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Using hypnotherapy to deal with 9/11

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

again intensified.

"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

Long Island Hypnotherapy in East Meadow prior to flying to Maui at the end 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.

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