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The Truth About Hypnosis

Local hypnotherapists use World Hypnotism Day as a time to debunk myths and emphasize health benefits

After several failed attempts to stop smoking and an emphysema diagnosis, Margaret Cahill turned to hypnosis for help quitting. “I was skeptical at first, but my kids were after me to quit and I decided to try hypnosis,” said Cahill who lives in Alexandria. “During the initial session, the hypnotherapist showed me a picture of bladder cancer, and for some reason, that was the moment I decided to quit smoking. I finished my hypnosis treatments and never had another cigarette.”

It’s not for everyone, however: After dismal scores on a Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) test and a test prep course that resulted in even lower scores, Colin Rackerby’s mother suggested he try hypnosis to help him improve his test scores.

“It didn’t help me at all,” said Rackerby, who lives in Centreville. “My test scores were still low when I took the test again. I think that I am one of those people who can’t be hypnotized."

Hynotherapists are using World Hypnotism Day, which falls on Jan. 4, to debunk myths about the practice. Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy, is a trance-like state during which the person being hypnotized has heightened focus and concentration. Hypnosis is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images.

“World Hypnotism Day is all about spreading awareness about what hypnosis is,” said Jason Linett, the director of Virginia Hypnosis in the Franconia area of Alexandria. “It is a helping profession. We help people quit smoking, lose weight. It is a natural ability of the mind that we’re able to really harness and help people make some really strong changes and take control of their lives.”

During a typical session, says Linette, the therapist explains the process of hypnosis and reviews the patient’s goals for the treatment. Then the therapist speaks in a soft soothing tone to help create a sense of relaxation and well-being.

“There is the pre-talk, which is all about dispelling any myths about hypnotism,” said Linette. “Many clients are surprised to find out that the mind is active and alert the entire time. They hear everything. They remember as much as they would from any normal conversation. There is no loss of control like on television or in the movies. It is really a process of taking control of the parts of their life that [they] feel like are out of control. Then we emerge from the process, discuss it and set some goals from there.”

During a session, a hypnotherapist could use a variety of techniques like visual imagery. “The process is different for almost every single client and almost every single hypnotherapist,” said Linette. “We all have our own different styles of work. We can do a process based on relaxation, we can do a process based on three simple things that we do: imagining simple things, following simple instructions and just being aware.

“The style of work that I do starts with a simple instruction to relax the eyes, and imagine those eyes so relaxed that they simply just don’t work. Once that suggestion has been accepted, it is just a matter of following more suggestions from that point forward.” Linette added that when clients are in a receptive state, the therapist will suggest ways for them to achieve other goals, like eliminating cravings to overeat or to smoke.

There are skeptics, however. “I’ve had many patients who’ve been bilked of a lot of money through hypnosis,” said Karen Prince, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker. “They’ve tried hypnosis out of desperation by people fraudulently claiming to be able to work miracles through hypnosis.” Prince, who does not practice hypnotherapy, suggests traditional talk therapy. “There are certainly tried and true ways of overcoming the same issues and additions.”

The National Guild of Hypnotists, Inc. (http://ngh.net/) and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) are sources for locating reputable hypnotherapists. ASCH (http://www.asch.net/) offers training and certification programs and sets ethical and treatment standards for trained and licensed professionals.