In years of using hypnosis in working with war veterans I have been told by veterans themselves that my work has helped to heal the physical and emotional scars of war far better than traditional counseling, cognitive therapies, and pharmaceutical drugs combined. In this article I will describe some of the unique strategies properly trained hypnotherapists can use in conjunction with medical treatment to assist war veterans troubled by their memories and their injuries.

There are five ways that the war veterans I have met are troubled by their wartime experiences. Each of them requires a unique set of skills from the hypnotherapist. These include:

Bodily pain from war wounds may persist long after the medical team has done everything they can. Phantom limb pain in amputees is just one of many examples of the physical residues of pain that can continue for years after the injury.

Terror from wartime experiences can be locked in the subconscious mind and manifest as nightmares, night terrors, excessive startle reactions, physical pain and tension, generalized anxiety, severe relationship problems, and phobic reactions.

Guilt over the things one did in wartime haunts the survivors of every war. This guilt is especially serious in every case I've seen from the Vietnam War because of the moral ambiguity of that conflict. A similar moral ambiguity is now surfacing in Iraq as a result of America's mismanagement of that conflict. This guilt is often accompanied by unresolved anger against the military officers who gave the orders and the political leaders who created these conflicts.

Physical illnesses caused by exposure to WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) are a major problem for veterans of modern wars. The United States remains the greatest promulgator of WMDs in the world. For example, hundreds of square miles of Iraq are now contaminated by the radioactive dust of Uranium 238, brought over in tanks, bullets, and artillery. In Vietnam, thousands of square miles were contaminated by Agent Orange, a potent herbicide and deadly poison. Most veterans were in the middle of these activities, and thus, like the native populations, will be paying all their lives with chronic illnesses caused by these agents of mass destruction.

Drug and alcohol addiction. Because of all the pain, physical and emotional, suffered by veterans, drug and alcohol addiction are a major epidemic among America's war veterans.

Now let's see how hypnosis therapy can help with each of these issues.

Bodily Pain. The wounds that occur in wartime are not terribly different, physically, from the wounds caused by a car crash or other accident. Hypnotic movement has proven to be a powerful adjunct to medical treatment in dealing with the long term effects of such injuries. By reliving the incident in the body, and permitting the body to move in its own unique way in trance, we find the body is able to release much of the trauma residue, including chronic pain, stiffness, and tenderness. Walking and other physical movements become much easier as we learn from our subconscious wisdom how to hold and move our bodies in new ways. Once a client learns the basics of hypnotic movement, they can perform these simple movements on their own every day, accelerating the benefits and saving time and money that would have been spent on years of physical therapy and pain medication. , See our web library article, Somatic Healing, for more details at

Terror. For the relief of terror stored in the body, the hypnotic technique of the rescue mission is the most powerful I have ever seen. Usually it is applied to childhood memory. The concept is simple but powerful. We enter the client's traumatic childhood memory in the highly suggestible state of hypnosis, bringing with us the strength, wisdom, and compassion of the client's adult self and the therapist. We encourage the adult client to use their voice and their body to stop abusers from hurting this child. This helps release emotions, including terror, that are stored in the body around this incident. Then the client lifts the child in their arms, using a stuffed animal to represent this child physically, and tearfully promises to save the child and protect it from any further harm. This helps implant in the body deep feelings of safety and being loved.

A very similar process can be used for wartime trauma, although in these traumas it is usually necessary to bring in other helpers, like more soldiers, a tank, etc. One client who survived the blitz of London as a child in 1941, called in Winston Churchill to rescue her family.

