Have you ever wondered how scientists know what goes on inside the human brain? Of course, it’s a very complex organ and there is still so much to find out, but modern technology is allowing us to see inside working brains.
We’re all aware that different parts of our brain tend to govern different functions, eg sight, hearing, muscle movement, speech.
In the past, the main ways scientists could tell what part of the brain affected which functions, was either to conduct awful experiments on animals, or to study people who had brain injuries or brain-affecting illnesses such as strokes. They could observe the effect of the brain damage and, after the person died, they could see which areas of the brain had been affected.
There are a number of famous cases of this, notably Phineas Gage, a US railway foreman who was badly injured in an accident. He was tamping down some explosives into a hole with an iron rod, when the explosives ignited, blowing the rod through the front of his skull. Miraculously he survived, but his personality completely changed, leading early neuroscientists to the discovery that the frontal lobe of the brain is linked with personality.
In the early 50s, in an attempt to cure a Henry Molaison of debilitating epilepsy, a neurosurgeon removed areas of the patient’s brain, including hippocampi and amygdalae. The surgery worked to the extent that the epilepsy stopped, but Henry’s memory was severely impaired. Devastatingly, was totally unable to form new memories. He lived the rest of his life in an institution and was studied for the after-effects of the operation. Although he could not form new factual memories, it seems he was able to improve his skill in certain tasks. This tragic case contributed to scientists understand the link between brain function, learning and memory.
Another famous case demonstrated the brain’s amazing ability to rewire itself after being damaged. 65 year old poet and scholar, Pedro Bach-y-Rita, had a disabling stroke in the late 50s, which paralysed half his body and left him unable to speak. His son George took care of him after his initial rehabilitation in hospital. At first his father was pretty helpless, but George instinctively began to teach his father basic skills, as if he were a baby, first getting him to crawl, then playing childish games to improve co-ordination and dexterity. Eventually Pedro made a full recovery and a year later he returned to teaching full time. He died of a heart attack hiking on a mountain at an altitude of 9,000ft, seven years after his disabling stroke.
George’s brother Paul, a renowned neuroscientist, arranged for a post-mortem on his father. The findings were amazing, 97% of the nerves that join the cortex to the spine were destroyed, hence Pedro’s paralysis. The work that George had done rehabilitating his father had caused his brain to rewire itself to compensate for the devastating destruction. Incredible!
These days neuroscientists don’t have to wait for people to die to see which part of the brain does what. Scanning and imaging techniques have enabled them to observe a working brain in action.
Electroencephalography - EEG
The earliest scanner was an EEG which measures electrical brain activity, sometimes referred to as ‘brainwaves’, close to the surface of the brain. EEGs are often used to observe patterns of sleep and to diagnose epilepsy and other conditions.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
PET scans measure glucose (sugar) levels in the brain, showing the extent of nerve-cell activity in different regions. A special dye containing radioactive tracers is introduced into the blood stream. When different areas of the brain or body are active they use more fuel, oxygen and glucose, which can be detected by the scanners. A video image of the brain shows which areas are using more fuel. PET scans are useful in identifying general areas of activity and are sometimes used in detecting Alzheimer’s.
Computed Tomography (CT or CAT)
CT scans use special X-rays to take a series of images from different angles which are then combined to form a 3-dimensional image of the brain.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the brain. The magnets affect the nuclei of certain atoms in the brain (usually hydrogen atoms). They do this by disturbing the direction of rotation of the nuclei. As the rotation returns to its original position, a radio signal is emitted. The radio signals are used to produce detailed static images of the brain’s structure.
fMRI is a series of MRI images taken less than 1 second apart that are subsequently analysed. fMRIs show what happens in the brain when we perform certain tasks.
We are so fortunate to live in an age where it is possible to unlock the mysteries of the brain in action. fMRIs in particular have transformed our understanding and are used to determine what happens in the brain moment-by-moment when we perform certain tasks.
With so many studies around the impact of sleep deprivation, it seems we are only just beginning to realise the fundamental importance of getting a good night’s sleep.
It’s a particular passion of mine. Often I would joke that I could sleep any time, any place, anywhere. I didn’t realise that was a classic symptom of sleep deficit, a consequence of simply not allowing enough time for the optimum 7 to 8 hours a night.
