“I can use my computer again.”
Brief Hypnotherapy with Super Anxiety
by Angela Wu, LMFT
Sean was in front of me, looking down at the carpet. “I am afraid that I cannot use my computer anymore. Last night I spent almost four hours downloading all kinds of antivirus software, and when I got up in the morning, I was worried the software could bring more viruses to my computer. I reformatted my computer and worried that I erased my data, which I did not back up.” As an engineer, Sean knew his data was safe, but could not help worrying about it.
As he talked about his worries and fears, I had him describe a typical day, so that I could have a sequence of common events. I also obtained information on his background. He has a loving and academically-oriented Chinese family and he had not experienced major trauma in childhood. Yet, I agreed with him that our world is not a safe one. There are hackers and viruses everywhere. I told him that he was being extremely careful, and that his goal would be to regulate his worry by spending 30 minutes a day worrying about random things.
So he set aside two hours in the morning to worry, two hours in the afternoon, and four hours every night. I asked him if he could find a safe place to visit. He went into trance. His safe place is a quiet lawn with a pond, a bench, and the warmth of the sun. I told him his thoughts would affect his body.
The following week, Sean said he was spending less time worrying about his computer, but more time fretting about his health. He washed his clothes several times a day. The safe place seems to help him calm down. I told him any change is good. I asked him in trance to envision a favorite face; he saw his parents comforting him, assuring him that he is safe. Over the next few sessions he reported that he was sleeping better, no longer washing his clothes repeatedly, and started to go to church to meet people. I encouraged him to walk during his lunch hour. He said that he was talking more to his friends in China and noticed that the worries randomly come and go, about four hours a day. I told him change is good and that things may get worse again before they get better.
By session six, he did not notice the morning worry and used deep breathing and his safe place to handle random worries. I suggested he might want to schedule a time for worry to visit, and to send worry home when the visit is over. I told him that if relapse happens, it is normal, and he said that he invited the worry to come, but his mind was distracted by plans for dinner, taking a walk, and playing video games with friends.
By session eight he happily said, “There is a big improvement.” He traveled with a friend and had a good trip. I initiated a deep trance, just for fun. I asked him to come back every other week and reminded him that a relapse can happen any time. When he reported random worries I said that he was a very responsible per- son and needed his work to be perfect, and that he should take advantage of being perfect and avoid getting caught in too much work.
After 11 sessions, feeling much more relaxed with his life, Sean can handle little worries with deep breathing and a safe place. He decided to discontinue sessions, as he is feeling normal and relaxed, accepting himself as a very detailed and responsible person, and is making travel plans.
by Eric Greenleaf, PhD
Angela Wu demonstrates the best of brief, strategic, MRI-inspired hypnotic psychotherapy. She preempts relapse by predicting it, and reframes anxiety to its other human meaning of responsibility in living among others. Her hypnotic work is straightforward, and rests on her client’s discovery of the characteristics of a safe place and supportive relationships. That both safety and support can be imagined fully in trance, is an elegant counterpoint to the imagined worries that brought her client to her in the first place.
Angela Zhe Wu, LMFT
Angela Wu is in private practice at MRI, in Palo Alto, CA, where she provides psychotherapy to individuals, couples, and families of diverse, cultural backgrounds. She speaks English and Mandarin, and is skilled in crisis counseling, family therapy, gestalt, EMDR, hypnotherapy, and art therapy.
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Eric Greenleaf, PhD
Eric practices in Albany, CA, and has seen patients for 50 years. He directs the Milton H. Erickson Institute of the Bay Area and teaches internationally. Since 1988, he has studied trance rituals and healing in Bali. Dr. Green- leaf serves on the Board of the New Bridge Foundation, a comprehensive substance abuse treatment center in Berke- ley, CA. Milton H. Erickson, MD, chose Greenleaf to re- ceive the first Milton H. Erickson Award of Scientific Excellence for Writing in Hypnosis from the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis.