Dr Stephen Black - Asthma, hay fever and hypnotherapy
Type of Spiritual Experience
I think the glib statement that it was a psychosomatic illness is only half the truth. I think there may be a hereditary element here too and that the stress and grief of separation had compromised the lady’s immune system so much she succumbed to its effects. It is more than likely that her emotional state would have also affected her son.
Dr Black was a doctor and a trained psychologist practising at the Westminster Hospital and West London Hospital
A description of the experience
Dr Stephen Black – Mind and Body
Mason’s patient Mrs R was a housewife with one son aged 4 years and she had recently separated from her husband.
She complained of incapacitating asthma and hay-fever from May to July yearly, for 12 years. Her only previous illnesses were mumps and measles in childhood-but her brother had had asthma and her son had suffered from infantile eczema during the first year of life.
It was indeed a typical psychosomatic illness according to most of Halliday's criteria. The object of our experiment was to determine what happened to the allergic skin reactions when it was also shown to be a psychosomatic illness according to my criterion-and symptomatic relief was produced by hypnotic suggestion. Since Mrs. R. was a deep-trance hypnotic subject, I was assured by Mason that this would almost certainly be the outcome of such treatment.
It was a serious, if seasonal, illness-and from May to July each year Mrs. R. was totally prevented from performing her normal duties as a housewife and latterly as a mother. She became during this period a "chronic invalid" subject to prolonged attacks of respiratory distress, which occurred mainly at night and left her nervous and exhausted from lack of sleep. She would spend whole nights "sitting up in a chair gasping for breath" - and even if in the daytime she had temporary relief, throughout her 'hay-fever season' she was never without a "blocked nose" and "running eyes", with occasional itching round the eyes and long bouts of uncontrollable sneezing, which she thought "would never stop".
For 10 years Mrs. R. had been unsuccessfully treated each year with a variety of unidentified pills and inhalants-as well as ephedrine gr.1/2 three-hourly, which she had taken fairly constantly from May to July. Then in the spring of 1956, she was investigated for specific allergies by skin testing with extracts of various common allergens marketed by C. L. Bencard Ltd. In this way she was found to be sensitive to pollens normally present in the atmosphere during May, June and July-the equivalent extracts being designated by Bencard as B2 (grasses), B3 (trees) and B8 (spring flowers). But the effects on the patient were said to be mostly due to B2 (grasses).
Before her 'hay-fever season' of 1956, Mrs. R. had been given "specific hyposensitisation treatment" by injection. But although there was "some relief of symptoms" as reported by Bencard Ltd., this was not reported by the patient herself. What interested me in particular, however, was the statement from Bencard's clinic, that in spite of this treatment the skin reactions had persisted. Six months later -in January 1957-they were still present.
Mrs. R. had in fact some insight into the psychosomatic nature of her condition and, because of the recent breakup of her marriage, she now viewed the coming summer with considerable anxiety.
It was for this reason that her own doctor had referred her to Mason 'for hypnosis'.
On examination in early March, I found the patient to be in good health-but with slight evidence of the 'barrel chest' common to asthmatics and a raised eosinophil-count of 10 per cent instead of the normal 3 per cent. Eosinophils are one of the five main varieties of white cells in the blood and it is an empirical and largely unexplained observation in haematology that they increase in number in ITH allergy.
During the last part of March and throughout April, Mrs. R. attended weekly and was hypnotised by Mason who established a strong rapport. During the last week of April and the first week of May-immediately before the beginning of her usual attacks – DSUH [Direct Suggestion under Hypnosis] was then given for the first time concerning the relief of symptoms.
Concentrating on the description provided by the patient herself, Mason said: "This year you will have no difficulty with your breathing, either at night or during the daytime-this year you will not have a blocked nose, your eyes will not run, there will be no itching round the eyes and you will not have sneezing attacks".
This precise formula was repeated many times over in the course of each treatment lasting 30 minutes.
From May onwards, such treatment was given weekly for 10 weeks until July 8th. During the whole of this period, for the first time in 12 years, Mrs. R. was completely free from any of the symptoms of asthma and hay-fever - just as Mason had predicted. On the night of June 15th, however, after a "cold in the head", the patient had thought an "attack of asthma might be coming on" and had taken ephedrine gr.1/2 which she repeated in the morning. No asthma developed, whether due to the effects of the drug or not, and this was the only pharmacological treatment taken throughout a season during which she had been constantly on drugs for 11 years.