The Times - 12 January 2012
Hypnosis is being touted as the cure for every modern ill, from obesity to sexual frustration and even infertility. There were shrieks of disbelief when Lily Allen revealed that her dramatically slimmed-down figure was not the result of the latest Hollywood diet or a hot new personal trainer, but of a far more unlikely regime: hypnotherapy.
That a woman could magically drop two dress sizes as a result of lying on someone's couch sounds, frankly, unbelievable. Yet there is a body of scientific evidence to back up the effectiveness of hypnosis for weight loss and a range of other issues, from anxiety and sleep disorders to infertility and compulsive shopping. Let's face it, hypnosis does not exactly have the best reputation, what with the ritual humiliations employed by stage hypnotists.
"The stage scenario has given the process a bad name," concedes a hypnotherapist who has treated a string of high-profile clients. "People think it's all about mind control, but nobody can really control someone else's mind. It will only absorb what it knows is appropriate. Hypnotherapy is like Google. It puts helpful information into the subconscious mind so the brain can find it next time it's doing a search."
According to her, we naturally fall into a hypnotic state every seven minutes. Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not a sleep state and does not usually involve a man with a pocket watch persuading a person to dance like a chicken. Rather, it is a state of heightened, focused attention that everyone can shift into at will.
The hypnotherapist who treated Allen and who is credited with the dramatic change in Sophie Dahl's body shape, agrees that the process is all about creating a positive emotional state. "People imagine hypnosis to be something scary - it's actually very pleasant. It's also highly effective, which is why it's being used to treat a much wider range of issues than before."
Losing weight "I believe that whatever you want to eat, you can have it - in moderation,". "I retrain the mind to create permanent healthy-eating patterns. No more feeling deprived, no more battling in the war zone between good food and bad food." Before the session, she discusses with a client any emotional issues they have around food to examine how and when unhelpful thinking originated. Typically, she says, it takes three sessions to reprogram eating habits, and afterwards "people feel lighter and no longer afraid of food. They simply don't want to fall back into old habits".
A better sex life
"If there's a conflict between your conscious and your subconscious mind, the subconscious mind will always win," says Foster, co-author of The 4 Secrets of Amazing Sex. One area where this factor can play havoc is a person's sex life. She uses hypnotherapy to overcome what she calls "one-trial learning", the bad past experience that is causing blocks today.
"The unconscious mind is always protecting against vulnerability. If something is highly negatively charged from the past, that often drives future behaviour. This can prevent a woman from being able to trust a partner or develop intimacy, and in men it can manifest as performance anxiety."
At a time when worries about money are uppermost, hypnotherapy is increasingly being used to help alleviate fear and change spending habits. The hypnotherapist Paul Cullingworth specialises in helping people to curb out-of-control shopping and cope with debt. Typically, he will use visualisation techniques to guide a person through scenarios they might face, such as telling their family about the scale of their debts or talking to their bank manager. "With compulsive shopping, usually people are buying stuff to make them feel better and we need to work on self-esteem issues."
"There can be psychological blocks to fertility, for example a fear of losing your independence and being trapped at home, or the fear of not being able to afford a baby," says Foster, who has helped several women to identify their fears about getting pregnant, many of whom succeeded in conceiving after the sessions. "There's no doubt that psychological blocks can affect your chances of getting pregnant," she says. "Research on animals, for example, shows that when a drought is imminent, they don't get pregnant."
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