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Psychosomatic Illness (Somatoform Disorders)

by Kate McEwen(more info)

listed in hypnosis, originally published in issue 214 - May 2014

The term ‘psychosomatic’ is often misunderstood to convey an ‘it’s all in the mind’ pejorative slant. This overlooks the fact that whatever the illness, the symptoms are real and manifest just as potently as if the cause was physiological in origin rather than mental.

The word ‘psychosomatic’ comes from ‘psyche’ (mind, consciousness, awareness) and soma (body), though the term ‘somatoform disorders’ is more commonly used in medical circles today. When a manifestation is described as ‘psychosomatic’ it simply means that that origin of the problem lies within the mind of the person, But without their Conscious Awareness.

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Disorders arising from psychical origins are the bread and butter for the fully trained hypnotherapist. Why? Well, firstly hypnosis renders subjects more susceptible to healing suggestions; however, and more importantly for a permanent resolution to the problem, it also allows access to root causes of psychosomatic disturbances. The origins can then be analysed and, with the benefit of hindsight, initially depotentiated and then put to rest.

The best way to illustrate this claim is to utilize a couple of examples from clients I have worked with in the past. (Sufficient detail has been ‘tweaked’ to make individuals unrecognizable)

1. Dermatological

An elderly lady presented with chronic dermatitis, the onset of which had occurred about 18 months previously. She had used prescribed lotions and potions to no avail and was quite beside herself with the condition. During the initial consultation I asked if anything had happened to her during the 6-12 months before she started to develop this ‘dis-ease’ and, after some thought, she told me that her son had had a nervous breakdown.

What made this breakdown hard to deal with though, was her son cut off all communication with his mother, who wanted to help him. He would hang up if she phoned and returned her letters unopened. This made her, not surprisingly, very unhappy.

We discussed, fully, other circumstances which might have impacted and I took a full case history.

During the first session, the client eased quite willingly into hypnosis and I utilized a variety of suggestions to help her feel more in control of how she reacted to what was happening to her and therefore more confident about her ability to beat this condition. Healing visualizations were also incorporated, and she was given a relaxation tape (it was quite a while ago!) to take away with her, having made a commitment, to herself, under hypnosis, to find time to listen to it on a daily basis.

She returned two weeks later and said she had gained some relief from the itching and there had been some improvement in the condition.

I re-explained to her the focus of the second session (initially covered in the original consultation), and that I wanted to find out from her subconscious just what might have caused this dermatological problem to manifest. She was assured that she didn’t have to ‘perform’ in anyway (some clients get worried that they may not be able to ‘find’ anything) and that she was just to enjoy the hypnosis again and, when instructed, just allow her mind to become like ‘calm water’.

She was a good subject and was motivated to get well. As part of the suggestion during the second session, I asked her to imagine herself at a point of time ahead functioning as a well, itch-free individual with healthy fresh skin and a smile on her face. After she had created that template, I then enquired of the subconscious if there was something, anything, which might give a clue as to why this lady was suffering such an unpleasant malady.

I then invoked a hypnoanalytical technique and I asked her to let her mind become still and calm, but to let me know if anything popped in to her mind - however unexpected. The process took her back to a childhood holiday with family members, and she was able to recount quite a lot of detail about steam trains and other children and then, very specifically she mentioned an aunt.

She then recollected that during that holiday she had developed a skin rash which had bothered her, and which she had shown to this aunt. The lady had managed to obtain some lotion which was applied to the rash and, in time, it cleared up.

Was there a link there? Well, that wasn’t for me to say. The juxtaposition was tenuous to say the least; however she made the connection in her own mind. When she had been suffering, her aunt had helped her. When her son was suffering, she was unable to help him and, by way of punishment for being a poor mother, (from the perspective of her inner critic!) she was visited with a skin condition.

She was able to look at the connection and recognize that she wasn’t actually in control of the way her son had reacted to her and that she had, indeed, done the very best for him that she could, given his intransigence. In that way the connection was severed and she was free to accept things as they were.

Now, I can imagine there may be readers who think this is a trifle farfetched, but even after all these years I still have a letter from this particular client telling me that within three weeks of that second session, the dermatitis had cleared up completely. Still doubting??

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2. Dysmenorrhoea (Severe Pain Associated with Menstruation)

I was approached one day at a wedding fayre where I was promoting hypnotherapy to help deal with wedding day nerves, for brides, grooms, parents of the happy couple and best men or women who might have to make speeches (I have been privileged to work with many people to help them enjoy this wonderful occasion without wishing the day was just over!)

A girl approached me and said that she was ‘sorted’ for her wedding, but could I help with period pain. I explained that hypnosis could be very useful in pain management and she made an appointment to come to see me.

After the initial consultation and suggestion therapy session, she returned for a second session. Again I sought answers from the subconscious as to why this girl was being afflicted with such excruciating pain. Pain is normally nature’s way of indicating that something is wrong, but in this case the client had been medically checked out and there was no reason for her to be suffering in such a way.

Utilizing hypnoanalytical techniques, this client recalled that the only time her mother gave her a hug was when she was suffering from period pains. Again, it was up to the client to make the link. She recognized that her psyche was basically recreating the pain in order to satisfy a need for affection. With this altered perspective, the client was then able to utilize her own common sense to recognize the inconsistency of the patterning and, in so doing, was able to sever the mental connections.

A couple of months passed and she reported back to me that she now had manageable discomfort and was no longer rendered helpless during her cycle.

As one who has practised hypnoanalysis for the last 15 years with many, many clients, I know the efficacy of such a procedure, but it is essential that a therapist be fully trained in the use of such techniques before they are let loose on an unsuspecting public!

A criticism, sometimes levelled at practitioners is that of creating false memories and that is certainly possible if analysis is not handled correctly. A competent hypnoanalyst, however, will always, always utilize ‘sterile’ language. They will not, in any way, lead the client; their job is really to simply facilitate recall and support the client as they uncover, for themselves, root causes of their presenting complaints.

Also, a hypnotherapist of any standing will never claim to ‘cure’ a client. The therapist’s job is to help the client to help themselves to recover. Leaving the client to join up the dots and come to their own conclusions is very important.

Finally, the client should never be rendered vulnerable; there are special techniques to deal with situations where a client may not fully resolve an issue in one session so that anything which has been unleashed can be contained in such a way that it does not impinge on normal functioning between sessions.

Further Information

For further information on our Diploma course for practitioners or fast track entry Diploma in Hypnoanalytical Skills for suggestion therapists, please visit our web site at or email


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About Kate McEwen

Kate McEwen BA(Hons) - Director & Principal Trainer has been in practice as a hypnotherapist, in partnership with John McEwen, since 1999 during which time she has been privileged to work with thousands of clients. Firstly as a partner at Corsebar Hypnotherapy Centre, Paisley, Kate currently practises as a partner in B9 Hypnotherapy, Argyll. In 2004, with a back ground in lecturing in further and higher education spanning 22 years, Kate took over the training remit for the National Society of Professional Hypnotherapists and is the principal trainer at the Scottish School of Hypnotherapy. She is a Member of the National Society of Professional Hypnotherapists (MNSPH), Senior Qualified Hypnotherapist - General Hypnotherapy Register (SQHP), Member of the National Council of Psychotherapists (MNCP), Member of the Hypnotherapy Association and Member of the Advisory Council of, and Postgraduate trainer for, the NSPH. Kate may be contacted on Tel: 01369-820172;

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