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Front and Center: Kathy Jo Avery helps resolve bad habits with hypnotherapy

Kathy Jo Avery is a licensed hypnotherapist and works out of her home on Spokane's South Hill. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Kathy Jo Avery is a licensed hypnotherapist and works out of her home on Spokane's South Hill. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Michael Guilfoil Correspondent

Those who see the new year as a fresh start have one week to come up with resolutions for 2017.

But changing old habits can be tricky.

Just ask Kathy Jo Avery, a hypnotherapist whose clients seek help tackling unwanted tendencies.

“Take smoking,” says Avery. “If a person comes in and says they made their own self-hypnosis tape, I’ll say, ‘Let me guess. You ended up smoking more.’

“Yeah,” they reply. “How come?”

“I bet you put in your tape that you don’t want to buy cigarettes, that it’s a disgusting and expensive habit, that having to carry a lighter around is inconvenient, blah, blah blah.

“What you heard as you fell asleep was ‘smoking, smoking, cigarettes, cigarettes.’ ”

“All hypnosis is proactive,” Avery explains, “so the self-hypnosis tape should have said, ‘I want to be able to climb stairs at work. I want to have more money in my wallet. I want to be alive so I can play with my grandkids.’ ”

Proponents of hypnotherapy claim it helps clients relax enough to allow access to the subconscious mind, where issues can be resolved and behaviors changed.

Avery, an emergency-room nurse, started Heartfelt Hypnosis after undergoing hypnotherapy to deal with health issues caused by a car accident.

During a recent interview, she discussed that accident and its fallout, the TV show that inspired her first career, and why all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Avery: Seattle. My family moved here in 1968 when I was entering seventh grade, and I went on to attend North Central High School.

S-R: Did you have a favorite subject in school?

Avery: Science.

S-R: How about interests outside the classroom?

Avery: I belonged to a lot of clubs – a cappella choir, pep club. Most of my activities were school-related.

S-R: Did you also have jobs?

Avery: Lots of jobs. I babysat. I worked for a food vendor at Expo ’74, which exposed me to other cultures. And I worked for court reporters. After school, I’d walk downtown, pick up packages of deposition and deliver them to various law offices. That was fascinating.

S-R: Did you aspire to a particular career?

Avery: I was really influenced by the TV show “Marcus Welby, M.D.” He and his nurse, Consuelo, both went beyond what you think of as medicine anymore – house calls, answering questions at length. So by the time I was a junior in high school, I envisioned becoming a nurse.

S-R: What college did you attend?

Avery: I got my nursing training at Eastern Washington University and the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education downtown, and started working in 1979.

S-R: Was there a moment or event that changed the direction of your life?

Avery: Absolutely. In 1995, I was enrolled in Gonzaga University’s graduate program to become a nurse anesthetist when one night a drunk driver crossed the center line on Grand and nailed me. That cost me my grad school, and began an incredible journey of discovery about how emotions and trauma work. I ended up in counseling for three years, and changed my major to adult education with an emphasis in counseling.

S-R: What was your goal?

Avery: I wanted to do what my counselor own did – help people when one crisis after another piles up and takes a toll. That’s what led to my starting Heartfelt Hypnosis. I help people who have suffered trauma in life, whether physical or emotional.

S-R: And you’re still a nurse?

Avery: Yes, I’ve worked in Sacred Heart’s emergency room since 1992. But Heartfelt is my primary occupation.

S-R: How long did it take for Heartfelt to gain traction?

Avery: About five years.

S-R: How do you market your service?

Avery: On the internet. But word of mouth is always best.

S-R: What’s the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy?

Avery: Hypnosis is what we typically associate with stage entertainment or movies – where people are put under and told to cluck like a chicken. Hypnotherapy also involves a focused trance state, but it’s a dialogue where we explore the causes of, for instance, a bad habit. People think habits are caused by the thought-based part of their mind – willpower – but they have it backward. It’s their emotional mind – their autopilot programming – that hypnotherapy targets. Hypnotherapy allows someone to understand themselves better, and change their own programming.

S-R: Can anyone call themselves a hypnotherapist?

