The two people I’m talking about this month both came to me for hypnotherapy for itching – but that’s about all they did have in common.
Will* was reaching the end of his tether with the itching in his feet, shins, and calves. “It’s there all the time” he told me. “It’s the first thing I notice when I get out of bed, and the last thing before I eventually get to sleep. The only real relief I get is when I scratch it, or if I get in a really hot bath, but it never really lasts. And it’s not going to get any better, because it’s about my diabetes.”
Will told me that his circulation had been affected by the condition, and that was why the itching was there “all the time”. It was certainly what had caused it, but a lot of what was perpetuating it were his attempts to get some relief – the scratching and the hot baths.
Scratching feels good at first because it blocks the itching signal, and any pain also acts as a distraction. However, there are two problems with scratching. Firstly, it can prompt serotonin production, which can increase sensitivity to itching.
Secondly, when we scratch the skin it becomes inflamed, and inflammation prompts itching. Scratching then increases our itching, and our sensitivity to it at the same time. “I understand that” Will told me, “but how can I break the habit?”
Will didn’t want to just try and break the scratching habit, he wanted to tackle the itching at its source. The technique he decided on was based on one I’ve successfully used for phantom limb pain. It took Will four visits, updating and refining what he was doing every time, and working with a recording of the session in between. That was exactly what he wanted, and as a result he’s broken the itch/scratch cycle that he thought he’d be stuck with.
This approach wasn’t appropriate for Wendy* though. She came to see me about a very specific itch. “I’m finding myself scratching it without even realising it, and it’s so embarrassing because of where it is. Do I have to tell you where it is for you to help me?”
Wendy didn’t have to tell me – partly because it didn’t make a huge difference, and partly because she’d already leant forward twice and vigorously scratched her bottom. When she realised she had she was mortified. “I’ve been doing it at work all the time, and they’re saying it’s putting customers off and unhygienic looking. That’s why I’ve got to get it sorted out quickly.”
Satisfied that the underlying cause of the itching was being treated by her GP I was able to help Wendy pretty much straight away. We used a similar technique from psoriasis and eczema, where she learned to make her hand feel cold at will, and to use this to numb the affected area. Within two days she’d broken the scratching habit, and her skin was beginning to heal. Not only that but she was back out in front of customers again, the part of her job she really enjoys.
* Will’s and Wendy’s real identities have been protected, and they are happy to share their stories.
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