A holistic approach to patient care has gained traction with Veterans as a complement to medication. With treatments like acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation and chiropractic care, it’s no wonder so many are choosing Whole Health.
“Some people see these practices as non-traditional,” said Dr. Christina Vair, Whole Health director for Salisbury VA. “However, yoga and tai chi have been around thousands of years. It’s just not something we’ve incorporated into western health care.”
One therapy, which has been around since the 18th century, is clinical hypnosis.
“Hypnosis is a tool that has been used for many years within VA,” said Vair. “Data suggests that about 70 percent or more of the population is hypnotizable.”
Some folks respond quickly and deeply to hypnosis, while some are not quite as responsive. When many people think of hypnosis they imagine a Las Vegas show with someone clucking like a chicken.
“For entertainment purposes, people are in some state of being controlled,” said Vair. “Those sorts of performances are not an accurate representation of how we use hypnosis in the clinical setting. That’s not what real hypnosis is.”
Veteran’s hobbies can be trance based
In the clinical environment, providers focus more on trance, or focused attention. Many people go into a trance on a regular basis – like driving a car while being on mental autopilot, with the mind somewhere else.
“I hope this gets other Veterans interested.”
“A lot of our Veterans have hobbies that are trance based,” said Vair. “Woodworkers, artists and musicians can get so engaged in an activity that they look down at the clock and see several hours have passed. They didn’t realize it because they were so engaged in what they were doing… that’s trance.”
Vair was exposed to hypnosis 11 years ago. She trained with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis as well as VA’s national training program. VISN 6 was the first network to hold a regional training in clinical hypnosis.
Research has shown hypnosis to be effective for chronic pain, post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, as well as tobacco cessation.
Hypnosis used with chronic pain Veterans
“It’s an interaction between someone trained in hypnosis and a patient who is interested in using that focused attention to reach a goal,” she said. “We use it quite a bit with Veterans who have chronic pain.”
Overall, Whole Health is a different approach to care. It puts the patient at the center. It asks what’s important to them and shows Veterans an alternative to conventional methods of healing.
“The Veterans are the expert of what’s happening in their mind and body,” said Vair. “The goal is to make them feel empowered and equipped, rather than feeling like they don’t have a voice in their care.”
Army Veteran Donna Tibbetts, who has taken five different Whole Health classes, got off to a rocky start with the service.
Not a fan at first, then changed her mind
“I have to admit I was not a great fan of Whole Health in the beginning,” said Tibbetts. “Oh, heck no, there’s no way this is going to work. However, I have since changed my mind.”
Tibbetts said the biggest shock was that her Whole Health coach didn’t just give her the answers she was looking for. She was used to going to a doctor and being told what to do to get better.
“That’s not the way it works,” she said. “When you’re talking, they give your ideas back to you to fix yourself. It’s a totally different mindset. It will dawn on you slowly. It’s up to you to fix yourself.”
Tibbetts, who is nearing the end with her coach, has fond memories of her time in Whole Health. She said she knows that other Veterans would benefit from this service.
“Whole health coaches are really good.”
“I just hope this helps get other Veterans interested,” she said. “I’m telling you, it’s a lot of fun and Whole Health coaches are really good at what they do.”
At the Salisbury VA, Whole Health sees more midlife and older Veterans, but the pandemic – and the virtual modalities that followed – has allowed more young Veterans to participate.
“Younger Veterans are working or going to school,” said Vair. “They don’t have the ability to come from one of the 21 counties we serve, spend an hour in class, then drive back. But now we can meet them where they are. As a result, we are seeing more of them.”
Vair would like to see this trend continue and one of the most important steps it to ensure providers communicate facets of this program to their patients.
“We’ve been at this since 2018,” she said. “We have so many initiatives within VA that it can be an uphill battle to stand out. I don’t know if we’ll get to the point where every Veteran will hear about Whole Health at every visit, but that’s the goal we are working toward. Whole Health is for everyone.”