solution-focused hypnotherapy in sports

A Blog I wrote for the UKASFP

Solution-Focused Hypnotherapy in Sports

In 2010 I trained in Solution-Focused Hypnotherapy (SFH) at the Clifton Practice in Bristol with David Newton. During my initial training, the former world middleweight boxing champion, Glen Catley (now practicing in SFH), came to the Clifton Practice to present a workshop on using SFH to improve sports performance. He talked about how he had become the world champion boxer with the help of David Newton, my teacher, as his personal hypnotherapist. It was David Newton and Susan Rodrigues at the Clifton Practice who taught me most of what I practise today, which is a combination of SFH and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) — or maybe now ‘Solution- Focused Practice’ — with a few NLP and integrative techniques thrown in.

Over the years, I have worked with many sports professionals, coaches and budding sports persons, both adults and children. This work has involved improving performance in football, cricket, car racing, running, golf, darts, horse riding, gymnastics, boxing, martial arts, coaching and rugby.

Neuroscience research shows that when we are thinking about and focused on performing certain tasks while in the subconscious, ‘REM state’ (trance or dreaming), the same parts of our brains are active in the same way as if we were actually performing those tasks. Solution-focused hypnotherapy makes effective use of this finding, through its combination of solution-focused questions and trance induction, as I shall now explain.

This begins in the initial consultation, during which the client will have gained a sound understanding of how their brain works with regards to stress, anxiety, and the production of serotonin and endorphins, and at which we will also have established their best hopes from our work together. We will discuss then what they would like to achieve, what skills and strengths they already have to do this and reflect on any areas where this is already happening. The client will then be introduced to their ‘homework’ which is to write 10 good things down about their day prior to listening to an audio recording as they go to sleep each night. Before going through a practise there and then at the consultation, with the 10 good things  from their recent past, they will be asked to scale themselves between 0-10. As the 10 good things are read back to them, there is a subtle change as they move in focus to the positive part of the brain. Often at this point in the conversation, they will be asked to scale themselves again, leading to a pleasant surprise in noticing a rise in the scale, before we delve into a detailed version of the miracle question.

In subsequent sessions the client is asked what has been better since their last session, what skills and strengths they have used to achieve this and what compliments or positive feedback they have had from others. They will be given a revision of how their brain works and it will be noted from which positive action, interaction or thought process their boost in serotonin and endorphins has been activated by.  They will then be scaled again, sometimes generally or often within specific areas as they elicit progress, before they describe what further progress – one point up the scale – would look like. We explore this preferred future in detail, so that the client can really get into the feel of their achievement and how it will make a difference for them, who will notice, what will they notice and so on.

At the end of the miracle question we will sometimes return to the scale before the client goes on the couch to experience the trance part of the session. During this time, I will reflect back what has gone well for them lately, using their own words in detail and then their answers to the miracle question, before guiding them into trance. The client is then given an audio recording to listen to on going to sleep each night, in between sessions, to support the process, improve REM sleep and sustain the improvements. This process has proved to have excellent results in creating new neural pathways that bring about positive progress.

The focus on the client’s best hopes and exploration of these, combined with the use of a trance state, not only works on the brain’s neuroplasticity to support the creation of new pathways, but also empties it of negative thoughts, doubts, limiting beliefs and outworn or unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours. This can have tremendous results in improving performance and recovery, pain management and personal motivation. Whatever a client comes for help with, the process is the same, and yet it can effect life overall and be incredibly healing both to the client and their loved ones.

I recently worked with a teenager who was working towards a gymnastics competition, and had fallen while using the high beam. This led to his repeatedly going over the same scenario is his mind, causing him to avoid the move altogether and to have nightmares, high anxiety during the day and a noticeable drop in confidence in general. When he came for the initial consultation, after I had taken his details and explained how the brain works, he told me what his best hopes were….

“To be able to perform on the high beam and to compete in the competition with my team”.

