we are so aware of being controlled by our secretive, subversive subconscious -- but we often have no idea how to change its mind about anything. That subterranean vault houses not only our deepest desires and terrors but also can harbour a lifetime of self-defeating, self-hating inner tracts that send out their nasty instructions on a daily basis. Is it possible to switch the messaging system? Hypnotherapists think so. They say that when we're deeply relaxed, our psyche warms up to the power of suggestion, a fine opportunity to change the tape.
I take an exploratory plunge into my own unknown with a visit to hypnotherapist Twila Plant's tranquil Queen's Quay West office. I tell her I'd like help gaining easier access to my creativity. She starts the session with a scene straight out of a movie, putting a pendulum in my hand and telling me to let it swing over a circular diagram. She asks me to move my eyes around the visual pattern in various directions.
Then she plops me into a comfy chair and gives me instructions aimed at helping me relax. I go with it, and pretty soon I'm taking a grand tour of my imagination. She asks me to picture a space in which I could be most creative. Once I see it, I signal her with a finger. She tells me how productive and confident I feel in this space. I lap it up. The words are nourishing, the relaxation is sublime and my inner movie is a vivid spectacle. Will this jump-start my creative engine? Well, since the session, I am much better at identifying self-defeating thoughts and more relaxed, two factors that bode well for self-expression .
Can hypnosis force you to do terrible things? Hypnotherapists say all hypnosis is self-hypnosis and that clients refuse to accept suggestions at odds with their own ethics or desires.
Hypnotherapists claim their craft can help clients deal with all kinds of complaints: anxiety, teeth-grinding, insomnia, phobias, pain management, addiction, weight gain, stage fright -- you name it. But the hypnotic art has its limits. And hypnotherapy is an unregulated profession, so the name of an organization after a practitioner's name doesn't mean much. Be skeptical and back off if he or she promises you the moon.
Psychotherapists warn that poorly worded hypnotic suggestions may give rise to false memory syndrome, and they say those suffering from psychosis should not be hypnotized. Because accessing painful memories may exacerbate an existing physical condition, a responsible hypnotherapist will also avoid working with you if you have heart problems or seizures.
"We do suggestibility tests, since some people need authoritative suggestions and some need permissive ones. In self-hypnosis, you give yourself suggestions. You have to relax the muscles, relax the mind, let critical thoughts go out. The place where you're doing it should be quiet, with soft music playing. Say, "Every day in every way I'm getting better, better and better,' 10 times before going to sleep, and your subconscious mind will get the message."
KARIM SAHAR, registered, certified psychotherapist, hypnotherapist
"I want to know that after the session the person feels stable enough to be able to work with whatever comes up. Hypnosis itself is not harmful, but in dealing with the material that comes up, therapists need to know how to work with emotions. If I were going to go to a hypnotherapist and open my psyche, I'd want to know that this person was a trained therapist as well."
PAM FITZGERALD, RN, MA in counselling psychology, hypnotherapist
"Quitting smoking is a process. The most important component in the process is relapse, or failure. Typically, people fail five or six times before staying quit. When a person says hypnotherapy is the only way, what they mean is that they used hypnotherapy on their fifth or sixth attempt. Hypnotherapy would likely not be successful on the first attempt."
RICK WESTON, Addiction Management Systems, Inc.
"Some people don't have the capacity to be hypnotized, and for them it's just not useful at all. If the practitioner is not qualified to treat a condition without hypnosis, then he or she shouldn't be treating it with hypnosis.'
GEORGE FRASER, MD, psychiatrist, chair, Ottawa Clinical Hypnosis Group
"We would warn against practitioners who claim to cure smoking. A person trained in hypnotherapy will say that hypnosis is an "aid' to quitting smoking, a catalyst to increased motivation."
PHYLLIS JENSEN, RN, PhD, researcher McMaster Family Medicine