May 30, 2009

Claire 6: Tastes Like Chicken

They came into the office in the late afternoon. I turned off the phones in the office (though callers could still leave messages). I directed Claire to the most comfortable chair, and her mom sat next to her. Claire was in the office to be taught some relaxation techniques. On the one hand, I thought that helping her get through her anxiety would allow her to focus better. On the other hand, she really did have a problem with paying attention. So I didn't know if the technique I was going to use—which requires you to focus very intensely—was going to work for her. I asked if she had any questions before we begin. She asked if I were going to turn her into a chicken. “Yes,” I said.

I had her put her arms out in front of her. She pulled up while I tried to push them down. I told her to remember that feeling of tension in her muscles. She followed my direction beautifully and slowly reduced the force of her arms; I adjusted my pressure to match. I asked her to close her eyes.

I asked when her school year ended. How did she sleep last night? What did she have for lunch? Was lunch good? Does she usually eat that for lunch? Is she hungry right now? I asked her to think about what lunch tasted like. Every flavor in every different thing she had for lunch. After I asked, she said she felt relaxed.

I told her to tense up her toes like she did with her arms when I was pushing against them. Then slowly relax them. Then her ankles and her calf muscles and her thighs and her hips...all the way up to her neck.

She was going in to a warm pool, not too hot, just perfectly warm and comfortable. She dips her toes in to test it and it's nice and warm. So she steps slowly into the pool. At first, the warmth is just on her toes and the soles of her feet, and then the tops of her feet and then her ankles, and then...the pool is up to her shoulders, and then, nice and warm, up to her neck muscles. The warmth is helping all her muscles be relaxed. She is feeling very relaxed. She can feel this way whenever she wants. All she has to do is think of the warm pool on the soles of her feet and then slowly going all around her body making her feel comfortable and relaxed and taking all her tension away. I told her to count to five with me and then she would open her eyes feeling very rested.

I had been completely focused on Claire, who sat quietly with eyes closed on the comfortable chair across from me. Speaking continuously without a pause takes practice and strong focus. So I had forgotten completely about her mom, who was sitting on a chair next to her, yet totally out of my attention. Apparently, she had been doing everything I had been asking Claire to do. When she spoke first, it was unexpected. “Wow. I feel great.” Within a few minutes, Claire did too. She had been an excellent subject, and I think she was in a nice trance-like state.

This kind of hypnosis, guided imagery, focused relaxation, or whatever, has several practical uses. For Claire, I wanted to get at two specific anxiety symptoms that she was having trouble with. Often, she said, she'd have trouble falling asleep because thoughts would rush around in her head while she was in bed with the light off. She managed this by reading, but that just kept her up later. And she had a lot of anxiety-provoking tasks in school which made her perform, she knew, far below her capabilities.

I told her she could do this herself, and no one needed to know. When she was in bed, I suggested that she not try to ignore the rushing thoughts, but to think about each one and make a list of them in her mind. Stop them from rushing and get a leash on those thoughts. Then keep the list in her mind while she thought about the soles of her feet just touching the surface of that warm pool, then the tops of her feet....

I called the next day to make an appointment for lesson 2. Claire said that she felt great and had done it herself. I said that I hoped she didn't mind acting like a chicken. She didn't.

Next in Claire's story: teaching her self-hypnosis

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