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Hypnosis and Cancer

Copyright James Middleton 2 nd. October 1996

Presentation at Q.E. Hospital Birmingham U.K. to Oncology Nurses

presentation date 3.11.91


1a . Participating in your health

1b. "Benefits of illness"

2a Learning to relax and visualize recovery

2b The value of positive mental images

3a Overcoming resentments

3b Find your inner guide to health


1a Participating in your health

Dr. Elmer Green pioneer in biofeedback, has said when people are trying to influence their health, it is equally important for them to learn what thoughts, attitudes and behaviours they are engaged in when they become ill as it is when they are healthy.

The body is a finely balanced homeostatic system designed to keep healthy and free of disease, when these mechanisms break down and illness occurs we need to be aware of our thinking and behaviour. When we are ill it is a sign that the coping mechanisms we are using to deal with stress are ineffective.

For instance think back to the time when you last had a cold or headache or similar small ailment, you will likely discover they occurred when you were tired, overworked, under tension or emotional strain. Not only physically tired but also emotionally depleted, with a lack of vigour or zest for life.

Major ailments such as heart attacks and ulcers have been observed to follow periods of overwork, tension and pushing too hard. They happen when the body reaches it's limit and can carry no more. The pain from an ulcer of migraine can be a sign we are pushing too hard.

We all participate in becoming sick through a combination of mental, physical and emotional factors. You may have neglected reasonable diet, exercise or rest. You may have been very tense or anxious for a long time without doing enough to relax. You may have maintained unreasonable workloads or got so caught up in meeting other peoples needs that you have ignored your own. You may have maintained attitudes and beliefs that prevented you from having satisfying emotional experiences. Basically you have failed to recognise your physical and emotional limits.

To the extent you fail to ignore these legitimate needs, you participated in your own illness. When the body's and mind's requirements for relaxation, rest, exercise, emotional expression, even meaning in life are neglected, then the body may communicate this failure to pay attention by getting sick.


How you interpret the meaning of events. I.e. loss of job. Is it a defeat or sign of failure, or is it a challenge and new opportunity. By exploring the beliefs that limit your responses, by considering alternative interpretations of life's events and alternative ways of responding, it is possible for you to creative positive meanings where negative ones existed before.

When the crucial beliefs that have created the blockage in a healthy forward flow of life are discovered and dislodged, the full energy of life can flow smoothly once again. With that flow comes the vital force that will restore the body's natural defences to normal potency

Identifying your participation in illness

The best way to begin breaking down the barriers of beliefs and habitual ways of responding is by asking the patient to identify the stresses going on in their lives in the six to eighteen months prior to the onset of disease. The link between emotional states and disease applies to susceptibility to all illness, not just cancer, this process is valuable for everyone.

Accepting responsibility for your health

When we begin to look at the ways we have participated in the development of an illness, it is then a good idea to seek the aid of a counsellor or therapist. This is an important first step in breaking a rule learned in childhood and learning a more effective way of responding to stress.

It is not appropriate to feel guilty for having recognised your participation in your ill health. Blame suggests we should know better than to respond to stress by developing a physical illness.

~The point of self examination is to turn up clues on how you can participate in health through a process of recognising and changing self destructive beliefs. If you have participated in the onset of your disease, you also have the power to participate in your recovery.

1b The 'benefits' of illness

Illness involves much pain and suffering, but also solves some problems in peoples lives. It is a permission giver by allowing people to engage in behaviour they would not normally engage in if they were well. Think back to the last time you were ill. . Increased love and attention, time away from work, reduced responsibility, lessened demands etc.

Cancer patients often put others needs first and often have difficulty allowing themselves these freedoms without illness. Getting ill may be the only time it is acceptable to drop the responsibilities and pressures of life and simply take care of yourself without guilt or the need to explain or justify.

Illness can be a temporary respite, though it can also be a trap. If you can experience attention, love and relaxation only by getting sick then part of you has a stake in staying sick. Cancer is a high price to pay to solve problems that can be solved instead by altering your rules so that you give yourself permission to pay attention to your needs.