We explored how this would make a difference to him, and this included:

“Inspiring the team, working well together as a group, being confident and this rubbing off on the others, feeling proud that I had got over the fear and was able to face the beam and the world with confidence again”.

After a few weeks of our SFH sessions and my client listening to an audio recording at bedtime, having written down 10 good things about the day, his father sent me a video of his performance at the competition, with great thanks for the support.

Another client was a keen sportswoman who actually came to see me for work related anxiety, but found that the SFH was enabling her to focus more on what she enjoyed, including her performance in a match. She made great improvements with business, calming her mind and a big leap with her sports performance, to the point that she was invited to take her team to play in another country.

 

One client was a kickboxer, who had been hit to the point where he had a fear of flashing lights, which had led subsequently to considerable anxiety on a day-to-day basis. He overcame his fears and learned how to control his thoughts to the point where he could start training again, and also became a great singer-songwriter during the process!

Then there was a child suffering with anxiety and refusing to go to school, who found through coming to sessions that not only did they gain the confidence to return to school but that their football skills and pitch performance improved dramatically. They encouraged other children and coaches to come for sessions too.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

No matter what a client comes for, the consultation and subsequent sessions always follow the same process and structure.

I love my work in this area as the results are exciting, not just for the client but often for their family, team, community or club too.

I have found it strange that sometimes, when working with someone from a particular profession or with a certain issue, other clients have come to see me around the same time from similar professions, or with similar issues and hopes, who are completely unrelated and not known to each other. This intensity with working in a specific subject area, within a short space of time, has enhanced my own progress as a therapist, and supervisor, and has happened consistently over the years.

My sessions are not limited to just one location, as I work online as well as at the Bath Practice, the Clifton Practice in Bristol, the Clandown suite at Elm Hayes surgery in Paulton and at Rockaway Therapies in Temple Cloud. If you would like to find out more about my therapy or supervision then I would love to hear from you. My website and contact details are below:

www.melaniecookhypnotherapy.com

melaniecookhypnotherapy@gmail.com

07746 438276

 

Online Sessions now available!

During these unsettling times there has become more of a need for online and phone sessions.

These are run with the same structure and price as a normal face to face session but are held in the comfort of your own home via Zoom video call which I will send you a link to via email or over the good old fashioned phone.

Please get in touch if you would like to proceed in this way. They are working great so far for clients old and new… 🙂

How Hypnotherapy Works for Weight-Loss

How Hypnotherapy Works for Weight-Loss

At the heart of it, weight is determined by the balance between how much we eat and how much we exercise. Food is energy and if we don’t use that energy, either because we’re consuming too much food or we simply aren’t getting enough exercise, the body will store the excess as fat, ready to be used when needed.

Yet, if it’s really as simple as eating less and exercising more, why do people ignore this and do the opposite, especially when the benefits of a healthier weight are widely known? What is it that’s happening within us that’s contributing to weight gain and to problems losing weight? We can then ask, “does hypnosis work for weight loss?” To answer these questions, we need, first of all, to look at the role of one of the most primitive survival mechanisms of all: stress.

STRESS – WHAT IS IT?
Stress is the body’s primitive defence mechanism, which is activated as a response to situations the brain perceives to be dangerous. When we feel stressed, our heart may race, our thinking may become distorted, our palms may get sweaty, and our breathing may become faster and shallower. Some people may experience stomach pains, others may feel sick, while some may feel the urge to use the toilet.

The stressed feeling is a result of the brain flooding the body with stress chemicals, notably adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline. In more primitive times, these would have provided us with the energy we needed to fight or flee a particular threat. However, the stresses of the modern world do not match those of the past: we aren’t fleeing danger, we don’t have to worry when we will eat our next meal, and we aren’t continually fighting with other people for resources. Instead, the stresses of today involve traffic jams, missed appointments, a sick parent, an exam, or a bill that needs to be paid. Yet the body’s response to a perceived threat remains the same.

