I Hypnotized a Skeptical Journalist, and THIS is What Happened…

So here’s the question I get all the time:

  • Does hypnosis work?
  • Is it really real? Be honest…

Can anyone be hypnotized?

The short answer to that question, is “YES.” However, the experience of hypnosis is probably different than you think if your hypnosis background is limited to movies and cartoons.

Of course, if I say that “hypnosis works,” and that it’s a real phenomena, that’s expected because everybody already knows I’m a Hypnotist. What else am I going to say?

So, what’s needed here is a third party perspective from someone who has no experience or vested interest in the subject one way or the other. Someone that can capture the essence of this elusive and mysterious topic and relate it in a way that it becomes understandable.

A Poet’s work…to name the unnameable
– Salmon Rushdie

Back in 2004, I conducted three hypnotherapy sessions with a journalist flown in to write an article about Hypnotism. This writer also happens to be a noted poet and University Professor of Literature.

Can you say, “mad writing skills!“?

What follows is a reprint from the San Diego Reader cover story. An eloquently written “outsider’s” experiential account of hypnosis.

Could I Be Hypnotized?
Could I Be Hypnotized?
(Image: San Diego Reader)

Could I Be Hypnotized?

by Thomas Lux
Some people believe God to be the first hypnotist: He put Adam to sleep and took out a rib to make Eve.

It’s a leap, but today hypnotism is used as an alternative to anesthesia — in dental work and even in serious surgeries. More and more, the medical establishment is accepting, even encouraging, alternative therapies.

Law enforcement uses hypnotism — most commonly in helping people recall crimes they’ve witnessed. It’s used as entertainment. Therapeutically, it’s used to treat an array of conditions/addictions/phobias.

But I’m Skeptical About Hypnosis

I’d been interested in hypnotism for some time. Probably because I’m a born skeptic and I didn’t quite believe it worked but had heard of its efficacy from enough people over the years to know there must be something to it.

My daughter, for example, suffers from terrible headaches, just as I did at her age. She was taught some self-hypnosis techniques by a hypnotherapist, and it helped her a great deal.

I, on the other hand, had to learn the fine art of puking in my lunch box while the school nurse drove me home with what was termed a “sick headache.”

I’d spoken to law enforcement people who use hypnosis forensically. I knew people who had tried it to quit smoking and to lose weight.

Swinging Watch Stereotypes

I knew enough to know that the stereotypes — the hypnotist swinging a watch in front of a subject’s face and saying, “You’re getting sle-e-e-e-e-e-epy,” or the nightclub act where a shy librarian is made to jump up and down on one foot, flap her arms, and bark like a seal — were just that: stereotypes.

Still, I was skeptical. Could I be hypnotized? I’d give it an honest shot. I’d get hypnotized up and down, inside and out.

Visiting a Consulting Hypnotist

I went to see Erick Känd in Pacific Beach. (Note: Känd has recently relocated to Florida’s west coast — he likes the ocean and he likes warm weather.) He’s a practicing hypnotherapist, certified, experienced, personable.

I had a specific issue I wanted to address. What exactly that issue was is between a man and his hypnotherapist.

Känd is in his early 30s. He’s trim, immaculate (he brushes his teeth between appointments), and passionate about his profession. We met at his small office about a mile from the beach. We went to lunch.

He was the first hypnotist I talked to, and I had a lot of questions.

Hypnosis for Entertainment

I knew he had done hypnosis as entertainment. I needed to know how a hypnotist got people from an audience of strangers to come up onstage and do outrageous or silly things. Imitate a chicken. Or sing like a member of the Village People.

Actually, it’s not the hypnotist who makes this happen, it’s the subject him/herself. First of all, someone under hypnosis never loses consciousness and won’t do anything he or she wouldn’t do otherwise.

If you want to hypnotize a woman into going to bed with you, it won’t work unless she wants to go to bed with you.

How Stage Hypnosis Works

A stage show works like this: the hypnotist calls maybe 20 people onstage and attempts to drop them all into a trance. This is done mostly orally and rarely with either a watch or one of those twirly things.

He sends back to their seats those who do not initially respond.

It helps if the hypnotist is a student of human nature, has intuitive and empathetic powers. The hypnotist looks for the most appropriate subjects, weeding out people who he thinks are faking or not sober enough, while at the same time trying to find the ones not afraid to have fun, the ones willing to be silly.

The subjects must want to be hypnotized. They are in a state of deep relaxation and glad to be goofy.

Känd told me that you’d prefer not to give a hypnotist show to a room full of accountants or lawyers. The best groups are high school or college students. People at a convention away from home. Less-inhibited crowds.

Some People Don’t Want to Be Hypnotized

The point is fun, laughs. The last people left onstage are the most susceptible to hypnosis. Yes, they are conscious of what’s going on. Yes, they are in a trance and open to suggestion. Hypnosis: a state of de-e-e-e-e-ep relaxation.