I saw sleep as a necessary interruption to doing much more interesting things (I saw preparing balanced meals in a similar way), and because I was still able to function, I thought I was OK.
But because I read so much about the negative effects of too little sleep, I began to take it much more seriously. In fact, one of the students on the hypnotherapy diploma courses that I run for CPHT, took the very wise move of treating sleep as a second job. She prioritised it as much as her day job and made sure she was giving herself the best possible chance of a restorative night’s sleep. What a brilliant solution.
Over the years I have run several workshops on the subject of sleep, exploring why we sleep, what happens when we sleep, and what happens if we don’t get enough. The summary slide is purposely light-hearted, but it carries an important message:
Lack of sleep causes you to become:
• Seriously ill
• Stressed out
• A danger to others
Of course, if you’re not sleeping well, worrying about the harm that is doing is not at all helpful.
So here are my top tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
1. Allow enough time for a full 7 to 8 hours
It might sound obvious, but I come across many people who turn in after midnight and have to be up at 6am. Studies into the benefits of sleep, show that we need 7 to 8 hours to operate effectively, both mentally and physically. Studies also show that the last 1 to 2 hours are even more important to learning and memory consolidation, so you are really missing out if you are getting less than 6 hours.
TIP 1: adjust your routine to allow for 7 to 8 hours in bed.
2. Create a decompression zone
Many people live full-on lives and they are still ‘wired’ when they turn in for bed. They may have been working late on paperwork or household tasks, they may have been watching TV programmes with negative story lines, or they may have been checking emails or interacting on social media. All of these things stimulate the mind, and the chances are you are generating adrenaline when you should be winding down.
TIP 2: start winding down an hour before bedtime. Turn off your laptop and put the phone away. Listen to music or watch something harmless on TV. Consider brushing your teeth or removing your make up an hour before going to bed, as these activities can make you more alert.
3. Focus on what you have achieved
Many people go to bed with a mental ‘to do’ list, or they beat themselves up for not getting enough done. Going to bed with a head full of loose ends is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
TIP 3: when you get into bed, review the day and find 5 things you have achieved. They needn’t be big things, they could be things like sorting out the recycling, changing a lightbulb or arranging to meet a friend.
As we say goodbye to 2019 I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year.
Soooo excited to see what the coming year, and of course decade, will bring. 2019 was an eventful year, with the inevitable ups and downs that make life interesting. It was by far the busiest year ever in my East Devon hypnotherapy practice and here are some of the highlights:
I was lucky enough to be invited to join the team at Orchard Osteopaths in Chard last January, and that quickly became a very busy clinic. I was also fortunate to find a new therapy room in Ottery St Mary in February at Pure Therapy, when my previous room became unavailable. It’s a lovely, relaxing space and that, too, has been very successful. The established therapy rooms in Sidmouth and Axminster were busier than ever, too.
I continued to run the 10-month hypnotherapy diploma courses on behalf of CPHT (Clifton Practice Hypnotherapy Training) in both Guildford and Manchester. Although, in order to be able to focus on our own practices, my business partners and I have decided to retire from lecturing. We have already handed CPHT Manchester over to two wonderful colleagues, and this will be our last CPHT Guildford course. We are so pleased that two highly successful and experienced former graduates of ours will be taking the Guildford school forward. It’s been a fun and fascinating 5 years, and we will miss seeing the students gain in confidence and skill.
In addition to lecturing on the main diploma courses, I was also invited to deliver marketing sessions at CPHT Hampshire and at our professional association’s conference in November. In September I delivered a course All About Sleep at the Health and Wellbeing Centre in Axminster, and a week later gave a more technical version to qualified hypnotherapists as a CPD course at CPHT Bristol. All mighty enjoyable.
A fantastic co-working space for solo workers opened up in Sidmouth last January, The Lighthouse in Mill Street. It provides a fab environment for self-employed or home-workers to be in the company of others to prevent them going stir-crazy or withdrawn. They put on excellent events and masterclasses, and I am so pleased to be a member. It has been great networking with other business people and sharing knowledge and experience between us.
On the business side, I focused on my online marketing, and have been posting on Facebook and updating my blog regularly. I really enjoy researching news from the world of hypnotherapy, neuroscience and general well-being, so that I can share the latest findings with clients.
