When my editor first suggested an article on hypnosis, images of people lined up on a stage in Las Vegas quacking like ducks immediately came to my mind. Then he suggested I give it a try for a first person report on the process.
“Um…uh…okay,” I sputtered.
Then I kind of warmed to the idea. Maybe it’ll be fun. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? I didn’t think imagining yourself as waterfowl could cause any permanent harm, and this wasn’t the first time I’d heard about hypnosis or hypnotherapy.
All quacking aside, I knew that some people swore by its effectiveness. I decided to go for it and made my appointment with Laura Rude of Secret Changes Hypnosis in Issaquah.
The term hypnosis comes from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep. But being hypnotized is not actually drifting off into sweet slumber. According to Rude, there are four different levels of consciousness: Beta – fully awake; Alpha – a relaxed, daydreaming, creative state (conducive for hypnosis); Theta – deep hypnosis and dreaming; and Delta – deep sleep.
Getting your mind into the alpha state through hypnosis allows you to be more responsive to suggestions and more willing to accept new ideas. But that doesn’t mean that hypnotherapy is “Big Brother” mind control.
“There is still a misconception that a person in hypnosis can be under the control of the person hypnotizing them. Nothing can be further than the truth. A person under hypnosis is in full control at all times,” said Rude.
Sounds good. I like the idea of being in control.
My appointment started with a brief discussion of my health history, my current lifestyle and what I wanted to get from the session. She then motioned toward the overstuffed recliner in the corner. I kicked off my shoes, reclined fully and cuddled up with a fluffy blanket resembling the skin of an oversized teddy bear.
I was surprised at how fast I reached relaxation state. In no time, my eyes closed and I released the muscle tension that attached to me every day. Like Rude had said, I was fully aware of my surroundings – I heard the music, her soothing words, and even drifted occasionally back to life matters, like how was I going to describe this experience. But through it all I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) open my eyes or move my sandbag-laden limbs.
She walked me through various mental images as I sunk deeper into an alpha state. The images weren’t vivid like on a television screen or even in a dream. They were more the intangible suggestion of a flowing picture that never fully formed, but whose essence flitted through my thoughts.
The experience sounds kind of mystical, and felt quite otherworldly at the time, but traditional Western medicine has acknowledged the effectiveness of this technique for many decades. In 1958, the American Medical Association acknowledged hypnotherapy as a “useful technique in the treatment of certain illnesses when employed by qualified medical and dental personnel.”
More recently, a January 2000 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that hypnosis “assists patients in obtaining deep levels of relaxation, which often lead to more peaceful sleep, increased energy, and a diminished experience of pain.”
Pain management is one of the health concerns that Rude treats. Many of her clients also see her to stop smoking, lose weight, reduce stress or get rid of bad habits.
Finding a hypnotherapist requires the same care as choosing any other health practitioner. The first question you should ask is whether they are licensed or certified. The Washington Department of Health requires registration of hypnotherapists, and several professional organizations across the country offer certification, like the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists and the National Guild of Hypnotists.
When it was time to return to beta consciousness, like many of her patients, I resisted. It’s not often that we give ourselves a chance to detach from the demands of daily life and focus all our energy inward.
At the end of my first session, I felt both relaxed and rejuvenated, but I’m not currently floating on a peaceful cloud of zen. Most hypnosis treatment plans require more than one appointment, and only time will tell if my experience worked. Either way, the half hour I spent in my hypnotic trance was well worth it.