Dr. Beree Darby Psychologist and Psychoneuroloimmunologist

(Author Kathryn Ward interviewed clients and wrote their case histories.)

Pam's Personal Story

Before Pam become Dr. Darby’s client, she attended one of the regular lectures Dr. Darby gives for faculty and staff on the University of Florida campus. The lecture was entitled “Psychoneuroimmunology: Healing the mind and body. A friend had invited Pam and she tagged along—mostly as an opportunity to escape her job for the afternoon. By the end of the seminar, however, she was convinced that she should schedule an appointment. Pam had been dealing with a nightmarish work situation for several months and the stress was not only affecting her quality of life, but also taking a significant toll on her health. She’d spent most of the winter battling a cold that eventually turned into pneumonia. Her nights were often sleepless, interrupted by anxious thoughts about her job and ragged bouts of coughing.

Although Pam’s treatment with Dr. Darby began immediately to have a positive impact on her insomnia and her ability to cope with her job stress, she would find out some shocking news. Shortly after she began treatment with Dr. Darby, she was diagnosed with a level four melanoma on her left arm and a second melanoma in her right eye. The lesion on her arm had twice been misdiagnosed as inflamed tissue—a mistake that allowed the growth an additional two years to spread and deepen. On the day the correct diagnosis was finally made, Pam’s physician—alarmed by the severity of the lesion—ordered that she be taken directly to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, the cancer in her eye was detected.

Although testing quickly revealed that each of the cancer sites were isolated—primary melanomas that had not yet spread—the severity of the melanoma on her arm was such that her oncologist was doubtful she’d survive another three months. She was scheduled for surgery to remove the growth on her arm followed by an experimental procedure to radioactively burn out the cancer in her eye. Unfortunately, however, her immune system had been devastated by the cancer, the pneumonia, and the relentless stress of her job.

When Pam came out of surgery, she had a gouge in her arm that went all the way to the bone. To complicate matters, she still had to undergo the procedure for the lesion in her eye. By the time she finished both treatments, she was extremely weak, unable to work, and horrified by the bleak prognosis she’d received from her doctors. However, she continued to practice hypnosis with Dr. Darby and the days following her operation stretched into weeks and then months. When she passed the critical three month period, Pam began to breathe a little easier, daring to hope that her oncologist was wrong.

As is the case with all of Dr. Darby’s patients, Pam’s therapy was tailored to address her specific needs. While she was in a state of deep hypnosis, Dr. Darby worked with Pam’s unconscious mind—and by extension—her immune system. She offered hypnotic suggestions for increased white blood cells, T-helper cells, natural killer cells, and rapid healing at the surgical site. Additionally, she included suggestions for restful sleep, increased energy, and healthy self-esteem. Pam’s response was tremendous: As her energy level increased, her anxiety level dropped. She began sleeping normally and thinking about the stressful aspects of her life with a hopeful outlook. Moreover, her regular blood work consistently came back better than the time before. A few months after the surgery, Pam’s physician examined the skin that had been grafted over the gouge in her arm and remarked that she was the fastest healing patient he had ever seen. Having heard of Dr. Darby and the work she’d done with other cancer patients, he also mentioned that he was unsurprised by the rapidity of Pam’s recovery.

It has been almost four years since the day Pam’s oncologist declared that she had three months to live. Since then, all of her checkups have been perfect. She is active on her farm and working fulltime at a new job that she loves. She has not only fully recovered from cancer; she has also reclaimed her life. Through her work with Dr. Darby, Pam has adopted a mode of thinking about herself and her life that continually reinforces all of her positive attributes.

“I used to be unkind to myself,” Pam says. “I was allowing myself to stay in a job that was making me miserable and I was engaging in self defeating thoughts because of it. Dr. Darby helped me beat the cancer and I’ll always be grateful for that, but she also helped me get through a situation that was slowly killing me. It’s really wonderful to have someone who truly cares about you in a world that usually doesn’t.”

Jessica's Personal Story

During her freshman year at the University of Florida, Jessica—an honors student and talented athlete—found herself facing an unexpected future. As a former cross-country champion, Jessica pushed herself to excel in sports. She was proud of her hard-earned muscular physique and ran four miles each day in an effort to maintain it. When she began experiencing ankle pain, she pushed through it. Eventually, however, the pain overcame her tenacity and she was forced to stop running. As the school year wore on, the pain gained such intensity that even walking across campus became unbearable. Visits to physicians and later to osteopaths offered Jessica no diagnosis and scant relief. The agony continued and her quality of life declined. “I tried everything,” she said. “Nothing worked. I couldn’t exercise anymore. I couldn’t even walk quickly enough to get to my classes on time.” Eventually, an MRI revealed what previous x-rays had missed: both of her ankles were broken and would require casts. Although she was disappointed by the prospect of being so physically limited, she was also relieved to finally have a diagnosis and treatment that would help her return to her active lifestyle.

Being confined to a wheelchair was not an easy transition for Jessica. She was frustrated by her dependent sedentary, condition and became depressed over her inability to participate in everyday activities. However, even more troublesome than these limitations was the suspicion that began to gnaw at her as the weeks passed: “I knew in my heart that something more was wrong,” she said. “My toes, sticking out of the casts, were blue.” When the casts finally came off, her ankles were weak and atrophied. Worst of all, the pain persisted.

