It was one of the few times in her life Sharon Lash was
grateful to be blind. On Sept. 11, 2001, Lash, 54, a data transcriber, was on
the 41st floor in the Federal Plaza Building, just eight blocks from the World
Trade Center. Coworkers witnessed the second plane fly into the tower. Lash
could only feel and listen.
"I felt the building shake. It felt like a thunderstorm or a loud subway
train," said Lash. A person in charge yelled, "Get out of the building now!"
On the street, "I heard people screaming and crying. Traffic was crazy."
With the help of strangers, though, Lash and her guide dog were able to make it
to her home, a building for the blind on 23rd Street. But the sounds and
smells of that day have plagued her and led to many a sleepless night.
As the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks approached, the feelings
"If it wasn't for hypnotherapy, I couldn't have gotten through it," Lash
said. She sought help from Dr. Laurie Nadel, a New York City psychotherapist
who holds doctorates in psychology and clinical hypnotherapy and was the
coordinator of the South Nassau Community Hospital's World Trade Center Family
"I start to get calls as the anniversary of 9/11 is approaching from those
directly affected or who have a family member or friend directly affected by
the tragedy. Some people experience sleeplessness, fear of loss, separation and
fear of being alone," said Nadel.
Lash, blind since infancy, still fears being able to escape a building in
an emergency. "In an evacuation, we [the disabled] are the last ones out," Lash
said. But her anxiety over her safety no longer overwhelms her. She has
learned to use hypnosis to relax when she is faced with situations over which
she has no control.
"We have naturally occurring states of hypnosis throughout the day," Nadel
said. "We just need to use it better. Our bodies know what to do with it." She
added, "We are like icebergs, with the majority of what we are underneath the
Nadel used a deep trance process with Lash. To help her release and relieve
anxiety and access memories of safety, Nadel took Lash to a safe place inside
herself where no one else can go. She also gave her a post-hypnotic tool,
called an anchor (for example, making a fist or touching her ear), to bring
back that sense of safety whenever she feels anxious.
Commonly, clients try more traditional types of therapy prior to hypnosis.
Hypnotherapy is sometimes seen as the last resort. This was the case for Diane
Apicella, 25, of Manhattan.
Apicella loved to travel, but after 9/11 the thought of getting on a plane
brought on anxiety weeks before her flight. She tried anti-anxiety medication,
but it left her feeling too drowsy and the medication did not last on long
flights. Her fears began to heighten after the London bombings on July 7.
"The fear consumed me and affected my sleep, weeks before my scheduled
flight. I thought of flying as a death sentence." She went to Michael Pekor of
"During hypnotherapy, I was able to break down my fear into small steps. I
received a tape of the hypnotherapy session, and I listened to it before and
during the flight. It was successful. I was able to replace negative thoughts
and travel on a long plane ride," said Apicella.
"Hypnosis can be used to help replace the old reactions of panic and fear
with positive reactions like relaxation and calm in the subconscious mind,"
said Pekor. At first many clients have doubts and misconceptions. "People don't
understand that they will be in full control at all times. The client will be
aware of everything and fully able to react in a natural, comfortable way."
"It helps them find inner strength and feelings of optimism that are not
accessible in dark times. Hypnosis, however, is not the right tool for
everyone. "It is not recommended for people with psychiatric disorders, those
on certain prescription medications, very agitated or violent people and those
that have disorganized speech," said Nadel.