Virginia Veterans Hypnosis Project –Presentation

 “There are the physical wounds for which the Purple Heart is awarded. But, there are also the mental and emotional wounds that cannot be seen. They are caused by fear… The right-in-your-face kind of fear with seeing the loss of life of some of our country’s finest young men and women. The fear of just trying to stay alive and keep your brothers safe, those with whom you’ve fought side by side, day in and day out during the horror and confusion of combat. Then comes the reflecting back as to whether or not you made the right decision about having been able to save more lives. All these things will haunt a combat soldier for the rest of his life. The learning to live with all these things is hard to do, but it is important to do.”

Louis Balas, Viet Nam War Veteran…

In: Back From War: a Quest for Life after Death

By 1st Lt. Lee Alley, USA and Wade Stevenson. (Page 164-165). Exceptional Publishing, a division of The King Consortium. Second Edition 2006.

(Available at

Anyone who has worked with or among our military combat veterans knows, too well, the eliteness of this group of people. There is an unspoken bond that exists among them that will transcend most levels of friendships in the civilian world. More so, this is true in the world and society of the wartime warrior, regardless of the service they once belonged to. They are bound by frozen memories of a time and of events that would rob them of their youth and innocence forever. How can one put into words what it feels like to see your friend or comrade wounded, maimed or killed in an instant of time? One second there is a person with dreams and aspirations, sharing jokes and stories and then, in a flash, is reduced to a heap of broken parts.

In the normal world such an event merits being relieved of duty for an appropriate amount of time and there are ceremonies that help us to work our way through the shock of loss and the paralyzing grief. After a while, we are able to get up and move on with life. Little do we realize what a great privilege we enjoy. In war, that privilege is a luxury, too often, canceled by the urgency to get out of harm’s way before we are forced to join our cherished comrade. There can be no hesitation or time for regrets…. …Only to get out of the target zone alive. Unfortunately for many, this scenario may not be a onetime event but one that can be repeated many times in the course of one tour of duty in a war zone. Isn’t it ironic that we call combat assignments “tours”, as if we might easily find them in issues of Conde Nast and other travel and vacation magazines?

The duration of a veteran’s tour or even their assignment as a “combat soldier” or “non-combat soldier” has become a myth in the last forty years of warfare. There are no front lines anymore. Battles are not fought for possession of territory but for control of a vantage point for only a little while. Even the “enemy” has changed from a properly uniformed combatant to randomly dressed civilians, peasants and even children and small animals. The front line is wherever one runs into the enemy. Consequently, today’s soldier can lose friends even while relaxing in their own sleeping quarters or using the latrines. So in addition to the pressure of staying calm while under fire, our soldiers will experience the loss of feeling safe in any given place in the combat theatre. In time the lesson is learned that there is no safe place, no super weapons that can guarantee safety… especially to one’s mind and spirit.

At some point someone will call on our soon to be veterans and inform them that they can leave the game… put away the weapons and shields… take a shower and go home. And so begins the new war… the siege that takes place as an encampment is formed around the veteran’s mind and heart. “No one can know what you have experienced?”… How can they understand the smell of fear, death and gunpowder… the feeling of suppressed grief that crawls into the deepest recesses of the heart and mind …. the indelible sense of doubt, guilt, anger, shame and remorse that has no logical basis or comparison in the civilian world? These are memories that do not easily or peacefully go away with time. For some veterans there may still be enough residual life energy to be able to encapsulate the memories and stash them in some deep recess of their subconscious mind, hopefully never to be heard from again. All one has to do is find a way to feed it regularly so as not to be devoured or destroyed by the memory.