The hypnotist gets you there by telling you to go there. It’s not that some people can’t be hypnotized; it’s that some people don’t want to be hypnotized.

Natural Hypnotic Trances

The trance state (what it’s called when one is hypnotized) is common. We are each in and out of trance states every day. Daydreaming and all its variations (lost in a book, lost in a movie, lost in sex) are trance states. Intense, highly detailed daydreams are a common form of trance.

I’m not sure, for example, what an accountant daydreams about. Or an engineer. I teach at a university crawling with engineers of all kinds. A joke I’ve heard several tell on themselves: “Why do people become engineers? Because they don’t have enough personality to be undertakers.”

It makes sense that children are good subjects for stage hypnosis: they’re all kings of daydreaming.

I still remember in great detail an afternoon-long daydream that involved me firing a machine gun at Japanese Zeroes strafing my grammar school. No matter that I lived in inland Massachusetts and the war had been over nearly a decade. Needless to say, I shot them all down and was awarded a medal the next morning after we said the Pledge of Allegiance. And ditto needless to say, a girl I had a crush on smiled at me. She looked exactly like Annette Funicello. I asked Känd if he had many kids as hypnotherapy clients. He said no, “because they’re already in a trance!”

Is Stage Hypnosis Bad for Hypnotherapy?

Did Känd feel there was anything contradictory about doing stage shows and practicing hypnosis as a legitimate form of therapy? No, the stage show is fun, and it’s a way of advertising his therapeutic side. It’s “another line in the water.”

He meant this pragmatically (it’s a business; it’s how he earns his living), and he believes in the power and the possibilities of hypnosis to help people, to help heal people; and any way he can get the word out, he will.

How Many Hypnosis Sessions Will it Take?

I asked Känd about the things people came to him for. He said first that hypnosis was often a last resort: “People have run through medical doctors, shrinks, voodoo doctors not in the Yellow Pages” before they come to a hypnotist.

He also told me he rarely has more than three sessions with clients. Other hypnotists said this too. If they can’t make at least a dent in a problem in three sessions, then they probably can’t help.

I wish the shrinks I’ve seen in my life had made the same claim! I’d have a lot more money in the bank now. Känd summed it up this way: “talking, talking, talking, and never moving.” He also made it clear hypnotism’s not a magic bullet. You don’t get hypnotized and suddenly drop 50 pounds.

Hypnosis for Fears and Phobias

Helping people quit smoking or lose weight is his bread and butter, but he also treats clients with social phobias, fear of flying (particularly since 9/11).

After 9/11 he treated a client who had to commute weekly to Saudi Arabia. He said he helped the person not only to get over the fear of flying to that part of the world but also to enjoy the trip!

He treats people who have a fear of public speaking. Research indicates that public speaking is the average person’s second greatest fear, coming right after death.

My First Hypnosis Session

The Hypnotist’s Office

Känd’s office is dominated by a huge, soft leather chair. Sitting in it was like sitting in a large bowl of warm chocolate pudding. I came to call it the World’s Most Comfortable Chair. Känd said he shopped carefully for it: it’s one of the few pieces of equipment a hypnotist needs.

I think I dropped into a quarter of a trance as soon as I sat down and before Känd even opened his mouth. The curtains were drawn. He played a new agey music — barely audible. I prefer new age music inaudible.

Confronting the Issue Head On

I told him my issue. He said it was like “a pocket of poison that needed to be popped.” Like popping a pimple, I thought, which we all know leaves a red welt, which is much better than an active pustule.

He takes, and encourages his clients to take an aggressive approach in confronting an issue: “Bring it on, don’t avoid the issue, challenge it to see if it’s real. Sometimes you have to throw a couch off a roof to see if it breaks.”

I think he was glad to hear I didn’t need to quit smoking or lose weight. A few minutes later I was in a trance, and this is how he got me there.

Entering the Trance State

As I said, just sitting in the chair was the beginning of my induction (another word for being hypnotized). The client sits about two-thirds reclined, a little more than in your Barcalounger to watch a movie on the TV. Your legs remain uncrossed.

Hand Drop Rapid Hypnosis Induction

He asked me to put my hand palm-down on his hand, which was held palm-up. He asked me to press hard on his hand. He did this two or three times. And then he said, almost dramatically, “Sleep!”

Hypnotic Voice

I was interested in his voice as he dropped me into, and while I was in, a trance — its rhythms and cadences, his inflections, pacing, etc. The voice: the hypnotist’s most important tool.

Känd, sometimes alternately, sometimes at the same time, sounded like a radio announcer, a soothing, soft-speaking counselor, a stern teacher, an ardent coach, a preacher, an intimate friend.

The speed, pitch, level of loudness or softness varied greatly, and all were done with purpose and good timing, shifting from one tone to another, waxing a bit dramatic, then toning it down. There was room for variation if not for improvisation.

He asked me to squeeze my eyes shut. Then let go. Then squeeze them tighter, then relax, all without opening them and until I felt I couldn’t open them.

