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By ianfielder, Feb 15 2019 02:49PM

Our imagination is an incredibly useful tool. It can soothe us during difficult times and help us solve problems, create new things, and consider possible courses of action. Some researchers have argued that our imagination, which gives us the ability to consider different scenarios, is at the core of what makes humans different from the rest of the animal kingdom. Moreover, existing research has suggested that what we imagine can actually affect our minds and bodies in very concrete ways.

A study that the journal Psychological Science published in 2009 found that when we imagine doing something, our minds and bodies anticipate the imagined action as though it were a real action. The results of another study, which featured in Current Biology in 2013, suggest that imagining that we hear certain sounds or see particular shapes can change how we perceive the world in real time.

Research by a team from the University of Colorado Boulder and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY, now proves that what we imagine can seem just as real to our brains as actual experiences. As the investigators explain in their study paper, which appears in the journal Neuron, we can harness the power of our imagination to help us overcome persistent fears and anxiety disorders. "This research confirms that imagination is a neurological reality that can impact our brains and bodies in ways that matter for our wellbeing," says Prof. Tor Wager, co-senior author of the study.

When it comes to helping people address their phobias or anxiety disorders, psychologists may recommend "exposure therapy." This approach aims to desensitize a person to stimuli that trigger a fear response by repeatedly exposing them to these stimuli in a completely safe environment. This can help a person disassociate those stimuli from a sense of threat and impending negative consequences.

In the new study, the researchers used functional MRI to scan participants' brains and assess brain activity both in real and imagined situations involving unpleasant triggers. The aim was to see whether and how imagination may help us discard negative associations. "These novel findings bridge a long-standing gap between clinical practice and cognitive neuroscience," notes the study's lead author Marianne Cumella Reddan, who is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. "This is the first neuroscience study to show that imagining a threat can actually alter the way it is represented in the brain," she adds.

In the study, the research team recruited 68 healthy participants, whom they conditioned to associate a particular sound with receiving an electric shock that was uncomfortable but not painful. They then split the participants into three groups. To those in the first group, the researchers played the sound that the participants now associated with an unpleasant physical experience. Those in the second group had to imagine hearing that same sound instead, while those in the third group - the controls - had to imagine pleasant sounds, such as the trills of birds and the pitter-patter of rain. None of the participants received any further electric shocks.

While the volunteers were either hearing the triggering sound, imagining it, or imagining a pleasant sound, the researchers assessed their brain activity using functional MRI. The team also measured their physiological responses by placing sensors on their skin.

The investigators found that brain activity was very similar in the participants who actually heard the threatening sound and those who only imagined hearing it. In all of these volunteers, the auditory cortex (the brain region that processes sound), the nucleus accumbens (associated with learned fear), and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (which signals exposure to risk) became active.

However, after the participants repeatedly heard or imagined hearing the triggering sound without receiving the expected electric shock, they stopped being afraid. The process had extinguished the association between that sound and an unpleasant experience. This phenomenon is known as "extinction." In the control group, in which the participants had imagined pleasant sounds only, other brain regions lit up in the functional MRI scans, and the negative association between the triggering sound and the electric shock never went away. "Statistically, real and imagined exposure to the threat were not different at the whole brain level, and imagination worked just as well," explains Reddan. "I think a lot of people assume that the way to reduce fear or negative emotion is to imagine something good. In fact, what might be more effective is exactly the opposite: imagining the threat, but without the negative consequences."

The researchers also suggest that, thanks to the power of imagination, we may even be able to "revise" and "update" memories that are unpleasant or unhelpful. "If you have a memory that is no longer useful for you or is crippling you, you can use imagination to tap into it, change it, and re-consolidate it, updating the way you think about and experience something," says Reddan. However, just how vivid each of our imaginations is may affect the outcome of such experiments. Thus, the investigators explain, those with particularly vivid imaginations may benefit the most from "manipulating" unpleasant associations, while those with less active imaginations may not see much of a difference. There is a real need for more research into the powers of imagination, say the researchers, but the current findings emphasize one thing - namely, that we should not underestimate the effect of what we imagine. "Manage your imagination and what you permit yourself to imagine," encourages Prof. Wager. "You can use imagination constructively to shape what your brain learns from experience," he adds.

Published from the Hypnotherapy Society Newsletter

By ianfielder, Dec 22 2018 12:07PM

The pressures of Christmas, the self-reflection of New Year - it takes a lot out of folks! It's really common for therapists to get an influx of new clients between November and February, so we're all well geared up for the kinds of issues which crop up for people around this period. If you want to know more about hypnotherapy there's lots of information on our website which will help you through the process.

Around this time of year, the question we're all asking one another is 'What are your New Year's resolutions?' So much so that many of us make up resolutions just to field the query, even if we have no intention of following through! We promise our friends and ourselves that next year will be the year in which we finally get fit, stick to a diet, mend bridges, take steps towards our dreams, and generally become the person that we'd like to be (or, perhaps, that they'd like us to be).

