Kristen Dodson first got interested in hypnosis in her teens, when her mother bought her a book on self-hypnosis.
“I wanted to be a better badminton player,” the 44-year-old Post Falls resident says. “After using what I’d learned, I was able to play better.”
Today Dodson is a certified hypnotherapist who’s been practicing for 12 years, working with people who want help with a wide variety of things ranging from health issues to spiritual endeavors.
While it might sound trendy, the practice of hypnotherapy is nothing new. Shamans and healers from varying cultures have, for millennia, used trance states for healing and ritual.
Hypnosis as we know it today was first associated with 18th-century German physician Franz Anton Mesmer. (This is the root of the English verb “mesmerize.”)
The word hypnosis comes from a Greek word meaning “sleep.” But a hypnotherapist uses hypnotherapy as a means to bring about a state of deep relaxation, not sleep.
The participant is just that – fully cognizant and participating in the process. It’s a state that is both very relaxed and deeply focused.
Hypnotherapy can teach people how to become aware of their own states of awareness, giving them greater control over physical functions and psychological responses.
Dr. Robert E. Sapien, chief of the Pediatric Emergency Medicine Division and associate professor at the University of New Mexico and a licensed hypnotherapist, points out that there is a difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
“Hypnotherapy is used as a longer-term treatment with therapeutic goals for healing a condition, whereas hypnosis is the tool used to transition into an altered state of consciousness,” Sapien said in an interview in the August 2007 issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics News.
Those conditions are many.
“I have clients that use hypnotherapy for addiction, chronic pain management, emotional ‘clearing,’ anxiety reduction, sports enhancement and even past-life regression,” says Dodson.
While she has dealt with all of these things while running River’s Edge Hypnotherapy, she says that the bulk of her clients want help to quit smoking. And she’s had great results.
“Some people take multiple sessions,” Dodson says, “but there have been some that report back to me months later that one or two sessions was enough.”
Some other uses for hypnotherapy include aid for natural childbirth, as well as physical illnesses like hypertension and stress-induced asthma, and such pediatric conditions as bedwetting, nail-biting and thumb-sucking.
In 1958, both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical procedure. Since 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended hypnotherapy as a treatment for chronic pain.
The medical community notes that hypnotherapy is to be used as an adjunct to, but not as a replacement for, medical care.
Dodson was trained in what is known as Alchemical Hypnotherapy.
“The best thing about it is that people come in feeling stuck, burdened or stressed out,” she says, “and leave with a totally different energy.
“You can see and feel the transformation. Just like base metals change in alchemy so, too, do base emotions in hypnotherapy.”
Dodson says the process begins with imagining whatever goal you have in mind and a perfect outcome.
The therapist uses a series of relaxation exercises such as breath awareness, visualizations and counting down. The heart of a session includes questions and answers, but if trauma is recalled, the therapist leads the client to imagine, or insert, a new story line.
At its conclusion, the session is anchored when the therapist aids a client in imagining that the changes have already occurred.
“There are a lot of myths, including that a person can get stuck in hypnosis, but that is impossible,” Sapien told the American Academy of Pediatrics News.
“Hypnosis is a natural state of mind in which the mind stimulates the parasympathetic and overrides the sympathetic nervous systems, putting a person at complete relaxation.”
Dodson likens hypnotherapy to a therapeutic massage.
“Hypnosis is like a body massage in that when a therapist places a lot of focused attention on a muscle knot that’s been building, and then releases the pain, you feel free and wonderful and light,” she explains.
“In hypnosis, the psychological knots that have been built into one’s psyche can be examined and transformed by one’s focused awareness. Positive suggestions that are given during the trance state become a new and positive reality to the hypnosis client.”
While some people may fear they will feel out of control, Dodson reassures that hypnosis is “a heightened state of awareness rather than a period of slumber or unconsciousness, as Hollywood would portray. A person is always in control, and can reject or accept suggestions given at any time.”
And contrary to popular belief, she says the people who are the most easily hypnotized, in her experience, are intelligent and creative, not submissive or naïve.
Along with physical health issues, some people use hypnotherapy to resolve certain emotional behavioral patterns, or simply because they have a curiosity about themselves, Dodson says.
She sees people as having an underlying human curiosity about life after death. Because of that, some are interested in past life regression.
“Some people want to know why they are drawn to certain music, cultures, foods, et cetera,” she says.
This type of hypnotherapy can help break patterns that some people find hard to change, says Dodson.
Past life regression operates under a belief in reincarnation. Practitioners believe that revealing unresolved issues from previous life experiences may help bring about resolution in the current day.
“Uncovering memories from past lives might help break patterns you get stuck in, or at the very least, help gain understanding of why you do some of the things you do,” Dodson says.
Keith Milligan, a Post Falls musician, hired Dodson for hypnotherapy services for multiple reasons: first as curiosity about himself, then for relationship resolution.
“As a young boy, I was fascinated with Virginia and the American Revolution,” says Milligan. “While my peers always played with World War II soldiers, I was only drawn to the soldiers that had blue coats and tri-cornered hats.
“When I had a hypnotherapy session, I came to understand some of this better.”
His other session had to do with family ties.
“Hypnotherapy helped me to solve some familial riddles – why I was more drawn to certain family members than others – and the session ultimately brought me closer to my mother,” Milligan says.
Says Dodson: “If nothing else, once you discover some possible reasons for why you are the way you are, you have more compassion for yourself.”
Dr. Brian Weiss, author of “Same Soul, Many Bodies” (Free Press, 2005) and “Through Time Into Healing” (Fireside, 1993), has spent his life teaching and writing about hypnotherapy and the concept of past lives.
The traditional psychotherapist believes that when past life traumas are recalled, symptoms are alleviated. In his books, Weiss talks about not going fully into the recalled experience, but observing from a neutral location, as if floating above a scene.
A person having a past life regression, he says, is instructed to leave any time something feels too overwhelming.
Dodson agrees and says that in her training, she was taught that all hypnosis is “self-hypnosis.”
“The human mind will not lead a client into something that they are not ready to process or remember,” she says.
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