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Hypnosis now more mainstream



Clarice Monahan wanted to up her bowling game. Taking to the sport on a competitive level in the past few years, the 60 year-old gaming industry sales support professional noticed some inconsistency in her play.

"What I find is that I can get extremely focused, then I’m not. I can run off on a tangent," she says.

Like many people who try hypnosis to better sport performance or to address health issues, Monahan, whose name was changed for this story, was looking for tools to strip away the mental clutter in order to stay focused on her goals.

She described her session with valley hypnotist and owner of Balanced Life Hypnotherapy, Patrice Lovinger, as "deep relaxation" that found her even briefly snoring. The session touched on Monahan’s level of low self-esteem and her discovering a little as to why those feelings may have occurred in the first place. She signed up for two more sessions. A month after the first one, she won back-to-back bowling tournaments, blowing past her average score by 40 pins, she says.

"I tried it a couple years ago and it seemed to work then," she adds.

Lovinger made a CD to help Monahan take moments out in her day to center and separate from the busy-ness of life and focus on goals. She uses the CD before bowling tournaments and it even helps with her busy workday. She says she works a little more methodically now, doing one task correctly, then moving onto another, where in the past she took on many things at once, making it difficult to effectively tend to each.

"I really try to focus on the moment now," Monahan adds. "Women are great at multi-tasking. But it’s good to break things down. Everything is temporary and it’s good to just do the best we can with each thing."


We’ve heard of Michael Jordan’s "zone," Phil Jackson’s "zen," and numerous other sports stars with techniques to stay grounded under massive pressure. Hypnosis has helped many athletes achieve this mental edge and the practice has long been applied to weight loss, smoking cessation and numerous other health improvement outcomes.

Lovinger even sees people coming into her office asking to simply "de-stress" and some looking to get over failed relationships. The hardest part for some people, after many years of self-defeating behavior, is even envisioning themselves thin, smoke-free or in a loving relationship. That’s where hypnosis can help, she adds.

"I help to set up positive suggestions, positive visualizations," Lovinger says.

But hypnosis comes with a tainted history, some would argue, not helped by the entertainment element that propelled it into popular culture. On more serious notes, clients claiming to have been sexually abused while being in their trance state have filed lawsuits against hypnotists through the years. These are dicey issues that can’t be overlooked when doing research and considering hypnosis for achieving a certain goal, health-related or not.


But there is growing research that seeks to ascertain hypnosis’ health benefits. A 1999 Harvard study found that six of 12 patients with broken ankles had improved healing responses as a result of being hypnotized once a week as opposed to the six others who received the same treatment without hypnosis. In six weeks, the hypnosis group showed eight and a half weeks worth of healing, according to the study, written by Carol Ginandes and Daniel Rosenthal, both of Harvard Medical School.

Four years later Ginandes looked at 18 women undergoing breast reduction surgery and the effects of hypnosis on healing. The women in the study who underwent hypnosis "healed significantly faster" according to a story published about the study in the Harvard University Gazette.

Even Ginandes gave a tepid assessment of the study: "There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that mind-body healing is a true phenomenon, but the challenge is to prove it in a scientifically acceptable way," she told the publication.

Weight loss and smoking cessation have seen heavy interest from the public and anecdotal accounts try to persuade the public of its efficacy compared to nicotine patches and medications. Again, much of the medical community remains skeptical.

Dr. Jack Sillinger, a licensed clinical and sports psychologist based in Laguna, Calif. is also a certified hypnotherapist. He has used hypnosis for 30 years with clients and has seen everything from sports injuries to self-esteem clients, weight loss, smoking cessation and the even more extreme cases involving cancer sufferers who have claimed remission thanks to hypnosis.

Sillinger was skeptical about hypnosis himself after taking a class on the subject in graduate school, describing the practice as "hokey" and something he was unwilling to utilize in his practice. But one day a patient with a broken tailbone wanted hypnosis to deal with the pain. She had tried it before to quit smoking and found success.

After admitting he wasn’t a believer, Sillinger finally decided to use the brief training he had for the patient and was encouraged by the results he saw. Living in Florida at the time, he then educated himself as much as he could on the topic through the Florida chapter of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis, eventually becoming certified in the subject.


The word hypnosis comes from Scottish surgeon James Braid, who set out to define the term in the 1840s. His ideas of hypnotism were similar to Franz Mesmer, from whom the term "mesmerised" came, but in time differences in public opinion came about with regard to what is actually happening in a state of hypnosis. There were those who believed it to be a level of unconsciousness similar to sleep. While others saw it as more of an awake, but focused, exercise that allowed for the influence of suggestions. Today’s definition blends pieces from both sides.

