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Alchemical Hypnotherapy But what does it mean?

by Andrew White(more info)

listed in hypnosis, originally published in issue 18 - March 1997

Thirst has a meaning: you should drink. Hunger has a meaning: you should eat. Sam, a friend of mine, suffered eleven heart attacks and decided they had a meaning: his job was hurting his heart and he should leave – Sam happened to be head of the Czech intelligence desk at the CIA. He left; twenty years later, his heart is fine.

There is impressive evidence of cures and remissions when people search for a meaning in their symptoms and assume a part of the unconscious mind creates their illness psychologically.

The mother of Robert Dilts, one of the founding fathers of NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming [NLP] is a psychological toolkit with very wide success in management and individual therapy), had a recurrence of breast cancer metastasised all through her body. Dilts used NLP techniques to let her modify her beliefs around healing and the transitions of her life. Seven years later when he wrote Changing Beliefs, Robert Dilts' mother was symptom free, fit, and active.

In his excellent book Love, Medicine and Miracles, the American surgeon Dr Bernie Siegel demonstrates the emotional roots of cancer: the most accurate way to predict if a cancer biopsy will prove malignant is a questionnaire testing emotional repression, traumatic loss, and hopeless despair. He describes many disease reversals obtained by allowing emotions to flow and lead to positive life changes (including positive attitudes to surgery).

Siegel asks his patients directly: What is the meaning of your disease? And to elicit answers they can't give consciously he has them draw coloured pictures of their body and treatment. Advanced methods of trance work (hypnotherapy) allow deeper unconscious beliefs to be found and resolved.

The methods of this work are psychological, but the foundation is love: love between the therapist and client, and the love for themselves and others which the client can always discover deep within themselves, original, intact, shining and singing.

Both NLP and Alchemical Hypnotherapy explore (in broadly similar ways) unconscious forces behind behaviour patterns in life and relationships. Can cellular, microbiological activities of the body be regarded as unconscious behaviours in the same way? According to David Quigley, the originator of Alchemical Hypnotherapy, "In my experience, everyone I've worked with who has been committed to finding a spiritual, emotional or metaphysical meaning behind their symptoms has had at least some healing or remission."

To start, you don't need a conscious belief that "I am creating this disease, I am creating this disease." All that's needed is the commitment to go on a voyage of discovery.

Such a friendly tumour

The most basic approach is, in trance, to visualise a journey to meet and talk to the symptoms (See Box 1: The Nature of Trance?). It can be surprising to a person to find that a visualisation they have imagined gives answers they don't expect!

Case example 1

(All case examples are given to Positive Health by David Quigley)

A woman aged thirty had a cancer the size of a grapefruit in her ovary. In trance she imagined entering into the ovary. Inside she found the image of a baby whom she had aborted a year previously. She persuaded the baby to depart, and she found it in herself to forgive herself for the abortion. At her next medical check, the tumour was gone.

Another big surprise is to find that the disease symptom is friendly. Often, people hate their disease and expect the disease hates them – they expect that, in David Quigley's terminology, the disease is an "internal saboteur." This is rare. Commonly, the the part of the mind which led to the symptoms has a positive underlying intention towards the person.

For example, a woman may develop a disease because her life-force is choked off; and that's because she cannot express anger; and that's because her parents punished her for being angry. The underlying intention of the part of the mind preventing anger, hence causing disease, may be "to keep you safe from your parents." In trance this part of the unconscious mind can meet the conscious mind and learn that the parents are gone now, and life is different.

This separation of intention from behaviour is a deep key to trance work. You can fight and fight and fight with a negative behaviour, but when you meet the positive intention, the behaviour just dissolves. It's no longer needed.

Dr Jean Spencer, a Bristol-based doctor and psychiatrist who has trained with David Quigley, points out that the intention of most symptoms is a positive message: after all, the only way the body can say "Take your hand away from that hot stove" is pain.

Case example 2

One client's search in trance for the cancer entity turned up a green monster who said: "I'm here to make you leave this miserable marriage . . . one way or the other!" Now the choice was no longer perceived as surgery vs. radiation, but more importantly as divorce/marriage counselling vs. death.

Another basic approach is to visualise the body's inner healer and to ask for wisdom in treating the disease. And you can visualise healing forces dealing with the disease (not necessarily "attacking" it). Such meditation is a vital part of healing, but blocks such as negative decisions about life may prevent healing images arising.

