Hypnotherapy is a complementary tool for treating health and mental issues
In movies we often see hypnotherapists swaying pendulums in front of their subjects or aggressively locking eyes with them. In both cases, the subjects go into a state of trance and spill their deepest, darkest secrets.
In reality, however, hypnotherapy is a form of complimentary treatment for quite a few health conditions. Dubai-based hypnotherapists – Dr Irina Khanna and Sylvie Rossetto – give a clear perspective on this subject.
According to Dr Irina, hypnotherapy is a stream of psychotherapy. The difference is that, during psychotherapy, the client and therapist interact cognitively. Whereas, a hypnotherapist puts the client under a deep, meditative state and makes suggestions during conversation. “A pendulum could be used as an object of focus to induce hypnosis. One could get hypnotized even while focusing on a plain wall for a long time,” she says.
Sylvie explains, “Even when you are in a deep hypnotic state, you are very much aware of your surroundings. A hypnotherapist cannot manipulate or force you to go into trance if you are unwilling.” Dr Irina concurs, “Many clients believe that people under hypnosis are not aware of their surroundings. This is a big myth. It is only while you are asleep or under general anaesthesia that you are absolutely ignorant of what is happening around you. Under hypnosis, the client is communicating (hearing and replying) with the therapist, implying that they are conscious. Hypnotic trance is quite different from other conditions. In this state, all of the five senses are heightened, and the awareness is wholesome.”
Hypnotherapy helps deal with conditions such as fear, phobia, trauma, depression and allergy. It is also effective in one’s pursuit to quit alcohol or smoking. Many even swear to have benefitted from hypnotherapy while dealing with emotional issues and strenuous relationships.
When asked to describe a typical session of hypnotherapy, Sylvie explains, “It takes me 15 to 20 minutes to put a client in a hypnotic state. I help them relax by putting on light music and talking to them while they are lying on a comfortable sofa.” Dr Irina has a slightly different method: “I do not use any equipment (music or pendulum). Clients, however, prefer taking off their shoes and getting comfortable on a beautiful chair. Truth be told, you are under hypnosis half your life. One can be hypnotized in any environment, even while standing. It happens when your mind is not in the now (your present environment). For instance, you could be heading to work in the metro but you are thinking of your parents.” Dr Irina adds that people are in a hypnotic state when anxious or depressed as they are in a “sad, dark place”.
The healing process includes figuring out what triggers certain behaviour or emotional states. Thus, it is the subconscious mind which is active during hypnosis.
“During therapy we create a positive imagery to achieve a particular outcome. The goal is to make the client accept that happy place… to believe it is real,” says Dr Irina, adding that the make-believe situation suggested during hypnosis is not real either.
“For example, you have to give a presentation but you are nervous and shaky. The trigger could be a bad past experience with public speaking or imagining a future where you will mess it up and people will either judge or ridicule you. In both situations, you are under negative hypnosis. Therefore, during therapy, I would suggest you breathe easy; make you believe that you have done a good presentation and that the audience is appreciating you. This will lead you to feel good about your accomplishment. As this will be suggested or induced under hypnosis, you will continue to behave in the same manner (confident, positive) even after you wake up. The situation created during hypnosis stays in your mind and you are able to deliver the presentation accordingly, provided you have actually prepared the presentation. I cannot conjure up your slides for real! Therapy can only take away the anxiety you have.”
Sylvie adds, “In the sessions, people will have their eyes shut and dive into their own world. They might have flashes of past memories. If not, I put them in a state where they feel fine, followed by an exercise to neutralize and destroy what is dysfunctional and makes them unhappy. I give stimulation to ensure that the mind is accepting the change.”
Under hypnosis, clients show physical symptoms of how they are feeling inside. “Some cry a lot to release emotions, some get scared and need assurance. Some breathe rapidly and come to a calm state. We can see whether the therapy is working by the way their body reacts. But, some experience everything within their mind and the therapist has to ask them to speak if they are uncomfortable,” adds Sylvie.
When a person, under hypnosis, agrees to change and can imagine themselves in control of the issue, half of the work is done, says Sylvie. The next task is to test oneself in the real life.
The sessions help reset the mind. “The clients come for sessions with a target in mind. For instance, one wants to quit smoking. Because they desire it, they will take the suggestions made by us. During a session, I would say: It is easy to stop smoking; your urges will go away as you take long, deep breaths. However, let us say you want to lose weight through hypnotherapy. If I say that you are getting fatter with each breath, you will not take that suggestion as it clashes with your target and is totally unacceptable to you,” explains Dr Irina.
Dr Irina stresses that being hypnotized is very different from what the movies show. “You are not a zombie under hypnosis who does not know what is happening and does as told. You would take the therapist’s suggestions only if you want to. For instance, when you see people jumping like monkeys in stage hypnosis shows, it is because they want to.”
Hypnotherapy for smokers, people with fear, phobia, anger issues and more:
Sylvie: The most common reason that clients come to me is because they want to quit smoking. This could take between two to four sessions, depending on the person’s resistance. A usual session lasts for 60 to 90 minutes. One might either find the taste disgusting or their craving goes down after the first session or possibly also go back to smoking. I do bi-weekly follow ups to check how they are coping after the sessions as they need time to feel the difference.
