Article: Addressing Self-Harm through Depth Hypnosis
By Joanna Foote Adler, PsyD, CHT
Editors’ Note: Joanna Adler, PsyD, CHT Joanna Adler, PsyD, CHT, is a Depth Hypnosis Practitioner, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and an Instructor at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream. She holds a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she specialized in the study of Transpersonal Psychology and Family Psychology. Joanna has been working with individuals, couples, and families as a psychotherapist and spiritual counselor since 1993. She has trained extensively in the fields of Buddhist Psychology, Applied Shamanism, Energy Medicine, and Depth Hypnosis, and teaches nationally and internationally in these fields.
Joanna completed an efficacy study of the spiritual counseling model of Depth Hypnosis, which offers clear evidence of the efficacy of Depth Hypnosis in treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and raising well-being.
As a human beings, it is not uncommon to have experiences or feelings arise that we feel we cannot tolerate. Emotional pain can be incredibly hard to experience, and it is normal to reach for some way to cope in these kinds of situations. When a situation feels intolerably intense, people will naturally look for a way out of their suffering.
There are many ways to cope with suffering. They range from the most positive strategies, such as compassion, skillfulness, and love, to the quite negative, like self-blame, self-judgment, and self-harm. In these latter strategies people may mistakenly believe they are doing something about their experience by punishing or harming themselves. Perhaps they imagine that if they punish themselves enough, they will not continue to make choices that cause pain. Or perhaps they imagine that if they no longer exist in a body, they would be free of suffering. From a Buddhist point of view, this kind of thinking is seen as a fundamental misunderstanding, the kind of misunderstanding that actually leads to more harm and more pain, as negative coping strategies are piled on top of already existing suffering.
I would like to offer a few thoughts that may be able to help in these kinds of situations which ring true in the context of the spiritual counseling model of Depth Hypnosis.
Andrew Holocek tells us in his article “Relating to Suicide from a Buddhist Perspective,” “Most people who take their own lives are not really trying to kill themselves; they’re trying to kill their suffering.”
From a Buddhist perspective, the idea that death will bring freedom from one’s pain is a misunderstanding. In this kind of situation, one can hold a desire to cease to exist or to extinguish oneself, as pain is experienced as something that is intolerable and will go on forever. The truth is, however, that feelings are constantly changing, and that there are skillful ways to release patterns that cause suffering.
The spiritual counseling model of Depth Hypnosis offers one such way. In Depth Hypnosis, we bring the catalytic processes of change possible in Shamanism under the umbrella of Buddhism, all supported by the processes of energy medicine, with a western-friendly front door of Hypnotherapy and Transpersonal Psychology. We integrate a therapeutic container for healing with a deep spiritual path of transformation.
From this perspective, we can remind someone that the experience of pain that is so overwhelming now, will change. They can learn the skills needed to meet this pain, and there is the possibility not only to transform their suffering, but also to learn and grow, and progress on their spiritual path.
As Mattieu Ricard tells us, “By saying to yourself, ‘What’s the point in living?’ you deprive yourself of the inner transformation that would have been possible. To overcome an obstacle is to transform it into an aid to your progress. People who’ve overcome a major trial in their lives often draw from it a teaching and a powerful inspiration on the spiritual path. Suicide solves nothing at all, it only shifts the problem to another state of consciousness.”
For folks interested in doing this work of transformation, I’d like to offer a few tips from the field of psychotherapy for assessing risk of self-harm, and then talk about the opportunity to move into the heart of transformational healing.
When assessing risk of self-harm, it is important to understand a person’s clarity of intention, plan and means of carrying out this plan, and how immanently the person intends to carry out their self-harm. (This kind of assessment can be carried out through direct questions like: Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Do you have a specific plan for this? Do you have the means to carry out this plan? How soon are you thinking you would do this?)
It is important to know you can ask someone to agree to reach out to a resource (practitioner, hotline, trusted ally) if they ever felt that they were about to carry out their self-harm plan. It is also important to offer a suicide hotline number, if it seems this might be helpful. Always know that you can bring someone to the emergency room or call 911 if they will not agree to keep themselves safe.
When all of this information is understood, and the person has agreed to work with the patterns that create their pain with a skilled practitioner, they can move into the heart of their work.
In Depth Hypnosis, our first altered state work with a client is intended to bring them into contact with their own deep inner resources. This connection is usually quite a profound experience, and it offers the client an experience of positive personal power.
This can be incredibly important in the case of a client with suicidal thoughts for several reasons. One, someone in this position is considering an act that is in essence negative, in the sense that it is anti-life, and self-harming. Having a connection with an image or experience of positive power – of hope, love, wisdom, or joy – is antidoting to this negativity. It offers the person a source of positive power they can use instead of negative power. Secondly, this positive internal experience of wisdom can provide the balm, the healing the person is needing to help them change their relationship to their pain.
In subsequent Depth Hypnosis sessions, the layers of trauma, fear, anger, etc. that can cause someone to consider self-harm in the first place can be addressed in the context of the skillful use of shamanic healing principles, like power retrieval and soul retrieval, supported by energy medicine.
In addition to the above, it can be specifically helpful to introduce the possibility of reincarnation to someone who is suffering with a deep pain they would like to escape. If one considers the possibility that their existence does not extinguish at the end of their current life, but that they could move from lifetime to lifetime, and that their actions in this life have a profound effect on their next life, they become more willing to entertain positive solutions here and now. From this perspective, killing oneself only kicks the can down the road. In the next life, one may not have the same resources available to deal with their experience.
It can be helpful to emphasize that in the end, self-harm only deepens one’s pain, as it cements a negative pattern that will travel with one from lifetime to lifetime until it is healed. From this point of view, suicide is never a solution, in that it only increases future suffering.
And as importantly, it is helpful to remind someone contemplating the act of harming themselves that what they would leave behind is a sea of pain for their family and friends. This kind of “solution” only logarithmically increases pain.
Healing in these situations involves a dedication to examining one’s pain in a supportive, kind, and loving context. Depth Hypnosis offers an effective and efficient way to do this. With this work, we are able to address and heal the suffering that can bring on suicidal thinking, while walking the path of spiritual transformation.