Once I’m up front, sitting in a chair, Dr.Weisberger provides a brief explanation, for the audience, about health history questions, what he will be listening and looking for and how the session will progress. Then he sits down in a chair facing me.
“What are you here to work on,” he asks.
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” I reply.
“When did you first experience this?”
“Around six or seven.”
He followed these questions with ones about frequency and duration.
“How do you experience this condition?”
“Well, I usually describe it as having a knitting needle stab my colon or razor blades moving through.”
Periodically, Dr. Weisberger writes notes down on a pad of paper on his lap. Brief points about words I use, expressions on my face and body position. I didn’t get it all as it’s hard reading upside down without being noticed!
After about five to ten minutes of questions he put down his pen and asked if I was ready to begin the session. Peripherally, I noticed his voice change near the end of the questions and when he asked if I was ready. His voice deepened and he began pacing his words with my breath. I felt very connected with him, believed he was really listening to my words, and was totally committed to helping me deal with my pain. I felt safe. I would have enjoyed video taping the session and watching how he accomplished that level of empathy and connection. Years of training, practice and understanding the human brain, I’m sure!
For IBS he uses a specific protocol created by, Clinical Psychologist and Hypnotherapist, Whorwell. Whorwell has published his research in journals like Lancet so is very well respected in the medical community. In his work, he’s found hypnotherapy the most effective protocol for treating the pain of IBS. If you are interested, do a Google Scholar search for his papers.
The protocol has the individual, me in this case, walking through a forest. It’s a great technique for deepening the trance state and getting the client even more comfortable. In the past, hypnotherapy was very authoritarian, with the therapist telling the client what to do. Dr. jWeisberger used a more current method, making suggestions rather than giving orders. He suggested I look at the forest and wonder how it looked, rather than telling me what it looked like.
In our initial interview he asked if the pain of a spasm was eased by heat or cold and how I dealt with the pain. I explained that cool was soothing and when the spasms were at their worst, I imagined gently massaging my colon.
As he took me deeper, by counting down from ten to one and guiding me farther into the forest, he suggested I might find a stream. He wondered how it would feel if I put my hand in the cool water and then place my cooled hand on my abdomen.
I could feel myself very deeply in trance, even though I was aware of his voice, and in the background the sound of people coughing, fidgeting and whispering.
When in trance you are not ‘zoned out’ or in a place where you are ‘out of your mind.’ I was very present and very aware. In this relaxed, hypnotic state, the individual simply experiences an intense state of hyperfocus. So I was able to strongly create the image and experience of my cool hand on my colon, soothing and healing any pressure and pain. He also encouraged me to create a flow of water that felt just right for me. If there were sticks or leaves in the water, they would just gently flow on. If the water was moving too quickly, I could naturally slow it down to where it needed to be. At the time, I didn’t realize what the implication of the flowing stream meant. I just enjoyed the coolness and as I worry about the history of stroke in my family, I enjoyed the image of my circulatory system flowing easily and smoothly. I didn’t realize the significance until later, during the debriefing.
Once I finished all I needed to do in the forest, Dr. Weisberger gently brought me back to full awareness and after a few minutes asked how I was doing.
Suprisingly I felt weepy, so he gave me another few minutes to reorient and look at my emotions. Then he asked if the other participants had questions. Most were addressed to Dr. Weisberger as to why he said certain things in certain ways, and a few were addressed to me about the actual experience.
One of the participants, earlier in the the morning, had asked several questions about specific uses of hypnotherapy in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy for sexual trauma. It was her specialty and she brought up the issue of repressed memories.
I guess she had zoomed in on the fact that I mentioned the symptoms started at around 6 or 7 years of age. Oops! I used that age for convenience and memory. It was the age of my first barium enema and xray. The symptoms started long before,as a colicy baby. Nothing like providing fodder for a roomful of psychologists!
One of participants, Leora Kuttner, the Pediatric Psychologist I interviewed for Mothering magazine asked,
“Did you experience anything on a different level?”
At first I didn’t understand what she meant and asked for clarification.
“Like the water flowing was a metaphor for motility, did you experience any sense of that?”
So now comes the fun part. As any of you know, I am not shy about discussing issues of the … bowel persuasion. I glance up at John and see him sniggering into his hand. I even catch a hint of sound coming from him as he chortles about my bowels.
Dr. Weisberger pipes up and explains that people with IBS usually have problems with either diarhea or constipation, thus the stream metaphor.
I feel the need to clarify very strongly here.
“Uh, excuse me, Dr. Weisberger. I don’t have any problems with motility.”
Suddenly, I hear an explosion of laughter from John’s general direction. He knows. It isn’t motility I have issues with, they flow no matter what! Nope, it’s not motility, it’s gas! Now I’m trying not to laugh as images of babbling streams with exploding bubbles fills my image-ready mind. It wasn’t easy.
Don’t worry, I didn’t share it with the group. I couldn’t. If I had opened my mouth I would have started giggling and not been able to stop. I also kept my gaze on the good doctor. If I had looked up at John we both would have collapsed. As it was I could still hear John sniggering but I daren’t look at him!
Eventually, it was time for me to head back to my seat but before I left the doctor had one more question for me.
“Do you feel any different sensation after the session?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. My abdomen feels lighter, like pressure has been released.” Now, I was serious when I said this. My abdomen did feel better. I can’t help it if some people take the release of pressure to mean something else!