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Sound Mind: Surviving the Modern World

Struggling With Stress? Get Hypnotized.

By G. Patrick Pawling

Unlike Vegas stage shows, there's not really that much mystery involved in hypnosis.

You’re in a hurry. You’re feeling pressured. There’s too much to do. It’s been like this for a while and the stress is wearing you down. Maybe it’s time to put one more thing on your to-do list: hypnosis.

A seemingly unusual remedy for stress, which is typically cured by more traditional methods, hypnosis has many proponents.

"In my clinical experience, [hypnosis] is very helpful for the physical manifestations of stress," said Dr. Nanette Orman, a psychiatrist and clinical instructor at Stanford University. "It’s good for lowering the background level of anxiety."

Dr. Orman often refers patients to local stress-reduction classes to learn ancient self-hypnosis techniques that are used to lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Why go under when you could kick back with a beer?

Although many think that stress is easily cured with some downtime, the trouble is that stress is often obscured.

"People have a very difficult time relating to what stress is so it’s usually not a presenting problem," said Dr. Richard Harte, psychologist and director of the National Guild of Hypnotists. "In my experience, the presenting problem is weight-loss or smoking … but the underlying problem is usually stress-related."

Dr. Harte likes to approach treatment from a practical standpoint: What can we do right now to help make things better? A Freudian psychologist might feel it necessary to spend more time probing causes, but Dr. Harte prefers to quickly set up a treatment plan. Such plans often utilize hypnosis.

The role of hypnosis is to help patients become more open to suggestion. Once a presenting problem is identified, Dr. Harte will employ a contract in which the patient agrees to certain tasks and goals in order to solve the problem. This is where hypnosis is key.

For example, if the stress is related to weight loss, the ultimate goal is to lose weight. Therefore, the intermediate goals might include changing mealtimes and food choices. These intermediate goals comprise the contract, which are reinforced through hypnosis.

"During hypnosis [clients] are very receptive," Dr. Harte explained.

Look into my eyes … the truth about hypnosis

Unlike Vegas stage shows, there’s not really that much mystery involved in hypnosis. Loosely defined as a different and relaxed state of consciousness, hypnosis allows a person to become more receptive to helpful suggestions.

According to Dr. Harte, one way to induce that state is to have a patient think of all the muscle groups in his or her body.

"We start with the scalp, the forehead, the eyebrows, the eyelids, and work down through the throat, neck, shoulders and down the arms," said Dr. Harte. "You use your whole body."

Unlike the diabolical doctors portrayed in 1950’s B-movies, today’s hypnotherapists assert that people can’t be hypnotized if they don’t want to be. It’s important, Dr. Harte said, to realize that people aren’t "under" when they’re hypnotized. They’re just relaxed.

"The only time you’re ‘going under’ is when they’re closing the casket," he said.

Putting stress to the test

Dr. Harte’s goal is to teach people to hypnotize themselves. Once that’s learned, basic hypnosis can be achieved in three minutes.

Hypnosis can be as simple as repeating this phrase 10 times, twice a day: "Every day in every respect I get better and better."

Some hypnotists give patients tapes to take home. Others employ visualization and conventional therapy techniques.

Hypnosis allows us to start rewiring ourselves. As you reduce your stress through hypnosis, you’ll likely find your efficiency improves.

"Stressed people can’t think straight, so you’re at an intellectual handicap," said Dr. Orman.

Not only will reducing stress make you feel better, but as a relaxed person, you can get more done.

So, maybe adding one more thing to that to do list might not be such a stressful thing after all.

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