Today I had my first real hypnosis experience with Emily Cahal of Salem Hypnosis Solutions.
Back in college I'd dabbled in self-hypnosis as taught by a Yoga teacher I was studying with.
And I'd seen a form of "show business" hypnosis during an assembly at a high school where I briefly was a teacher's aide following my college graduation. A hypnotist did his thing on stage with a female student, then told her to go find Paul Newman in the audience. She walked by me, looking into the bleachers, then leapt into the second row where I was sitting and gave me a hug.
I suspect I was singled out as Paul Newman because I was older than the other students, but at the time it made me feel a bit movie star'ish regardless.
During the introductory part of today's session Cahal made clear that what she does is nothing like that sort of hypnosis. She explained that much (or most) of what results in our thoughts, feelings, and actions originates in the unconscious, which isn't under our direct control.
My reason for making an appointment with Cahal was that my wife, a retired psychotherapist, thought it could be helpful in getting me to relax more with what I like to call my Damn Bladder Problem. I'm managing OK with it, but sometimes tension, anxiety, or some other force makes it difficult for me to do the self-catheterization owing to a tightening-up in my pelvic region.
As I explained to Cahal, I can feel relaxed and "normal" (whatever that is), yet at times some of my bladder muscles clearly have a mind of their own. So I was hoping that hypnosis could help me stay in a relaxation sweet spot.
She told me that there were two basic ways we could go with hypnosis. Basically, one way would focus on my particular presenting problem, so to speak. The other way would be more general, delving into my habitual way of dealing with life's problems.
This second way would take us into my childhood where, Cahal said, we first develop our coping mechanisms. I told her that I liked that idea better, since I'd like to be able to relax more generally in various types of situations, not just those involving my chronic health problem.
We talked some about a subject that fascinates me, both intellectually and personally: how efforts to resolve a problem, which in my case was excessive tension, often backfire because effort can exacerbate the problem -- such as not being relaxed enough. It's kind of like the familiar "don't think of an elephant."
Trying not to do something can paradoxically make that something happen. So this is an argument in favor of hypnosis, which works on more of a subconscious or unconscious level.
I then was invited to sit in a zero gravity chair that, when reclined, put me in a pleasingly comfortable position. Cahal started off by inviting me to relax both physically and mentally with my eyes closed.
I won't go into too many details of the hypnosis session. I'll just hit some highlights that struck me as particularly interesting.
These involved a latter part of the session where I was interacting with my youthful self, initially 10-12 years old, then more like 16 years old as Cahal led me into some questions about my relationship with my mother during a period when her alcoholism was in full bloom.
She had mentioned that I shouldn't over-think my responses to her questions, but rather respond intuitively with what first popped into my head. This made the hypnosis session quite different from a regular counseling session, which in my experience involves more cognitive deliberation.
Heart versus head, basically.
The most moving part of the session for me was when I was invited to give my youthful self advice from the perspective of my current 69 year-old self. I have to admit that I've been skeptical of the value of "inner child" work, because rightly or wrongly it's seemed to me that I've pondered my childhood, with its mixture of dysfunction and normalcy, in sufficient depth to make any further pondering superfluous.
Hypnosis, though, had some surprises for me.
I found it easy to give some advice to the youthful me as if he was still a child: "Don't worry, everything changes, mostly for the better." I also enjoyed Cahal's observation that it was the situations I found myself in that were the problem, not me.
She asked if I felt I was a good person, and if I felt my mother was a good person. I answered "yes" to both questions. It was freeing, in a way, to speak out loud what I'd said to myself countless times after my mother died in 1985. Well, not only to myself, but also to my imagined mother (being an atheist, I don't believe she can hear me now).
"You were the best mother you could be, so thanks for that."
We then moved to the present, with Cahal inviting me to imagine my youthful self co-existing with my present day self. Give your youthful self a hug, she said.
I then realized something that had never occurred to me before: I couldn't recall ever being hugged by a man during my childhood years. I had no contact with my father after my parents divorced when I was three, or thereabouts. My male relatives weren't hugging types. So when I visualized my youthful self getting a hug from my current self, it almost brought tears to my eyes.
Now, I don't know what all this means. Much more, of course, occurred during the hour or so hypnosis session. I don't know what all of that meant either.
Strangely, which really isn't so strange, really, this is why I feel positive about hypnosis after my first experience with it.
I've done an awful lot of conscious deliberating about my life, both past and present, since my bladder problem changed a lot for me. If all of that deliberating had been fruitful, I wouldn't be feeling the need for help with relaxing into what could be called my "new normal."
(I don't like that new normal, so I've been loathe to use that term, but as time goes on I'm coming to recognize that reality doesn't really give a shit about what I like or don't like, it gives what's coming to me regardless.)
So I enjoy the feeling that what occurred in today's hypnosis session is akin to seeds planted in my unconscious which will germinate outside of my awareness. I've got several more sessions scheduled; thus, more seeds should be planted. At the very least, I'm trying something new, and this old dog should be able to learn some new tricks.
I want to mention that throughout the hypnosis session I felt quite normal, not at all under the control of the hypnotist. It was a lot like a guided meditation, though I readily admit that almost certainly there was more going on behind the scenes of what Cahal was doing than I'm aware of.
Here's how Emily Cahal describes hypnosis in the FAQ page on her web site. This rang true for me, in part because I'm habitually prone to locking my car door, walking away a few steps, then returning to check whether I really did lock the door.
HOW DOES HYPNOSIS WORK?
Using analytical hypnosis to address issues, such as: weight loss, smoking, depression, childbirth, stress, sports performance, confidence, habits, cravings, and fears, is about behavior modification. There is a developed behavior that is guiding your automatic reactions to events.
These reactions are based on your previous experience. When you are trying to change a behavior, it can be a very real struggle as your conscious mind attempts to change what your subconscious mind already has in place. You can compare it to the mindless way you may have trained yourself to lock the door when you get in the car. At first it takes conscious effort. Eventually it becomes automatic, to the point that you may not even know if you locked it or not without checking. Once that simple habit is in place, changing it is possible with some effort and repetition.
A habit can become stronger and more complex when you apply emotions and time. If someone has a strong fear about car doors being unlocked, they probably took on that fear at some fearful time in the past. It could have been someone’s innocent statement about car-jackings, a horror movie or a personal fearful moment. Any of those situations have the potential to create a fear behavior. The emotional content of this habit makes changing that behavior more involved. The simple fact that our mind does create behaviors means that our mind can change them, if we understand how.
Hypnosis has shown to be a rapid way to change behaviors, especially with modern hypnosis techniques. When using the very same principles behind our natural behavior creation, we can easily quit old habits as well as create new ones.