By Kristen O’Neill
Acute stress disorder is diagnosed as a result of someone exhibiting certain symptoms after experiencing or being involved in a traumatic event. The symptoms, lasting between three days and four weeks, have to show up within the four weeks following the event. Frequently people will suffer from flashbacks and nightmares, which leads to them avoiding anything that will remind them of the illness. They can develop anxiety and powerful dissociative symptoms such as feeling numb or detached, being unaware of their surroundings, and even feeling that the world around them isn’t real (“Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms”). Ironically, it’s these symptoms that may help them recover. A study done by Richard A. Bryant, Rachel M. Guthrie and Michelle L. Moulds found that patients diagnosed with acute stress disorder, respond better to hypnosis, a therapeutic technique, than those without ASU or a subclinical form. This is thought to be the case because their dissociative symptoms increase their hypnotizability (Bryant, Guthrie, Moulds). Hypnotherapy can help because it focuses on replacing negative reactions to events with healthier ones (“Hypnotherapy”).
A trained therapist puts the patient in a “trance.” In this case, it’s not the sleep state often portrayed in Hollywood, but instead simply a relaxed state, where the subconscious is actually more aware, not less. The therapist then talks the patient through the problem, suggesting alternative views and reactions (“Hypnotherapy”). Over time the patient can learn these “self-regulation skills (“Hypnotherapy”)” and use them to control their reactions, even outside their therapy sessions.
Hypnosis is probably more familiar as a magician’s act to most people than as a viable method of psychotherapy. The International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association lists it as one of the top misconceptions people have about hypnosis as a form of treatment, when in fact studies have shown it can be very effective in certain cases (“IMDHA Frequently Asked Questions”). Perhaps this myth stems from hypnosis’ shaky history in the medical field.
Hypnosis was first used as a medical treatment in the 1700’s through the work of Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer was a physician in Austria who thought illnesses occurred when magnetic fluids were out of balance in the body – an issue he remedied through the use of, among other things, hypnosis. Other doctors were doubtful of his hypothesis and he was later labeled a fraud (“Hypnotherapy”). Hypnotherapy persevered though and was used to sedate patients before surgery, at least before chloroform gained popularity. Two schools of hypnosis were opened in Europe by the end of the 19th century but even they couldn’t agree on the correct method (“Brief History Of Hypnosis”).
It wasn’t really until the middle of the 20th century with Milton H. Erikson, a psychotherapist, did hypnosis gain any real traction. His use of the treatment later led to the National Institute of Health, American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association recognizing it as a valid procedure (“Hypnotherapy”).
Raising awareness for the treatment in the context of ASU could prove very helpful, because of ASU’s possibility of becoming posttraumatic stress disorder. When the symptoms a patient with ASU experiences last longer than four weeks, they run the risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder, a similar condition without the time limit. If a patient can get the help they need before their condition becomes more severe, they have a better chance of recovering without developing PTSD (“PTSD Awareness”). If ASU patients are responsive to hypnotherapy, there is no reason for it to not be more well-known as a viable medical treatment.
“Brief History Of Hypnosis.” Clevedon Hypnotherapy Centre. Web. 18 May 2015. <http://www.clevedonhypnotherapy.co.uk/brief-history-of-hypnosis/>.
“Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms.” Psych Central. Web. 18 May 2015. <http://psychcentral.com/disorders/acute-stress-disorder-symptoms/>.
“PTSD Awareness: When Acute Stress Disorder Becomes More.” Rogers Memorial Hospital. 11 June 2013. Web. 18 May 2015. <https://rogershospital.org/blog/ptsd-awareness-when-acute-stress-disorder-becomes-more>.
“IMDHA Frequently Asked Questions.” International Medical & Dental Hypnotherapy Association. Web. 18 May 2015. <http://www.imdha.com/myths.php>.
Bryant, Richard A., Rachel M. Guthrie, and Michelle L. Moulds. “Hypnotizability in Acute Stress Disorder.” The American Journal of Psychiatry 158.4 (2001): 600-04. PsychiatryOnline. American Psychiatric Publishing. Web. 18 May 2015. <http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.158.4.600>.
“Hypnotherapy.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 7 May 2013. Web. 18 May 2015. <http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/hypnotherapy>.