Hypnosis has been used as a form of pain control for centuries. Indeed, it was often the only form of pain killer available, be it on the battle field or even in the maternity ward for mothers-to-be. Even Queen Victoria had one of her children with the help of hypnosis before anaesthetics were truly tried, tested and proven.
What is pain? More often than not, you can’t touch it; sometimes you can’t even pinpoint where it comes from – but you feel it, right? It’s real, it’s fact, right? Well, not totally. It is actually a construct of the brain – and as such, can be de-constructed.
Let’s just imagine you have bare feet. You tread on grass – the sensory nerves pick up on this, and send a message in the form of chemical reaction, to the brain, via your spinal cord. It will record perhaps cool, soft, wet (if there is dew), pleasant. There is no “ouch” or immediate pulling away. But imagine that you tread instead on a drawing pin or a jagged piece of glass. The sensory nerves send different messages, different chemicals are triggered and the brain responds by sending danger signals – “ouch”, you pull away, you expect to “feel” pain.
The key to how we react to pain is actually in the spinal cord, a highly-complex collection of nerves, constantly transmitting signals to and from the brain. But areas of the spinal cord do more – they make decisions too. The dorsal horn, for instance, collects information and processes it so the instruction to pull your foot away from the drawing pin comes from there. But the brain still needs to know what’s going on, so information is sent on to Head Office, as it were, for processing and filing for future reference. After all, your foot has had that experience, and there needs to be some healing.
In the brain (Head Office), the details are received by the thalmus, and analysed and logged in the cortex – was this sharper than that starfish you trod on a few years ago? Was it more of a shock than cutting your foot when you fell over? Have you ever stepped on a drawing pin before? The thalmus also copies in the limbic system, the emotional centre of the brain. It’s the limbic system that makes the key decisions regarding reaction – cold sweat, quickness of breathing, tears . . . how did we react before? Is this more or less serious? What is the appropriate emotional response?
And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, the brain also flicks through the files to see how we reacted before, is there any history of this? What was the result of the similar experience last time? What was happening around that time? Do we have to press the panic button or is it just a minor irritant?
You can see a perfect example of this “cause and effect” when a small child falls over on the street. It will look to its parent to see how to react. If the parent smiles and says something like, “well, that was silly, wasn’t it, up you get now . . . ” the child will get up and scamper away as if nothing happened. If the parent looks horrified and makes a big fuss, the child will pick up on the panic, start crying and make a scene. And at that time, the child is being programmed to respond to that type of situation in one way or the other.
By investigating how a person has been programmed to respond to pain in general, and the particular circumstances around the specific pain that is being experienced, it is often possible to change that person’s perception to the sensations being experienced.