When it comes to hypnosis, I am a skeptic. I’ve watched enough YouTube videos of hypnotized teens clucking like chickens to believe that, even if entertaining, some of this stuff is made up. But when a friend gave me a gift card for a holistic healing center, I found myself strangely drawn to one particular option on the menu: hypnosis.
Before committing to the treatment, I did some research. To my surprise, hypnosis has been in use for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used altered states of consciousness for healing, in their sleep temples, which were regarded as hospitals. In more recent times, hypnosis has been used by many professionals including doctors, dentists, coaches, and psychologists. I was further intrigued after reading an article about a woman who had hypnotherapy at Maha Rose, the same place I was going, to successfully cure her fear of flying. I thought: Hypnotherapy … why not?
Upon hearing of my hypnotherapy plans, a friend told me a horror story she’d heard on a podcast about troubled students at a Florida school who lost their minds after hypnosis and killed themselves. “Like, all of them?”
“Well, the majority, yeah,” she said.
“I don’t think you should go.”
“Well, I’ve just arrived so … talk soon!”
The Florida story sounded far-fetched and dramatic, but it did cause me some trepidation as I arrived for my appointment. Was I allowing someone in my mind who shouldn’t be there? Was I messing with myself in a manner that could damage me in ways I couldn’t even fathom? Or was I just plain wasting a good gift card on something absurd when I could use it for a nice massage?
After waiting in the crystal-filled lobby, I met with the clinical hypnosis practitioner Shauna Cummins, a resident healer at Maha Rose. Shauna, with her calm, sympathetic, and open-minded manner, brought me into a room with a bed and talked to me briefly about what I’d like to work on during my session. My main issue, I had decided, was confidence in my professional life, dating life, and, well, life in general. Shauna jotted down notes throughout our conversation. She reassured me that contrary to popular misconception, you can’t do anything you don’t want to do while under hypnosis. “Hypnosis is a relaxed yet focused state of awareness, often accessing the alpha brain wave state, feeling similar to the meditative. Under hypnosis, it is natural and easy for us to bypass the conscious mind and become receptive to positive change on a subconscious level. When hypnosis is performed on the stage, the intention is to entertain,” she explained. “In hypnotherapy, the intention is to help.”
Here’s how it went: I reclined on the bed. Shauna asked me to think of a place that made me feel safe and comfortable — I went to a beach. I could picture myself walking in the dunes, avoiding the beach grass, and dipping my foot in the waves, watching the foam dissolve on my big toe. It was so intensely calming and visceral that I could almost taste the salt on my lips and feel the ocean breeze tangling my hair.
While being guided by Shauna, I relaxed into a trance-like state without ever feeling I was completely out of control of my mind. It’s sort of like that moment when you’re drifting off to sleep and someone asks from the other room if the TV is too loud. The following morning you remember that you were asked but not if you answered. I don’t remember every detail about my session, but I do remember the most specific things Shauna talked to me about.
During the session, Shauna snapped her fingers rhythmically. The finger snapping of hypnotherapy is used as an auditory cue for brain waves associated with a receptive state of mind that bypasses conscious resistance, and the snapping reinforces the positive suggestions. It was the only part of the experience that reminded me this wasn’t just a guided meditation, and it was probably as close to the stereotypical spinning pocket watch or clanking on a teacup as my journey got.
During the hypnotherapy, I was told to greet both my past and future selves and determine what they needed. Does this sound cheesy? It wasn’t. It felt moving and vulnerable. My creative mind took over, and I could understand exactly what the answers were. Shauna repeated certain positive affirmations based on what I told her my past and present selves needed: “You’re clear, you’re intelligent, your body knows intuitively how to heal itself.”
Scientifically, therapeutic hypnosis is designed to create new neural networks. Under stress, the human brain will tend to ruminate on negative thoughts or reinforce a vulnerability, which is why negativity can snowball. In hypnosis new supportive associations are reinforced, and over time they can replace negative thought patterns. After the session, Shauna suggested I should try to utilize the three positive affirmations or other similar ones I can choose for positive vision, to form a ritual at bedtime, at wake-up, and in moments I may encounter where I need support.
After my positive experience with the first session, I went home feeling that this was a great story to tell my friends. Like going on a trip, it was unique and fascinating and then it was over. But here’s the kicker: I’m seeing results! I’ve found myself doing things I would not normally do. I asked out a guy I’ve had a crush on. I told a heckler during a comedy show to be quiet. I bugged my intimidating agent. I inquired directly about an opportunity instead of expressing vague interest in it and never following up. I didn’t feel anxiety when I didn’t hear back right away. With my frequent confidence issues, these felt like major shifts. I also noticed that whenever I start down that mental path we all take (usually right before we go to bed) of negative thinking or questioning past choices, I have a new ability to redirect myself with ease. “Yes, that was wild you didn’t break up with that guy after he acted a fool.” “Yes, picking a minor might have been a better choice than just studying experimental theater.” “Did I leave my curling iron on?” I find I can now maneuver away from worry and regret and refocus on the positive strengthening affirmations I conceived with Shauna. It feels good, like I have new tools for living. The mind is so impressionable, so why not push it to foster self-compassion and strength?
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