Monday, 17th July, 2017

Abseil-utely terrified! How hypnotherapy can help us regain control in life

written with Tracy Jeffery and Kerrie Ballantyne

It was first thing Sunday morning, a brilliant blue sky, the city of Portsmouth glinting in the July sun far below. Standing on a tiny platform, 100 metres up in the air on the edge of the Spinnaker Tower, it would have been easy for Tracy Jeffery to turn around and outright refuse to do something her brain was telling her was madness. Her hands were shaking, her breathing was speeding up.

Her worst fear was facing her…

But then she remembered her breathing techniques: she breathed in slowly through her nose… out again. She remembered her favourite colour, thought of the Hospice… and stepped out over the edge. It was Tracy’s turn to abseil down the tower as one of 75 people who have collectively raised over £35,000 for Rowans Hospice as part of the annual fundraising challenge.

Tracy Jeffery manages Rowans Living Well Centre, our brand new facility where people living with or caring for someone with a life-limiting illness can visit, relax, have a cup of tea, make friends and take part in therapeutic activities and conversations, without the need for referral to Rowans Hospice. This includes a range of complementary therapies, among them Clinical Hypnotherapy.

I was so fearful I couldn’t even watch the promotional abseil video on YouTube!

“I have a massive fear of heights. I get very anxious, so I knew this would be a real personal challenge. I couldn’t even watch the promotional video on YouTube! But I am so passionate about Rowans Living Well Centre and hospice care, I knew I ought to be determined to do it”.

In anticipation of her fear overcoming her, Tracy decided to see qualified clinical hypnotherapist Kerrie Ballantyne, who’s based at Rowans Living Well Centre, to help get her down! “Our sessions made a huge difference”, says Tracy, “Although I knew how important it was that I did it, the fact that I could remain calm and in control of my fear enough to step off the platform – it’s amazing really.”

We greatly appreciate these professionals who volunteer their time and skills to offer these services free of charge

Since the centre opened its doors in October 2016, Clinical Hypnotherapy is one of a range of complementary therapies that can be offered there, along with massage, reflexology, osteopathy and aromatherapy, and we greatly appreciate these professionals who are generously volunteering their both time and skills to offer these services free of charge.

Kerrie explains, “Our aim is to help the person relax into a ‘calm yet focussed’ state, where the conscious mind is bypassed and we can reach the subconscious, which is much more open and accepting of positive, beneficial suggestions”.

Imagine making a long car journey, and you suddenly realise you’ve driven home - it’s this ‘bypassed’ state we are reaching, where your mind is taken away from the day-to-day and is free to explore deeper thoughts and motivations.

Far from losing control, hypnotherapy is designed help you to regain control of your fears and worries.

Before you think that means it’ll make you walk around clucking like a chicken or say something you don’t want to with no memory of the event, that’s completely untrue. “That’s stage hypnotherapy; it’s not clinical and is not at all related to what we do here”, Kerrie reassures. Far from losing control, hypnotherapy is designed help you to relax and regain control of your fears and worries.

During clinical hypnosis they are still awake and fully aware

“We are working with people to help them enter a state of deep relaxation which can help them better access and understand their own deeper thoughts and feelings. During hypnosis they are still awake and fully aware, and ‘in the room’ with me at all times, there’s no clicking of fingers or looking into my eyes!”

“I worked with Tracy over three sessions to explore her fear of heights and to mentally prepare for her abseil.  I gauged how fearful she was, what the triggers were and what she responds positively to. Tracy responds very visually, so I helped her to rehearse what it would be like to be up on the platform, to prepare her. We also discovered Tracy best relaxes around the colour blue, so we used the happy coincidence that the bottom half of the Spinnaker is blue to help her down!

We looked into Tracy's physiological responses to the fear of heights “We found Tracy had experienced hyperventilation in the past and was very fearful of this happening again, so we worked on relaxing breathing techniques to keep her breathing slow and regular. I was pleased to hear she could put them into practice on the day. We also worked on her deep motivations for doing the abseil as subconscious drivers to get her off that platform on the day”, explains Kerrie.

Hypnotherapy allows time for deep relaxation, a time to unwind and de-stress

Relaxation in the main is so important. “I see both patients and carers who live with great uncertainty, 24-hour stress and no time to relax. They can be very distressed when they first come to me” says Kerrie.

Hypnotherapy allows time for deep relaxation, a time to unwind and de-stress, Kerrie finds people often end up off-loading and opening up to her, talking about their fears, concerns and what worries them and this helps to de-stress them too. I can also teach people self hypnosis using lots of different techniques, so that people can take these skills forward with them in life.

We can easily adapt our strategies to counteract each person’s unique triggers

Hypnotherapy is completely tailored to the needs of the individual. “People’s fears can be triggered differently – it could be by sounds, visual or tactile memories or cues, and we work with these senses to allay the fear accordingly” explains Kerrie. “For Tracy, the colour blue and the image of being up on the platform were important. For someone else, it might be the breeze they feel or the noise of the wind that instigates fear and preparing them for these sensations can help to allay the fear. We can easily adapt our strategies during a Clinical Hypnotherapy session to counteract each person’s unique triggers”.

Importantly, clinical hypnotherapy is something people can take forward with them after the therapy sessions have come to an end

Hypnotherapy, in the context of palliative care, is simply presented as a toolbox of strategies, which can help equip people with the skills to recognise, manage and overcome unhelpful responses to their unique situation. It is simply a means by which you can regain better control of your thought patterns and importantly, it is something people can take forward with them after the therapy sessions have come to an end.

"I definitely would not have felt as mentally prepared for the abseil had I not spent time with Kerrie", Tracy Jeffery.

Kerrie is careful not to make promises that hypnotherapy will definitely achieve something for everyone, but it certainly gives someone the time to stop and think, and for Tracy: “I definitely would not have felt as mentally prepared for the abseil had I not spent time with Kerrie confronting the triggers of my own fear of heights, and knowing how to over-rule them”.

Tracy (right) waiting on the viewing platform
Tracy (right) waiting on the viewing platform
Tracy is greeted by family after her abseil
Tracy is greeted by family after her abseil

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who believed in me enough to sponsor me, and help me raise over £650 plus Gift Aid for the Hospice. With my breathing techniques and their support, I overcame a fear I thought I’d never even dare to confront, so I’d recommend hypnotherapy to anyone who feels that they want to regain control”.

You can book a hypnotherapy session by calling us or dropping in to Rowans Living Well Centre between 10am-4pm Monday to Friday and, as with all our hospice care, is completely free of charge to anyone who lives with or cares for someone with a life-limiting illness.

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