It is wrong to "try to be positive" and push away these (or any) negative forces; the more you push away, the more they push back.

Typically, not always, the approach in trance is to visualise each block to healing and tell it that you understand it is doing a good and positive job for the person, and ask what that job is.

Picture for example a tiny, intelligent baby who wanted to work out what on earth was happening around her as destructive parents did crazy things. That baby might come to a wrong but baby-intelligent conclusion that she herself was at fault. Thirty years later she may have a part of her mind saying "I'm not good enough to live." But the job the part is doing is harmless: "to work out what on earth is going on around me." Such parts love to be given a new task. If asked to "work out what on earth is best to deal with this disease" it will drop the old belief, cease to be a fragmented part, and re-integrate into the healthy Self.

When such blocks are "re-framed" and reintegrated, images of inner healing archetypes can arise. Many schools of healing stop when a single archetype is contacted, perhaps an Inner Healer or Inner Child. The distinctive feature of David Quigley's work is that he continues until many highly positive archetypes arise. At first there will be images of healthy, loving Inner Child and Inner Parents and Mate, and beyond that images bringing metaphysical guidance. A person can sit in meditation with these images, and the need for much further therapy is abridged.

Jean Spencer finds this whole approach particularly respectful to the client. Therapist and client together are excavating the jewels and gold of the patient's inner treasures. And the therapist is truly a facilitator and not an authority. "In some of the best sessions I've done," she says, "I really say almost nothing. Once the client learns how to relax into trance easily, I can just be a silent presence and she will guide herself on the journey, trusting that as she talks, just the right words will come to take her deeper and deeper. Bright joyful images spontaneously replace dismal ones. It's a very client-centred therapy, very respectful."

Seeds of the bodymind

Case example 3

T was HIV positive and after a clear period had a severe recurrence of AIDS symptoms. In deep trance he had past life recollections of being a guard in a Nazi concentration camp who had committed crimes against humanity. T visualised his victims and spoke to them and obtained forgiveness on condition that he devoted his life to ending political oppression. T did do this and his symptoms disappeared: at a follow-up five years later, his remission was still complete.

Case example 4

A 50-year old nurse had a breast tumour that was malignant on biopsy. In the period between biopsy and excision, she had a single 3-hour session. She talked to the cancer symptoms and released an explosion of guilt and grief and loss stored from past lives. She completed and released relationships with past life lovers and family. When the lump was removed a few days later, no trace of malignant cells could be found and on 5-year follow-up the lump had not returned.

These examples include past lives, and that notion troubles some people. Are past lives real, or nonsense? The answer is, it doesn't matter.

T, the HIV-positive man, discovered a remorse inside himself which was painfully real. He found real fulfilment and a lasting sense of purpose, and long-term remission of symptoms. In between, for a few hours, he experienced certain vivid images with a memory-like quality.

Were they true memories? It doesn't matter – the healing is real.

If you wish, you can think like this. In deep relaxation and after a long journey of exploration in trance, the nervous system enters a certain open state. Profound fantastic symbols emerge: the unconscious mind is telling how it secretly believes the very fabric of reality is woven. It is reasonable that such fundamental fantasies cannot be scenes of everyday events and may have a weird or unusual quality.

Whatever their origin, these images are the seed-pearls of thought around which the bodymind has grown itself. If at this level there are simple happy pictures of (say) heroes and heroines loving each other, then the person will have a healthy body and a happy life. If there are images of Nazi torment, then quite the opposite.

People talk, often to their own surprise, about contracts and agreements made in past lives, and pre-conception agreements made in the space before entering the womb. They describe suffering as victims of violence and betrayal in past life. They recover guilt and remorse from perpetrating so-called "overt karmic acts:" abuse of power, betrayals, and crimes against humanity. Profound life relaxation comes when these strange images are released into consciousness.