Sillinger says nearly everyone is capable of being hypnotized and people can’t be hypnotized against their will. He gives the example of highway hypnosis where a driver may not be aware of many of the miles he has traveled after arriving at his or her destination as an example of hypnosis.

Lovinger adds that sometimes she comes across people who claim they can’t be hypnotized. They are usually hard-working, busy people who have a hard time fathoming the topic in general.

"Interestingly, those are the people who usually quickly go into a state of hypnosis," she says. "I think it’s because when the mind works overtime it’s a relief."

Both Sillinger and Tom Nicoli, who has been featured on various television shows including the Ultimate Diet Challenge, define the hypnotic state as an unconscious one that allows for the mind to entertain positive suggestions.

Sillinger calls hypnosis "mind over body" and Nicoli explains that the conscious everyday state is "where we are most limited." Nicoli also refers to several levels of brain activity: consciousness, daydreaming, and levels of light and deeper unconscious. He further describes the attributes of hypnosis as "shut up and listen" so that the mind can be open to the suggestions coming from the hypnotist.

"You’re receiving at that point (of subconscious). You can get solutions; you can take guidance. … Most of the time if you can just be quiet, an answer comes to you on a test," he adds. "It’s about opening to the inner self and retrieving."

Lovinger likes to inject imagery relevant to a client’s goals when they are under a state of hypnosis. A person looking to lose weight, for example, may be suggested images of playing with grandchildren without having difficulty breathing.

"Those are things attractive to the subconscious that can help bring us in line with our conscious intention," she adds. "Usually a person wanting to lose, say, 30 pounds is less consumed by the number in a later session. They just want to feel good. It starts to become a refinement in understanding of what they really want."

Nicoli also describes several ways to induce a client: physical, which can occur with a hand shake, a press on the shoulders or other movements; guided imagery or verbal induction where the hypnotist gives verbal images to the client; confusion, which is used for highly analytical people where the client "bypasses the analytical consciousness" to a subconscious state by not being able to keep up with the information being given, and progressive relaxation, one of the oldest induction forms that usually involves a monotone voice and talking someone slowly into relaxation and the subconscious.

Making personalized CDs and offering techniques to self induce are also keys to success in hypnosis work, the experts say.


The three hypnosis professionals also say there needs to be a goal and a willingness on the part of the patient to get help for a particular issue. "It’s about removing some internal block. … When you talk about feelings and thoughts, perceptions, they create behavior. … You’re re-framing, looking at things differently, replacing built up tensions," Nicoli adds.

Nicoli and Lovinger explain that certain blocks are often associated with negative thoughts or experiences from youth. Sillinger also says he does a "careful history" before a hypnosis session.

Lovinger uses a process called pin-point hypnotherapy that literally helps clients gain insight into a particular experience or time when they may have taken on a negative believe that is causing a block in their behavior or performance today.


But tapping into a past experience or childhood impression is also where the stickiness of hypnosis comes in. The field is not closely regulated and hypnotists are not all trained psychologists; in fact, most aren’t. Lovinger and Nicoli, who are not trained psychologists, explain that a hypnosis session should not be considered psychotherapy because it revolves around a clear goal and outcome. While some past issues may surface that can be overcome to help achieve a goal, going further into those issues and confronting them on a deeper level is the job of the psychologist.

"It’s not working in any psychological arena. It’s working with the thoughts people have, the perceptions they have of something," Nicoli says. "One of the things I’m adamant about is making sure we’re doing things within the scope of training and working in conjunction with these people (psychologists)."

"(Hypnosis) lets us receive thoughts aligned with our intentions. Then we can create the life we would like for ourselves," Lovinger further clarifies. She also says mentally clearing the mind with no particular outcome desired is the work of meditation. When a goal and objective is set, the work then becomes hypnosis.

And a good hypnotist, both Nicoli and Lovinger agree, knows the boundaries of their practice field.

Sillinger, a trained psychologist, says someone practicing without a psychology background is a "crap shoot."

He refers to them as "lay hypnotists." Sillinger calls the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis "The number one governing board."

Nicoli and Lovinger are members of the National Guild of Hypnotists, a group whose training, while not having a psychology degree requirement, requires about 100 hours of training, roughly one full year of college, or two semesters.

Both groups have been around since the 1950s.

While some may prefer hypnosis from a trained psychologist, Nicoli still says one should follow their intuition when considering working with anyone.

"I get people calling all the time saying they saw me on TV. I tell them to do more reading, get more information. What if I’m terrible?" he adds. "It’s like anything else where you feel comfortable with people, you’ll work with them. If not, you really shouldn’t."

The photo caption of our June 7 story ("Celiac disease treated wth diet") incorrectly identified the foods celiac disease patients must avoid. The correct foods are wheat, rye and barley. View on Health regrets the error.

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