"TREATING ADDICTION THROUGH HYPNOTHERAPY: AN ARTICLE ON THE THERAPY OF DR. BERNEL SANDERS OF NEW ORLEANS" BY CHRISTIAN ALLMAN
By most standards of measure, Dr. Bernel Sanders has had a rich and varied career and a pronounced commitment to academic pursuits. Over the past 30 years, he's worked as a CEO for an HMO and a ship chandlers company, an executive administrator for the Orleans Levee Board, insurance broker/agent, superintendent for a construction company and deputy director of HANO.
But Sanders, who now operates a counseling clinic, Cognitions, LLC, has spent the better part of his adult life working to build what could be called a holistic approach to mental healing.
While he's had significant success in government and private business-and some rather public setbacks-his academic portfolio reveals someone Who is determined to understand the human psyche.
Starting with a B,A. in psychology and sociology from Dillard in 1962, Sanders has earned no less than six other degrees and professional certifications since then, including a master's in counseling and guidance from Loyola, a master's in public health administration from Tulane, an associate's degree in substance abuse counseling from SUNO and a doctorate in clinical hypnotherapy at the American Institute of Hypnotherapy at Irvine, CA. He's also been certified in hypnotic anesthesiology and, as of this writing, is in the process or earning an advanced degree in forensic hypnotherapy.
For Sanders, his personal and professional life seems to have pointed him on his current path helping addicts achieve a cure. But as an African-American therapist whose clientele, he says, is about 70 percent white, Sanders' observations about addiction are a radical, a sorely need, departure from the from the traditional12-step program that the therapeutic 12-step program community seems to hold sacrosanct.
The only problem, Sanders believes, is the 12-step programs aren’t working. And they’re especially inappropriate for African Americans.
"I’m a Black therapist whose clientele is mainly white." Sanders says, "And I know the socialization for whites and African Americans is very different. Whites are more receptive to the idea of working out their personal problems in a group therapy situation. Blacks - and particularly Black males - are socialized differently.
As a people, African Americans have long understood that their role in this society is far different from whites. We've had to fend for ourselves, to train ourselves to work out our own problems. And then there's the stigma attached to group therapy. It's not unfair for someone to ask themselves, ‘Look, maybe I used to drink too much, and so on, but I don't now, so I'm supposed to stand up before a group for the rest of my life and say I'm an alcoholic?' It doesn't make any sense."
Taking Personal Responsibility for Addition: Sanders also disagrees with the 12-step process on another level, particularly regarding the role of God in a person's addiction. Hypothetically he asks, "If you give yourself to God to overcome your addiction, where's your personal responsibility? And where does the 12-step process really deal with the problem itself? I think it's clear that addiction is always a symptom. Until you get at what drives you to drink, you're not going to solve your addiction problem." Sanders thinks he has the solution - and the beginning of the solution is as simple, he thinks, as looking in the mirror. That's why he's especially excited about a propose grant program he is writing for a pilot substance abuse program. As a hypnotherapist, Sanders says, "My job is to take you where you need to go - the goal is to help you learn your capacity for self-sufficiency. That’s why I think hypnotherapy can be so effective against addiction. Basically, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. What a hypnotherapist does is help you develop those triggers that will achieve the behavior you want."
Sanders' grant proposal would focus on a hypnosis counseling program using a control group of 200 African Americans over a period of two years. Initially, Sanders would schedule a total of 10 sessions for each participant, many of whom are on probation or parole from the local criminal justice system and for whom substance abuse has been a prominent factor in their troubles with the law.
As it stands, Sanders says, the current system using "talk therapy" has about a I 5 percent success rate. On the other hand, he claims a success rate of 85 percent using hypnosis as the primary therapeutic tool. He achieves similar results counseling patients with smoking, weight and gambling problems.
Why does he think his program works? Part of the answer, he says, lies in creating positive, achievable therapeutic goals in partnership with the client. "My philosophy is, I want you to stop. We know from the beginning of our sessions," he points out, "that it's very hard for people to change their lifestyle What I do is help you establish what it is that drives you to addiction and learn how to eventually guide yourself through the process of inner associations that will strengthen your own resolve."
For African Americans, Sanders thinks, the process is ultimately more effective because it addresses a critical need to resolve a problem in their own way, utilizing personal reserves to attain self-sufficiency-a state which, after all, is very familiar and comfortable. Sanders goal, in the case of
of addicts, is simply to apply a very real socialization pattern in a positive context.
Sanders laughs at the memory of one child who asked him what kind of doctor he was. "I told him the story of Humpty Dumpty." he smiles. "And then I said, ‘Well, I’m the kind of doctor who helps put Humpty-Dumpty together again.’ But the reality is, I help people to learn how to put themselves back together again."