Every issue that motivates someone to see a hypnotherapist has a beginning. Hypnotherapeutic Age Regression Therapy (HART) is one of the most powerful tools available to the hypnotherapist. It allows the therapist to find the beginning or cause of the issue and neutralize it. HART was briefly discussed in my previous article on 5-PATH®: it is Phase II (Age Regression/AR) of that five-phase process.
HART enables the hypnotherapist to find the event associated with the cause of the problem (called the Initial Sensitizing Event/ISE) and neutralize it, as well as the subsequent events that reinforced it (Subsequent Sensitizing Event/SSE). The process of using the wisdom of the "adult" client and hypnotherapist to neutralize the problem is called the Informed Child Technique. Together the "adult" client and the therapist give the "child" whatever information she needs to have in order to remove the negative effects which the event had upon her. For example the "child" may have thought that she would die when left alone for the first time, or that she was unlovable when her mother became angry at her, and so on. This process removes these erroneous beliefs and the emotional pain associated with them by telling her the truth of the situation, i.e., she lives and she is loveable.
To be most effective, the Informed Child Technique needs to occur before the ISE, before the damage is done. Essentially the "child" needs to go into the situation knowing what the adult client wished she had known then so that she can get through it without being negatively affected by it.
The process of HART consists of suggesting to a client who has reached a level of somnambulism that she go back to the beginning of the problem. This is usually done by bringing up the feeling associated with the problem and using an "affect bridge," which leads her back to revivify the first event in which the feeling occurred. Typical feelings include but are not limited to anger, fear and guilt. The ISE is uncovered and the earlier emotional pain and misconceptions caused by the event of the "child" are removed which results in a neutralizing of the painful emotion. Then the therapist uses the insights gained by going through the ISE to neutralize emotions associated with the SSEs by guiding the client through those events with that knowledge.
In teaching advanced hypnotherapy courses I have found that often hypnotherapists who wish to use HART do not know how to identify the ISE and confuse it with another event such as an SSE. This leads to less than effective therapy and frustration on the part of the client and therapist. Sadly, these frustrated hypnotherapists may stop using HART because if it's apparent lack of effectiveness.
The key to successful HART is to find the ISE. If the ISE is not found, then the Informed Child Technique will not be effective in the long term or only partially effective. So, how does someone know if they have found the ISE? Well, in the strictest terms you cannot be absolutely certain. However I would like to offer you the criteria that we use at the Banyan Hypnosis Center for Training & Services, Inc., to establish a high level of certainty and effectiveness. As a therapist you need two sets of criteria, one set that you use while doing HART, and one that you use afterward in order to determine whether additional age regression is necessary.
Criteria for establishing an ISE while you are doing HART
ISE should make sense given the known history of the client.
If the problem was known to exist earlier than the age that you have regressed the client to, then you don't have the ISE. For example if you know that your client has had an extreme fear of spiders since she was seven years old then the ISE must have occurred at the age of 7 or earlier.
ISEs generally occur before seven years old.
Unless there has been some kind of trauma, such as a war, rape, or natural disaster, etc., then it most likely that the ISE occurred before the age of seven, and some experts will tell you it should have been earlier than that, before five years old.
The client regressed to the ISE will report the feeling as being new.
When you are conducting the age regression using the affect bridge, you need to check each event that your client revivifies by asking if the feeling is new. If it is a familiar feeling then she has experienced it before and you should direct your client to follow the feeling back to the first time she felt that way.
Confirm that the feeling/affect is new by attempting to regress again on the feeling/affect.
When your age regressed client tells you that the feeling is new, attempt to do the affect bridge again. Most times there will be an earlier event. But if there is no earlier event she will find herself in the same situation. This increases your confidence that you have uncovered the ISE.
Regress before the ISE and the feeling should not exist.
Once you have the above evidence that you have uncovered the ISE, then suggest that she now go back a short time before that event (i.e., minutes, hours or a day). Then check for the feeling or erroneous thinking that is causing the feeling. It should not exist. If it does then you have not found the ISE and you need to suggest that she go back further to the first time she felt that way.