2a Learning to relax and visualise recovery

The first step to getting well is to understand how your beliefs and emotional responses have contributed to your illness. The next step is to find ways of influencing those responses in support of your treatment.

Relaxation reduces the effect on your body of stress and tension associated with the onset of cancer and with the fear of the disease, which itself becomes a major source of stress.

Using mental imagery, while in a state of deep physiological relaxation (or self hypnosis) it is possible to create positive beliefs that will activate your body's defenses against disease.

For many cancer patients the body has become the enemy. It has betrayed them by getting sick and threatening their lives. They feel alienated from it and mistrust it's ability to combat their disease. Learning to relax and influence the body, helps people accept their body once again and their ability to work with it toward health. The body again becomes a source of pleasure and comfort and an important source of feedback on how effectively people are living their life.

Fear is also reduced using relaxation, which can become overwhelming at times with a life threatening disease. Learning to relax helps break the cycle of tension and fear.

For a few minutes at least, while they are relaxing their bodies, cancer is not the overriding reality of their lives.

Many patients report that they have a different perspective and renewed energy after using relaxation techniques. It seems to recharge their batteries. With the fear reduced, it is easier to develop a more positive expectancy, resulting in a further decrease in fear.

For example after placing yourself in a state of relaxation; If you are receiving radiation therapy, picture the radiation as billions of bullets of energy hitting any cells in it's path. The normal cells are able to repair any damage, the cancer cells being weak and confused are destroyed. Picture your white blood cells coming into the area where the cancer is, recognising the abnormal cells, and destroying them. There is a vast army of white cells, they are intelligent and strong and aggressive. There is no contest between them and the weak cancer cells.

Picture the cancer shrinking. See the dead cells being carried away by the white blood cells and being flushed from your body through the liver and kidneys and eliminated in the urine and faeces. This is your expectancy of what you want to happen.

See yourself having more energy and a better appetite and being able to feel comfortable and loved in your family as the cancer shrinks and finally disappears.

If experiencing pain, picture the army of white cells flowing into that area and soothing the pain. Whatever the problem, give your body the command to heal itself. Visualize your body becoming well again. Picture yourself reaching your goals in life. See your purpose in life being fulfilled, your relationships more meaningful. Remember that having strong reasons for being well will help you get well, so use this time to focus clearly on the priorities in life.

2b. The value of relaxtion and mental imagery

1. The process can decrease fear. Most fear comes from feeling out of control - in the case of cancer, feeling your body is deteriorating and you are powerless. Relaxation and self hypnosis help you to see your role in regaining health so that you begin to sense your own control.

2. The process can bring about attitude changes and strengthen the 'will to live'.

3. It can effect physical changes, enhancing the immune system and altering the course of a malignancy. Since mental processes have a direct influence on the immune system and hormonal balances in the body, physical changes can be directly attributable to changes in thought patterns.

4. It can serve as a method for evaluating current beliefs and altering those if desired.

Alterations in the symbols and pictures that you use can dynamically alter beliefs to those more compatible with health.

5. It can be a tool for communicating with the unconscious - where many of our beliefs are at least partially buried.

6. It can be a tool for decreasing tension and stress. The process of regular relaxation by itself can decrease tension and stress and have a significant effect on underlying body functions.

7. It can be used to confront and alter the stance of hopelessness and helplessness. This is significant how this underlying depression is an important factor in the development of cancer. As people begin to picture their bodies regaining health, their ability to solve the problems that existed prior to their malignancy, they weaken their sense of helplessness and hopelessness. As they proceed towards health they gain a sense of confidence and optimism.

3a Overcoming resentment

Louise Hay in her book 'Heal your Body' talks of resentment as one of the thinking patterns responsible for creating cancer. Cancer patients often have unresolved resentments, and other emotional ties to the past. (Perceived abandonment or rejection by one or both parents may be an antecedent to the development of cancer). Helping patients learn to release the past is often essential to helping them get well.

We experience stress not only when we go through the experience which created the resentment but we reexperience it each time we recall the event, or experience a similar event ( which evokes the same feelings.) This locked in or long term stress and tension can produce serious inhibition of the body's natural defences, as Simonton's work has shown. Anger is different. It is generally a single, relatively short-lived emotion, whereas resentment is a long-term re-stressing process. No matter how justified these feelings may be, for example what was felt as a lack of parental love, over rejection by other children or a teacher, over specific areas of parental cruelty or abuse and endless other painful experiences; the continual carrying of them has tremendous physical and emotional costs.