Box 1
The Nature of Trance

     Many people view Inner Mongolia as closer to home than the unconscious mind. A few indeed see the unconscious as a dangerous deserted mine, sealed with rusted chain and guarded by the tri-lobed signs of nuclear waste: “Keep Out – Radiation.”
     Happily that’s not the way things are. The unconscious mind is willing and friendly and easy to reach. Yes, it may contain repressed trauma which can form the seed of disease. But it holds such trauma helpfully. It stored the trauma when the conscious mind was too overwhelmed to cope, and it will only keep it until the conscious mind can re-evaluate the matter.
     And the unconscious is accessible. If you sit relaxed, listening to timeless, movement- less music such as an Indian flute . . . closing your eyes and just drifting along with the music

. . . going . . . nowhere . . . imagining that you are standing on a bright summer day in a beautiful garden with flowers of many colours . . . feeling the warmth of the sun on you skin, feeling whether or not there’s a breeze in this garden . . . and listening . . . I don’t know, perhaps hearing the sounds of birds and the buzzing of bees and perhaps the sound of running water of a brook or fountain, or maybe there’s just deep, endless silence in your garden . . . looking at the glorious colours of those flowers . . . and I wonder if there is any scent, that heavenly scent of roses or lavender, or perhaps just pure clean air . . . breathing in deeply and breathing into the very corners of your being the nourishment of being in this beautiful place . . .
. . . well, you’re not just standing in a garden, you are standing at the gateway of the unconscious mind. You are entering into trance.
     Even reading this page, you were starting to enter trance. But reading a magazine activates simultaneously opposed brain centres of the “rational” mind. So images of the garden are formed, but overlaid with the everyday world. But if you relax with eyes closed to dreamy music for five or ten minutes and then another person guides you through the images, it is the other way round. The everyday world is overlaid and imagination will dominate. You will have activated the brain centres of timelessness, intuition and visionary image. You will be in trance: the gateway to the unconscious mind.
     Issues around the body are often deeply buried and surrounded by trauma, and a much longer trance induction than this simple example would be needed.
     Once in trance, there are many ways to communicate with the unconscious mind. One traditional technique is to discover a house in this garden, and to enter this house as if it was the organ affected by disease symptoms, and to find a person or object representing the symptoms. You can talk to that object, sense its answers, and may be very surprised by them.
     (Notice how the body itself, the house, is described as whole and beautiful, and the disease symptom is a removable visitor. The unconscious well understands such indirect hypnotic suggestion.)
This is conscious trance. It is a dreamy, relaxed, idle state in which the person attends mostly to vivid dreamlike images and feelings, but is perfectly conscious of talking to the therapist. Traditional hypnotists regard this as a lighter form of trance, but in fact this will normally bring the deepest healing. So-called deep trances allow a hypnotist to make suggestions to the unconscious without the conscious mind remembering. But the deepest burning need of the unconscious mind is to dig up its buried contents and return then to consciousness. Consciousness brings healing.


Can this work for me? OR The courage to be healthy

"Can this work for me?" Plain to ask; a little subtle to answer.

Doctors are the practitioners of choice for acute illness and much else. Then, some diseases are basically nutritional. In these cases hypnotherapy can mobilise resources, but will not itself heal the roots

That's clear. On the other hand, some people's symptoms are created entirely by their thought patterns; that's also clear. On an everyday practical level, how you decide for yourself is by your own intuition and emotional common sense. With a little experimentation, you will then gravitate to the acupuncturist, naturopath or hypnotherapist whom you need. The very action of travelling towards your own decision puts you at cause in your life and that's what matters most.

Strangely, it's most difficult to answer "can this work for me?" in just those cases where hypnotherapy can really help. For an aspirin tablet changes only symptoms. But healing the unconscious mind changes you. Understanding will release aliveness. Will you live that aliveness?

The man who visualised the green monster warning him about his marriage had to change himself. If that miserable relationship was too safe and secure, maybe he won't. Maybe he'll rather die; some people do. David Quigley says: "My failures are those few people who have a profession as victims."

Indeed, even beyond making life changes, a person may need a willingness to have a whole new identity as a healthy person.

Transformation never happens to the person who sought it. That person was a miserable person, and that misery is gone. The new aliveness may carry the person away from their old lover, away from their old career, into a whole new life.

My friend Sam moved from middle management at the CIA to repairing power tools in a meditation community. That's a big change of identity: when his new friends heard what he used to be they laughed until they rolled on the ground (this was America, the land of expressive extroverts). I was working at the next bench, I saw it, and I heard Sam laughing loudest of all; a big, big change of identity.

T experienced change at even a higher level than Sam. T gained a sense of purpose for his whole life, a mission. Robert Dilts thinks it is no coincidence that remission literally means re-mission, the re-gaining of a sense of mission and purpose. He speculates that cure of life-threatening illnesses may always require that the person contacts their life energy deeply enough to acquire a sense of mission.

That sense of purpose will require an appropriate identity, perhaps different from the familiar identity which friends and family are attached to. It may mean changes at the level of job, relationship, and security. For when disease does have a message, it is perhaps always in essence the same: be more alive.

