By Dr. John Butler
No-one can avoid the effects of the passage of time on the body. The initial changes are almost always welcome – an infant is delighted to start crawling, and even more delighted to start walking. Young children are keen to be taller, stronger, bigger, to acquire new skills, to rise in the ranks of their social group. The majority of adolescents are eager for the signs of being “grown up”. In young adulthood, most people take physical vigour and stamina for granted and focus on finding a place for themselves in the world. However, despite being surrounded by evidence that everyone grows older, noticing the first signs of aging in yourself often seems to come as a shock.
Responses to this shock vary. The vast market in products and services that purport to preserve or restore youthful appearance and/or vigour is testimony to one response – fighting. The vast market in anti-depressants and other mood-altering substances is testimony to another response – flight, at least from mental confrontation with the unwelcome perception1,2. In a recent survey of the US population2, the rate of prescription of anti-depressants by age group is informative – 3.7% of people aged 12-17 were prescribed anti-depressants, 6.1% of ages 18-39, 15.9% of ages 40-59, and 14.5% aged over 60.
When I’ve asked cheerful and optimistic older people about how they keep up their enthusiasm and enjoyment in life, they’ve always mentioned as an important item that they are able to let go of past disappointments and grievances, leaving them free to focus on making the most of the present. For the majority, this has been a lifelong habit, often taught them in their childhood by a parent or grandparent, or other significant caretaker.
A significant caretaker of a young child has a unique teaching position. A child, particularly one who loves and trusts you, is emotionally and imaginatively open to your teachings in a way that rarely occurs in later life. You also have repeated teaching opportunities, and you have imitative learning occurring from your example as well as didactic learning from your words. You have prolonged exposure, allowing the child to build complex skills with you as a rehearsal, experimentation and feedback partner. It is therefore not surprising that lessons taught in these circumstances tend to last through life.
An adult, particularly when older, facing a change in life is in a very different position from a young child. Their imagination is unlikely to be open and the core habits ingrained in their thinking may not include letting go of past disappointments and grievances and renewing hope. If I start lecturing them on the logical benefits of such a course of action, I am unlikely to penetrate to the emotional and imaginative parts of their thinking which are vital to reach if there is to be real emotional change. This is because their imagination and emotional thinking are already occupied by very different ideas. These are likely to be along the lines of, “This is it – it’s not going to turn out well”, “Nothing ever works for me”, “Other people have all the luck”, “Everything is going downhill”, “Nothing’s as good as it used to be” etc.
This is the reason that my first response to a client facing a challenge in their life is usually hypnosis. I do not use it to impose some prefabricated notions of positivity on a client’s negative state of mind, even at the client’s request (“Can you make me believe that everything will be fine?”). For hope and openness to take root, there needs to be a genuine shift of their perceptions and beliefs. And for this to occur, there first needs to be a movement towards mental freedom.
Hypnotic trance is one of the most direct routes to an open state of mind. Entering hypnotic trance is a kind of mental thawing or melting, where we hope to re-form in a better shape, temporarily leaving aside practical considerations, and the burden of disappointments and failures that can accumulate as we go through our life journey, as we seek for inner resources to help us. It is, of course, possible to achieve this by oneself, whether by self-hypnosis, meditation or other means. However, the help of a hypnotherapist is a great advantage for someone who is finding it hard to free their own mind and lift their own spirits.
One of the most frequent comments I hear from people starting out in practice in hypnotherapy is how much younger clients look when in trance. This gives us an indication of how much of aging is contributed by mental burden. Once trance is established, we can then go on to use the creative mental freedom of trance to:
- access “buried” desires and hopes
- imagine new forms and channels through which desires and hopes can be realized
- design and establish new beneficial habits and practices
- work on letting go of old, unhelpful ideas and habits
- enhance physical and mental stamina and resilience
Hypnotherapy for older people can be a significant boost at a time when it often seems that losses are greater than gains. Anyone working with older people in a caring capacity can beneficially use hypnosis to help to motivate and encourage them, for instance to follow recommended exercise and nutritional regimes and to make the most
of the rest of their lives.
1. Our Invisible Addicts. First Report of the Older Persons’ Substance Misuse Working Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, London. College Report CR165, released June 22,
2. Pratt LA, Brody DJ, Gu Q. Antidepressant use in persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2005–2008. NCHS data brief, no 76. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health
© Dr. John Butler