HOW DOES OUR STRESS LEVEL INCREASE?
Negative self perception, pressure to lose weight, idealisation of the perfect body, as well as our own day-to-day worries are major contributors to stress. In neurological terms, the brain can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined, and that can be a problem for us because our thoughts play a significant role in our stress level. Every negative thought we have increases our level of anxiety, and the more anxiety we have, the more likely we are to fire the stress response.

So, if we’re thinking we’ll never lose weight, worrying about future, thinking we’ll never be in a relationship, thinking about how much we don’t like our manager, thinking we don’t have the perfect body or whatever our thoughts might be, our anxiety goes up. The more negative our thoughts, the stronger the stress response.

Over time, this can have a significant effect on our health as we become vulnerable to high blood pressure, heart disease, reduced immunity, decreased feelings of self-worth, sexual dysfunction, poor sleep, gastrointestinal problems, and weight gain.

ARE WEIGHT LOSS ATTEMPTS CAUSING EVEN MORE STRESS?
If we make a decision to lose weight, we will need to change something about our behaviour: we might choose a particular diet, perhaps we join a gym, maybe we buy a healthy-eating cook book, or we might follow a weight loss expert on social media. Sometimes, however, our aim is to achieve a lot in a very short space of time and our own expectations may be unrealistic. If we don’t see results as quickly as we would like or, perhaps, we’ve missed a day or two of our diet, we might feel discouraged from continuing with our efforts and give up on achieving our goals.

There is also no shortage of pictures of people with tiny waists, perfect breasts, ripped abs, and chiselled physiques on TV, in magazines, and on social media feeds, which might lead us to think that to be healthy, that’s how we need to be. Yet often what we see isn’t what’s best for us and attempting to achieve such a body can lead to disappointment, further increasing our anxiety.

Advertisers of weight loss products often relate a slimmer waistline to a happier self. While achieving a goal of losing weight may make us feel better about ourselves, if we’re having difficulty becoming that slimmer self, we might begin to believe that we can’t be happy or that happiness will only result when we’ve lost weight.

SO, HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT OUR WEIGHT?
There are five main ways in which stress can have an effect on our weight and our attempts at weight loss. We might think of this as the stress/food cycle:

  1. When our stress level increases, so too can our appetite.
    The role of stress chemicals is to prepare the body and provide it with the energy it needs to deal with a threatening or dangerous situation. In the short term, the stress chemicals can shut down the appetite, temporarily putting eating on hold. However, once we begin to calm down and the stress chemical levels have begun to reduce, cortisol remains in the system to ensure we replenish the energy store. The body thinks we’ve used the calories to deal with stress, so we are encouraged to eat more to replenish the calories, even though they haven’t been used.
  2. Stress can lead to fat storage, which can lead to further stress.
    If the level of cortisol remains elevated in the body over a long period of time, instead of providing energy, it will favour fat storage. Cortisol appears to promote the formation of fat in the abdominal areas, which contains more cortisol receptors, meaning we produce even more stress. The more stressed we are, the greater the fat storage.
  3. Stress can increase the appetite for fatty and sugary foods.
    When stressed, the body prepares itself by ensuring there is enough energy available. The fuel our muscles require is sugar and, as a consequence, our appetite for fatty and sugary foods can increase, since it is these foods that provide the energy. If elevated cortisol levels become chronic, then we can continue to crave these foods, further adding to weight gain if consumption remains high.
  4. Stress can lead to comfort eating.
    Eating sugary and fatty foods can dampen down the feeling of stress because eating them causes an increase in dopamine levels. This promotes pleasant feelings and reduces tension, which is part of the brain’s reward system. The behavioural response is, then, to eat these foods whenever the body reaches a certain stress level. Over time the amount of dopamine released when eating these foods decreases, so that we require more food to gain the same feel-good response.
  5. Stress can lead to a feeling of helplessness.
    Stress can make us feel we aren’t in control of our own feelings, especially when we overreact to situations or see others dealing with similar situations in an outwardly calm way. If we don’t feel in control, we might begin to feel helpless in changing our situation and perhaps even give up trying to improve ourselves. Engaging in physical activity will almost certainly not be a priority at this point. Limited physical activity means fewer feel-good chemicals are released in the body, which can exacerbate the stress eating cycle. If we aren’t motivated to engage in physical activity, we won’t be burning the calories from stress eating.

