From hypnosis to acupuncture, a holistic approach works for veterans

A holistic approach to patient care has been adopted by Veterans as an adjunct to medication. With treatments like acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation, and chiropractic, it’s no wonder so many choose Whole Health.

“Some people see these practices as non-traditional,” said Dr. Christina Vair, Director of Whole Health for Salisbury VA. “However, yoga and tai chi have been around for thousands of years. It’s just not something that we’ve integrated into western healthcare.”

One therapy that has been around since the 18th century is clinical hypnosis.

“Hypnosis is a tool that has been used within VA for many years,” Vair said. “Data suggest that about 70 percent or more of the population is hypnotizable.”

Some people respond quickly and intensely to hypnosis, while others are not quite as responsive. When many people think of hypnosis, they picture a show in Las Vegas with someone cackling like a chicken.

“For entertainment purposes, people are in a certain state of control,” Vair said. “These types of performances are not an accurate representation of how we use hypnosis in the clinical setting. That’s not what real hypnosis is.”

Veterans’ hobbies can be trance based

In the clinical setting, providers focus more on trance or focused attention. Many people regularly fall into a trance – like driving a car on mental autopilot, with the mind somewhere else.

“I hope this piques the interest of other veterans.”

“A lot of our veterans have trance-based hobbies,” Vair said. “Woodworkers, artists and musicians can get so involved in an activity that they look at the clock and see that several hours have passed. They didn’t realize it because they were so absorbed in what they were doing… that’s trance.”

Vair was subjected 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 conduct regional training in clinical hypnosis.

Research has shown that hypnosis is effective for chronic pain, post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, and smoking cessation.

Hypnosis for veterans with chronic pain

“It’s an interaction between someone trained in hypnosis and a patient interested in using that focused attention to achieve a goal,” she said. “We use it quite often with veterans who have chronic pain.”

Overall, Whole Health is a different approach to care. She puts the patient first. It asks what is important to them and gives veterans an alternative to conventional healing methods.

“Veterans are the experts on what’s going on in their minds and bodies,” Vair said. “The goal is to make them feel empowered and armed, rather than feeling like they don’t have a voice in their care.”

Army veteran Donna Tibbetts, who has taken five different holistic health courses, got off to a rocky start with the service.

Not a fan at first, then changed her mind

“I have to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Whole Health to begin with,” Tibbetts said. “Oh damn no, there’s no way that’s going to work. However, I have since changed my mind.”

Tibbetts said the biggest shock was that her Whole Health coach just didn’t 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.

“It doesn’t work that way,” she said. “When you talk, they give you back your ideas to fix yourself. It’s a completely different way of thinking. It will slowly dawn on you. It’s up to you to fix yourself.”

Tibbetts, who is nearing the end of her trainer, has fond memories of her time at Whole Health. She said she knew other veterans would benefit from this service.

“Health coaches are really good.”

“I just hope this helps spark interest from other veterans,” she said. “Let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun and Whole Health Coaches are really good at what they do.”

In Salisbury VA, Whole Health is seeing more middle-aged and older veterans, but the pandemic — and the virtual modalities that have followed — has allowed more young veterans to attend.

“Younger veterans work or go to school,” Vair said. “You don’t have the ability to come from any of the 21 counties we serve, spend an hour in class and then drive back. But now we can meet them where they are. As a result, we see more of them.”

Vair wants this trend to continue, and ensuring that providers communicate facets of this program to their patients is one of the most important steps.

“We’ve been here 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 hears from Whole Health every visit, but that’s the goal we’re working toward. Whole Health is for everyone.”