Focusing on hypnosis

Hypnotherapy can permanently fix behavioural issues

Hypnotist Penny Robinson holds hypnotherapy sessions in her Kingston office for less than $100.
Hypnotist Penny Robinson holds hypnotherapy sessions in her Kingston office for less than $100.
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To break bad habits and overcome lifelong fears, all it might take is a stranger’s look into your unconscious mind.

Hypnotism puts individuals into a state similar to sleep in which they act on external suggestion only. It’s used in a hypnotherapy, a type of psychotherapy.

It may be an unconventional solution, but local hypnotist consultant Penny Robinson said there are several reasons why people seek out hypnosis.

“Students come for fear of public speaking, [if they] can’t settle down to do work, for smoking, wanting to lose weight, because they want to do better in sports,” she said.

Robinson’s method of hypnotherapy is eclectic and borrows from several thinkers, including Milton Erickson. Erickson, a renowned American psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, used informal conversation to access his patients’ unconscious minds.

“It’s a natural state we’re familiar with, we’re in it when were going into sleep at night,” Robinson said.

Hypnotherapy dates back to the 1700s.

“Doctors used to use hypnosis in surgeries because there was no anesthetic,” Robinson said. While the unconscious mind may be more accessible than we assume, there are certain misconceptions people have about hypnosis. These stereotypes stem from stage shows, Robinson said.

“Stage shows make people think it’s magic, like it’s a general anesthetic where I can just tinker with their minds,” she said. “In that way I just need to re-educate.” “But it’s a team approach and not just giving up power.

"It’s cooperative.”

As a result of this dynamic, hypnotherapy poses no risks to its clients, Robinson said.

“People still have control, and I am very cognizant of who wants to do what,” she said. “You can never get stuck in hypnosis.”

Though you can’t fall into a permanent state of hypnosis, Robinson said it’s still difficult to remove someone from a hypnotic state.

“Often people are so comfortable and it’s hard when I want to get them back to their full alertness. The worst that can happen is someone will fall asleep,” she said.

According to Robinson, some people don’t respond to hypnotherapy.

“Some people could not shift from the conscious mind dominant to the unconscious mind dominant,” she said. “I’ve sent three people away because they couldn’t follow my instructions.”

A rejection of hypnotherapy can ultimately be attributed to stress and fear, Robinson said.

“It was tension so strong in their lives that they could not shut it down,” she said of clients she’s had to send away.

If people have an extremely broad dilemma, hypnotherapy isn’t the right course of action, Robinson said.

“If someone said, ‘my life’s just not where I want it to be,’ I would direct them to a life coach,” she said.

“If I sense that someone has what looks like a psychiatric problem, I say ‘I can’t help you and you should get some medical attention,’” she said. “I deal with common, every day problems.

“A psychologist might use hypnosis for any diagnosed mental illness, but I use it for habits that someone wants to do away with.”

Specific issues ranging from a fear of travelling to insomnia bring many of her clients to try hypnosis, Robinson said.

Hypnotherapy is ultimately safe and effective because the client can learn to alter the behaviour that causes them to pick up bad habits, Robinson said.

“The unconscious mind is just soil. We can have weeds and flowers planted in it,” she said.

According to Robinson, the weeds, or bad habits, can stem from traumatic experiences from childhood.

A good example of a weed is a fear of public speaking, she said.

“I’m recalling someone who was five years old and grabbed a toy from another child, and the teacher put him in front of the class as an example of what not to do,” Robinson said.

As a result of this experience, the boy developed a fear of public speaking. Hypnosis helped him understand that it’s not always humiliating to be in front of people, Robinson said.

“Your unconscious mind is powerful — it’s fast and goes through memories to get an explanation that you think is keeping you safe,” she said.

“My whole approach is based on the belief that the unconscious mind wants what’s best for us.

Clients average five sessions to alter their behavior, Robinson said, adding that is varies by person.

“One is relatively uncommon,” she said.

Sessions range from an hour and a half to two hours and cost under $100, she said.

Robinson said she’s undergone hypnosis herself to receive her training.

After graduating with a BA from Queen’s and an M.Ed from the University of Toronto, Robinson received a certificate of hypnotherapy training in Detroit from the International Infinity Institute of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association.

She initially thought of becoming a hypnotherapist when she worked with young offenders preparing for release from Kingston Penitentiary.

“I realized with young offenders there was something going on and it was tough to get at,” she said. “But people have this innate sense that something will help. I saw a demo of hypnosis and decided that’s what I want to learn.”

First-hand hypnosis

While under the effects of hypnosis, Jordan Reekie was convinced she was a fish.

“I believed I was in a fish bowl and saw everything around me,” she said.

Reekie, ArtSci ’15, volunteered as a participant in the annual Frosh Week hypnosis show.

“We sat on the chairs and [the hypnotist] started telling us to close our eyes and put our chin to our chest. It came to the point where my head was almost touching the ground,” she said.

Reekie said she couldn’t resist being hypnotized for more than half an hour along with seven other frosh.

“All you really had to do was focus on his voice and all he said is you’re going deeper and deeper into a sleep,” she said, adding that she started to feel the effects of hypnosis right away. “You feel like you’re kind of in a trance … almost kind of like a dream. I felt very relaxed.”

The hypnotist was able to convince the volunteers that whatever he said was true.

“He convinced us whenever we heard the word ‘pinch’ we’d feel a pinch and we’d think it was the person next to us, even though nothing was happening,” she said.

“He hypnotized us to be scared of a water bottle. Even after the show was done, I felt like my water bottle was staring at me.”

After the hypnosis was over, participants were in a state of disbelief, Reekie said.

“Afterwards, I didn’t even believe I was part of it. As soon as we walked out the door, I started to remember everything and it all came slowly back to me,” she said. “When I started to remember everything, I was tripping out like ‘oh my god, I can’t believe I did that.’

“But it’s not like I was fighting against it.”

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