Time out of mind
Believe in it or not,By Shirley Iida
hypnosis is an option many
use to help develop good habits
or kick nasty ones
Special to the Star-Bulletin
AFTER smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day for 32 years, Larry Yamanouchi first tried quitting cold turkey, then sought help from an acupuncturist. He even ate lollipops for a few weeks but started getting a toothache. Nothing worked.
Every attempt failed until he met clinical hypnotherapist Cynthia Chan six years ago. After two one-hour hypnosis sessions, he stopped craving his favorite Kool cigarette. "Now, if I put that by my nose, I'd gag," said the 53-year-old commercial artist.
Chan, who's been practicing hypnotherapy for more than 10 years, claims that hypnosis can work for people who want to lose weight, overcome their fears, enhance memory, improve sports performance or get rid of bad habits. It's for anyone who wants to make an improvement in their life, she said.
Hypnosis is not about someone who can take control of another person's mind and make them do something against their will, a popular misconception glamorized by stage hypnotists in the entertainment industry.
"It's really hard to explain hypnosis unless you've been hypnotized," said Pamela Livingston, another clinical hypnotherapist. Livington has been practicing for two years. She is registered with the National Guild of Hypnotists and American Council of Hypnotists.
The swinging timepiece that often shows up as a prop in hypnotists' stage acts is based in reality.
You're getting sleepy ... sleeeepy
"It's a way to create focus for someone, to take their mind off of their environment, so they're not distracted from a lot of other things, so that they can begin to focus," said hypnotherapist Jane Ann Covington. "If their mind is wandering all over the place, then they're not really able to be hypnotized."
Covington uses neither a pendulum nor time piece to hypnotize clients."I have them focus on a spot on a ceiling," she said. "It helps people to narrow their attention."
In a hypnosis session, clients are deeply relaxed while they're given therapeutic suggestions and asked to visualize images, Livington said. They are awake and conscious of what's going on, definitely not asleep or knocked out.
"Hypnosis is that state just before you go to sleep when you hear a dog bark or a door close, and you don't care," when the subconscious mind is at its highest susceptibility to suggestions, she said.
Jos-Lyn "Dodie" Iwamoto compared the feeling to a massage. Hypnotherapy helped the 46-year old Honolulu preschool teacher overcome a fear of flying that prevented her from visiting her brother in Seattle for six years.
Nervous at first in Chan's office, she closed her eyes and gripped the reclining chair, but soon found herself relaxed. Chan told her to take deep breaths and think only good thoughts, imagining angels carrying the wings of a plane.
After a few weeks, Iwamoto flew to Seattle, a trip that had once seemed impossible. Gone were the sleepless nights, knots in her stomach and the fear of a plane crash. She says she now can board a plane by feeding herself positive thoughts. "I tell myself that I can sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of the flight."
Jane Ann Covington, founder and director of the Hypnosis Institute of the Pacific on Oahu and Maui, said hypnosis comes down to trust. She said the free 20-minute consultation she gives clients are the most valuable in getting to know them in order to help them.
Although hypnotherapy helps some, it should be looked at as an option, not a sure-fire solution for a specific problem, said Jean Adair-Leland, chief psychologist at The Queen's Medical Center.
She thinks seeking a hypnotherapy for something simple like quitting smoking is relatively safe and harmless. "But you do want to check what this person's success rate is. You don't want to pay somebody money for something and then find out it's not useful."
Jon Streltzer, University of Hawaii professor of psychiatry, believes hypnosis does work for some, but said, "Anything will work some of the time, at least temporarily. There's an awful lot of conditions that can get better by themselves. But claims can easily be exaggerated, and so that's something to worry about," he said. "The other thing I'd be concerned about is if the hypnosis involves a lot of sessions and a lot of expense."
In his opinion, one session is usually enough, especially when it comes to quitting smoking. Once a person knows self-hypnosis -- how to put themselves in a state of concentration and relaxation -- there's no need to go again.
Then there are others who are not easily hypnotized or receptive to suggestions, a trait some people are born with.
"When people go to a movie, some people, for example, get lost in it. They forget they're in a movie theater, and they're unaware of their surroundings. Those people are more likely to be hypnotizable."
Irv Cohen, a board-certified clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at the UH School of Social Work, warned that in some instances hypnotherapists may do more harm than good.
Cohen, founding director of the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Honolulu, a training school for hypnotherapists, said hypnotherapists could unknowingly get into unresolved childhood issues that should be left up to health-care professionals.
Chan, Livingston and Covington make it clear that they don't take all clients and in some cases, refer them to a physician.
They say hypnotherapy is not usually recommended for people who have significant mental or psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.
In choosing a hypnotherapist, it's important to interview candidates about their background and education.
Picking the right hypnotherapist
A qualified hypnotherapist should have more than 200 hours of formal training at a hypnotherapy school, equivalent to about five semesters of college, according to Jane Ann Covington, founder and director of the Hypnosis Institute of the Pacific on Oahu.
Hypnotherapists don't have to be licensed to practice in Hawaii. That's why those who don't have at least a master's degree in a health field from an accredited college or university "need to be very clear that they're not health-care professionals," said Irv Cohen, a board-certified clinical social worker.
In the long run, hypnotherapists can only help people who want to help themselves by accepting suggestions.
People can will themselves against hypnosis, just as people choose not to go to sleep, Chan said. So people can open their eyes and choose to walk out of a session if they wanted to.
Yamanouchi said hypnotherapy was not a solution for a friend who smokes. He thinks it's because the friend didn't want to quit.
Rita Hunt was also convinced about hypnosis' effectiveness. After all, it helped her overcome the pain of a broken relationship and the grief caused by the death of a close relative.
Hunt, one of Chan's clients, paid $300 for a friend's three visits with Chan. Her friend wanted to improve his golf game, but he could not relax and gave up.
"You have to trust the person with your junk," Hunt said. "And sometimes your junk is just so ugly, you don't want anybody to see it, and that was the case with him."
Hypnotherapy classWhat: A noncredit workshop in self hypnosis. Cynthia Chung will demonstrate how self hypnosis can help physical and mental well-being, and offer tips for stress reduction and relaxation. The class is being offered by the University of Hawaii Outreach College
When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday
Where: University of Hawaii at Manoa Social Sciences Building room 637.
Call: Call 956-8244.