How a child with Chickenpox stopped itching

teddy bear

image: iStock photo

As you know, I’m a big fan of visualisation.

As I’ve explained before, in many ways the brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. As we imagine something, to the brain, what we imagine is actually happening.

In previous blogs I’ve shared scientific evidence of how people have altered physical strength through visualisation, how visualisation can help weight loss, lots on the power of placebos, as well as how visualisation is used to help people heal from illness.

During a workshop I taught last weekend on this subject, a woman shared an amazing technique that her little 3-year-old daughter used to avoid scratching her face when she had chickenpox. It is such an amazing strategy that I just had to share it with you.

Her child’s face was so itchy, the woman told me. Having learned about visualisation from my book, ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’, she explained, she was suddenly struck with an idea.

She asked her daughter to go find a teddy bear whose face tickled as much as hers. When the little girl returned with a teddy, her mother told her that she should scratch teddy every time her face became itchy and that it would help stop her own itch.

And that’s exactly what she did.

Amazingly, the itch faded on her own face and she didn’t scratch her face once.

It reminds me of how mirror boxes can be used to help people who have lost a limb to deal with phantom limb pain and itches. Say the person had lost their right arm. A mirror box can be placed on the table and the person would lay their left hand down. The mirror then shows a reflection that looks like the person has both a left and right arm.

And that’s what the brain processes. The mirror box tricks the brain into acting as if the person does have a right arm, enabling them to then scratch it. In other words, scratching the left hand, now reflected in the mirror as a right hand, can relieve a phantom itch in the right.

These kinds of techniques work because when you focus on any area of the body, the corresponding region of the brain is activated. Focus on a finger, for example, and the finger region of the brain is activated.

It’s likely, given the teddy-chickenpox example, that even a representation of a body part can have the same effect. In other words, something that we decide represents a part of the body might activate the brain in the same way.

This is how what I call ‘symbolic visualisations’ work. A gentleman who had suffered terrible depression once shared his symbolic visualisation with me. He said he felt broken, so he symbolised his broken feeling as broken shards of a mirror.

In his mind’s eye, he then gathered up the shards, heated them in a cauldron to melt them, and then poured them into a new mould. In effect, he took his brokenness and made himself whole again.

A month or so of daily visualisation like this was a huge tonic for him and brought him out of depression.

He represented the mirror as his feelings, just as the little girl represented the teddy’s face as her own face.

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  1. Maureen on October 5, 2016 at 9:01 am

    David – I love this post . As someone who used visualisation to help craft her own remarkable recovery from ill health, disability and wheelchair to being wonderfully happy and healthy and running up hills with her dogs again I truly know its power. I love how this little child got relief from her own itching by scratching the face of her teddy bear. Visualisation is powerful. A lovely post 🙂

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on October 5, 2016 at 11:04 am

      Thanks Maureen, and so great that your visualisations were so successful. Awesome!! 🙂

  2. Sylvi Ann Harila on October 5, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Thank you.I love to read your blogs and books. I work with people that is stopped by pain here in Norway and learn then some of your techniques. And I also youse them om myself. I had a beginning of osteoporosis and it is no on the way to be reversed. I also use different vitamins and try to change the reason why I got the sickness.

  3. Jo Sawkins on October 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Ah, David, thanks for reminding me about how mirrors can be used. I want to do this with a boy who has a paralysed arm through injury and I am sure that he will be able to make some really good change. Much appreciated !

  4. Janet Stead on October 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Hello David,
    This is so interesting. Do you think it would would work with varicose eczema? I’m trying to reverse it. But how?

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on October 10, 2016 at 10:49 am

      Hi Janet, the most common way to use visualisation is to imagine (if you were tiny and standing right beside the affected area) what it would be like, and then to Imagine turning it into being healed. In effect, turning ‘Illness’ into ‘Wellness’. Then to do this once or twice a day. You don’t need to be a great visualiser. We all imagine in our own way – some visual, some with sound, some more feeling, and some with just a vague image but still intending wellness.

      So as an example, you could imagine being the size of your skin cells and gently massaging a ‘miracle moisturiser’ into the area, whistling a happy tune as you see how the moisturiser is completely changing the affected area. Or if you wanted to target the seeming cause, then you might imagine the pressure from the veins easing, like you were untying a balloon, for instance, to let some air off, or easing the pressure of a pressure cooker, and as the pressure eases you see the affected area returning to normal again. Something like that. Or, I’m sure you can come up with something even better that is more in line with how the symptoms appear or feel in you.

