Tick,Tock, Tick, Tock

According to one Web site on the topic (, the earliest known descriptions of hypnosis date back 6,000 years to rites performed in Egyptian sleep temples, and European physicians such as Charcot and Bachofen were using it in the 17th and 18th centuries. Anton Mesmer's work with animal magnetism was substantiated by Benjamin Franklin, and we still use Mesmer's name today when we say someone is "mesmerized." But the term hypnosis was actually coined in 1843 by a well-respected scientist of the day, James Braid. Today, hypnosis has been widely studied and its useful applications well-documented. Some dentists and doctors use it for pain control--including the pain of childbirth--and clinical hypnotherapists recommend the procedure for treating insomnia, reducing stress, modifying behavior, losing weight, quitting smoking, and dealing with phobias and addictions.

Wait a minute--does this sound like the old movie scenes of wild-haired men dangling stopwatches from gold chains and chanting, "You are getting veeerrry sleepy" as a prelude to being able to exert complete mental control over their helpless subjects? We didn't think so, and so we decided to dig a little deeper by getting hypnotized ourselves.

The hypnotherapist we chose to see, Deborah Goldberg, M.A., psychotherapist, practices from her office in the U-Tec Center in Dinkytown. She was certified in hypnosis in 1991, and attained an advanced clinical hypnosis certification in 1993. Her fees at the time of our visits were $90 per hour (with a sliding fee scale available). Here are some excerpts from our conversation after we had each completed two sessions with Goldberg:


JLR: When I first called Deb on the phone, I felt like I was falling asleep during our conversation, because she has "that voice." It's so calming.

I had initially wanted to try hypnosis for pain control because I was going to have my wisdom teeth pulled, but due to scheduling conflicts it didn't happen. For my first appointment, she spent most of the time telling me about hypnosis and how she uses it in her practice, which is mostly in conjunction with psychotherapy. But she said she also uses it to help some clients with stress reduction.

JOH: What happened with the actual hypnosis at that appointment?

JLR: She asked if I liked gardens, and I said yes. Then she asked me what I would like to sit on or lie on, and I said a hard marble bench. So she set up this whole garden for me, and then I'm supposed to turn left, go down some stairs, and find this bench. I felt very self-conscious, like, "Whatever you're doing, it isn't working." I thought maybe I should just play along, pretending it was having some effect on me. It was a quick, ten-minute thing, but as soon as she told me to wake up, I was wired. I hadn't relaxed, and she could tell. I'd told her my stress level was an eight out of ten to begin with, and I'd come down to a five, at best.

When I first got there, I was already skeptical, and then when I was going through it, I thought, "Is this for real? This isn't what I was expecting." Maybe I'm just not able to be hypnotized.

JOH: When I went to meet with Deb the first time, just during my conversation with her about what hypnotism is, I found myself completely slipping off into never-never land, which she recognized. She said the body speaks, sometimes we listen, sometimes we don't. But the body speaks, and she can listen to her clients' bodies, too. She said my body was saying that I was very tired, very relaxed, and maybe even entering into a kind of a trance. It felt really weird, because it felt inappropriate--I thought I ought to be tracking, not checking out. She asked me to get up, walk around the room, and shake myself out a little. Which I did.

Then, after that, when we did the "lie back on the couch" deal, it--the trance--wasn't as dramatic, nearly.

JLR: I can understand what you're saying, because her voice is just so soothing. I felt the same way, on the couch, once I was lying down.

JOH: I think when I lay down on the couch, my barrier went up, and I became skeptical. Not that I'm skeptical of hypnotism, because after all, it's used for surgical pain . . . it's very well documented and obviously it works. But what she was explaining is that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and that all she can do is help a client enter a state of hypnosis on their own. In my second appointment, I did relax on the couch, but again, not as dramatically as that first time when I slipped into trance just listening to her voice. But I also had a terrible sinus cold coming on, and I could barely breathe through my nose.  

JLR: The first time I went, I was really stressed out, and I think that affected me. But on my second visit, Deb asked me where I wanted to go, and I said to Spain, because I've always wanted to go there. So she described the beach, with the white sand, and I felt so incredibly relaxed that I couldn't feel anything. It was so warm, kind of like a cocooned feeling. When I realized I was feeling nothing, just complete comfort, I started to laugh. She asked why I was laughing, and I said because I had realized I was completely, 100-percent relaxed.

JOH: So when you felt that complete nothingness, that sounds like what I felt when I slipped into the trance inadvertently. Really warm, a little tingly, sort of numb--

JLR: That's how I felt, exactly . . .

JOH: I wasn't sure I could stand up and walk around the room, but she didn't want me to be in a trance . . . because of everything she explained about establishing trust and a rapport with a client before breaking down barriers of the psyche, before entering that psychic space . . . but it was a really incredible feeling, very different. I loved that feeling, but it was tinged by a sense that I should be snapping out of it. I never get that complete mental, physical relaxation in everyday life. I really wanted to feel that during my second relaxation session, but I think one of the problems is that I really don't like lying on the couch. Something about it makes me feel vulnerable, sort of subordinate or something. It brings up my defenses.

JLR: That's interesting--because I definitely did feel that incredible relaxation during that second visit, and so it made me less skeptical. I think it was snowing that day, and I could hear the wind against the window, it made it a really nice cozy place to be.

JOH: Did she make any suggestions to you while you were in a trance state?

JLR: Oh, yeah, I had told her I have a bad lower back, and she was saying, "You will get up in the morning, and your back will feel great."

JOH: And?


JLR: It's been a little better, I can honestly say that.

JOH: She suggested to me that "every time my lips are together, my teeth will be apart." Which makes it impossible to hold any tension in your jaw. And I have had a fair amount of jaw tension and TMJ-type stuff, not so much in recent years, but still some, and since the hypnotherapy, I really haven't had any. Jaw tension is really common, but I hadn't mentioned mine to her. She just made the suggestion on her own.

You have talked about going back. Are you still planing to do that?

JLR: Well, that first time, when I was having trouble going into the trance, I thought, "hey, if this isn't working for relaxation, what else can I try it for?" And I thought of my fear of flying. We talked about that and about my lower back--when I was telling her where my pain was, she said, "That's definitely interpersonal sexual type problems." I said, "Oh, God . . . that's an entirely different session. Let's work on the fear of flying."

I set up another appointment, but it didn't work out. I guess it's the whole money issue. I could probably afford to go once a month, but to do it weekly--which would work best--then I just couldn't afford it.

JOH: Like everything else, it becomes an issue of time and resources. Self-care is easy to put on the bottom of the list in the short run. If I could commit the time and money to work on something through hypnosis, it would be anxiety: when Deb asked me to describe being at peace, I talked about just hanging around with my family, doing something really simple, like playing cards or just chatting. But when I really looked at that picture, I realized that frequently, even when I'm outwardly at peace, I'm holding on to this certain level of anxiety about "what comes next." I don't think I need to always be anticipating that! And that's what I'd work on, because Deb explained that I could, through hypnosis, access that original anxiety and alleviate it.

JLR: Yeah, that'd be cool to find out the root of my anxieties. But now . . . if I could only stop spontaneously breaking into "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

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