Why I treat eating disorders with hypnotherapy by Bianca Skilbeck.

Why I treat eating disorders with hypnotherapy by Bianca Skilbeck.

There are many different types of therapy readily available to choose from, for those seeking help. In fact a quick search on google will quickly lead you to all sorts of options, from the more commonly known avenues of CBT, ACT and relationship counselling to lesser known techniques such as gestalt therapy, art therapy, coherence therapy; the list goes on.

So as a therapist specialising in the treatment for eating disorders, why do I use hypnotherapy?

As a hypnotherapist starting out, I was always aware of the powers of using hypnosis for the assistance in quitting smoking, overcoming bad habits and of course stress management and relaxation. However, what I discovered when I completed training with The Australian Centre for Eating Disorders (ACFED), was just how applicable hypnosis could also be for these much more complex disorders and how hypnosis actually has a much broader range of applications than many people might expect. When a person is suffering from an eating disorder; their behaviour with food is only a symptom of much deeper issues going on. Often there are issues with addiction, habit, anxiety, stress, self-esteem, body image and sometimes trauma, to name a few. What ACFED taught me, was just how complex eating disorders are, but how many of the ways that I was already working with my clients could be incorporated in to an appropriate eating disorder treatment plan.

Hypnosis, coupled with counselling and good rapport with the therapist can help to uncover many of the negative thought patterns and behaviours which lie at the foundation of an eating disorder; providing the eating disorder sufferer with resources, tools and a newfound resilience that they may not have realised that they had.

One of the first things that people often ask me is;

How does hypnosis work? How can a person can walk away from an addiction, habit or even a lifelong problem and put it behind them?

I explain that in order to understand the answer to this question, it is imperative to first understand this one principle; hypnosis in and of itself is not therapy, and it is no magic pill or ‘quick fix’.

Hypnosis is a ‘vehicle’ to deliver therapy; a vehicle for change.

Counselling alone is fantastic when aiming to understand the intricacies of a problem at hand. Talking through a problem assists in gaining an understanding on an intellectual level. It helps to strategise new ways of responding to a problem, as well as gain an understanding of how and why the problem exists. These are all important steps to recovery.

However, as many of you who have experienced any addictive, obsessive or compulsive habit or thought pattern know; understanding the problem at an intellectual or conscious level can sometimes only take you so far. The reason for this is that many of the deeper emotions, beliefs or values that drive unhelpful habits, addictions or thought processes, are sitting in the subconscious level of the mind. These self-sabotaging behaviours exist as a result of underlying beliefs, values or experiences which make up the ‘blueprint’ of who we are. When we identify and directly address these underlying causes behind behaviour, we have the opportunity to begin to address and change that behaviour.

This is where I use hypnosis as the perfect complement to traditional counselling. When a person is put in to a hypnotic state or a ‘trance’, the mind becomes more receptive and open to change; open to new ways of seeing the problem and finding a solution that works on an individual level.

But what does it feel like? Will I be asleep or unconscious? Will I remember the session?

Hypnosis feels great! It is a relaxed and natural state to experience. Some people may experience a feeling of weightlessness, whilst others may experience a feeling of heaviness or loss of sensation all together; everyone’s experience is different.

You are neither asleep, nor unconscious; you are experiencing a ‘guided daydream’ of a sort. This is a relaxed and natural state to be in and one that we enter in and out of many times throughout the day in fact. Just think, how many times have you driven from one place to the next and not recalled much of the trip? Or watching TV, you suddenly realise that you have ‘zoned out’? Hypnotherapy is not dissimilar to these experiences, except that this altered state of consciousness is used to implement positive change.

Many people, who have experienced hypnosis for therapeutic benefit, actually remember all or most of what was said during their session and report feeling relaxed and rejuvenated afterwards.

But is it safe? Will you be controlling my mind?

These are two of the most common questions. Yes, hypnosis is very safe. During the hypnotic state, a therapist such as myself will use positive suggestion to implement change in your life and adjust negative belief systems. These suggestions will naturally be filtered through the subconscious mind, so if at any point there were to be a negative or harmful suggestion that contradicted your core values, this suggestion would simply be rejected by your internal belief system.

In other words, I cannot make you do something that you do not want to do.

So this brings me to the everyday work that I do with my clients who are suffering from eating disorders.

In some regard, when we think of eating disorders, we think of the emaciated teenage girl; held tight by the grips of anorexia, wasting away. And certainly, anorexia is a serious illness. In fact, it is well known amongst eating disorder professionals, that anorexia is the most fatal of all mental illnesses. (https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa)

However, as ACFED teaches; eating disorders come in many shapes and forms and what I see far more often are the ‘over-eating’ disorders. Binge eating disorder. Bulimia. And everything in between that may not be categorised in the strictest sense and thereby falls under the curious acronym, FEDNEC (feeding or eating disorder not elsewhere classified)

In fact, it is estimated that 7 out of 10 eating disorders which are ‘of clinical significance’ do not conform to the exact definition of Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder.

