The Hypnosis Cure
Four words you most likely won't hear when you visit a hypnotherapist: You are getting sleepy. "People imagine that they're going to be in a coma and can't move or remember anything afterward," says Jean Fain, a psychotherapist who teaches hypnosis at Harvard Medical School. "It's more like sitting in front of a fireplace where you're focused and relaxed." Most sessions last 30 to 60 minutes and begin with a conversation so the hypnotherapist can pinpoint the best types of suggestions and imagery for you. Then you'll be asked to close your eyes or to look at a point on the ceiling and take deep breaths while the therapist guides your mind to a place you've chosen. Once you have entered a trance, suggestions begin, geared toward your goal: Starting today you will savor every bite of food and eat only until you're comfortably full.... When you feel the urge to scratch your rash, you will place your hand lightly on the spot and feel soothing sensations flow from your fingers.
Often a hypnotherapist will suggest actions you can perform to counter the problem. "When someone feels an attack of irritable bowel syndrome coming on, for instance, we tell them to put their hand on their abdomen, feel it become warm and slow the cycle down so they don't have to run off to the bathroom," says Charlene Williams, PhD, a psychologist and the clinical program coordinator of the Mind-Body Medicine Group at UCLA. Fain sometimes suggests to weight-control patients that whenever they put thumb and forefinger together they will automatically feel relaxed and more in control of their eating. After the session -- you may or may not remember all that happened -- you'll likely go home with a recording. Practice helps cement suggestions and, if you need a refresher, you can just pop in the recording. Pat Carroll, of Meriden, Connecticut, takes a portable tape player and headphones with her every time she goes to the dentist.
After almost dying from an allergic reaction to antibiotics while having her wisdom teeth removed, Carroll developed such a powerful fear of the dentist that her husband had to literally carry her into the office. She uses the tape to put herself into a trance while the dentist works on her.
Expect to pay $100 to $250 per session for hypnosis from someone with an MD, PhD, or other professional degree. The number of treatments you may need will vary depending on your problem and response to the therapy.
And be aware that hypnosis is far from a cure-all, especially for its most popular uses: pain management, weight loss, and quitting smoking. Only a few studies have found that people lose more weight with hypnosis than without. While some research shows that hypnosis works better against smoking than a nicotine patch, the success rate is still low. One study comparing the effect of a patch alone to using the patch plus hypnosis found that 24 percent of the combination-therapy group remained nonsmokers after a year (for the patch-alone group it was 16 percent).
So when is hypnosis worth the time and money? If you're very motivated to achieve your goal, believe hypnosis can work for you, and can imagine how it would feel to be free of your problem. "Those are the three main ingredients for success," says Dr. Gurgevich.