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Psychiatry and hypnotherapy

This is a TED talk by Dr Daniel Amen who uses SPECT scanning to look at the brain and identify potential causes of difficult and criminal behaviour. Why would I, as a hypnotherapist, dare to tackle psychiatry as it is currently practised? For three reasons:

  1. As Dr Amen says, psychiatry is the only medical specialty where the the specialists do not actually examine the organ they are treating.

  2. As someone else pointed out (please forgive me for not remembering who), 'the dirty little secret of psychiatry is that it doesn't cure anything', it only manages symptoms.

  3. I took a friend many years ago to a hospital Accident & Emergency ward late at night as he was feeling very depressed and had recently attempted suicide, waited several hours for him to be seen by a psychiatrist who pronounced him to be low risk. I then drove my friend to his home. I got a phone call from the police the next day informing me that he had once again attempted suicide. Fortunately, he survived and is still going strong.

So, if I am a bit scathing about the current state of psychiatry which, as Dr Amen says, tends to look at clusters of symptoms and is in that respect no more advanced than in Abraham Lincoln's day, it is understandable.

I may not have had access to brain scans, but I have studied and qualified in EEG neurofeedback. This is a controversial technique, as some say that the evidence for it is slight or non-existent. As with most of these things, anyone who has actually practised it or experienced it would beg to differ. I decided I would rather be a better hypnotherapist than split my practice and be in effect a technician. I no longer use it in my hypnotherapy practice also partly because I do not have the space to store the equipment at work, and carrying in a mobile kit rapidly became a chore, but I never had any doubts about how powerful neurofeedback is as a technique.

So my main point is this: that from an observer's perspective, psychiatry seems to be a muddle. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) currently at DSM-V, 5th edition is put out by the American Psychiatric Association. Every edition is larger and contains arbitrary decisions, such as that grief lasting for more than 6 months is now classified as a disorder (a decision that was criticised by British psychiatrists. Not only that, but it is partly constructed to fit in with the US medical insurance and billing system. If you invent a condition, you can then treat it and charge for it. This may have little or nothing to do with the best way of supporting a patient's mental health.

Having said this, if a client comes to me and is on medication which is helping them to function, then I welcome it, because it actually makes it easier for me to work with them. If it is causing them problems or is ineffective it's up to them to consult their primary carer, usually their GP, in order to try to get it changed. However, the fact remains that medication and talk therapy can be relatively feeble and generally do little more than manage psychological conditions. Hypnotherapy can on occasion produce rapid and spectacular results. This will not usually be the case where there is physical damage to the brain, which is what Dr Amen locates and identifies. It would be a great step forward if there were a more structured connection between neurology, the study of the brain, and psychiatry, the treatment of the mind.

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