Studies show hypnotherapy is effective for behavioral changes, like overcoming phobias, bad habits, and addiction patterns.
Amy L.'s New Year's resolution was to finally lose the extra weight she'd been carrying for a decade. She'd repeatedly failed at diets and gym memberships, so the Watertown, Massachussetts, resident resolved to give hypnosis a try. One year and a dozen-or-so hypnotherapy sessions later, she's 50 pounds lighter.
"If I look back to last year at this point to where I am this year, it's been a complete 180," she says.
Hypnotherapy has been around since the mid-19th century, when it was often used as a parlor trick. Today, hypnotherapy is commonly used to break unhealthy habits like smoking, to rid people of phobias and to treat panic attacks.
Anecdotal success stories like Amy's abound, and studies have found therapeutic hypnosis effective for behavioral change, as well as for reducing surgical and cancer pain, nausea and fatigue in conjunction with other treatments.
Unlike the stereotype from old movies, hypnotherapy does not put people to sleep and old pocket watches are not involved. Instead, the client, with closed eyes, is guided through a series of relaxing therapeutic imagery and ideas. Everyone responds slightly differently to hypnosis, with some slipping into a deep, sleep-like state and others not feeling much different than having their eyes closed.
Hypnotherapists use this state to give clients suggestions, like "resist the urge to smoke," or to take them back to past experiences, such as the first time they were scared by a spider.
A primary care doctor who uses mind-body techniques, nutrition and lifestyle modifications in addition to hypnotherapy, Kliger estimates that in 3-6 sessions he helps 60%-70% of the people who come to him for smoking cessation. But he won't treat someone unless he's convinced they really want to quit. Most of what he does, he says, is train his patients to treat themselves.
"Self-hypnosis is the really key part, because you get to a point where you're going to have that craving – you just have to be able to give yourself the message: 'It's no longer an option."
Brian Mahoney, Amy L.'s hypnotist, says he will only work with people who understand that hypnotherapy is not magic. He doesn't work miracles in one session; success comes, as with Amy, after weeks or months of hard work.
Amy, who met with Mahoney twice a month for the first half of 2014 and less often since, says she was very skeptical about hypnosis at first. "I did initially call with the sense of 'why not, I've tried everything else?'" But she got more comfortable when she realized that she felt very focused when hypnotized and always knew what was going on around her.
"I found it extremely successful in understanding a lot that maybe I had slipped under the rug for many years," she says.
Amy’s resolution for 2016? To use hypnosis to help keep off the weight.
"This is the first time in a long time I'm optimistic I can maintain this and not have weight issues any more," she says.
Finding a good hypnotherapist in Los Angeles
To decide if a hypnotherapist is right for you:
Do some Internet research, seeing how they present themselves online and checking review sites like Google, Yellow Pages or Yelp.
Get personal references from people you trust.
Talk to the hypnotherapist on the phone before scheduling a session, to see how they come across, and to ask about training and experience.
Last but not least, avoid people who promise quick fixes or miracles!