Repeated trips back to the physician who was treating her resulted in nothing more than his continued assurance that all was well with her ankle. Jessica, however, was quite certain that all was not well. Desperate for answers and for relief, she sought a second opinion and heard—for the first time—about Reflexive Dystrophy Syndrome (RSD). This disorder—a progressive disease of the autonomic nervous system that causes severe and chronic pain—was confirmed when the pain began to spread from her ankles into her knees, hips, and back. As is characteristic of RSD, her sympathetic nervous system had gone into complete overdrive and was sending false messages to pain sensors throughout her body.

Juggling classes and shuttling back and forth between specialists in Vero Beach and Tampa Bay began to take a toll on Jessica’s emotional wellbeing. “I was constantly rushing from doctor to doctor. They both took different approaches to treating RSD and there were no real answers,” she said. Her treatment included everything from epidurals to pain medication to sympathetic nerve blocks. Although some of the therapies provided a measure of relief, the pain never subsided completely. “I was trying to maintain a normal life and deal with pain every day,” she said. “I knew that there was no cure, there was only ‘making it through.’ All of the patients I saw at the pain clinic, the other people who were ‘making it through’ were leading horrible lives.”

In the months following her diagnosis, Jessica was subjected to extreme physical and psychological torment. The sympathetic nerve blocks she received were injected into her back with needles over twelve inches in length. She also met an RSD patient whose pain had become so excruciating that she’d elected to have a limb amputated. Jessica was not yet twenty years old and had been sentenced to a life of unceasing distress. Although she was beginning to accept the possibility that the remainder of her life would be severely limited, she continued to work toward a more comfortable and normal existence. She underwent frequent physical therapy sessions in the pool and befriended the elderly arthritis sufferers who were her peers. It was a dramatic shift from her running days, but at least it was an opportunity to move her body. As fate would have it, her physical therapy opened the window for her to connect with Dr. Darby. She met a patient of Dr. Darby’s in the pool one day who insisted that Jessica should call for an appointment.

Having been raised in a devout Baptist family, Jessica was initially wary of hypnosis. She and her family were concerned that it might conflict with their deeply held spiritual values. Jessica’s mother accompanied her to the first appointment, during which, Dr. Darby explained the misconceptions of hypnosis, the applications of hypnosis and the technique. Over time Dr. Darby and Jessica created the hypnotic suggestions that they believed would be the most effective. During the very first session, Jessica felt a release from some of the pain that had crippled her for the past two years. She knew that she had finally found a treatment that would offer her some relief. “I loved it,” she said. “From the first day I started working with her, I knew self-hypnosis was right.”

With her concerns about hypnosis dispelled, Jessica began working regularly with Dr. Darby in an effort to return her body to a pain-free state. While Jessica was deeply relaxed, Dr. Darby would invite her to imagine a thick myelin sheath surrounding each healthy nerve cell. Areas that had been particularly affected, such as her ankles, knees and back, received special attention: Dr. Darby directed Jessica’s unconscious mind to mend these areas by offering suggestions of “internal experts” massaging each of the nerves and then treating them with a highly effective healing solution.

In addition to treating Jessica’s RSD symptoms, Dr. Darby worked with her to create a mindset that was in her overall best interest. Through cognitive restructuring, they replaced frustration and depression with optimism and relaxation. Instead of focusing on the limitations that sprung from her illness, they concentrated on the freedom she would enjoy as her body began to heal. By reframing her way of thinking, Jessica was able to take full advantage of the mind-body connection and release all of the healthy biochemicals that accompany a positive attitude.

Beginning with their first session together, Jessica noticed an improvement in the way she felt. “It was amazing,” she said. “The pain was just leaving my body.” Gradually, she began to resume the everyday activities that she had been forced to give up. By the following Thanksgiving, she was able to outlast her mother and her sister in their annual post-holiday “shop ‘til you drop” marathon. Within a year, she was completely free of pain.

In addition to physical relief, Jessica was released from the psychological burdens that accompany RSD. She no longer had to deal with life on a day-to-day basis, trying to estimate what her body would allow her to accomplish before the pain became unmanageable. She was able to begin planning a future that had previously been unsure. “I felt like I could get married,” she said. “I felt like I could have children…I realized that I could say yes to the things I had been afraid to commit to.”

Three years after her initial encounter with Dr. Darby, Jessica went on to graduate from college as one of the University of Florida’s valedictorians for 2005. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and is married to her high school sweetheart. She has regained a rich and active life and credits her recuperation to her work with Dr. Darby. “I’ve never known another RSD patient who experienced this type of recovery,” Jessica claimed. “I’m really lucky to have found her.”