Example: One client whom I'll call Bill has suffered nightmares for 24 years about his imprisonment and torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp. In the nightmares he is confronted by an angry cellmate, whom Bill believes is angry because Bill ate most of the food out of starvation, and allowed his very sick cellmate to die. We return to the incident in trance. First, we listen to his comrade's feelings and discover right away that his cellmate is not angry over the food. He understood all along that he was too ill to survive, and he wanted Bill to eat all the food so he, at least, might survive. Then we find that his comrade has been haunting his dreams to bring a different message entirely. His message: "Tell my parents I love them. Tell them what really happened to me. You are the only one who knows!" Next we performed a dramatic rescue, bringing in the marines, shooting all the NVA soldiers, rescuing all the prisoners. This was important to relieve the terror that his body had been carrying for years from the starvation and torture of the camp. And just as important to his dream life was clearing this simple but important misunderstanding about his fellow prisoner's feelings. Even before he found his friend's parents and delivered their son's message to them, he had ended a lifetime of nightmares.

Guilt over the mistakes one has made in combat can haunt any soldier for a lifetime. This feeling can be overwhelming for many returning veterans, and isn't made easier if one was obeying orders. Sometimes your fellow soldiers died because of your poor decisions…or a clumsy rifle shot. Sometimes innocent civilians died when you obeyed orders to kill enemy soldiers and found unarmed families in the burning huts of the "enemy." Some soldiers become horrified by the blood lust that took them over and turned them into sadistic killing machines. This guilt is complicated in Vietnam and Iraq, among numerous other conflicts, when the soldier sees plenty of evidence in his daily rounds that innocent people are suffering and dying for a war whose purpose is at best unclear, at worst, downright evil.

It is often difficult for WWII veterans to understand the emotional agony of the Vietnam veteran. I believe it is because for all of its evil and its bloodshed, WWII was experienced by most American veterans of that global conflict as a just war, a war of liberating Europe and Asia from forces that were clearly and undeniably evil. Most returning vets from Vietnam suffered severe guilt not only for individual errors…but because they saw that this war was fought against the people of Vietnam. Our tendency as Americans to believe that the wars America fights are all for liberation, democracy, and economic and political freedom only makes this guilt worse for the American soldier when he realizes he has been lied to. I doubt, for example, that the average Viking raider or Mongol cavalryman would suffer such moral distress over civilian casualties which are the inevitable result of war. And I thank God that as a nation we believe in just wars, that we are not Vikings, but a nation with a conscience. Yet it is our nation's war veterans who are forced to carry in their hearts the contradictions between our expressed moral values and the often contradictory policies of our government.

An extremely powerful hypnotic approach to these guilty feelings is available through what I call the "remorse process." This requires the veteran to return in a hypnotic trance to the scene of devastation which created the guilt. Then the soldier must imagine crawling on his knees from person to person among the burning and bleeding bodies, begging each one of the victims for forgiveness. He can explain how he didn't mean to hurt them. He can tell them what his orders were. He can tell them how he has suffered from guilt for decades over their deaths. For those whose forgiveness is not available, he can offer to make amends to them for the crimes of himself, his commanding officers, and his country's political leaders.

Such atonements offered by the soldier to these victims could include: active campaigning against this or any war, returning to the country to help families suffering from the war's effects, developing a lifestyle of peacefulness and spiritual work to share with family and friends, learning and practicing healing arts as a career, or investing in businesses that are committed to helping third world citizens rise from poverty and oppression. These offers of atonement must not be empty promises…that only works in politics. The veteran must follow up these promises with real action. But such promises when followed by dedicated action will bring an experience of forgiveness to the wounded heart of the soldier.

For example, I worked with a Vietnam veteran who was horrified by the whining of feral cats at night in his suburban neighborhood in New York. They always reminded him of the terrible screams of a village full of women and children which his company had burned with napalm, thinking it was an enemy strong point. When he apologized to these screaming children, he told them in tears about how this mistake had haunted him for years. He told them how he had believed he was going to Vietnam to help people, and how bitter his disillusionment had been. He could see the children were too badly burned to survive, so I suggested he could walk with the children to the other side. Holding one in his arms and leading others by their tiny hands, he led them to the other side. He saw in their tiny tear filled smiles their gratitude for this simple gesture. There he felt the light of God embracing these children with infinite love. And that same light washed his own heart with forgiveness. During the next full moon night, when the cats howled again, he was awakened by their raucous cries, but simply smiled at their antics and fell easily back to sleep. He was forgiven.

