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Asthma and Verbal First Aid

A patient came in the other day having difficulty breathing, anxious. She had just taken a couple of puffs on her inhaler, but still felt uneasy. Having known her a while I was able to ask, “What happened?” It had become clear to both of us that her asthma was as much the result of feelings as it was of pollen.

Her daughter had been expelled from school and she was in danger of losing custody to her ex-husband. Her anxiety was bulging out from her sides. She was terrified.

Having both suffered from asthma (years ago) and worked with asthmatic patients for quite some time, it has been my clinical observation that it is a “poetic” pathology, often expressing a grief, a panic, or a worry that has not been expressed in other, more productive ways. Even in cases where there is a clear physical etiology (smoke inhalation, chemical burns, and the like), it may be ameliorated by understanding the way the human organism works and the power of both imagery and emotions.

The research has shown that Verbal First Aid. techniques are being used successfully with children who suffer from asthma.  In one pediatric study measuring the effects of guided imagery and hypnosis the results were dramatic: 80% of the children had improvement that was measurable, none of the children’s symptoms worsened, and, best of all, some patient’s symptoms resolved after one hypnosis session (Anbar, 2002). 

In an article entitled “Applying hypnosis in a preschool family asthma education program: uses of storytelling, imagery and relaxation,” author D.P. Kohen found that combining those modalities helped the children both physically (they needed fewer office visits) and emotionally (with greater self-confidence as marked by both the parents and the children).

Helping an asthma patient was the experience that changed one paramedic’s way of thinking after I taught Verbal First Aid to his team in NY. He used the techniques of pacing and leading, utilizing both imagery and the rhythm of his own breath to calm the patient. “By the time she was at the hospital,” he recalled later, “she was fine. It was amazing.”

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