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Can Hypnosis Help My Pulling or Picking?

    Ted Grossbart, PhD
  • © Trichotillomania Learning Center, Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved

Do you go into a dreamy, trance state when you pull or pick?  Two-thirds of people with hair pulling or skin picking disorders say they do.   The key is to understand this tendency and bring it under your control.  Once you learn how, hypnosis becomes a versatile tool.

In over thirty years of working with people with trich and picking, hypnosis has proven to be extremely useful.¬† While not a “magic bullet” or instant cure, adding it to a treatment program can substantially increase treatment success.¬† Here’s how.

People who are more prone to this “negative hypnosis” while picking and pulling, are also better at using it as a positive force. In other words, ¬†¬†the more you space out during sessions of pulling or picking, the better your chances are of using hypnosis to help.¬† You have already mastered the basics of the technique.

Turbocharging Your Treatment

Hypnosis can:
  -Turn your pulling or picking hand into an automatic soothing device
  -Protect you from the impact of triggering stressors
  -Make habits that have felt automatic controllable
  -Enhance relaxation techniques
  -Increase mindfulness
  -Identify and diffuse historical picking or pulling triggers
  -Help you feel things in your heart, not your hair or skin

Hypnosis: Old and New
Old style hypnosis with its swinging watches, purple capes, and people clucking like chickens, fostered the idea that the hypnotist had the magical power. This isn’t true.¬† All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.¬† Modern clinical hypnosis puts you in charge of thoughts, feelings, medical symptoms, or behaviors that have felt out of control.¬†

We can use hypnosis to do some very extraordinary things.  Major surgery with no anesthetic using only hypnosis has been well documented.  It shows how dramatically we can alter the mind-body balance. Substantial research documents the effectiveness of clinical hypnosis for the treatment of a wide range of emotional, medical, and behavioral problems.

Hypnosis: Nowhere and Everywhere
If you survey the professional literature on treatment for hair pulling and skin picking, you will only find a few studies on hypnosis for trich and picking.¬† So if it’s such a great resource, why isn’t everyone using it?¬†

The majority of trich and picking therapists are using hypnotic techniques, but they often don’t use the label.¬† In many cases they don’t even know they are using hypnosis.¬† Most practitioners are not trained in hypnosis, at least not by that name, so they seldom list it as a treatment method. Plus, not much research is being done in this area¬† ¬†Any technique that asks you to shift your focus, concentrate on feelings, impulses, or sensations, is going to move you toward a trance state.¬† This can be an important part of why these techniques are so effective.

Getting Help
Finding a professional to teach you how to use your hypnotic ability takes some research.¬† The TLC referral list should be your first resource.¬† See if there is a provider in your area that includes hypnosis among their techniques.¬† Next, try the combined site of the best professional hypnosis groups (http://www.societiesofhypnosis.com/disclaimer).¬†¬† I suggest finding someone who has behavioral health credentials like a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, or counselor, and also has hypnosis training.¬† There are “lay hypnotists” who just have the hypnotic training, but quality control can be a problem.¬†

Hypnosis for Kids?
Hypnotic ability peaks at age 10, although we retain plenty into old age.¬† Kids typically really enjoy it and end up using their new ability in other areas like study skills or sports training. It is hard to say what the minimum age for hypnosis is. The limitation is more our ability to teach the techniques to kids than the child’s potential hypnotic ability.

Conclusion
The combined resources of the TLC therapists offer a wide range of help--but no single definitive solution.  I have worked extensively with people with skin picking and trich, both in Boston and remotely via phone and Skype. In my experience, adding hypnosis to your treatment resources makes success more likely.

Ted A. Grossbart, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Boston. He is a senior clinical supervisor at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School  His best known writing is his book SKIN DEEP: A Mind/Body Program for Healthy Skin which is available  on his web site as a free pdf download at http://grossbart.com.  

He is available to answer questions at ted@grossbart.com.

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