Some veterans may also need to experience a kind of Nuremburg Trial therapy process, in which we arrest and call before us all of the political leaders whom the veteran blames for the war. Then the vet speaks loudly and dramatically about all of his experiences and calls upon the testimony of fellow soldiers and wounded civilians to bring the evil warmongers in our government (and/or the enemy's government) to justice. He can imagine himself as the Judge handing out sentence upon these institutional perpetrators, even imagine himself as the executioner delivering the sentence to these villains. Sometimes only then can the traumatized veteran sleep again in peace, free at last of the impotent rage that haunted him.

Toxic weaponry.

The use of weapons of mass destruction in warfare did not begin in the 20th Century. Sherman's march on Georgia, sieges in which starvation and flaming arrows were used as weapons of war, the indiscriminate pillaging and destruction of monasteries by Viking marauders, all are examples of the universal horrors of war among civilian populations. But it seems that modern military strategies of destroying entire landscapes and poisoning the land itself for thousands of years is a unique feature of modern warfare. And the American soldiers, who deal with the chemicals of such destruction, pay a terrible price for their involvement, a price the US military is reluctant to acknowledge.

Removing these deadly toxins from the body is primarily a challenge for medical science. Hypnotherapy can help as an adjunct to medical treatment by introducing the methods of Somatic Healing to assist with the removal of these poisons from the body. Information on these methods can be found at our web library, at Alas, I can make no promises of an easy recovery, even with an ideal combination of nutritional detoxification strategies, medical intervention, and hypnotherapy. But there is far more hope available when we come out of denial and admit it. You were poisoned by your government. Now you need to get it fixed.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction. If you are a veteran who has wrestled with drug and alcohol addiction, I don't have to tell you about the terrible consequences this has had for you and your family. Nor do I need to tell you how difficult these addictions are to heal when the physical and emotional pain of these wartime traumas are screaming for some kind of relief. Fortunately, hypnotherapy has proven to have value in breaking bad habits like smoking and overeating. That's because the emotional sources of these habits lie in the subconscious mind. However, I am reluctant to recommend hypnotherapy for serious substance abuse addictions among veterans unless they can find a hypnotherapist who is familiar with the many unique challenges that war veterans face during their efforts at recovery. Our Institute specializes in addiction recovery based on a radical new approach in which we discover and clear the underlying emotional causes of addiction… including wartime trauma. Articles explaining my unique approach to addiction can be found on our web library at

The challenges faced by veterans today of the so-called war on terror are daunting, just as they were for the survivors of the Vietnam War. But I consider it one of the great shames of that war that more veterans have killed themselves after the war than died in the conflict! I am ready to join with America's leaders in the Veteran's Administration to try to stop this from happening to the brave soldiers who are fighting for us in Afghanistan, Iraq, and God only knows where else. If you know a vet who needs help, don't wait. Tell them to seek help now. Because we know that these feelings, these diseases, these horrors, don't go away without help. Call us at 707 539 4989, and we can start bringing them that help. You may also wish to contact the Veteran's Administration at

Author's Bio: 

David Quigley is the founder of Alchemical Hypnotherapy and author of the popular textbook "Alchemical Hypnotherapy". He is a graduate of Duke University in comparative religion and transpersonal psychology, and of the Hypnotherapy Training Institute in Corte Madeira, California. David has extensive training in Gestalt, primal therapy, group process and Jungian psychology, as well as courses in Ericksonian and clinical hypnosis and NLP. David teaches throughout the United States and Europe, including speaking at the United Nations Enlightenment Society and numerous hypnotherapy conferences. As the Director of the Alchemy Institute of Hypnosis in Santa Rosa, CA David has trained and certified well over 2,000 professional hypnotherapists since 1983. In addition to teaching workshops, intensives, retreats and weekend training, David maintains a busy private practice in Santa Rosa.