There's nothing wrong with setting goals for yourself. Setting achievable goals can be a valuable aspect of a steady and healthy self-improvement plan. But, sometimes, pressure to make a New Years' Resolution can feel like pressure to fundamentally change who you are as a person - immediately and for the better. This can lead to negative reflection on the kind of person you are and the direction your life is taking at the moment. And this kind of gloomy rumination can exacerbate mental health issues.

What's more, resolutions made at New Year are actually more likely to fail than resolutions made at any other time of the year. These often inevitable failures can come as a huge blow to self-esteem and mental health. When a New Year's resolution fails, many people feel that they have failed the entire year, let themselves down, and will never be the person they envisaged with such high hopes back in January.

If you're feeling the pressure, or worried that New Year and its resolutions could be triggering for you, here a few tips which might help you to cope.

*Think small. You may well have big hopes, goals, and dreams. But, when it comes to setting resolutions, try to chop these into bite-sized chunks. Go for small, manageable resolutions which you know that you can achieve. This isn't to say that you aren't capable of achieving bigger things - you probably are! But nobody can predict what's upcoming in the year ahead, so it makes sense to leave yourself room to improve rather than to set yourself up for potential failure. So, for example, rather than vowing to lose two dress sizes in the next year, resolve to lose one pound a month (or an achievable equivalent). That way, if you lose two pounds you'll feel proud of yourself, but it also won't feel like a major resolution failure if something crops up which disrupts your diet and exercise regime one month.

*Stay rational. The chimes between the end of December and the beginning of January don't actually mark any kind of physical, metaphysical, or psychological switch. It's a portion of time, like any other. No magical processes start working on the stroke of midnight, and we don't actually become new people as the year changes. This may sound obvious, but many people get caught up in the excitement and rush of the New Year festivities, and forget about the hard work which keeping to resolutions actually takes. The excitement can lead people to make unrealistic resolutions, which don't actually stand up to the rigours of our normal lives. Stay grounded, and don't get carried away with the rush of your New Year's party.

*Go easy on yourself. Most New Years' resolutions fail. It's hard to maintain focus on a single goal for an entire year. But this doesn't make it any easier when we realise that all of our good January intentions have come to nothing. Many people feel like abject failures, and berate themselves for what they see as their lack of willpower, lack of sticking power, greed, or of fundamental character flaws. This kind of self-flagellation is very unhealthy, and can lead to serious mental health decline. If your New Years' resolutions do fall by the wayside, tell yourself that this is a normal and natural thing. You probably had more important things to concentrate on. Let them go, or learn from the experience and formulate more achievable ways of reaching your goals. Don't beat yourself up!

By ianfielder, Oct 15 2018 08:14AM

Life stress events- things like loss of a job, death of a loved one and getting divorced (or married) raise the risk of getting sick. All sorts of other life events also generate stress, with possible negative health effects ranging from catching a cold to major depression to a fatal heart attack.

Certain events inflict severe psychological (and physiological) stress. Death of a spouse, getting diagnosed with a terminal illness and separation of children from parents are indisputably "major stressful life events." But no clear rules have been established to define what features place an event in that category (which makes stress research complicated, with often ambiguous results).

Some researchers hold that stress magnitude hinges on how much "adaptation" is required to cope with it (which is why marriage can be considered especially stressful). A second theory gauges stressfulness as the amount of threat or harm an event poses. Some experts view stress as a mismatch between demands and resources. A fourth view regards "interruption of goals" as the prime feature of a life stress event. These theories about stress-event criteria aren't mutually exclusive but on the whole the "threat or harm" perspective is the most commonly accepted.

Recent stressful life events (major and minor) psychologists may ask about to gauge a person's stress level include everything from the death of a spouse to taking on a mortgage to getting a speeding ticket. Life events commonly included on stress questionnaires may be objectively bad or good, major or minor. They include the death of a spouse, divorce, the loss of a job - or even a big achievement. Some stress checklists focus more on traumatic events, such as assaults; others ask about events that in the last year have brought major or minor changes to everyday life, requiring adaptation or readjustments, even if they are seemingly beneficial (getting a promotion). Some important events related to illness are those that affect social status, self-esteem, identity and physical well-being. Not all are equal in effect, and there's much variation in how people respond.

Depression and heart disease are commonly associated with stressful events, but stress's influence extends to other health problems as well. Stress can boost anxiety and discourage healthy practices such as exercising and eating well. At the same time stress can instigate bad behaviours such as smoking and drinking. All these responses can have negative impacts on important organs (brain, heart, liver), possibly resulting in multiple health problems either by triggering the onset or accelerating the progression of a disease.