IS STRESS MANAGEMENT LINKED TO WEIGHT LOSS?
Because stress can be a major factor in both weight gain and weight loss, stress management has a critical role in helping to regulate our weight. Anything that is really going to help us must be targeted towards how we feel about ourselves, so that we are using the resources of the mind for us, rather than against us. If we only focus on losing weight, then we disregard stress as an underlying cause of weight gain and in difficulties in losing weight.

HOW DOES HYPNOSIS WORK FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
Perhaps it is better not to ask ‘how does hypnosis work for weight loss?’ but instead ‘how does hypnosis work for stress reduction?’, since if weight gain is influenced by stress, then we must consider what we can do to reduce the effects of stress in our life.

Rationally, we know what we have to do to lose weight, so it isn’t the rational, thinking part of the brain that hypnosis is directed toward. We are instead concerned with the stress centre, where survival templates are stored, which can sometimes cause us problems rather than being of help. Stress is a survival technique and each of us will have individual survival templates ready to be accessed when in the presence of a perceived threat. Our aim, then, is to reduce the incidence of the stress response firing up, so that we can remain in control of our thoughts and actions.

To do this, we have to replace our negative thinking with more positive thoughts, so that we can begin to create less anxiety and significantly lower the level of stress hormones in the body. Rather than think about how difficult it might be to lose weight, or think about past attempts at weight loss, or imagine a future in which we haven’t lost weight, our attention is instead directed toward achieving our weight loss goals and seeing the difference that will make to our life.

SO, HOW DO WE USE HYPNOSIS FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
By focusing on how we will feel when we’ve lost weight and differences that will make, we create a powerful picture in our mind of what we want to achieve. This is where hypnosis for weight loss is such a powerful tool. We can use it to help us visualise:

  • a life in which we are no longer overweight
  • how we will feel physically and mentally when the weight is gone
  • how we will feel having achieved our goal, which will further motivate us to achieve other goals we set ourself
  • what we will be able to do having lost the weight
  • any other differences losing weight will make to our life.

If we can create as clear a picture as possible in our minds of what success is to us, then it becomes a motivational force and the brain will work hard to ensure the picture we have becomes reality. We can then develop healthier behavioural templates for situations that might have previously seemed stressful, thereby creating new neural pathways in the brain, so that we no longer default to the sabotaging behaviour of the past.

Suggestion techniques can also be used in hypnosis to encourage us to develop a positive relationship with food and exercise which is key to a healthy diet and long-term weight management.

WHAT RESULTS CAN WE EXPECT?
If we consider weight loss as one of the consequences of reduced stress in our lives and we use hypnosis to help reduce that stress, as well as for enhancing our efficacy of visualising success, then we can begin to:

  • think more clearly and make better choices about the food we eat
  • feel motived to include more physical exercise into our daily routine
  • reduce our reliance on food for the production of the body’s feel-good chemicals
  • sleep better, which will help to naturally reduce stress chemicals
  • feel in control of our lives and better understand what we can do to create change so that we make the necessary lifestyle changes,

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Ultimately, eating fewer calories and burning more of those calories will result in weight loss. However, as we have seen, a sole focus on eating less and exercising more might not be the solution. When we’re feeling better about ourselves, when we’re focused on what we want, rather than what we don’t want, and when we’re starting to take part in activities that make us feel good, then we reduce the harmful effects of stress. If we are less stressed and feeling more in control, then we open up the possibility of making the necessary lifestyle and behavioural changes needed for weight loss.

Written by Nicholas Shatti