Regressed before the ISE, the client should feel safe and secure, etc.
Once you have regressed before the ISE, check and see how she feels. She should feel safe, secure or innocent, whatever she should feel before the ISE changed her from her original state.
Indications that you have missed the ISE while you are doing HART
Once your client has connected with that earlier self as a child and how she felt then (before the ISE) the Informed Child Technique should go fairly smooth. Extreme difficulty in successfully utilizing the Informed Child Technique indicates that you have not found the ISE . Don't be concerned about going back too far. It is not uncommon for a client who came from a difficult childhood to regress to infancy or even to a prenatal condition in order to get before ISE. I have even, on occasion regressed a client to conception or earlier in order to find a time when they were safe, secure, innocent, guiltless, etc.
The main goal of HART and the Informed Child Technique is to uncover the event, remove the erroneous fears and beliefs caused by the ISE and replace it with truth as best the "adult" client and therapist working together can provide. This removes the cause of the problem and offers the opportunity to give your client hypnotic suggestions that are based on reality and addresses the issue that brought her in to see you. Many self-defeating problems and addictions are coping strategies for dealing with painful emotions associated with the ISE and SSEs, i.e., the alcoholic who uses alcohol to make herself feel more confident, or deaden the pain of guilt.
Criteria for confidence that you found the ISE after doing HART
Once you have completed a HART session you need to continue working with the client (i.e., continue with 5-PATH in order to remove anger and guilt that has occurred because of the ISE). During that time you can get feedback from your client on how things are going. Positive changes should be occurring in your client's life. Here are some ways to check to see if the work of HART was completed:
Informed Child Technique removes the feeling or erroneous belief associated with the problem.
During the initial age regression session, before you emerge your client, always check to see if the feeling associated with the problem has been removed. If it has not been removed, use that feeling and the affect bridge and keep working on it. When your client reports that the feeling is gone, it should be replaced by the new feeling which is more consistent with reality (i.e., feeling loved, innocent, safe and secure, etc.) Then check for the feeling again after you emerge your client.
Your client should feel relieved when the session is over.
When a client emerges from a session and is upset, this means that the work has not been completed. If HART was completed properly your client will emerge feeling changed and will look forward to doing additional sessions. Suggest that each session will be more powerful and she will feel even better.
After a HART session, the problem behavior ceases unless there are secondary gain issues.
Dealing with Secondary Gain Issues
A successful HART session should remove the cause or the problem and any motivation to continue in the behaviors associated with it. If the problem persists and you are confident that you found and neutralized the ISE then you can suspect that there are secondary gain issues involved. Simply put, secondary gain issues are things in your client's life that continue to reinforce or demand the old behavior (i.e., family, job, disability payments, etc.) The best way I have found to work with secondary gain issues is to do Parts Mediation Therapy (PMT is phase five of 5-PATH). In PMT, the hypnotherapist divides the client into Parts, takes on the role of a mediator and assists her client in uncovering the benefits of the reasons for the behavior. The therapist and the client's Parts work together to come up with new behaviors that are healthier and meets the needs of the client, a win-win solution that satisfies the Part of the client who wishes to change and the Part of the client who want to continue in the problem behavior.
Putting All Together
In order to do HART you need to achieve a level of hypnosis called somnambulism. Most people can reach this level given that proper preparation has been done, such as a good pre-talk, use of a hypnotic induction designed to induce somnambulism and the use of convincers. The HART process removes old erroneous beliefs and emotions associated with the problem. This causes the subconscious mind to go into a state of reorganization as these firmly held erroneous beliefs are rejected and replaced with more realistic and positive ones as a result of the Informed Child Technique. This causes your client to go into a temporary state of heightened suggestibility with regard to the situation. So it is very important that you end this kind of session with a couple of minutes of direct suggestion, reinforcing the changes that were made. The subconscious mind will then reorganize around the new experience and the suggestions that you are providing. After the subconscious mind has once again solidified around these new feelings and beliefs they will be long lasting, even permanent.