By Bill Farley
If you’ve ever considered hypnosis to deal with an issue in your life, you’re not alone. Most hypnotherapists agree that their discipline is frequently a last resort a client will turn to after having exhausted all other options.
Too many prospective clients view hypnosis – literally “nervous sleep” – as a trick or gimmick employed by stage magicians to put you under and make you bark like a dog or quack like a duck. It’s not.
Rather, it is a state of mind that can be achieved by yourself or with a guide, or hypnotist – in which your attention is more sharply focused, awareness of surrounding stimuli reduced and you experience a heightened capacity to respond to suggestion.
HealthLinks spoke to two South Carolina practitioners to delve deeper: Rebecca Taylor Shaw, a certified clinical hypnotherapist and certified master trainer who founded the Charleston Hypnosis Center, and Ariele Nicole Goddard, a member of the International Hypnotists Federation practicing in the Greenville metro area.
Shaw is a veteran in the wellness field, having helped clients for 25 years; Goddard is a relative newcomer, having just conducted her first highly successful group therapy session. Despite this difference in experience, the two agreed on many key points.
First, the hypnotherapist exerts no mystical power over the client. In fact, the client ultimately must do all the work; the therapist serves only as a guide. Shaw likened the process to working out with a personal trainer. The trainer takes you through a series of exercise routines, but you do all the heavy lifting.
In Goddard’s view, the hypnotherapy sessions she conducts “are meant to assist you in making those changes in your life which you are prepared to confront and deal with.”
Most commonly, those specific life changes might include quitting smoking or drinking, losing weight, overcoming fear of public speaking, coping with anxiety and depression and overcoming specific phobias. According to Shaw, one surprising phobia many clients have come to her to help surmount – with all due respect to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. span – is the fear of crossing bridges.
Goddard would add to that list dealing with life trauma in general and PTSD in particular.
What’s causing these unwanted behaviors, and why do they frequently persist despite our best conscious efforts to eliminate them? Shaw believes that, “consciously, a client may want to make a change in their life but has internal conflict about doing so. One part of the mind wants to make that change; another does not.”
Or, as Goddard put it, “immediate issues in our lives are directly related to deeper, ingrained patterns or issues or habits of behavior.”
How does hypnotherapy work? A key word is “focus.” Think of Franz Mesmer, who can be counted as the father of hypnosis. However, many practitioners would cite Milton Erickson as the progenitor of modern hypnotherapy, although he called it “animal magnetism.” Mesmer’s work inspired the coinage of the term, “mesmerized.”
How often in your own life have you found yourself mesmerized by something as routine as a powerful TV drama or a spectacular sunset? Maybe that’s why you shut out all peripheral stimuli – until you are “snapped out of it” by your spouse shouting “have you taken the trash out yet?”
Much like stage magicians, some hypnotherapists employ tools such as a swinging object or a moving light to bring clients into a hypnotic state. Both Shaw and Goddard prefer techniques relying on the sound of their voices.
Once that state is reached, the guiding hypnotherapist assists the client in reaching deeper into the unconscious mind to uncover underlying issues, confront them and deal with them when they are returned to the conscious level. Hypnotherapists have different methods of accomplishing this, often depending upon what changes the client seeks to make. Goddard prefers one-time sessions; in Shaw’s experience, most clients benefit from a three-month or six-month course of therapy, “depending upon the goals they are seeking to reach.”
Both the hypnotherapists provide their clients with recordings they have prepared to reinforce their one-on-one sessions and the desired behavioral changes they represent.
Could you be a candidate for a hypnotherapeutic assist in changing a few troublesome issues in your own life? According to the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, 10% of us are highly susceptible to hypnotic suggestion, 80% fall into the medium range and another 10% are ranked low in susceptibility. Those numbers cover men and women alike, although most practitioners find that women are more likely to seek them out, perhaps because they are more willing to examine the whys and wherefores of their behaviors.
Maybe men are just more likely to actually enjoy barking like a dog or quacking like a duck.