We are indebted to the Viet Nam Veterans who survived the war for their contribution to our understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, now a bonafide mental disorder in psychiatry’s

DSM-IV Diagnostic Manual. We are indebted too, because these men and women were to teach us that PTSD is not a onetime event but if left unrecognized and unmanaged, will surface years after the causal trauma, often with even more vigor than its immediate onset counterpart. Veterans who fall into the second group will be discharged from service and set out to marry, start careers and appear perfectly adjusted while burning a slow fuse fueled by hurt, sorrow, anger and an overwhelming sense of guilt growing in abject silence. For some this begins the path toward job dissatisfaction, marital and parenting issues, violence often linked to alcohol or drug abuse… and even crime. In a society that has become enthralled with thinking like accountants about cost savings, the above represents a viable threat to the nation’s economy. The social problems that develop in veterans with unhealed emotional wounds can be astounding as more and more public and private services are mobilized by the veteran’s deterioration of defenses. Enter the Hypnotists.

Stress is a pervasive disorder of the mind, heart and spirit. Its severity can range from an acute nuisance to a chronic debilitating force in the life of the victim. In the right circumstance, stress can kill.

The key asset of hypnosis is its great success in helping people to cope with stress. The process of hypnotic stress reduction and management is one of the most powerful and cost effective of the healing arts in both the world of traditional medicine and of alternative and complementary healing systems. We hypnotists require no expensive tools or medications other than our empathy, skill and knowledge and the cooperation and trust of the client. We are not depending on the presence of illness or disease to activate our service. In fact, we may be one of the few professions that teach the client how to do without us if all goes well in our therapeutic plan.

The Virginia Veterans Hypnosis Project arose out of a discussion among the members of the National Guild of Hypnotists Central Virginia Chapter one night in late 2008. We were looking for a project for World Hypnotism Day and realizing that we had started this planning too late, decided to announce our intention to start a program of hypnosis for veterans. What exactly did that mean? That became the topic of our meetings for the next six months. We realized that we would be in conflict with other clinical professionals if we wanted to enter the arena of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition many of us would not be qualified by knowledge or experience to treat clinical disorders. For many there was absolutely no knowledge or experience, personally or professionally, with the returning soldier. We then realized that we would be better utilized if we opened services in a new market. What was happening to the returning soldiers who did not have diagnosable PTSD? What about the stress of their loved ones who stayed home while they were gone. Very little is known about those experiences but enough was learned from the Viet Nam veterans to know that many of these soldiers and families were not yet clear of the woods of emotional damage and its accompanying stresses. We spend whole conventions talking about stress reduction and management techniques using hypnosis. Most of our clinical journal articles ultimately address stress as the target of our efforts. It is our area of expertise.

We decided that stress management and reduction would become our primary goal in the service to be provided to the veteran community. Clearly the project was too big for our small chapter; therefore why not offer it as a statewide endeavor, utilizing the myriad skills of all the hypnotists available in Virginia. In this way we would compound the consultative power of the group. We expected that out there would be hypnotists with unique knowledge and experiences that could be cross pollinated with other hypnotists. Then came the idea that with such a broad reach into the veteran community, we would probably identify a universe of people that could be statistically analyzed and presented to the major support systems like the Veteran Affairs Administration, National Institute for Mental Health, University researchers and the Armed Forces, interested in understanding what really happens to men and women in war and the nature, significance and price of their emotional wounds when they return to “the world” from the war.

In the past our society and many others have chosen to look the other way rather than try to understand why General Sherman’s words in the Civil War are still true: “War is Hell!” Perhaps the addendum that Viet Nam gave us is that that Hell is highly infectious, contaminating the mind and soul of the immediate victim and then everyone in his world. The cost to the Nation over the life span of one soldier, multiplies with each year that he is left to solve his pain alone. Soon we will take care of the soldier and activate police, courts, health and social systems beyond their budgets to cope with the spillover of this one person’s hidden pain and grief.