Eating disorders in the FEDNEC category can be serious eating disorders and may include a combination of characteristics or symptoms typical of Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge eating disorder but may not meet all of the criteria for diagnosis. Conditions such as orthorexia, which is a dysfunctional or disruptive obsession to eat ‘well’, and night-time binge eating disorder, would fall into the FEDNEC category.

In terms of the fallout from such eating disorders, what I see of the consequences can be just as serious. Depression, anxiety, difficulty in managing emotions, relationships, the responsibilities of daily life, and much more.

So I ask the question; why on earth aren’t we talking about this more?

This is in some ways, a silent epidemic. In Mission Australia’s 2015 National Youth Survey, body image was identified as one of the top three personal concerns that young Australians have, for the sixth year in a row (http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/australia-is-going-backwards-on-national-youth-body-image/), and there are some estimates that tell us that up to 1 million Australians at any given time are suffering from an eating disorder (https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/key-research-a-statistics).

Well let’s start with the misconceptions, and how many of these have you heard?

  • Eating disorders only affect women.
  • People with an eating disorder are just looking for attention.
  • People with an eating disorder have a choice.
  • Eating disorders are just about food.
  • If someone around me had an eating disorder, I’d be able to tell.

So which ones are correct? That’s right – none of them. All of these misconceptions tell us; we need to start the conversation.

June 2nd 2016 marked a significant date for the awareness of eating disorders, and that is that it is the very first World Eating Disorder Action Day. (http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/)

World Eating Disorder Action Day (#WeDoAct) is a day to start a conversation. A conversation dedicated to providing accurate information about the ways in which eating disorders are understood and perceived. A conversation promoting awareness. A conversation which fosters partnerships around the world, designed to inspire change.

So what do you do if you suffer from an eating disorder? What do you do if a loved one or even your child is suffering from an eating disorder; how can you seek treatment?

This is where hypnotherapy steps in. Hypnotherapy, as is the case with most forms of psychotherapy, is a collaborative process where the client and the therapist work together to understand and achieve the best outcome for the client. Of course, no guarantees can ever be given (and be wary of the hypnotherapist who says that they can guarantee – they’re taking you for a ride!!). However, so long as the client is open, ready and willing to welcome change, then fantastic results can be achieved.

As Jane, 24, a sufferer of bulimia for the past seven years testifies:

“My eating disorder was always something I couldn’t change from the surface, it was so hard to wade through an ocean of conflicting emotions and thought to really address the negative behaviours and feelings I was having.  Hypnotherapy was almost a last resort for me, but I remember leaving the first session and just feeling lighter.  It was as though the weight was lifting slowly, and I could see more about the why I was the way I was.  Bianca has helped me sift through nearly 7 years of bad habits and negative thoughts to find a resilience within myself that I didn’t know existed as I had shut it down myself. This helped me immeasurably in both the long and short term to develop my own voice and really stand up to my problems”

Rebecca, 43, a sufferer of binge eating disorder for most of her life agrees:

“My whole life, since I was a child, I’ve had a negative relationship with food. Being bullied from primary school onwards about my weight, you can imagine only ever compounded this. Food was the only way that I knew how to comfort myself and ease my pain; it was my best friend, but also my worst enemy. Over the years, I saw a couple of counsellors and I read every self-help book under the sun, but still, nothing worked. My compulsive habits around overeating ruled my life, and more than that, they were ruining my physical and mental health. It was only when I began a program of hypnotherapy with Bianca that I started to actually identify what was going on for me; why it was happening and most importantly, how to move forward so as this didn’t destroy my life any longer. During our sessions, I was able to explore my relationship with food, and after sessions, I was given exercises, readings and hypnosis tapes which really forced me to confront what was going on. I can’t say that everything is perfect now, but the difference between now and when I began therapy is unbelievable to me. I never thought that I would be able to say that I could trust myself with food or feel positive about myself at all, but I’m getting closer and closer to this every day”

Of course, it is important to find a hypnotherapist who:

  1. You feel comfortable with.
  2. Is appropriately qualified and experienced
  3. Is certified with an appropriate regulating body such as the AHA (http://ahahypnotherapy.org.au/) or the AACHP (http://www.aachp.com/)    and
  4. Has appropriate and specific training in treatments for eating disorders, such as the training provided by The Australian Centre for Eating Disorders, (http://acfeb.com)

Let it be clear; as with any form of therapy, your therapist is not able to force you to make any changes, or to ‘fix’ you. When I use hypnosis, it is in such a way that it puts the power back in to your hands. It provides ways of getting you in touch with your own resources, so as you can overcome the very thing which may once have seemed impossible to overcome. It gives you the strength to be able to stand up in your own life and say, yes, I am in control of this, and it is me who owns my recovery.

Bianca is a Hypnotherapist and Counsellor, who has a special interest in eating disorders and weight management. If you would like to know more about Bianca, please follow the link to her site at www.freedomfromfood.com.au