Hypnosis Regression Therapy

Then he told me to bring up my issue as an image and to try to make the feeling around the image rise up from inside me and travel down my legs and up my arms. Remember my saying I was a skeptic? I still am, but goddamn if I didn’t feel and see the issue.

He took me back before the most recent and painful manifestation of it. To an earlier manifestation. And then to one before that. Then to one I had no previous conscious memory of.

He had me describe these scenes in the present tense, as if they were happening now. This was when he was stern: if I used the past tense he insisted I keep it in present tense.

All of these but the last had come up in conventional shrinkage over many, many sessions, which always ended with my writing a check and saying: “See you next week.” Känd had run me backward through this ugly knotted rat’s tail in about 20 minutes.

He asked me to step away from these memories and to speak as an adult to the child in the images. He told me to hug my child self. This was the only time I felt a twinge of the hokey. The whole “embracing the inner child” pop psychology fad came rushing back to me.

Pop psychology always annoyed me. So instead of hugging my inner child, I nodded gravely at him. And my inner child returned the nod, as if he knew what he was in for.

Hypnotic Convincer – The Color Red

We were near the end of the session. Before Känd brought me out of the trance (by snapping his fingers!) he told me that when I left the office and saw the color red, I would be filled with a sense of peace and well-being. I remember thinking, “Uh-huh.”

I left his office a few minutes later and looked to my left. There was a stoplight on red. It was the deepest, richest, creamiest, most evocative red I have ever seen, and it filled me with joy.

I decided to walk to the literal beach of Pacific Beach — I’d never been there before. I saw a red pickup truck go by: joy. I stopped to look at some bedraggled red flowers for several minutes, very happy.

When I got to the beach I saw — it jumped out at me! — a very loud red and yellow shirt. Way too loud for me. I had to buy it and did and put it on on the beach and didn’t take it off for three days (I swear, except to shower). I slept in it two nights.

Later, when I told Känd what had happened, he smiled and said, “I know.”

Subsequent Hypnosis Sessions

In the second and third sessions he took me back to the examples of this issue coursing through my body, but this time he had me put spigots at the tips of each finger and toe. I know that sounds weird, but there they were, vividly in my imagination, 20 little silver spigots at the ends of my extremities.

Then he took me on a trip. He had me imagine that the negative issues in my body were like black gooey tar, something I needed to get out of my body. Then he had me imagine that a great light was entering my body from the top of my head. Then he told me to open the spigots. Next, that the light was moving through my body and pushing the tar and its toxicity out of the spigots.

I was gradually filled with light as my fingers and toes oozed their goop. I could even smell it: like day-old vomit, like a vulture’s bowels. Goddamned if I did not feel a tremendous sense of relief. I say, goddamned.

Forgiveness Therapy

Next he switched to a repetitious litany that seemed to have a sense of structure, that emphasized forgiveness — of others, of myself. Then he moved on to a similar riff on gratitude. These basic tenets are not new — they’re the foundation of many religions, many 12-step programs, hell, they’re a part of the common sense we should all learn on our journeys, but this time not only did they make logical sense to me but I also felt them in my body.

Emily Dickinson, arguably the greatest American poet ever, said that her test of a real poem was if, reading it, she felt as if the top of her head had been taken off.

She was speaking hyperbolically, metaphorically (poets tend to do that!), but she meant that the best poems don’t only enter us cerebrally, they affect us physiologically as well.

A.E. Housman put the same feeling in a different manner: he said if he read an authentic line of poetry while he was shaving, he would cut himself. I was feeling something similar.

A Continuous Process

After Känd brought me out of the trance he explained that for the effects to last I had to do homework, I had to re-imagine my images, I had to continue to practice forgiveness and gratitude.

He taught me a technique using acupressure points and the repetition of certain phrases I could use if the negative, obsessive thinking returned in spades.

My Hypnosis Session Results

I wanted this issue to stop renting so much space in my head. Hypnosis helped tremendously. The issue did not disappear, but it was greatly diminished, and the techniques helped keep it away when it lifted its ugly head to take a bite out of my ass.

It was also clear to me — I could feel this in my body — that the hypnosis did not just cover up or mask the issue, its pain was diminished, the pockets of poison were reduced to the proportions of pinpricks when before they had gone through me like swords first slathered with the saliva of a Komodo dragon.

I repeat, I’m a skeptic. Hypnosis works, at least it did for me.

There’s not even anything particularly mysterious about hypnosis and how it works. We know the mind can do miraculous things. The hypnotist (in the therapeutic sense) is a facilitator, a tour guide, a healer. Just like doctors and lawyers, some are better than others.


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2 comments on “Does Hypnosis Work?

  1. My wife had a terrible upbringing and was sexually abused many times. We have been married almost 25 years, but she has no interest in sex. We are very much in love, but wonder if hypnosis can help with the sexual part?

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