Michael: First of all, Tony, thank you very much for joining us this morning to talk about palliative care – something that I’m really interested in because it’s something that I see a real potential for but that I don’t get involved in too much – So I’m really interested in what you’ve got to say and share.
Can you kick off by introducing yourself?
Tony: Yes. My name is Tony Alexander, I am a therapist and trainer, and for what we are here to talk about today – I practice hypnotherapy in the Lakelands daycare hospice in Corby, in Northamptonshire.
Michael : What do you think is important about what you do?
Tony : One problem facing cancer patients – which are the type of patients that I face mostly in the daycare hospice – is that they are on a treadmill of going to treatments and scans and tests, and it’s very much about allowing other people to do things to them. I partly see my purpose in being in the hospice is to help them find and practice things that they can do for themselves even though they don’t have a knowledge of drugs and medicine – there are things that they can do for themselves in between these visits to hospital.
Or if those visits are over, there are still things that they can do at home.
Michael : OK, so it’s very much something that helps put them in control?
Tony : Yes, that’s the name of the game – that they feel that they are a bit more in control, after doctors and consultants and surgeons and nurses, apparently being in control of them and their bodies.
Michael : Where is it that you do it and are there any particular times that you do it?
Tony : I’m fairly constrained for the time because the patients tend to arrive at ten in the morning and by three-thirty they are away, so I tend to be working with them in that central part of the day. And I have a room in which to work – it’s a library room and it’s quite small and intimate.
So I invite them into my space. And if they’re new, or new to each other, I might jolly them along a little bit by telling them that it doubles up at Christmas time as Santa’s grotto.
Michael : And what are some of the things that you do with them? Really top level – What are some of the things that you do with these people?
Tony : I act as a counsellor, so I give them the opportunity to talk about their disease and the rather tired question of how they feel about their disease. And I give them the opportunity to choose some symptoms or topics that we can work on together – for example anger or guilt – that’s a popular one – bowel disturbance problems, sleep pattern distinctness.
So we have those topics that we offer in our sessions. And initially we offer a suite of six sessions, and we have something to address.
And then a major objective of mine is to introduce the clients to a state of hypnotic suggestion and relaxation –
And also part of my role is unashamedly as a teacher. I teach them hypnosis and a group of exercises that they can then use later on, which we’ll talk on later, and they can use at home. And sometimes it’s a very practical teaching like basic breathing techniques, so hopefully after their time with me they continue this on their own indefinitely.
Michael : OK. Could you run us through – I don’t want to make it a real client – but just to run through some of the things that you would do during a session.
Tony : Once we are established after the first session which of course must be a getting-to-know-you session, and of course, a rapport building session, usually (Although I can juggle it around.) usually at the start of the session I will ask them to re-rate (Because they will have done it before) their perception of the severity of the topics that they have chosen for us to work on.
Then when we have done that I will ask them to re-rate their perception of well-being. And that is the real reason that I am allowed into the building – it is my main and recognisable purpose to help my clients increase their perception of well being. That’s it really – no more than that.
So once those rating have been done at the beginning of the session I may also ask them the presupposition ‘What’s changed since we last met?’ And then we will pick one particular topic – maybe one that doesn’t seem to be easing too much, we might chose one of those to work in the first half of the session – discussing it, going into the details of it, how it’s changing or not changing.
And then then the second half of the meeting – roughly speaking – as I’m a hypnotherapist we do some hypnotherapy. And again we will do some relaxation, and maybe some visualisation to help with the topic or topics that they have chosen. Or to reinforce, or introduce them to a new topic that they can try at home.
Michael : OK. Can you give me a brief idea of a visualisation that you might take them through?
Tony : One can be for boasting the immune system, coming under the rather ugly heading of PNI – Pycho Neuro Imunology. And I will take them through a visualisation where they will have a wide amount of choice, while in the hypnotic state, to imagine in their own way, their immune system attacking or dealing with cancer cells in their own body.
Now for some of my clients there is not the objective of any sort of total recovery or cure, but nevertheless it is part of taking control and if their quality of life is improved because their immune system is working better then it can still be worth doing.
Michael : OK. So once you’ve taken them through a visualisation and you’re coming towards the end of the session, what else do you do? how do you end the session?
Tony : It depends on whether we start to launch off into something new because when the client returns to the fully waking state, sometimes they will be so comfortable that they would really like to stay where they are. And occasionally if I don’t immediately have any clients following on, and with their agreement I will allow the client to stay in the chair and I will leave the room and they can relax.
And sometimes of course, having been in that hypnotic state, having been in touch with their unconscious mind it might bring up some issue or something that they want to say or discuss. That has to be brought fairly quickly to a close if I have another client or I can always make a note and say to them ‘When are we going to meet again?’ If we don’t have an appointment elsewhere, we can tackle this one next week.
It does vary. Sometimes you need to give things some time to chill. Some times its sparked them into wanting to discuss more things.
Michael : Looking back at yourself in doing this, what are some of the capabilities that you’ve brought up over time that has enabled you to do this?
Tony : I hope rapport building. A big aspect of NLP. That they will trust me enough – not only to talk about aspects of the disease, because they can talk about that in great detail with the nurses at the hospice, that’s what the hospice and the nurses are there for- but also to talk about other aspects of their lives which may be they haven’t discussed with anybody else before.
So there is rapport building – and needing to have the skill of empathy rather than sympathy. The old metaphor being that if we’re sympathetic with someone – going with the metaphor of the good Samaritan – It’s not much good seeing a person in the ditch and getting in the ditch with them out of sympathy, because then we’ll both be in the ditch. If we retain empathy we’ll have at least one foot on the road way, and offer a hand to the person in the ditch to help them out.