Personal traits and situation and the circumstances in which a person lives make them more or less at risk for life stress. Neighbourhoods with low socioeconomic status are sites of higher-than-average levels of stressful events, and people with low personal socioeconomic status have more risk of encountering violence, death of a child and divorce. One stressful event - such as loss of a job - can lead to others (such as loss of income, moving or divorce).

The magnitude of a stressful event's impact depends a lot on the nature of the stress. Most damaging, research indicates, are experiences that threaten an individual's sense of competence or status, striking at a person's core identity. Loss of status, losing a job and interpersonal conflict with spouses or close friends can all exacerbate health problems, from raising the risk of depression to worsening high blood pressure and reducing resistance to respiratory infection.

Chronic stress may have a persistent detrimental effect on the body's disease-fighting immune system. Acute stress, like single traumatic events, may trigger a dramatic worsening of an existing condition, such as heart disease. In that case, a sufficiently powerful stress event can induce a fatal heart attack.

Article reproduced fromthe National Hypnothearpy October 2018 newsletter

By ianfielder, Aug 23 2018 11:38AM

Research demonstrates that the support of wellbeing in the workplace has a positive impact on staff, business and organisations. It includes benefits in terms of reduced absenteeism and presenteeism as well as improved productivity.

Whilst the landscape of health and wellbeing interventions is a broad one, it can be difficult to understand 'what works': or rather, the confidence which we should place in a particular intervention that it will have a positive impact on staff health and wellbeing outcomes. This research project was commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) to begin to address this gap. The study aimed to support an understanding of the landscape of workplace wellbeing interventions and the extent and quality of evidence being collected. We hope it will enable organisations to consider better whether interventions are having a positive health outcome and how to capture and gauge the evidence.

The report presents the findings related to a set of case studies collected via an open portal. The case studies were assessed against Nesta standards of evidence. They show promising examples of how to develop an evidence base for workplace health and wellbeing initiatives across different workplace wellbeing areas.

England's business and employer communities have an exciting and unrivalled opportunity to create a step change in how they support and evidence not only the health and productivity of their workforce, but, by so doing, the health of the nation as a whole.

Key Findings

The study graded evidence of a relatively small number of interventions above a Nesta level 2.

Findings highlight interesting examples of promising practice. Substantial levels of evidence for health and wellbeing outcomes were not greatly forthcoming.

This does not mean necessarily that these interventions are less effective, but that academically rigorous methods of data collection or evaluation are not being used to underline their effectiveness.

Organisations collected a variety of data types to explore the impact of their interventions.

The data provided included health measures, business indicators, and other forms of feedback. Some interventions were able to collect data about the direct change in individuals' health and wellbeing outcomes, others focused more on perceptions and confidence in dealing with health issues.

Mental Health featured strongly amongst the submissions received.

A strong number of submissions were received on Mental Health showing the current focus on the issue by organisations. We were also encouraged to see submissions on the subjects of domestic violence, sleep and menopause. No submissions were received specifically on the subject of financial resilience or smoking. This may not necessarily mean that these topics do not feature in the wellbeing landscape, only that that they did not feature in the submission body.

The majority of case studies were submitted by providers of wellbeing.

There was a strong representation of case studies from workplace wellbeing providers. A third however were submitted by employers, highlighting the in-house resource being contributed to staff wellbeing. Submissions were received from both small and large organisations.


Small and medium sized organisations can learn from their peers to find approaches that match their size and aspirations.

The increasing focus on workplace wellbeing provision should not come at the expense of effective workplace management cultures.

The design and implementation of evaluation approaches should be borne in mind from the outset.

Qualitative and subjective evaluation methods of feedback as well as quantitative and objective data sets may support a better understanding of employee experiences of workplace wellbeing.

Organisations should not put off using basic evaluation tools to begin with: what gets measured gets done.

By ianfielder, Aug 15 2018 11:17AM

Hypnotherapy helps fight IBS symptoms. These are the findings of a thesis from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden which proposes implementing this treatment method into the care of severe sufferers of this common disease.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is an very common stomach disease that manifests as abdominal pain and discomfort, disturbed bowel movements, abdominal swelling and bloating. Recent studies indicate that 10-15 percent of all Swedes suffer from IBS to varying degrees.

Yet researchers still do not know what causes the condition and no effective treatment is available for those suffering from most severe symptoms.

Studies at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, show that psychological treatment using hypnosis may offer effective, lasting relief. The studies are part of a thesis which concludes that hypnotherapy should be used in clinical care of patients with severe IBS. "We have four different studies showing that hypnotherapy helps treat IBS, even when the treatment is not provided by highly specialized hypnotherapy centres. The treatment improves gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life, and patient satisfaction is very high. The method also makes efficient use of health care resources," says Perjohan Lindfors, doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

Source: University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Published in National Hypnotherapy Society August 2018 Newsletter.

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