Box 2
A self-exploration to try

     Try this simplified exploration of the roots of a health or any other problem. It gives a flavour of how a hypnotherapy session would start. You may not reach the same depth as in a session – but you may. This will depend on your previous experience of meditation. In any case, it’s fun.
     It’s best to do this with a friend. He or she just asks the questions and listens lovingly and attentively, reminding you, if needed, of the guidelines of the exercise. Take 40 uninterrupted minutes. (Afterwards you can change places while he or she explores some issue. This is a beautiful way to share.) Alternatively, write down the answers to the questions in detail in a letter to yourself.
     Trust your unconscious mind – if you can’t trust your own unconscious, whose can you trust? Trust that whatever brief words or images flash into mind in answer to the questions have significance. If you don’t know an answer, your friend can say, “well, if you did know, what would your guess be?” Trust the guess which comes.
     If emotions come up which are new or hard to feel, go into them as much as you wish. But don’t exercise familiar pain or resentment; have a little distance.
     Perhaps you spontaneously get an image of part of yourself: a foul monster representing your symptoms, a bad parent, yourself as a child. We don’t have the space here to discuss how to work with such images. But as a simple rule of thumb, ask “in my wisdom, what does this part of me need?” and lovingly give that to it.
     Talk in concrete, specific, factual language. Let your friend see, hear and feel the world you describe.
     These questions are a careful sequence to build up positivity and inwardness as tangible energies in the room with you. So answer them all, fully, in order. In the first four, be positive – jump free from bad feelings and limitations.

1.  What do you want?
     State your health outcome in positive grammar: what you do want to have, feel and do, not what you don’t want. Thus not:
    “to get rid of this disease,” “to stop smoking,” “to not feel tired,” “to lose weight.”
    “to be active and healthy again,” “to breathe clean air,” “to bounce with energy,” “to have an appropriate weight and feel at home in my body.”
2.  How will you know when you have got your outcome?
    Be sure your goal is clear enough so that you can say if you’ve got it or not. Describe a specific time and place and people and what you will be doing so you know you are healthy.
3.  How will your life be different when you attain your health or other outcome?
    Continuing Question 2, list all the ways your life will be different. Be concrete – make pictures your friend can see and hear.
4.   What are all the positive qualities and abilities you have which will help you achieve good health? Now list all your other positive qualities and abilities!
    Have fun, laugh, be total. Don’t shrink from how great you are. Include things like “determination to get well,” “want to explore alternative therapies,” “good at talking to doctors”– include everything. Fly your full potential – don’t reduce yourself with phrases like “fairly” “reasonably,” “can be, “ “sometimes” – so be creative in your choice of words.
5.  When you gain good health or other goal, is there any part of you which will object?
    What is the highest positive intention, which needs to be respected, behind that objection?
6.  When you gain good health or other goal, what will you lose?
    When you lose something positive – say sympathy or safety – are you willing to let go of it? Alternatively, can you get it without the symptoms?
    When you lose something negative, such as suffering: “If that suffering had a positive, loving intention towards you, what would its highest intention be?” Can you get that intention without the symptoms?
7.  (A) What stops you getting your outcome?
     (B) If there was a part of the mind or body trying to get your attention through hiring these symptoms (or other problem behaviour), what would that part be? What would it look like and say? What is its highest positive intention?
     (C) If there was a time when a part of you made a decision which led to these symptoms, was that before, during, or after your birth? When? What was happening?
8.  What is your intuition as to what you should do next with this issue? What is the first step?
    Your end result will be short phrases, images and associ- ations from the unconscious.


Love, Medicine, and Miracles, Dr Bernie Siegel, Arrow Books 1986. Overflowing with love and science, this wonderful book is essential reading for those who want to explore their own mind-body link and take responsibility for their health.

Changing Belief Systems with NLP, Robert Dilts, Meta Publications 1990. This book for practitioners describes Dilts' precise depth techniques for changing negative beliefs resulting from forgotten trauma.

Alchemical Hypnotherapy, David Quigley, Lost Coast Press 1989. A beautiful, concentrated book for everyone interested in trance. Quigley describes a complete therapeutic journey to recover the healing and wisdom forces within a person and to communicate with these though archetypal images.


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About Andrew White

Andrew White is a former research mathematician who after many adventures of personal development now writes and practises NLP-hypnotherapy. He lives in Bristol.

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