Avery: Not in Washington state. They have to have a license from the Department of Health. I attended the (Spokane) Hypnotherapy Institute, which is accredited under one of eight national certifying bodies. I’ve had my certification since 2001.

S-R: What issues can hypnotherapy treat?

Avery: Trauma, anxiety, phobias. Also New Year’s-resolution sorts of behavioral issues – smoking, overdrinking, gambling, overspending.

S-R: How many sessions does it take to treat someone?

Avery: Typically four to seven sessions.

S-R: What’s your success rate?

Avery: A lot of people want what I call a whammy bammy – come in for one session, and leave not wanting to smoke. But that approach usually just leads to another oral addiction – overeating or overdrinking. People who go the distance in hypnotherapy should breathe clean the rest of their life.

S-R: What’s the best business advice you ever got?

Avery: There’s more than enough clients for everyone.

S-R: How has your business evolved?

Avery: I went back to grad school in 2007 – the year I turned 50 – and earned a master’s in social work, because you can get jaded in ER working with people severely challenged by addiction to the point of homelessness. Social work helps us take everybody as a fresh story, warts and all. And, going back to “Marcus Welby,” Consuelo was a social worker at times. So was Dr. Welby. He didn’t just treat a patient’s body – he was what I consider a full-service doctor.

S-R: How do you divide your time now?

Avery: I spend about 60 percent on hypnotherapy, and 40 percent on nursing. But I also do counseling in the ER, because you can’t separate the two when working with that population – particularly victims of sexual assault.

S-R: Is there a busy season for hypnotherapy?

Avery: Not really, but issues change seasonally. In late spring, people want to be able to fit into that swimsuit. At Christmastime, people say, “My family is coming over and they don’t know I’ve been smoking, so I need to quit in a hurry.” Valentine’s Day can be real hard for single people, but breakups occur throughout the year, so I’m always helping people get over relationships.

S-R: What do you tell them?

Avery: If they want to attract healthy, they have to be healthy. At intake I can recognize things that don’t serve them – not being honest with themselves, or being preoccupied with how others see them.

S-R: What advice would you offer someone whose New Year’s resolution involves changing an unwanted behavior?

Avery: All emotions whittle down to love and fear, so get out of fear. Start thinking lovingly and proactively about what you want, instead of thinking how hard it’s going to be to change a habit. That’s history, and we don’t drive our cars looking solely in the rear-view mirror.

S-R: Does self-hypnosis work?

Avery: Absolutely. In fact, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The client is the one choosing to relax and be open to new beliefs. No one can be hypnotized without their permission.

S-R: How much do you charge for hypnotherapy?

Avery: Between $40 and $85 an hour.

S-R: Does insurance typically cover your fee?

Avery: It has since I earned my second master’s degree.

S-R: Why have you chosen to work out of your home?

Avery: So I can offer that $40 rate to uninsured people who really need it.

S-R: What surprises you?

Avery: When I think a person will require 20 sessions, and they’re done in three because they’re so motivated.

S-R: What has this job taught you about yourself?

Avery: There isn’t any grief that needs to kill you.

S-R: Do you have a mantra?

Avery: “Be the source.” Everything starts with you – it’s the opposite of co-dependence.

S-R: Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

Avery: Maybe gotten some formal business training. That might have helped me avoid tough lessons along the way.

S-R: What sets your hypnotherapy practice apart from others around town?

Avery: The medical background and psychological recovery I bring to it.

S-R: What’s the easiest behavior to treat?

Avery: Phobias.

S-R: Have you ever had phobias?

Avery: Yes. I had a fear of heights. But the year after my first husband left, I climbed a ladder and hung Christmas lights, the whole time telling myself, “I can do this.” And I did!

S-R: Who is best suited for this career?

Avery: Someone with a caregiver mentality and intuition, but also very healthy boundaries. A sense of humor helps, too.

S-R: How do you relax?

Avery: That’s what I love about hypnotherapy. In the very first session, I teach people four ways they can get back to peace and calm in under 30 seconds.

S-R: What are the four ways?

Avery: You’re asking for my trade secrets. (laugh) You’re going to have to make an appointment.

This interview has been condensed. Correspondent Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at mguilfoil@comcast.net

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