It’s January again, the month of resolutions, when goals like losing weight and looking toned are on people’s minds even more than usual – and that’s saying a lot, considering a recent poll by Grazia found that the average British woman worries about her body every 15 minutes.
Making the same resolutions year after year suggests we may be wise to pick some new ones, or change how we go about achieving our goals. Personalities like hypnotist Paul McKenna, author of I Can Make You Thin, have popularised the use of hypnosis to deal with the mental causes of weight problems. The general idea is that achieving desired body weight will be easier if the unconscious mind can be made to cooperate.
Although few studies show hypnosis on its own has an effect on weight loss, the combination of hypnosis and behavioural weight management seems to be more effective than the behavioural treatments alone, and psychologists such as David Bolocofsky have theorised that hypnosis may act as a reinforcer, helping subjects to learn healthy fod habits.
Hypnotist jonathan Conway says many of his clients wish to lose weight and improve the way they look, but that beauty is about more than external appearances. “Beauty is within a person,” he says. “To feel at peace with yourself is beautiful.”
According to Jonathan, although being overweight can simply be the result of bad habits, more often the weight reflects a deeper problem, such as low self esteem. He gives the example of clients who associated food with love or reward in childhood, which meant that, as adults, they had a tendency to eat to satisfy emotional hunger rather than actual hunger. “When clients don’t like how they look, I suggest they start by accepting the way they are and move the focus from their imperfections to what they like about themselves,” he says. “This creates the space for change. If clients can give themselves the inner nourishment they need, then there is less reason for them to overeat.”
Jonathan deals with many issues besides weight, including anxiety, sleep problems, phobias, lack of confidence and fear of public speaking. He uses hypnosis to communicate with the ‘other than conscious’ mind, as he calls it, which he believes to be more open to suggestion than the conscious mind.
Hypnosis traces back to ancient, and possibly even pre-historical, times. In Inodia, Egypt and Greece, rhythmic chanting was used to induce a trance, for healing or religious purposes. The Laws of Manu, a Sanskrit text dating back to 1500 BC, describes a number of states , such as the ‘sleep-walking’ state. the ‘dream sleep’ state and the ‘ecstasy sleep’ state. In the 18th century, Franz Anton Mesmer, a physician from Austria , started to investigate what he called ‘animal magnetism’. He was a pioneer in the field of hypnotic therapy, hence the word ‘mesmerise’. His ideas were developed by a Scottish surgeon called James Braid, who coined the term ‘hypnosis’ in 1842.
Modern hypnosis is used as a therapeutic tool and to deal with pain and stress during medical and dental proceedures. Many mothers-to-be learn self-hypnosis to aid them during delivery and a Swiss study at Basel University found hypnosis alleviated hay fever symptoms.
There is much controversy about what hypnotic states really are. Whereas some believe them to be ‘alltered states of consciousness’, ie significantly different from waking states, others argue that what’s really going on is an el aborate role play. The idea is that subjects, keen to experience hypnosis, convince themselves they are in a special state of mind, and act out the role that is expected of them. The effects,such as relief from pain may come as a result of this act, as happens when someone takes a placebo. Whatever the mechanism, what is seldom disputed is that hypnosis makes people more open to suggestion and so, potentially change.
“I don’t rule out that clients may want to please me by fulfilling my expectations of how they will act under hypnosis,” says Jonathan. “But what’s more important is that they want to please themselves and that the changes that come as a result of that are positive ones.”
Even Jonathan was sceptical at first. As a student, he suffered from exam related anxiety and tried hypnotherapy despite his reservations. It worked so well he decided to train in Eriksonian hypnosis and neuro linguistic programming (NLP), a technique which aims to help people change by teaching them to reprogramme their minds. He has been practising for 12 years, first in London and now also in Hove. “Hypnotherapy takes an average of six sessions to work. This makes it a very practical way of helping people, compared with psychoanalysis, where the client often needs two or three sessions a week for years.” He explains that, to start with he takes some background information and works with the client to establish a well-formed goal. To make clients relax, he suggests they count down, slow their breathing, close their eyes and imagine their bodies becoming heavier. He speaks in a soothing voice, reassuring his clients they are safe and compfortable . Sometimes they relax so much they fall asleep, but generally sitting upright prevents this.
“It’s fundamental that there should be a good rapport between the client and the practitioner. Sometimes clients feel unable to relax sufficiently to be hypnotised, usually when they feel a need to stay in complete control.
As well as hypnosis and NLP, Jonathan uses a technique called ‘voice dialogue’, in which lients voice the different positions they hold. He also encourages them to keep a journal and learn self-hypnosis, which is particularly useful to clients with sleep related problems, who can use it to relax at night.
“What I offer is guidance. I facilitate the process, but I believe that, even when I am there, in a sense people are really hypnotising themselves.” He used to think that people with creative jobs, like actors and artists, would be easier to hypnotise, but he then found that accountants and lawyers, who he saw as more rational, could be hypnotised just as effectively. “The important thing is that clients must be motivated, they must really want to achieve their goals,” he says. “I cannot stop a client from smoking if he doesn’t take responsibility for his behaviour.”
His clients come from many different backgrounds. He has hypnotised corporate executives, management professionals, people in life transition, parents, students and even young hooligans keen to change their ways. As a quick and simple way to nourish your inner self, he recommends writing down each day five things you are grateful for, of five things you have achieved. If you have a tendency to overeat, Jonathan suggests asking yourself “Am I really hungry?” every time temptation strikes. The trick is to replace comfort eating with another emotionally satisfying activity. “Breathing deeply helps, or taking a short rest. I recommend smiling, listening to music, writing or going for a walk by the sea, breathing fresh air – that works for me!”
Article appeared in Insight City News