The Mind/Body Connection – Hypnosis and Auto Immune Disorders

by Marion Robb, Conscious Choice Hypnotherapy 

Auto Immune disorders can be amongst the most debilitating and frightening conditions known to us, and the term Auto-Immune covers a very broad spectrum of illnesses from vitiligo and psoriasis at the lower end of the spectrum, through coeliac and diabetes, up to the more serious lupus and multiple sclerosis.

I first became interested in auto immune disorders when a very lovely young lady who was suffering from lupus, came to me looking for ways to reduce her stress, as she believed stress can play a major part in the development of the condition. She was on the right track. In the bad old days, medical opinion was that the central nervous system and the immune system were two distinct and totally separate entities. In other words, no significance was given to the effects of the mind on the body, or the effects of physiological disturbance of the body on the mind.

So what why do auto-immune disorders occur? Usually the immune system uses its white blood cells to detect and protect the body from harmful incoming antigens – these are potentially harmful substances attached to the cells of other living organisms,or toxins, fungi, viruses and some manufactured chemicals. Usually when the immune system detects a harmful antigen, it creates antibodies to destroy them. However, in the case of auto-immune disorders, for reasons which are not yet fully understood (although there is some evidence that there may be a genetic factor), the immune system fails to detect the difference between our own healthy bodily tissue, and harmful antigens, and instead attacks that healthy tissue causing inflammatory problems and illnesses. This poses an interesting challenge for hypnotherapists as we have to re-examine our usual handling of illness and the subconscious mind.

Over the past 30-40 years, significant research projects have begun to show that there is a very real mind-body connection operating in cases of auto-immune disease. In the 1960’s, George Solomon of Stanford University researched the interaction between the mind and the immune system. His main interests lay with rheumatoid arthritis and he noticed that sufferers would frequently enter into a relapse during stressful times in their lives. From there he hypothesized that somehow the immune systems was “switched on” to attack his patients’ joints when they experienced periods of increased stress, and his next hypothesis was therefore that the immune system must itself be both sensitive to stress and responsive to our emotions. A decade later Adler and Cohen used studies involving lupus-stricken mice, and saccharin sweetened water (which fired their reward systems), to promote a reduction in the aggressiveness of the auto-immune response. Results in the mice were seen in as little as 14 days and showed statistically significant reductions in the rats’ symptoms. Later research began to examine the role of the limbic system in the connection between the immune system and the brain, as well as looking at the role of hormones and neurotransmitters and the specific messages they carry from the central nervous system to the immune system.

So how can hypnosis help with some of these distressing disorders? My opinion is that in cases of auto-immune disorder, working on the removal of stress is an important first step, as is boosting self-esteem. However, in doing so it’s worth noting that very gentle steps must be taken, particularly where a person is seriously ill and dealing with a recent diagnosis. For example, it may not be beneficial to ask the client to deal with the additional stress of uncovering past trauma in the early stages, therefore routes choosing regression and revivification techniques may not be suitable depending on the individual, and future progression may be more helpful. The use of positive imagery and metaphors where the client can imagine reducing the inflammations, healing interventions of whatever kind is meaningful to them personally, and imagery helping to re-direct their attacking antibodies away from healthy tissue can be helpful.

If you are an auto-immune patient considering visiting a therapist for help with auto immune disorders, as always it’s important to go to a therapist who is suitably qualified, insured and who has memberships with one or more reputable professional bodies. As a first step think a little bit about what might be affecting you in terms of stress and anxiety, and in what priority you would like to deal with those issues. Start slowly and build up over time towards more difficult problems. Work with a therapist whom you trust, and work with them to find the best and most gentle route to help your illness.

Marion Robb, MNCH(Accredited), CNHC Reg, MSHF, MILM, BA, HPD, DipCAH, Master Licensed Practitioner of NLP. Holder of specialist certifications in Anxiety, Tinnitus and Smoking Cessation. Edinburgh.       +44 7909 961646