. But if that’s not in your tool kit, you can have the client pump the feeling into a pillow, or breathe it out, or wring it out with a towel.  I find that some kind of physical movement works best and tends to bring the quickest release.

Whatever method you want to introduce, you'll find it's much easier if you just ask for permission, first.  Find the feeling in the body.  Then, prove that it's possible to feel better by releasing the feeling.  Do that and the subconscious mind will gladly lead you to the gold.

Depression is a dark lens.

When the lens of perception is negative, each failed attempt reinforces the belief that change is not possible.  It proves that the client is irreparably broken, un-fixable, irredeemable and hopelessly adrift.  Small shifts toward the better tend to be overlooked. Whenever there's a shift for the better don't assume the client noticed.  Point it out.  

Depression colors everything in the client’s life. As a result, the tendency is to not notice when there’s a glimmer of goodness. It’s up to you to help the client recognize when there’s been a shift for the better.  Then, celebrate it as evidence that here's light at the end of the tunnel - and it’s not a train.

Change tends to happen in increments, rather than all at once.  This is especially true of depression because it has multiple layers.  So, teach your client to notice those increments of change so that she can accept them and keep them. Amplify every better feeling with your suggestions.  Really pour on the coals because nothing builds success like success.   In this way. you can saturate the client's Mind with hope, love and approval to displace the doom and gloom.  

Trust that, over time, your client will accrue the benefits of change.  Little shifts will give way to the bigger shifts all on their own.  Working in this way will tip the scales in your favor while keeping you on solid ground throughout the process.

Where there's complexity . . .

Regression hypnosis can seem complex and intimidating for many hypnosis practitioners.  Issues like depression and anxiety are not always simple fixes.  These issues can have many layers and that can make for deep waters.  But you don't have to feel like you're in over your head.  Just find a way to work with the client's subconscious mind and you'll find it's much simpler than you think.

Your success is always going to be in your set up.  Set yourself up to be successful by getting a solid understanding of how to work with the subconscious mind.  Remember - depression is just a word.  It's not a symptom.  It's a label.  You just won't get very far if you try to resolve the label. The same goes for anxiety, and fibromyalgia, and any medical diagnosis. When a client presents with a "label" your first challenge is to figure out what the real problem is.    

So, that's it. If the client has been struggling with the problem for a number of years, if they've been given a diagnosis, or they're on medication, these things can add to the problem.  Begin by doing a little preliminary uncovering work.  Then, educate the client about the healing process.  Establish reasonable expectations.

If the client has been given a diagnosis, a good place to begin the healing work is simply removing the label.  Just remember to get a doctor's referral, first.  Also, find out what medications the client is taking, if any.  

Remember - hypnotherapists are not qualified to work with a diagnosis.  We work with perceptions, thoughts and feelings and the behaviors those things generate. How the client is experiencing the problem in their body - that’s the place to begin because, unlike a label, the feeling is real.  

Teach your clients how to work with you to feel better. You can begin by teaching the client how to tune into feelings in the body.   Remember - emotions are usually felt in the gut, chest or throat.  If you can find a feeling there, you’re accessing an actual emotion. That will give you the opportunity to either release the feeling or bridge to the past.

If you're running into resistance, that's okay.  Resistance is simply fear.  And fear is a feeling.  The place to begin is to uncover what, specifically, the client is concerned about.  Don't be in a big rush to dive into the regression.  Instead, hang out with the client's conscious mind and find out what those fears are so that you can address them.  

Remember, the subconscious mind is watching you and assessing whether or not you can be trusted.  Just taking charge of the process sends a powerful message to the client's subconscious mind that somebody is in control.    This can provide safety.  Another way to provide safety is to ask permission.  Ask the client if it would be okay to allow just a little of the feeling up so they can get some relief. Being permission-based makes it safe for the client to follow your instructions.

Prove to the client that it's possible to feel better and they'll allow more feelings to come to the surface. That will ensure they'll go where you want them to go when the time comes.   Remember - feelings don’t come out of nowhere.  They’re coming out of the client's past experiences.  Bringing attention to an actual feeling in the body will naturally amplify the feeling.  And when the client is willing to allow the feeling this can give you a strong Bridge to the past.

The purpose of your Educational Pre-talk is to establish a Contract that:

  1. Gives you permission to guide the process,
  2. Makes the client a willing partner in their own healing.  

Learn how to educate your clients specifically for regression hypnotherapy in the Ready for Regression Complete First Session System Course.

The instructor is knowledgable, experienced, and engaged in the learning process. She is genuinely concerned about teaching the material to help others heal.

Annie Thompson ... Hypnotherapist

About the author 

Wendie Webber

With over thirty years of experience as a healing practitioner, Wendie brings a broad range of skills to her approach to regression to cause hypnosis. She combines a gentle, yet commanding way of presenting with a thorough, clear and systematic approach to helping healing practitioners to make sense of regression hypnotherapy.

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