Why our Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice is pioneering hypnotherapy as a way for families to come to terms with bereavement

At our seven Sue Ryder hospices across the UK, end of life care is a core concern but, over our 65 years, we have become increasingly aware of the needs of those left behind when a loved one dies.

Our hospices routinely offer counselling to the bereaved and, in recent years, alternative therapies such as massage, reiki and reflexology – including, at our Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice in West Yorkshire, hypnotherapy.

For some who’ve experienced it, the results are transforming, as local blogger Stephen Whitehead discovered when he met Jacki Scholefield.

Manorlands volunteer hypnotherapist Amy Brown and patient Jacki Scholefield
Hypnotherapist Amy (left) with Jacki.

Jacki Scholefield’s husband Ron was admitted as an inpatient at Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice on 13th February 2018 and, when he died there on 4th March, Jacki felt she had died too.

“The whole purpose of my life had gone,” she explains. “For 30 years, Ron and I had done everything together. It was more than wanting to end my life: I felt as if I desperately didn’t want to be alive, and my mental and physical health began to plummet. 

“When Ron was in the hospice, the staff suggested I try the complementary therapies that they offered, but the only one that grabbed my attention was hypnotherapy – because I’d had a couple of sessions years before that I’d found beneficial – so I was put on the waiting list.  I’d been receiving counselling at Manorlands during the latter part of Ron’s illness and this continued after his death.

“A few weeks later,” she continues, “Kirsty, the Complementary Therapies Coordinator, phoned me to invite me to an appointment with their clinical hypnotherapist, Amy Brown − and Amy Brown saved my life.”

Meet hypnotherapist Amy Brown

Amy Brown runs The Power of Your Mind practice in Skipton, West Yorkshire. She trained as a clinical hypnotherapist in London after establishing a successful hypnobirthing practice, having used her techniques to calmly birth her own second son.

Five years ago, she and her husband decided to bring up their sons in her native Yorkshire and, three years later, Amy started volunteering her skills at Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice. 

“I wanted to give something back and it’s really nice to give back at a time when people’s lives are difficult,” Amy says. “When I first met Jacki, she was in pieces. If it hadn’t been for seeing to her dogs, I don’t think she’d have got out of bed. She worried me; so much so that, with her permission, I contacted her GP because it was important that I share the responsibility.

“Straight away, her GP was supportive and, in April 2018 – six weeks after Ron had died – Jacki and I embarked on a course of hypnotherapy that would last for nine months.”

Jacki’s nine-month journey

“I hold two clinics each month at Manorlands and see clients monthly for as many sessions as we feel necessary,” she explains. “Jacki’s progress to reconnect with her life and the outside world was gradual but, over time, she began to grieve for her husband rather than fighting the grief.”

Ron had had oesophageal cancer, which he had fought for eight months before he died. 

“Those eight months were distressing for Jacki too – especially towards the end – and, when I first met her, she was overwhelmed by her negative memories of Ron’s illness and of her guilt at being powerless to help him,” recalls Amy. “Jacki was clinging to those dark, negative memories in the belief that, if she let them go, she would somehow be betraying Ron, but those negative memories were supressing her positive ones of their years together.

“By working on her difficult emotions – accepting as well as releasing them – Jacki’s relationship towards her loss began to change with her positive memories reappearing. After nine months of therapy, Jacki was in a different place,” she adds. “It was wonderful to see and to have been a part of her journey.”

“When I emerged from that trance state, I felt lighter and less anxious, and that feeling has lasted to this day.”

Jacki’s son, John Burdett, had seen that his mother needed help and he encouraged her to take up any support that Manorlands had to offer so, with this in mind, she agreed to meet Amy.

“She made me welcome and comfortable, and we talked about Ron; about my feelings of anxiety and hopelessness; and how we might set about coping with them; and then she asked me if I would like to benefit from some hypnotherapy,” Jacki remembers.

“First, Amy relaxes you then she draws you into deeper and deeper relaxation through the way she talks and the scenarios she suggests. 

“I remember one pivotal scenario when, in trance, Amy led me in my imagination into a big beautiful library with a glass ceiling,” she says. “I was standing there and I could see books and pictures round the walls that contained all my negative experiences. Amy asked me to remove each one, experiencing the negative emotions that they evoked, and put them in a hamper in the middle of the floor. I followed these instructions very precisely, then, when I told Amy I had finished, she asked me to push the hamper through some double doors that led into a room containing a huge, roaring furnace. One by one, I was to throw the books and pictures into the furnace. 

“Every time I threw one in, it exploded like a brilliant display of fireworks and it made me feel lighter and happy,” she continues. “When Amy emerged me from that trance state, I still felt lighter and less anxious, and that feeling has lasted to this day. Amy’s skills and techniques are amazing.” 

“I talk to my clients both within and outside of the formal hypnotic state,” Amy explains. “In the uncluttered clarity of hypnosis, the problems, which lie in the subconscious, can be addressed more quickly and more precisely.

“Jacki is a perfect example of what is achievable when the conscious mind moves aside and we work with the most powerful part of our minds,” she continues. “Wonderfully, Jacki has continued with the hypnotic techniques,  twice daily treating herself to self-hypnosis to build on her positive changes.”

“I grieve peacefully now and remember the good times Ron and I had together.”

Jacki’s first session with Amy was in April 2018 and her last January 2019. She didn’t need any more.

“My whole approach to life has changed,” she explains. “My anxiety and guilt have been relieved. 

“I still deeply love and miss Ron, but not anxiously – Amy enabled me to take control of those negative thoughts, and I grieve peacefully now and appreciate all the good things Ron and I had together. I am changed, but not in a ‘moving on’ sort of way; it’s more learning to accept my changed life and make the most of it. 

“People think that it’s strength that gets you through dark times but it isn’t – it’s about accepting that we are vulnerable and learning to take control of our feelings, rather than allowing the feelings to control us. I have found that hypnosis allows me to do that.” 

Since her last session with Amy, Jacki has returned to work as a primary school teacher on a supply basis and has also renewed her love of line dancing, which she and Ron used to do together. 

She still goes back to Manorlands every Tuesday to the bereavement drop-in support group where she reaps the benefits of these sessions, as well as offering support to those whose bereavements are as raw as hers was last year.   

“I’ve got more than my life back,” she declares. “I’ve got a calmer, more fulfilling life because I’m not obsessed with my feelings. I’ve experienced devastating loss but I’m dealing with it now – and I’ve Sue Ryder and Amy to thank for that.”

Learn more about the complementary therapies and other care services available at our Manorlands Hospice

Author

Stephen Whitehead

Volunteer

Stephen Whitehead

Stephen is retired and a volunteer at our Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice in West Yorkshire. Before retirement, he had a varied career that included journalism, broadcasting and 20 years with the Brontë Parsonage Museum.