When we think of war, it is easy to imagine scenes of men and women on the battlefield and of everything I just described. But what happens back home where the soldiers’ real lives exist? What is the effect on spouses, parents, sibling and fiancées who have put their dreams on hold and who must continue to function in the shadow of dread that something terrible or fatal may happen to their loved one? Who do they talk with? Can they even share their thoughts safely, among themselves? Is it even safe to talk about such feelings lest they put a curse on their loved one in harm’s way? We Americans do not easily share our secret worries except with the most intimate of friends; sometimes not even them. What then is the effect on a family of carriers of secrets, who even when their soldier has come home safely, now must keep those fears hidden – each because the fear and hurt are still alive and perhaps, still dangerous. This is a population of Americans who are not well described by scientific or social science research systems. The impacts on their lives are dramatically narrated in the book: “Back from War: a Quest for Life after Death”, quoted earlier. These are the people who ask little to nothing from society but do need the solace of knowing that they are understood and cared about. Not all will need professional services as there may indeed be enough loving strength in the family to support the understanding and integration of their experience. Indeed those people will probably never need us in their lives. On the other hand it is to the brave souls and family members who are enduring the remains of battle in the darkness of their hearts and minds that we must reach out to. We cannot leave anyone behind.

In a recent inter action at a restaurant I had occasion to see, what seemed like two high school age young girls finishing an interaction with their mother, the cashier. They had gone through the door when one returned and said out loud, “Hey Mom…I love you”. Anyone with adolescents in their family knows how ready they are to get away from the presence of their parents, yet here was this unabashed statement of love for all to hear. When I commented on the interaction to the mother, she laughed and said they were worried about her since she had heart surgery. Their father had died a few years before. Then she said that neither was in high school. Both were veterans of the war in Iraq; one for two tours and the other with four… four years in a combat zone and not yet 25. The other news was that the senior one had been complaining of feeling out of place in her community… of feeling like she would be more comfortable back in the war! She had just agreed to return as a private contractor for the Army for six more months! Listen to your thoughts and internal reaction… and they are not even related to you… but it could be you. This is the kind of family system this program is going to be about.

Except for a few organizations of clinical professionals who practice hypnosis in their work, most hypnotists will not be licensed professional clinicians. The National Guild of Hypnotists, the largest of the hypnosis organizations, is made up of a wide range of people with previous careers. The “lay hypnotists” work from a very strong ethical code and very generous hearts and commitment to service. The work ahead will require less of the clinician’s mind and more of the empathic and intuitive heart so commonly found among hypnosis practitioners. However, a good heart and honest intention does not absolve us from competence and discipline necessary to provide the best possible service to clients.

A quick look at any of NGH’s annual convention catalogues will reveal that there are many ways of dealing with stress through hypnosis. What the VVHP is proposing is to identify common goals and modalities of hypnosis to be used by the participant hypnotists. A recording and intake system that is common to the project will allow us to gather information in a uniform way to prepare reports of our findings that can be shared with other professionals and agencies in the future. Ideally, the program will expand into other states in a reproducible manner that will build an increasingly more credible data base. The result will be better service and improvement of the veterans’ lives and an opportunity to demonstrate to the world the importance and value of hypnosis in accelerating healing.
The Plan.

Recruitment: We welcome any certified hypnotist who is interested in offering their skills or willingness to learn new skills to apply hypnotherapeutic principles and techniques to serve veterans and their families. Without the heart and desire for this work, only pain and frustration can result. A wide range of experience in life and in the profession of hypnotism is most welcome. One asset that cannot be taught is wisdom about life. This is one mission in which age can be a valuable asset.

Networking: At some point our newfound clients will present needs that are beyond the scope of care that we will be able to provide. It will be most helpful for our practitioners to develop referral relationships with other professional and clinical practices and agencies that can receive our clients to support those special needs. Once again this adds to the expansion of awareness and respect for the hypnosis profession at the same time that it facilitates support for the client and family.

Cross training: Today you will be exposed to a number of techniques which in reality are just the tip of the mountain of knowledge of successful hypnotic techniques available. Some will be more appropriate than others for the mission of managing stress and anxiety in our targeted population. Many of us will have a need to strengthen our knowledge or skill in special areas where others of us are more adept. One can never know it all and know it well. Exchanges of training serve to enhance the knowledge of our colleagues and reinforce the expertise of the teachers who, on another occasion will be the students.

