By Donald Pelles, Ph.D., Certified Hypnotherapist
My new client, Aurora; had suffered a stroke which affected her left side and limited her mobility. Aurora was a pediatrician, at 85 still seeing patients on weekends.
Tall and slender and for 20 years a widow, Aurora was used to being independent and taking care of herself. It rankled her that at this point she could not be fully in control and had to depend on her daughters.
When I asked her what it was she wanted, working with me, she replied that she wanted to be healthier, moving around freely, to be more independent, and “better than before [the stroke].” She admitted to being anxious and worrying a lot, “dwelling on things.”
Because of her mobility problem I agreed to make house calls – she lived about 12 minutes from my home; we decided on six hours work, which ended up being over six sessions.
I began with my pre-talk, which includes the Twist Visualization exercise (I learned this from Melissa Tiers, a wonderful “convincer” which introduces hypnosis (“You hypnotized yourself to twist further. Congratulations!) and visualization. I intended to do a lot of visualization with Aurora.
As I do with all of my clients, I took her through The Zone, a blend of self-hypnosis and meditation, and assigned her to practice it several times a day. As clients do this regularly they change, just from this, in positive, sometimes unexpected, ways.
I had intended to have her do mirror therapy, where a mirror placed between the legs or arms tricks the brain into allowing the impaired limb to mimic the movements of the intact leg or arm on the other side. I discussed this with her in our first session, but later found out from a daughter that Aurora was going to a rehab specialist who was using this technique.
Over the course of the next several sessions I continued to lead Aurora through visualizations, including Power Self (you, exactly the way you want to be) and “Healed Self.” We addressed the control issues with several sessions of Core Transformation, a powerful form of parts work, and Wholeness (which also helped with her sleep), and with exercises from How to Get Unstuck, by Michael Ellner and Alan Barsky.
It became apparent that we needed to do some work around Aurora’s relationship with her daughters, as is to be expected when someone so used to being independent finds herself suddenly being cared for (even very lovingly). I taught her Aligning Perceptual Positions, an Andreas exercise that led her to shift freely and cleanly amongst perceptions of Self, Observer, and Other in interactions with her daughters (and others).
Midway through our work, I recalled reading Dr. Milton Erickson’s account of recovering his movement after nearly dying from the effects of polio at age 17. As he lay in bed, able to move only his eyes, he would imagine lifting a particular finger. Imagining (or remembering) the movement was all he could do. But after imagining over and over for some days, the finger moved! Erickson continued other fingers and limbs and eventually recovered all of his movement. I told this story to Aurora and had her, sitting in a chair, place her left hand on her thigh. I asked her if, keeping her fingers down, she could lift her wrist. She could, but only by using the muscles of her upper arm and shoulder. The smaller muscles in her hand and wrist would not work. I then asked her to lift her right wrist twice, which she had no trouble doing, and then to imagine – to visualize - lifting her left wrist in the same way. I assigned her to practice this over and over again over the following days, and the same with lifting her heels. And sure enough, by the time of our last session, Aurora was able to lift both the wrist and the heel on her left side! [There was no control group here, so we could not be sure that this was not due to the natural progression of her brain’s healing process. But I like to think that visualizing helped, speeded up the process, and perhaps made the crucial difference.]
It was a pleasure working with this proud and intelligent woman (“I am a good patient,” she told me at the beginning.) and we both delighted in her progress.