Pediatrician David Gottsegen brings hypnosis to the kingdom of Bhutan

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David Gottsegen MD, ABMH, a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) and Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO), recently completed 6 weeks working at the Jigme Dorje National Referral Hospital in the capital city of Bhutan. He is the first physician who has treated patients with clinical hypnosis in this mountain kingdom.

… in a country with only 5 pediatricians, 1 psychiatrist, no neurologists, and almost no therapists, a treatment which is inexpensive, effective, with no side effects was welcomed with open arms.

This past fall, Dr. David Gottsegen had the opportunity to introduce clinical hypnosis to a kingdom known for it’s policy of Gross National Happiness: Bhutan. In his practice in Massachusetts, Gottsegen is used to juggling several roles as he shifts from community pediatrician to consultant for young patients with chronic headaches and stomachaches, some of whom have seen dozens of specialists, and have not attended school for years.

In 2013, Gottsegen visited Bhutan and had the opportunity to spend some time with the head of Pediatrics, Dr. Mimi. (Physicians go by their first name; nurses are known as “brothers” or “sisters”.) This “Land of the Druk (Dragon)” is a mountain kingdom best known for its pursuit of a policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). It is a country where the king wears a crown with a raven in the middle and a circle of skulls around it, to frighten away demons. Its citizens are still required to wear traditional kimono like gho’s or long gowns called kira’s to work. The country had no roads until the 1960’s, neither electricity nor western medicine until the 1970’s, nor television until 1999. But at the same time, Bhutan’s enlightened policy of GNH has led to free health care, an increase in life expectancy by twenty years in the last quarter century, free public education, almost universal literacy and knowledge of English, and preservation of almost 70% of its forest as “forever wild”.

This past September - October Gottsegen travelled to Bhutan as a representative of Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) a non-profit organization that sends medical and behavioral health professionals on missions to provide education to health professionals in developing countries. He flew through Mumbai where he taught staff at the Ummeed Child Development Center about the use of hypnosis to treat anxiety and depression in childhood, which Gottsegen himself had learned from the prominent psychologist and ASCH member Michael Yapko. A colleague of Yapko’s, the well-known Australian author, psychologist, and hypnotherapist George Burns, who has helped in the development of the policy of GNH, was helpful in giving Gottsegen advice prior to his departure.

Dr. Gottsegen got his feet wet (literally since it rained every day) on a two-week trek in the northwest of the country. He hiked over four to five thousand meter passes, through villages far from roads and without electricity, culminating in the breathtakingly beautiful town of Lasa --- subject of the public television documentary called “Happiness”. Along the way villagers, monks and soldiers (guarding the nearby border with Tibet) came to ask him medical advice for themselves or their children.

Once in Thimphu for his rotation at the Jigme Dorje National Referral Hospital, “Dr. Dave” found doctors, staff and patients to be fascinated in the power of the mind to help the body heal, in the process called hypnosis. Most of them had never heard of it before. So he did not have to dispel the myths that cloud the reputation of this clinical tool in the United States. Since hypnosis is a kissing cousin of mindful meditation, one would think that the Bhutanese, who are almost all Buddhist, would already be imbued in the world of mind body medicine. But the people of Bhutan practice Mahayana Buddhism, in which the monks do the work of meditation; laypeople give offerings and perform rituals. So they know little about mind body practice.

But since their Traditional Medicine Institute grants degrees in the practice of the use of herbs and other forms of Tibetan medicine whose use goes back centuries, they are open to what for us is “non traditional” medicine. And in a country with only 5 pediatricians, 1 psychiatrist, no neurologists, and almost no therapists, where there are no EEG’s, and few pain or psychiatric medications, a treatment which is inexpensive, effective with no side effects was welcomed with open arms. So Dr. Dave, when not helping treat children with sepsis, renal failure, bronchiolitis or Japanesese encephalitis, did consults for children with chronic headaches, stomachaches, and school anxiety, and adults with chonic pain and conversion disorders, like mutism. Conversion disorders are especially common in this kingdom, where instead of claiming to be depressed, patients get “giddy”, and are sometimes treated for seizures. His favorite patient was a 96-year-old woman who complained of chronic hiccups, leg pains, and shortness of breath. In trance, she was able to use the value of the memories of a long and rich life to help alleviate her symptoms.

Dr. Dave also gave lectures on the topic of clinical hypnosis to the pediatric department, to nurses, and to the mental health staff at the Psychiatric ward. He also taught college students how to use relaxation mental imagery to deal with stress, instead of drinking the potent alcoholic brews, which are the cause of much morbidity and mortality in the country.    The people of this Land of the Dragon are a resourceful, strong and friendly people. Dr. Dave Gottsegen was proud to have been able to introduce a powerful source of healing to them.

Dr. David Gottsegen trained in clinical hypnosis under the auspices of the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH); Gottsegen achieved his certification by ASCH and the American Board of Medical Hypnosis (ABMH). He has spent decades treating young people with chronic pain, habit disorders like bed-wetting and Tourette Disease, anxiety, and sleep disorders. He has taught workshops on hypnosis all over the world, and written about the subject.

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