As you will hear today the emotional health of the hypnotists is a vital key to providing high quality service to our clients. As important as learning hypnotic techniques, will be learning how to care for ourselves. For some, there may be the fear of being out of control because the material brought to us may seem unfathomable. Perhaps we have hidden misconceptions about the military and war. Our own sense of morality can become invasive in trying to understand the reality brought by the client …which is his /her reality. Countertransference can occur, causing us to give improper direction to the client. These factors can be offset by the exchange and consultation of a peer. Training can prepare us to better identify when the phenomenon is occurring. Out of so much exchanging can come the refinements that may be necessary for the special mission we are adopting.

Recording and data collection. If we are to be able to communicate effectively with each other and with agencies and professionals outside of our respective offices, it will be important to have a common language and style of recording our events. An initial history is most valuable in determining the needs of the client and choosing the right tools and techniques to apply. In some cases we may need to send the client back to their physician to assure that we are on safe ground, health wise, to proceed with hypnosis. In other cases the client may reveal, in response to our questions, other issues that may be germane to the hypnotic plan of action. Ultimately, a good history instrument collects demographics which can be helpful in formulating future plans for the population we wish to assist. A common Intake questionnaire can facilitate all of that.

What techniques are applied and the clients’ reactions are also valuable in forming this picture of the population we have chosen to address. Future choices or amendments of techniques can be made as we digest and discuss our findings. A uniform progress note such as the S.O.A.P. note can be an efficient way of recording our sessions and measuring success and failure.

Evaluation, Referral & Disposition. What happened as a result of our intervention? Where did the clients go afterward? Was there a need to send them for additional or ancillary services? How often did they do these things? How many came back after discharge? How many dropped out or quit prematurely? Once again, the answers to these questions can assist us in quality improvement and future planning.

For some hypnotists, there may be a bit of resistance to getting involved with this population because of the anxiety of not being in control for lack of knowledge or experience. For many, if not most of us, this will be a crisis of learning. No one can say, with certainty, what we will encounter because there is no road map other than anecdotal evidence. If we approach this project with reasoned calm, we will evolve with a system that continues to evolve, daily. We will learn the valuable art of consultation and clinical supervision by peers. We will grow our confidence as practitioners as we become more comfortable with realizing the full power of being a true professional with unique talents. We will reinforce how much we know and more important, how much more there is to know.

The power of hypnosis can be used to help the veterans to honestly reassess the memories and ultimately come to recognize the importance of forgiveness of others but more importantly…of themselves for having taken on responsibility that was not in their span of control nor could have been expected to be. One can come to accept the apparent randomness of war and the fact that no one person can control outcomes in war.

When I worked in the Veterans Hospital in New York, one of my vets with an almost criminal background said that he was drafted to serve in the Viet Nam war. “We weren’t supposed to make it back”, he said. He believed that society considered him and many like him “expendable” because he was already showing signs of having succumbed to his terrible life style since childhood. On the other hand, he was proud of his having been a very good soldier and of knowing when he went to fight, that Americans never leave a comrade behind. He survived the physical war in Viet Nam. I am not so certain that he survived the emotional war he came home with. In time, he may have joined the 36 men who died during my five year tenure in the hospital by suicide, suicide by police or by provoking their own murder. One thing is clear in my mind… He came home, along with all those others, to teach us and, in effect, pass the baton on to us. Now it is up to us to finish the race with these wonderful men and women who have come back and now, need us to bring them home. Listen to the words of Lt.Col. Hector Villareal, US Army Retired:Sometimes it may take for you to say “I am sorry” or “I forgive you” or “please forgive me.” Sometimes you may find you must say these words, but cannot now say them mouth-to-ear or heart-to- heart as you want because those to whom you want to say them have long been gone. However, because you say them, you may find the peace you are looking for. Let those words work sincerely in your own mind, and in your heart, and then peacefully, let it go.

Lt. Col. Hector Villarreal, US Army Retired

In: Back from War: a Quest for Life after Death

“>By 1st Lt. Lee Alley, USA and Wade Stevenson. (Page 164-165). Exceptional Publishing, a division of The King Consortium. Second Edition 2006.

(Available at

Andrew M. Leon, BSN, MS, CH
Palmyra, VA 22963
Tel: 434-962-2136



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