Therapeutic Utilization of Spontaneous Out-of-Body Experiences in Hypnotherapy

By Meyerson, Joseph; Gelkopf, Marc | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Therapeutic Utilization of Spontaneous Out-of-Body Experiences in Hypnotherapy


Meyerson, Joseph, Gelkopf, Marc, American Journal of Psychotherapy


An out-of-body experience (OBE) is a unique dissociative event in which the person feels separated from his/her body. Studies and anecdotal reports have observed that this experience tends to appear spontaneously in stressful and hypnogogic situations. It often contributes to the person's later having a new perspective of himself and his conception of the world, and may influence his functioning and behavior. Despite its potential as a powerful therapeutic lever in hypnotherapy, little has been written about applying OBE in this milieu. The current article describes three individuals who were contending with different therapeutic issues (i.e., symbiotic involvement, somatization, and cessation of therapy) for whom spontaneous OBE was used therapeutically during hypnotherapy and proved to significantly advance the therapeutic processes. In accordance with the literature, and as observed in the presented cases, we have found that the OBE experience tends to appear in dissociative and highly suggestible subjects. Furthermore OBE may help those patients to cope with strongly anxiety-loaded issues that arise in therapy and may function, through the "body-self" detachment experience, as a therapeutic metaphor for promoting complex separational processes. In view of the cases described, a spontaneous OBE appearing in hypnotherapy is proposed as an effective therapeutic resource.

INTRODUCTION

An out-of-body experience (OBE) is usually marked by one's feeling that one's "self" is separated from and outside the physical body. This account is usually accompanied by descriptions of a sensation of floating, a visit to distant places, and viewing the physical body from afar (1-2). Tart (3), who studied this phenomenon for several decades, wrote:

This is the experience where the subject perceives himself as experientially located at some other location than where he knows his physical body to be. In addition, he generally feels that he's in his ordinary state of consciousness, so that the concepts space, time, and location make sense to him. Further, there is a feeling of no contact with the physical body, a feeling of temporary semi-total disconnection from it. (2, p. 117)

Robert Monroe, an American businessman who achieved fame in the 1970s and 1980s with his books about journeys outside his body, described his initial spontaneous OBE experience in his first book, Journey Out of the Body (4):

My senses fully alert, I tried to see in the dim light. It was a wall, and I was lying against it with my shoulder. I immediately reasoned that I had gone to sleep and fallen out of bed. (I had never done so before, but all sorts of strange things were happening, and falling out of bed was quite possible.) Then I looked again. Something was wrong. This wall had no windows, no furniture against it, and no doors. It was not a wall in my bedroom. Yet somehow it was familiar. Identification came instantly. It wasn't a wall, it was the ceiling. I was floating against the ceiling, bouncing gently with any movement I made. I rolled in the air, startled, and looked down. There, in the dim light below me, was the bed. There were two figures lying in the bed. To the right was my wife. Beside her was someone else. Both seemed asleep. This was a strange dream, I thought. I was curious. Whom would I dream to be in bed with my wife? I looked more closely, and the shock was intense. I was the someone on the bed! (4, pp. 27, 28)

Dramatic and detailed descriptions of this type are rare. Despite OBEs usually being defined as anomalous or uncommon phenomena and as events often mistakenly associated exclusively with a near-death experience (5), their occurrence is actually relatively common. A review of 64 studies involving an examination of the appearance of spontaneous OBEs estimated that the frequency of the phenomenon appearing at least once varied from 10% to 48% among different populations (1). An OBE can appear either spontaneously or as a result of suggestion administered by an outside entity, it can be enhanced by various substances, and it can even be willed by the subject. …

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