There's no magic in hypnotherapy and it covers many different things, but a skilled therapist can sometimes help to make lasting changes. Andrew Harding reports.
Last year Francesca, who is 10, was really struggling with her stammer. Desperate for extra help, her mother, Sandra, said she would take her to see 'someone who might be able to help'. At the first appointment, therapist Terry Lowell asked Francesca what she knew about hypnotherapy. Terry reassured her that this would be very different from any stage hypnotism she may have seen, and asked if she wanted to try it. After the session, she felt a bit more confident and some difficult words were easier to say.
Francesca had been having regular speech therapy during the past few years and while it had helped, something was missing. That something, according to Sandra, was a more deep-seated confidence.
"I could see her being crushed by her stammer," she said. "When the phone rang she would have a look of fright on her face. At school she couldn't answer the register, and although the teachers said she didn't have to take her turn to read, she didn't want to have to miss out. Out of desperation, I contacted a hypnotherapist who had advertised in our local paper. Terry made no promises - only to see how things went during the consultation."
Francesca had four further appointments and then seven months of complete fluency. Earlier this year she asked for a further top-up session which boosted her confidence. "She embraced hypnotherapy and thinks it's wonderful," Sandra said. "She has blossomed and I have seen her personality come out."
After doing some research on stammering, Terry said they agreed to one session at a time to see how things went. "I told Sandra and Francesca they could arrange to come back if they found it helpful."
During the sessions where Sandra was always present, Terry would guide Francesca mentally to a place where she had felt safe and confident. "We just talked quietly and I gave her permission to go into a trance. Then we talked about speaking clearly when you are in control and imagining what that would be like in other situations. From there, I encouraged her to imagine herself being in control of her speech. One example was a school play in which she had to say three specific words.
"After the sessions, she came home and said: 'I can say them - I did it,'" said her mum. "She knew she could do it, and it has helped her so much."
"Children are imaginative and creative," said Terry. "Therapy with children is always based on positive thoughts and helping them to find their own solutions, rather than trying to analyse negative experiences. At its most basic I saw stammering as a lack of control of a bodily function - speech - and not a psychological problem. It worked for this individual in this instance. The person always has control and we talk through things together. It's up to the client to go forward or terminate. Generally you see some results within a couple of sessions."
Francesca's speech therapists had been very impressed by her progress and asked Sandra to speak to a regional meeting of therapists. Terry Lowell has also prepared a case study for publication.
'My stammering reduced considerably'
By John Thompson
I completed a seven-week course of hypnotherapy after carefully considering whether it would be appropriate for me. The matters I talked about had obviously been in my sub-conscious for many years, occasionally surfacing in the conscious. My stammer continues to reduce, but it has not been easy.
My hypnotherapist, Alyson Scrivens, warned me that it would be heavy going and at times emotionally demanding. Being put on the spot about personal emotional matters is tiring. I would often leave sessions feeling drained. I also felt that a lot of weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My stammer wasn't discussed much, but rather, other childhood problems and anxieties that partly followed me into adulthood like shyness, lack of confidence and self-consciousness.
After sessions I felt a terrific inner calm and peacefulness. Hypnotherapy somehow gave me the courage to speak about things which I previously found difficult.
I'm not suggesting hypnotherapy is a panacea cure for stammering any more than any other therapy or electronic aid. I hope this helps you decide whether hypnotherapy could help you. I believe it helped me because my stammer is relatively mild. I also believe hypnotherapy can help with the emotional aspects of stammering, which in itself might reduce it.
A final important point is that before I started with my hypnotherapy, a colleague who has also used it advised that you have to want it to work. That is correct.
John Thompson is the coordinator and founder member of the Norwich self help group.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a state of relaxation and concentration induced by suggestion. It is a natural state of mind. You are awake and in control while allowing yourself to explore new ways of thinking and feeling. It is totally different from anything done by stage hypnotists.
Hypnotherapy is the wider process of reaching this state and using it at a subconscious level to instill positive thoughts and experiences. During hypnotherapy, you are guided into a state of deep relaxation. This induces a highly suggestible state, in which it's much easier - using visualisation and guided imagery - to 'reprogramme' negative thought patterns into positive thoughts.
How much does it cost?
Sessions start from about £40 an hour - £50 is more common. You should be able to have an initial free consultation and honest assessment of whether hypnotherapy could work for you.
Will it work?
There are no guarantees, so beware of anyone who claims to be able to cure stammering. Approach each session with an open mind. Professional guidelines say that no more than 12 sessions should be needed - often fewer.
Further information on finding a therapist
- General Hypnotherapy Register www.general-hypnotherapy-register.com
- UK Confederation of Hypnotherapy Organisations www.ukcho.co.uk
From the Summer 2007 issue of 'Speaking Out', pages 13-14