The Dizzy Boy: A Case Study
How a roller-coaster ride caused an inability to walk.
Posted January 15, 2023 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- When physical symptoms occur in response to thoughts, anxiety is likely involved.
- Therapy with hypnosis can often help resolve anxiety-associated symptoms.
- The subconscious can be coached how to resolve symptoms without disclosing what triggers them.
When the subconscious is accessed during therapy, sometimes it provides explanations for a patient’s symptoms that seem unlikely to be true. Nonetheless, when this occurs, my approach is to accept what is offered at face value, which typically leads to an improvement in, or resolution of, the patient’s symptoms. This approach is demonstrated in the case of the dizzy boy.
A Class Trip
At 12 years old, “Benjamin” (not his real name) was in good health until he went on a big roller-coaster ride during a class trip. He never liked roller coasters because he developed motion sickness easily. In the past, he had tolerated smaller coaster rides, so when his friends goaded him to go on the big roller coaster, he acquiesced.
There was a large drop at the beginning of the ride on that day that Benjamin reported feeling OK. After that, there were a lot of upside-down loop-de-loops and he chose to keep his head down the entire rest of the ride. He remembered that he felt as if he might fly out of his seat, and that he felt miserable. He remembered nothing else from the ride.
Immediately after the ride, Benjamin said he felt as if he was in shock. He could not respond to others because he felt in a daze. Ten minutes later he began breathing quickly and cried, but did not know why he was reacting in this way.
His friends tried to calm him down, and he became dizzy. He said his body felt as if he had just gotten off a boat, or as if he was still on the roller coaster. He was unable to walk in a straight line, as he had lost his equilibrium. He sat down for the next three hours until the class trip was over. When he got home, he went straight to bed.
Benjamin felt somewhat better the next morning, but when he thought of the roller-coaster ride he began to breathe fast and became dizzier. He was evaluated by his pediatrician, who referred him to a neurologist. He was diagnosed as possibly having a dysfunction of his inner ear, which was aggravated by anxiety.
He was told his symptoms should resolve within a few days. As he did not improve, he was evaluated by an otolaryngologist who felt that perhaps he was suffering from an atypical migraine or disembarkment syndrome, which can last for months.
Because he was not improving, Benjamin started physical therapy two weeks after his symptoms began. He said the therapy made his dizziness worse while he was doing it, but when he was not in therapy, he felt a bit better than he had. After missing five days of school because of his symptoms, he returned for half-days but had to use a wheelchair to get from class to class.
Could Hypnosis Help?
Benjamin’s mother contacted me a week later. She wondered whether hypnosis could be of help. I responded that hypnosis can help improve whatever is under the mind’s control, and therefore I thought it could help in this setting, in which anxiety likely was part of the problem.
When Benjamin came to see me, he told me that his big goal was to overcome his symptoms within nine days. He had been working for several months in preparation for a big model United Nations conference that was taking place the next week, and he did not want to be affected by his dizziness. I thought that Benjamin clearly was motivated to improve. What was unclear was how quickly he could help himself control his symptoms.
We discussed that it was clear that at least some of Benjamin’s symptoms were related to a psychological issue, as he was able to trigger worsening symptoms by thinking about them. Thus, at the very least hypnosis could change that reaction. We decided to meet the following day.
On his first day of instruction, Benjamin learned how to use positive words, such as “I want to feel steadier.” He also learned to imagine holding on to a pole while standing. Each of these suggestions helped him become somewhat steadier when he arose. Eight days to go.
On his second day of instruction, two days later, Benjamin learned to use hypnosis to imagine going to a favorite place, which he picked to be a tropical island. He learned to trigger relaxation by curling his thumb, which became his relaxation sign. After hypnosis, Benjamin said he felt calmer and “a lot less dizzy.”
Hypnosis Essential Reads
While making his relaxation sign, he was able to walk unassisted, and with much less swaying. He said he had not felt this steady since the roller-coaster ride. He said he planned to practice hypnosis twice daily until his conference. Six days to go.
We met again on the day before the conference, and Benjamin said he was walking much better, although he was still dizzy sometimes. He had walked a mile while holding his mother’s hand. He said he was stressed about the conference because he wanted to win the top award. Also, he was stressed while he took a state test in school earlier in the week. Because he had concentrated so hard during the three-hour test, he became dizzy and breathed too fast. He was taken to the nurse’s office in a wheelchair.
I taught Benjamin how to allow his subconscious to interact with me through muscle testing. I instructed him to flex his elbow and to resist me when I pulled his arm. When his arm remained strong it meant his subconscious was saying “Yes,” when it was weak it meant “No,” and when it was in between it meant “I don’t want to say.”
I asked his subconscious, “Is there anything bothering Benjamin of which he is unaware?” [I usually ask this question because it helps clarify whether a patient’s symptoms could be related to a psychological problem that the patient has not been ready to face.]
I don’t want to say.
Is that because Benjamin does not want to know if there is a problem?
I asked, “Since your subconscious does not want you to know if something is bothering you, would it be OK if I taught it how to improve your problem even if we don’t find out what the problem is?”
“Sure!” responded Benjamin.
I started interacting with the subconscious again with the muscle testing.
Are you willing to help?
Can you please go back to the first time that Benjamin became dizzy?
[I waited a few moments.] Are you there?
Good. Now at that time was Benjamin scared?
I am going to explain now how you can help him. Teach that younger Benjamin to use the hypnosis tools with which you have calmed yourself. Once he learns those tools, he will be able to remain calm when he first becomes dizzy. In this way he won’t become scared. Do you understand?
[I waited a few moments.] Are you done?
Did Benjamin remain calm?
“Great!” I said to Benjamin. “Go ahead and walk now.” He stood up, and walked fairly well around the office. He smiled. “Great job!” I exclaimed. I suggested that he use the relaxation sign while he walks, and also at the conference the next day.
Three days later, Benjamin returned. He was excited to report that he received the first-place award at his conference. He said he felt steady throughout the conference. He said he felt a bit unsteady after participating in dance during his physical education class earlier that day, but that he helped himself feel better with the relaxation sign. We reviewed how he can apply his hypnosis skills to remain calm before school and during musical performances.
In the next post, I will describe the surprising turn of events the following week.
More information about the subconscious and its use in helping teenagers, as well as samples of Benjamin’s subconscious-inspired poetry is available in the 2021 book "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.