I consider myself fortunate to have a career that enables me to help others, both in the therapy room through regular Solution Focused Hypnotherapy sessions, and in general through delivering training. It’s so rewarding to see clients make huge changes and ultimately get a better enjoyment of life. I meet many wonderful people in the therapy room and I am constantly impressed by their determination and resilience.
So, what's in store for us in 2020? I am a big fan of psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, and often quote his research about luck and opportunities: we make our own luck by being in a good head space, to be able to see opportunities when they present themselves.
As Richard Wiseman’s work shows, life is what we make it. And so much of that is down to how we respond to the events in our lives. Wishing you all the very best for a fun-filled, eventful and successful 2020, full of opportunities.
Happy New Year!
I remember my first ever massage, back in the 90s. I was so nervous, as I didn’t know what to expect. Years later, when I trained to be a massage therapist, I never forgot how daunting that first session can be, and took steps to reassure new clients.
It can be the same with hypnotherapy, especially as the media often portray hypnosis as some kind of mind control, or talking therapists as Sigmund Freud lookalikes.
So, here’s what to expect if you attend Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (SFH)…
First, it’s worth noting that Solution Focused Hypnotherapy isn’t something that is done to you, it’s something that you work at with guidance from your therapist. As with anything worth doing, you do have to put some effort in, in order to get the best results. The results are often life-changing.
We offer an initial consultation where we gather information about you – basic name and address stuff, information about your current lifestyle, general wellbeing and sleeping patterns, and of course the reason you are seeking help. Having gathered enough information to understand your current situation and your preferred future, we make an assessment about the most appropriate course of therapy.
We then explain how the brain works and how it can manifest a variety of emotional, behavioural or physical symptoms. We help you to understand how SFH can help you to retrain your brain to support you, rather than thwart you.
Some SFH therapists charge for the initial consultation, some offer it free. I currently provide this session free of charge, remembering how daunting reaching out for help can be. The initial consultation lasts around 30-45 minutes.
Subsequent sessions last 50 to 55 minutes and consist of a period of Solution Focused talking therapy, followed by a period of hypnotic trance to help your brain evaluate and consolidate the work we have done during the first part. Often clients think that the magic happens during hypnosis. The truth is that, with SFH, the talking element is at least as important as the trance work, and focuses on positive outcomes. We actively discourage you from discussing negative events from the past, and instead use solution focused questioning techniques to encourage you to think about positive outcomes, which of course can be quite challenging at times. The results are worth it though.
Hypnosis and trance are very powerful words. And so they should be, as the hypnotic trance is a very powerful state. Powerful, but ultimately natural. It’s very similar to daydreaming, where you are able to do something on auto-pilot, like peeling potatoes or doing the ironing, while your mind wanders, remembering past events or anticipating future possibilities. And it’s a very relaxing experience.
Some therapists use a massage couch (folding bed) for the trance work, whilst others use a reclining or comfortable chair. I prefer to use a massage couch and am lucky to have one in each of the therapy rooms where I work.
Oh, and I don’t look like Sigmund Freud.
Put simply, hypnosis is the act of guiding someone into a hypnotic trance, whereas hypnotherapy combines hypnosis with some form of talking therapy (psychotherapy)
So, when you see a hypnotherapist, the session usually starts with the talking therapy, eg psychoanalysis, CBT, NLP, counselling or Solution Focused therapy. This is designed to provide you with some level of insight into your situation.
Once the talking therapy is complete, the therapist will then use hypnosis, guiding you into a relaxed trance. This is a very powerful state, which provides the ideal environment for your mind to assimilate what’s been discussed and gain a fresh perspective.
Both elements are equally as important, although it’s not unusual for clients to believe that it’s all about the hypnosis. So, if you are seeking hypnotherapy, don’t be surprised if at least half of the therapy session involves talking with the therapist.
The same principle applies to the difference between hypnotherapists and hypnotists. Generally speaking, the word ‘hypnotist’ refers to someone who performs stage hypnosis as a form of entertainment, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule. There are hypnotherapists who refer to themselves as hypnotists as a matter of personal preference.
Merging talking therapy with hypnosis results in a very powerful combination, and of course the hypnosis is usually incredibly relaxing and enjoyable.