Gerry's Personal Story

When Gerry first visited Dr. Darby, it was with a bit of reluctance. His perception of hypnosis was the classic performance where the hypnotist drags audience members onto the stage and commands them to squawk like chickens—the unfortunate and erroneous scenario that many people associate with hypnosis. Were it not for his wife’s insistence, Gerry would never have consented to seeing a psychologist for a problem he considered entirely physical. However, after suffering from severe migraines for twenty-seven years and experiencing no relief from the myriad treatments that had been prescribed, he didn’t have many options left. Gerry’s physician had declared that the headaches as sinus-related, but he was unable to stop them from disrupting Gerry’s life. On many occasions, Gerry was struck with migraines while driving, experiencing the pain with a suddenness and intensity that forced him to pull over and wait for it to subside. Before consulting Dr. Darby, he was often spending days at a time in bed, unable to function because of the incessant pain that pounded behind his eyes.

Eventually, Gerry relented and allowed his wife to schedule him an appointment with Dr. Darby. It was a decision that would profoundly affect the rest of his life. Much to his—and his wife’s—surprise, he was charmed by Dr. Darby’s friendly, easygoing disposition. “She gained my confidence,” said Gerry. “She listened intelligently and compassionately and made me feel comfortable with the prospect of using hypnosis as a way to treat my headaches.”

After his first session, Gerry began to experience relief. Following a series of six visits, he was able to bring his migraines completely under control. His treatment plan, a combination of hypnosis and cognitive restructuring, gave him the ability to tap into his mind’s ability to heal his body and allowed him to reclaim his life. With Dr. Darby’s help, Gerry eliminated the migraines that had plagued him for much of his adult life.

A few years later, Gerry consulted Dr. Darby for a bout of depression and was relieved to find that hypnosis and counseling proved to be as effective in treating his psychological pain as they had been in alleviating his migraines. “I didn’t see Dr. Darby again for years after that,” Gerry said. “I didn’t have to. She gave me something to hang onto: a healthy way of looking at each situation. Whenever I found myself becoming anxious or depressed, I just used the hypnosis CD she made for me and my symptoms dissolved.”

When Gerry was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October of 2002, Dr. Darby was among the first people he called. His oncologist told him that without treatment, he wouldn’t live until Christmas. Even with treatment, his prospects were grim: He had a stage three tumor that was doubling in size every three weeks and—at the age of eighty-six—was considered an unlikely candidate for survival. Fortunately, his previous experiences with Dr. Darby made him hopeful. He resumed hypnotherapy at the same time he began chemo.

Although the cards were stacked against him, Gerry never succumbed to despair during the most difficult points of his illness. He combated the raging fevers, memory loss, and fatigue that accompanied his cancer with hypnosis and positive thinking. “I’m healthy and well with lots of energy,” he told himself repeatedly—an axiom prescribed by Dr. Darby. Despite the fact that he often felt otherwise, Gerry continued to direct his thoughts towards robust health and he continued to visit Dr. Darby on a regular basis. On the few occasions when the chemo left him too ill to visit her office, she went to his home. They viewed their work together as a collaborative effort to save his life. As the months of chemotherapy wore on, Gerry began to notice a marked improvement in his energy level and his memory. He was recovering from each treatment with a speed that would have been considered remarkable even for someone half his age. His returning strength was testimony to the fact that each of the hypnosis sessions that Dr. Darby had tailored to meet his body’s most pressing needs were pulling him toward optimal health. After helping Gerry to achieve a deep state pf relaxation, Dr. Darby directed his unconscious mind to heal his body—most notably to repair the damage the chemo and lymphoma had done to his immune system. Her hypnotic suggestions for increased white blood cells, natural killer cells, and T-helper cells were reflected in his blood work. Her therapeutic advice to remain vigilant against negativity was reflected in his optimistic outlook and his ability to cope with the stress of his illness.

By March of 2003, Gerry’s tumor had decreased from a stage three to a stage one. His oncologist was stunned by the fact that not only was Gerry still alive, but that he was also beating the cancer. The following July, Gerry’s CT scan revealed that the tumor had disappeared entirely; and in January of 2004, an exhaustive examination found him lymphoma free. He had defied the odds and simultaneously amazed the medical community in which he was a patient.

Even after Gerry was given a clean bill of health, he continued to work with Dr. Darby and to use his hypnosis CDs regularly. Although he had made a remarkable recovery, he was still on the rebound from the affects of the chemo. He had lost all of his hair and occasionally suffered from memory lapses and fatigue. Having come through the worst, however, he was confidence that he would soon enjoy the vitality he had known before his illness. He was correct. Within weeks, Gerry was functioning at a level comparable to the one he’d functioned at before his illness. This however, was not the final plateau in his treatment. Gerry continued to improve, experiencing an increase in energy that motivated him to join the local gym. When his hair grew back, it returned thick and black like he’d had as a young man.

Gerry not only defeated cancer, migraines, and depression, he adopted a way of thinking about himself and the world that permanently altered his perceptions for the better. Once a major skeptic, Gerry is now an ardent supporter. In the sixteen years that he has worked with Dr. Darby, he has received plenty of evidence that his mind is the most effective tool he has for creating his personal wellbeing.

“There is no question in my mind that Dr. Darby is one of the major contributors to my good health and my enjoyment of life,” Gerry said. “I believe in her. I trust her. Her therapy works.”