Gently, close your eyes.
You are at the beach.
Feel the sand beneath your feet and the warm breeze on your skin?
Hear the surf?
If so, you are experiencing a light hypnotic trance.
And, like 95 percent of the population, you’re game.
“Hypnosis, or some sort of trans inductions, has been around for thousands of years,” says Norman West, a clinical psychologist who often uses hypnotherapy in his practice. “Modern hypnosis came on the scene in Europe in the 1800s.”
Though the entertainment industry may have portrayed hypnosis as a means of getting people to act goofy onstage or become an assassin at the drop of a trigger word, its effects are far more productive when used therapeutically, says West, a Lookout Mountain, Tenn., native who now lives and practices in Monteagle, Tenn.
“I have patients who want hypnosis to help lose weight, stop smoking and even for sports enhancements,” West says. “Athletes like hypnosis to enhance their visual techniques. A quarterback, for instance, who wants to enhance his passing technique will focus on visual techniques. He can use hypnosis by visualizing passing that football accurately. One minute of this visualization can be the equivalent of an hour’s practice. It can be pretty effective.”
Hypnosis also is being used in medical situations, including childbirth and surgery. In those cases, hypnosis generally is used to calm the patient and reduce anxiety.
Several studies, including ones done by the University of Florida and the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, showed the pregnant women who used hypnosis had shorter and easier labor, needed less pain medication and suffered lower incidents of post-partum depression.
Classes on how to utilize hypnosis during childbirth are offered in Chattanooga. Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis, a method of childbirth preparation that teaches hypnotic techniques, imagery and visualization, helps moms — in the absence of complications — to experience “comfortable, shorter, easier births,” according to chattanoogahypnobabies.com.
Rachel Jimenez, a certified instructor at Chattanooga Hypnobabies, says classes have been offered locally for about eight years.
“Classes weren’t available here when I gave birth to my first son 10 years ago,” she says. “So I did a home study course and used self-hypnosis when I gave birth to my son. No medicine at all was used. I was in labor for about 12 hours. It was an easy birth.”
Jimenez says the Hypnobabies method teaches expectant mothers to perceive contractions as being painless.
“Using self-hypnosis, you are trained to be relaxed,” she says. “Part of the problem of childbirth is that moms are anxious about the pain. When you use the Hynobabies method, you are not at all anxious. You stay calm throughout the birth.”
Self-hypnosis can be a benefit for other medical reasons, Jimenez says.
“I had a mom tell me that she used the Hypnobabies training when she had to have a mole removed. No numbing medications or medicines were used and she felt no pain,” she says. “It also works for sleeping problems.”
In simple operations that need only a local anesthetic — say, arthroscopic knee surgery — hypnosis can be used to complement the anesthetic, not replace it. Still, in rare cases, hypnosis has been used instead of anesthetic.
According to a 2008 story from CBS News, a professional hypnotherapist and psychotherapist in Britain used only hypnosis when he had surgery to saw a walnut-sized chunk of bone out of his hand and move a tendon.
“I didn’t feel anything at all,” Alex Lenkei told CBS. “There was no pain, just very deep relaxation. I was aware of everything that was going on in the (surgical) theater. I was aware of the consultant tugging and pulling during the operation. But there was no pain.
“And at the same time, the anesthetist had my vital signs monitored all the time. They were fully in control of everything. They hooked me up with reference to anesthetic if I needed it, but it was not necessary.”
He has since had five more surgeries under hypnosis instead of anesthesia.
But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
Chattanooga physicians Phyllis Miller, a gynecologist and former president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, and Rink Murray, a reproductive endocrinologist, say they don’t know of any local doctors who use hypnosis on patients during surgery.
“Advocates say it works,” says Murray.
Rae Bond, executive director at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, says she knows of no local physicians who use hypnosis in their practices.
“I am not aware that anyone here does it,” she says. “And I think I would have heard about that.”
Mark Wilczopolski credits hypnosis to giving him the power to quit smoking cigarettes — twice. First time, though, was a bust.
“First time was in 1995, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reason,” says Wilczopolski, a local licensed massage therapist. “The second time was in 2003. And I was ready. It was time to be a non-smoker.”
He hasn’t smoked since.
“Although I am athletic, I used to make rationalizations that it was OK to smoke,” Wilczopolski says. “I smoked and I enjoyed every minute I smoked, but once I was done and with the help of hypnosis I did it. Previously, I had tried gum, patches, nasal sprays, relaxation meds, filters. I tried everything I could get my hands on.”