If you are harbouring such feelings the first thing to acknowledge is that you - not the other person- are the ultimate source of your own stress. Hypnotherapy can be very effective at rooting out the causes for such resentment, releasing the emotion tied to them and re-evaluating and resolving them. Regression is the usual way to do this. Self- hypnosis using another technique is also very effective.

This involves , while in self hypnosis;

1 Picturing the person toward whom you feel resentment.

2 Picture good things happening to that person. Receiving love or money or attention, whatever you believe they would see as a good thing.

3 Be aware of your own reactions. If it is difficult at first, that is a natural reaction, it gets easier with practice.

4 Think about the role you may have played in the stressful scene and how you might reinterpret the event and the other person's behaviour. Imagine how the situation might look from the other person's point of view.

5. Be aware of how much more relaxed, less resentful you feel. Tell yourself you will carry this new understanding with you. To make peace with another person's behaviour, then, requires that you take a close look at your own. If you can forgive yourself, then you can forgive others. If you cannot forgive others, it is usually because you are not extending forgiveness to yourself.

Releasing resentment not only frees your body from stress, it also enables you to gain a sense of accomplishment as your feelings surrounding old events begin to change, and you will recognise a new sense of freedom and control as you discover that you are no longer victimised by your feelings. By allowing the energy tied up in resentment to be redirected toward constructive decisions, you will be much closer to leading the kind of life you want to live. These gains will enhance your body's ability to eliminate cancer and dramatically improve the quality of your life.

3b Finding your inner guide to health

The unconscious contains priceless resources that can be mobilised for personal growth and healing. Throughout history it has been speculated that there exists a "centre" in the psyche that directs, regulates and influences the course of an individual's life.

Freud was the first to call it the unconscious - source of instincts and drives largely outside conscious awareness. Jung proposed that an individual was not only driven by the unconscious but also led by it toward increased personal growth and a sense of well being. He proposed that messages from the unconscious, or the self, were always conducive to the person's well-being.

The way the unconscious communicates with the conscious self is through feelings, dreams and intuitions. Unfortunately, our culture seems to undervalue these messages. We are taught to value external events and objects - behaviour, our bodies, material things, the logical output of our minds - but not our internal environment. Thus we tend to ignore feelings, dreams and intuitions from our internal self, which are attempting to provide us with the resources to meet the demands of the external world.

Several researchers have hypothesised that cancer patients may have been cut off from the resources of their unconscious processes. Many recovered patients (of the Simonton's) have come to see their illness, in part, a message to value and pay more attention to their unconscious self rather than the demands of others. In addition, many patients have described having had specific insights, feelings, dreams, or images which provided valuable guidance in their efforts to regain their health.

The inner guide is a process for teaching patients to tap these rich resources of healing and strength. Visualizing your inner guide gives you access to the unconscious. It can be thought of as a symbolic representation of aspects of the personality not normally available during conscious awareness. When you make contact with your inner guide using hypnotherapy or mental imagery, you are connecting with important mental resources from which you are usually cut off.

The first major school of psychology to work with the inner guide as part of the therapeutic process was Jungian psychoanalysis. Great emphasis is placed on establishing communication with these positive resources of the unconscious, in Jungian therapy.

Psychosynthesis, a psychotherapeutic process based on the work of Dr. Robert Assagiolli, also actively encourages the development of contact with the inner guide as part of a program of personal growth and discovery.

For many people, the inner guide takes the form of a respected authority figure - a wise old man or woman, a doctor, a religious figure - with whom the patient is able to carry on an internal conversation, asking questions and hearing answers that seem to be wise beyond the individual's conscious capacities. Further, people are often more responsive to insights achieved in consultation with their inner guides than they are to the observations of a group leader or a therapist. Because the inner guide is an aspect of their own personalities, relying on such a guide is a healthy step toward taking responsibility for their physical and psychological health.

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