      The key is to be consistent (i.e. visualise every day) as you imagine the transition of your picture from illness to wellness. I hope that helps. 🙂

  5. Sarah on October 5, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    I need to find away to use this to recover from M.E/Fibromyalgia…

  6. Maureen on October 5, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Another Maureen chiming in.:) Just brilliant, David! Love your book and these examples. Thank you so much for your beautiful sharing. The reminder is very timely having just lost my precious golden retriever, Bo; Allowing the grief but also seeing it transform into pure love and timeless connection. Passing this info along to others as well. Many blessings! Maureen

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on October 10, 2016 at 10:41 am

      I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Maureen. Having lost my wonderful labrador, Oscar, a few years ago, I can understand how you might be feeling. I have found that the loss has indeed transformed into our love and timeless connection. 🙂

  7. jan Rothney on October 6, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    fabulous story of teddy, just like the mirror box experiments! I teach my clients to recover from CFS/FM/anxiety etc by associating into a healthy state and focus on wellness and take the power away from symptoms..I wonder if that is what Maureen had? ) …the brain is a miraculous thing working in harmony with the body…Love how you enable people to understand the science of well-being David. Many thanks Jan

  8. Therese on October 6, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing, David and Maureen. Your posts were very inspiring…and a wonderful reminder for me of the power of visualization. Blessings to you both!

  9. Susan on October 10, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Hello David – it’s Susan (who wants you to come to Canada sometime)
    Visualization is so important to the work I do with others (and myself) who life with chronic physical disabilities, Most respond well, but I once worked with women who claimed she could not garner images within your thoughts, she also had a high level of learning disability. In her instance, I suggested to include a tangible, just as the teddy example for the child. The task was to gather 5 leaves – not perfect ones, just the first 5 she came across (it was autumn here). She brought them to our next visit and then we waxed them onto a page and examined and talked about the beauty within each one. We next framed them for her to hang at home. Being able to actively notice the beauty despite their imperfections worked as a projection exercise. Thus, when she felt imperfect and overwhelmed, she could then look at the framed imperfect leaves. This helped as bringing an image forward mentally for her was truly challenging. Always another anvenue to move toward a goal to live well when unwell.. Best, Susan

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on October 14, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Wow! That’s really beautiful, Susan. What a really wonderful way to help her to change her feelings about herself! 🙂

  10. Therese on October 14, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you everyone for sharing…I have continued to read the posts and the examples given have been very helpful and inspiring!

  11. Fiona on February 9, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Can anyone suggest a visualisation for my son, he has an auto immune condition where his immune system is killing off his platelets. He is good at visualising and talking to his body and he says that he thinks he is just fine now… idea that I don’t want to disturb but the blood count from the hospital is still low. My gut feeling is that his body is working on a loop that needs reset. Thanks in advance, fiona

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on February 23, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Hi Fiona, some people with auto-immune conditions imagine the immune system stopping attacking the body. For example, he might imagine that his immune system was mistakenly killing off his platelets … perhaps the immune cells need glasses. So he might imagine presenting the immune cells with new glasses. Upon being able to see more clearly, the immune cells suddenly realise that they have been destroying platelets and immediately stop. I hope that helps. 🙂

      • Fiona on February 23, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        Thank you so much for responding David, it is very kind and much appreciated. I love the idea of the glasses!! I managed to work out a visualisation which was partly inspired during a session of cranio-sacral therapy that I have been giving my son. I had a very clear picture of the thymus glad and a big bossy, gangster style T cell. In an internal conversation I thanked them for doing such a splendid job in keeping Pacey safe and protecting him and then went on to reassure him that he could tell the T-cells to stand down because there was no longer any danger and that the platelets are good guys. later on we got a big sheet of paper and drew on it a thymus glad, lots of channels for blood vessels and a bone which was producing platelets. My son then spent ages bringing all the platelets (sultanas! One full bag) out of the bone and around the veins….they met up with the T-cells (almonds) and they chatted because they are friends. They all moved around the body quite happily. He repeated this twice a day…on the forth day we had a visit to the hospital for a blood test and his count has doubled. Very pleased! We are continuing with the visualisation, cranio sacral and qigong so we are mended. I believe in living now as though he is completely healed.
        I have worked with children in trauma for many years and often used visualisation but I felt too close to this and so am delighted that there was somewhere to reach out for help. I can’t believe that I have only recently discovered your books….they affirm a lot of work that I have been doing for a long time.
        I wish you were not quite so busy and famous…..because I would love to talk to you. This kind of work produces more questions not less as time goes on and we learn more.
        Anyway, thank you again and yes we are going to go now and draw glasses on the almonds….my son loved that idea. Fiona

        • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 8, 2017 at 11:40 am

          That’s a wonderful visualisation Fiona. I am soooo pleased that his count has doubled. 🙂 It looks like you are he are having a lot of fun with the visualisations, which helps. 🙂

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