Dr Irina: I usually tell clients that they would need five consecutive sessions. Some are able to meet the target in just one session. I do not use the aversion technique but a holistic approach. The actual hypnosis may only be 20 minutes. Through conversations, I help them understand their personality and work on quitting cigarettes. Aversion therapy is also a form of psychological treatment where the client is exposed to the stimulus (in this case cigarettes) and an element of discomfort is associated with it. With aversion, one may quit smoking but they could get addicted to drinking or chocolate. The reason (void) that you allow something to destroy you is still present. Thus, not only the behaviour but its cause (trigger) should be treated. Else, you might resort to something else that will destroy you and replace cigarettes.
Fear and phobia
Dr Irina: The common phobias are those of height, small spaces, water, specific animals, darkness, death and ghosts. In most cases, the trigger can be identified and dealt with. Often phobias turn out to be learnt or triggered from logical fears. For instance, a child is scared of dogs because the mother is also scared of dogs or has been bitten by one in the past. Some phobias, however, come from nowhere and are not explainable. For example, one has not died of falling or been in a plane crash. But they are scared of that remotely possible consequence. This leads to restrictions in their lives like not taking a job offer in Dubai as the office could be located in a high-rise building.
Sylvie: I help them confront their fear. I ask them to choose a symbol to represent that fear. This symbol could be an animal or a person as we need the fear to have a physical representation in order to confront it. They have to either destroy it or convert it into something small and harmless like a mouse or an ant.
One of Sylvie’s client, Fanny Ioan recalls, “A few years ago, I suddenly developed a fear of flying. I had no idea where it came from as I had had no bad experience in a plane before. Sylvie, however, did not look for the source of my fear. Instead, she focused on how the fear affected me; the symptoms. During our session, she put me in a relaxed state. Then we did some exercises where I was visualizing that I entered a closed space along with the fear (an animal), reducing it. She then introduced a trigger to help me calm down. We then revived a flight that was difficult for me. Then she helped project that the flight went well.”
After one session, Fanny flew twice. “I did not feel any difference then. However, at the airport and the day before travelling, I was relaxed. After the second session, I flew in peace. I tried to recall the trigger multiple times just to check if the fear would kick in but it was gone. I am still not comfortable thinking about flights, but I am hopeful that another session would help me let go of the fear completely,” she says.
According to Fanny, being under hypnosis is “enjoyable”. She says, “I was feeling very comfortable on the chair with a blanket on me. The body is completely loose. Although I was doing everything that Sylvie was asking me to do, I was 100% aware of what was happening. For instance, my phone alarm rang during the first session. I did not move as I was under hypnosis but asked Sylvie to stop it.”
Coping with anger
Both therapists believe that the trigger for extreme anger lies in the individual’s childhood.
Dr Irina: Anger itself is not an issue. Like any other emotion, which a person cannot eliminate. If somebody wrongs you, you need to feel angry. It, however, has a limit. Problems arise only if the trigger lies somewhere else, usually the past (childhood). Maybe you did not get a chance to express it because you were physically small and the inflictor was powerful. Thus, later in life you tend to project that displaced emotion. It happens all the time. For instance, you are mad at your boss. You cannot express it in front of him or her, so you let it out at home on your spouse or child. As a child you may have suppressed a lot of anger.
So that child is still alive in you and little things could be taken out of proportion as you tend to co-relate situations. Suppose you have had a dominant upbringing where your actions were controlled or restricted and you go on to work in a corporate environment which has strict rules and you do not act like an adult. That angry kid in you comes out and tries to retaliate. Under hypnosis, you regress into your childhood and the therapist helps you change your behaviour by allowing the child to express that anger.
Sylvie: As an adult, you recreate what you experienced as a child. While some people do not recreate the same pattern, they feel unhappy and are filled with hatred. During therapy, we help them release the anger and gain more control over it. We give triggers and help them calm down.
Other common cases that both therapists have come across are allergies, bedwetting, fear of driving or getting into a waterbody, relationship issues, difficulty in coping with the loss of a loved one, obesity, unstoppable obsessive-compulsive thoughts and insomnia.
Arpita Mitra Gupta, who is now a Hypnotherapist herself, recalls her own journey into wellbeing working through a strained marriage after giving birth to her twins. “We have been married for 11 years and had our twins after five years of marriage. The first year of parenthood was overwhelming and challenging, especially as my twins were premature. We were stressed and this was brewing trouble in the marriage. Irina was my teacher in the hypnotherapy course that I was doing at the time. I learnt a lot from her in class and later I took private sessions. It helped me understand the core issues, identify and clear my subconscious blocks. The sessions worked remarkably for us.”
Dr Irina had two unique cases of allergy. The first involved a teenage girl with a severe allergy, which would force her to miss school for weeks. “She would sneeze uncontrollably and her eyes would be strained. Her family members took her to a doctor who gave her steroids that she was unable to cope with.
Under hypnosis she recalled that around seven years ago, she was drinking orange juice at home when the news of her father’s death arrived. He was run over by a train; it was probably a suicide case. Her association of the shock was with orange juice. Every morning before school, her mother would give her juice and she was even fond of it. Once aware that the juice would trigger her allergy, she was healed”.
In another case, a client used to get severe allergy around lit incense sticks. She had to be hospitalized a few times due to breathing difficulties. Dr Irina says, “She grew up in a liberal Indian family but married into a strict one. At her in-laws’, she had to be a part of several religious activities. Her allergy came from her own passive-aggressive behaviour as she did not want to be dictated or follow that conservative lifestyle. When hypnotized, she understood that her mind had decided to develop the allergy so that she would be allowed to skip the family functions. Every time there was a religious event, the family let her stay away from it. She was free. However, even after she stopped living with the extended family, the allergy did not leave her. Her subconscious did not know how to stop. It took a session or two to disassociate her allergy was gone.”