So sometimes I am told some quite scary or unpleasant things about the disease, but I have to be sure to have empathy and not sympathy, so that they know that I am with them, but that I am not in the ditch with them.
So that is another feature that I need to be able to do. Also hopefully to have the skill to get them to relax. They offer do say that my voice is very calming. So that is another skill that I am hoping to develop.
And also with visualization to bring some theatre skills to it, so it doesn’t sound too much of the voice beautiful or too much outwardly mesmeric, but in giving colour and depth to what I’m saying – and that enables them with their rep systems to make the most of what we’re doing.
Michael : What do you believe about yourself when you’re doing this?
Tony : I believe that I have the ability to do it, and I can’t say that without smiling. And I go on from there – I have the ability to get into rapport with the clients. I have the ability to be empathic. I have the ability to listen. I also have the ability to teach and I have the ability to take them into a quiet and comfortable place, from which they say that they benefit.
Michael : And what do you believe about them?
Tony : I belief that – especially with the cancer patients – that they have learnt an awful lot about themselves. I believe that they are in certain aspects, tougher than the rest of us that do not have cancer. I believe and find that they are very capable to talk about their disease in a very rational way.
And when I went to an organisation specifically to become qualified as a hypnotherapist, to work with cancer patients, I was told – we were told – “You will find that cancer patients are highly motivated.” and how true that is!
I find that cancer patients are highly motivated to have a go at whatever crazy thing it is that I want to introduce to them. And they have very little expectation of whatever it will work or not, because they’ve already found being in palitative care that western medicine has said ‘Look, we don’t have any more shots left in our locker. You may have heard that we have wonderful things that we can do, but now we have found that the wonderful things that we can do for you will be to help make you comfortable, but they are not going to cure you.”
So cancer patients do not have any great expectations. On the other hand when I am working in my private practice, maybe with people that want to stop smoking or maybe that have low self esteem – They’re a bit the other way round. They have high expectations as me as a therapist that I am going to wave a magic wand for them. Although on the other hand they may no be particularly motivated to do the work themselves.
Michael : Interesting. Another question. When you do this, who are you? Do you have a particular mission or vision as you’re working in close sessions?
Tony : My basic mission as I’ve said before is to help my clients to gain a greater appreciation of well being. Who am I? I take a couple of metaphors from Native American tradition and a set of medicine cards that were given to me by a former hypnotherapy supervisor.
And I’ve learned from those medicine cards about two animals in particular. One in is the bear. Evidently in the North American tradition the bear is an animal associated with introspection and wisdom because a bear spends a portion of each year hibernating in a cave or on a place on it’s own.
I work with clients, as I’ve said, in a rather small room like a library and it has a cave-like environment and feel about it. So when I’m being the therapist I see myself being the bear – and I provide an environment of introspection.
I’ve also learned from this North America tradition that a wolf is a teacher, which surprises me somewhat. And so a wolf howls, the world teaches, the wolf also goes out ahead as some kind of scout, and scouts the land – which enables the creature to be a teacher.
And sometimes in my sessions when I am teaching breathing techniques or I am teaching certain visualisations I change hats and become a wolf, a teacher. Those are the kind of characters that I feel I am when I am working.
Michael : OK. We’ve talked about what it is you do – To wrap it up as we move to the end is there anything that you’d like to emphasise because you think it’s important, or anything that you’d like to add because you think it’s important?
Tony : What I’d like to emphasise is the strength that cancer patients have. It’s really quite extraordinary, the way that they come to cope with the disease and be able to talk about it. That makes them different, they makes them special from us, who would say ‘How unfortunate, how dreadful to have this condition.”
Cancer patients actually have it, and are dealing with it, and are very often open to new ideas. They have often led lives that were very much about looking after other people. I’m often told by patients that before the cancer came along their lives were all about looking after their spouse, their partner, their children, their job – all of those – and it’s only once cancer came along that they realised that they had to stop and pay attention to themselves.
So I guess that is the other aspect that we are talking about – That I am helping my patients to pay attention – And that my patients have already paid attention to themselves, and probably decades before, they were not.
Michael : OK. Now you’ve been kind enough to talk about your experience for fifteen-twenty minutes – Is there anything that you’re doing, that may relate to what you’ve said, or maybe something completely different that you’d like to bring to the audiences attention – or even plug for our listeners?
Tony : I think just to mention briefly some of the other things that I do in what I might call my general practice where I work at a complementary medical centre, and that adds some balance to what I do where I do enjoy working with a lot of clients who may have low self esteem and come along wanting to build up their self esteem.
And also, though I don’t deal with a lot of addictions – addictions I find is a fascinating subject. And people with addictions can draw comfort if they are to know that perhaps it is just a metaphor – but when we are looking with Part Theory in NLP, the way to view addition is that the addiction is not all of them, it’s just part of them.
And people with an addiction can gain great comfort from knowing that it’s not all of them that is doing this dreadful thing, it’s just part of them. And another aspect, which of course we believe in NLP is that behind every behaviour there is a positive intention – So no matter how damaging, or even lethal a behaviour may ultimately be – to know that behind it that behaviour is trying to help that person cope with their life in some kind of way is also reassuring.
So that’s another aspect of the work that I do that I enjoy, though the bulk of what I’m doing is in palliative care.
Michael : And are happy to give your contact details if anybody wants to contact you?
Tony : Yes, thank you Michael. I think that probably the easiest way is just to refer to my website – From my website people can then contact me if they would like to, or even make an appointment to see me at the complementary medical centre where I work in Milton Keynes and there is a link from my website to that clinic, called Alternatives.
So my website address is Tony Alexander, Hypnotherapy/Psychotherapy Training and English as a Foreign Language
Michael : Thank you very much.
Tony : Thank you Michael. Thank you for your time and the opportunity for this talk.
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