The 58-year-old recalls both hypnosis sessions as sitting in a room with about 50 people who were there for the same reason. He says he initially went on a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“I saw an article in the paper and I went that night. Just before the hypnotic session began, the hypnotist told us all to go outside and smoke our last cigarette,” he says.
“We were told to close your eyes and allow yourself to relax. I let my imagination see a cigarette with legs and, every time I wanted a cigarette, I would chase that figure away. I convinced myself that I was smarter than a cigarette.
“The actual session didn’t last long. I never fell asleep,” he says. “I just allowed myself to relax and have positive thoughts.”
But his pre-hypnosis attitude was also key to making it work the second time, he says.
“I was ready to quit. I had made up my mind I was done. I think that is a major reason why the second time worked.
“Once I finally stopped, I had no physical problems, no withdrawal, no cravings, no weight gain,” he says. “I mentally felt as if I never smoked.”
The actual procedure for hypnosis is not simply a matter of sitting down, listening to the hypnotherapist’s relaxation instructions and drifting off. There are several steps to prepare for the session, West says.
“The first goal is to explain the procedure and find out what their goal is. I may not even hypnotize them in the first session,” he says. “Instead, I may want to take their information, sit down and write out a script. Whether their session will involve a trip to the beach or to the mountains, I’ll write it all out in detail first.”
There are different induction techniques, he says, including the Hollywood version of holding a pocket watch on a chain and having the patient visually follow it back and forth while the therapist softly repeats, “You are getting sleepy.”
“But it’s a whole lot easier just talking to somebody,” West says. “I ask my client, ‘What do you like to do in your spare time? Where do you like to go on vacation?’ I’ll use their answers to hypnotize them.
“I’ll have them sit in a comfortable chair, typically a recliner, and let them get as comfortable as they can. I’ll ask them to take a mental trip to the beach, and using very descriptive terms, I paint a picture of them being on the beach as they’re relaxing. For most people, it’s not that hard to visualize and they can transport themselves to the beach.”
One of the fundamental aspects of hypnosis is the patient’s suggestibility, West says.
“When ‘stage’ hypnotists look into an audience for volunteers, they are being very observant of the people they bring on stage. They look for how quickly someone responds to volunteer to be hypnotized and how high they stick their hand up,” he says.
Hypnotism isn’t as complicated as you may think, West says.
“We all experience hypnosis every day. We do it when we’re driving. You’re in your car, for example, driving on the interstate and heading home. You’re on autopilot. You don’t think about driving the car, you just do it. And while you’re driving the car you are thinking off somewhere else — what you’re going to cook for supper; what you’re going to do on the weekend. That’s a light trance state of hypnosis.
“A light trance state is different from a guided trance state with a hypnotherapist,” West says. “The person being hypnotized, though, is always in control. Typically, even in your relaxed state, you’re aware of what’s going on around you. You’ll hear background noises. You’re just focused on the person who’s hypnotizing you.”
Evelyn Williams, of Soddy-Daisy, says her father, a self-taught hypnotist, learned how to do it as a means of entertainment.
“It was normal for me to see him hypnotizing people at parties and family gatherings,” says Williams, 60. “I was about 7 years old when he started doing it and most people really enjoyed it. He’d get invited to people’s houses just so he’d hypnotize them.”
Williams, though, didn’t like it.
“It scared me,” she says. “He’d get people to do silly things like spin around three times or walk across the room to pick something up. They’d have a look about them that reminds me of a Stepford Wife. And though I didn’t know what a Stepford Wife was back then, they had the same look.”
Her father used a swinging pendant on a chain and chanted, “Don’t take your eye off the chain. Your eyes are getting heavy. They’re so heavy you have to close them,” she recalls. And, just by watching him, she and her siblings learned to do it, too.
“I only had a couple episodes of us using hypnosis and both turned out to be scary,” she says. “The first time, my brother and sister and I were acting silly when my brother pretended to be hypnotizing our sister. We were sitting on the edge of a bed when we got up to go outside to play. After a few minutes, we realized our sister wasn’t with us. We found her still sitting on the bed — in a trance. My brother’s voice brought her out of the trance.”
The other episode was terrifying, she says.
“I was 16 and having a slumber party. I decided to hypnotize a friend. She was one of these people who was susceptible to stuff like that,” Williams says. “After I hypnotized her, she started crying and couldn’t stop. She’d had a relative who died and the thoughts of her death came back. I didn’t know how to stop her.