I’m lying back in a plush leather chair, my legs raised, headphones on. “Allow your thoughts to go, don’t bring them back to what I’m saying,” commands the voice of hypnotherapist Louisa Kiernander, from Mind Solutions in Dubai. As I shut my eyes, soothing music begins and she guides me through a few breathing exercises. Next, I’m focusing on different parts of my body, sending a message of relaxation to every single cell. I get an itch. It momentarily distracts me from her soothing voice. I reach down and scratch my knee, thinking that I’ve already ruined my first attempt at hypnotherapy.
“Imagine you are a bird,” says Kiernander. Guiding me through an imaginary landscape, she describes a canyon, walls of precious stones, and a grassy ledge. From there, the daydream continues. I begin to think about swirling colors and then darkness, before I hear, “One, two, feeling more awake, three, feeling refreshed, four, and five, eyes open.” Without hesitation, I’m back in the room. My body feels heavy in the chair, almost as if I’ve had a nap, and my mind is relaxed. It’s been 20 minutes but feels no more than five.
Hypnotherapy is an alternative treatment that has been practiced for centuries by cultures all around the world. As a scientifically recognized psychological and therapeutic discipline, it has long since moved beyond the flickering flames and swinging pocket watches seen in movies. “Hypnotherapy takes you on a journey of self-awareness, where you travel to the deepest parts of your mind in order to reprogram your thoughts, change your beliefs, and heal your experiences,” explains Soniyaa Kiran Punjabi, founder of Illuminations Well-Being Center in Dubai.
There is some research evidence that hypnotherapy can help combat everything from phobias to obesity, addictions, insomnia, and even psychosomatic diseases like migraine headaches. Hypnotherapists do this by working with the subconscious part of the mind. “It is a massive data bank of all of our memories and information that has been fed into our brain since before we were born,” says hypnotherapist Anna Yates, founder of Mind Solutions. By reprogramming the subconscious mind, it’s possible to create behavioral changes.
“In order for us to reprogram, we have to distract the conscious mind,” explains Yates. Typical hypnotherapy sessions include two parts. The first discusses your goals. “Expect lots of questioning, lots of interactive chatting,” says Kiernander. The second is where you are put in a trance-like state through guided meditation, focusing on a specific goal. “The therapist induces the client into a state of hypnosis by gently overloading their conscious mind with more message units than it can handle, thereby causing it to temporarily give control to the subconscious mind,” explains Kiran Punjabi.
I’m in the chair looking to combat an emotional eating habit. All too often, when deadlines approach and stress mounts, I turn to pizza and snacks for comfort. This is a pattern I have had since childhood. “You do not need food to help you deal with feelings,” chants Kiernander. I am listening to a recording of our session, which she does for each client, believing that repetition is key to training the brain. It works. I don’t enter a deep trance – unless I play it at bedtime and fall asleep – as her voice fades into background noise. It does seem to be working for me. In the past few weeks, I’ve controlled my snacking, my clothes are looser, and I feel more relaxed. Part of the Mind Solutions method, which Yates and Kiernander both champion, is focusing on replacing bad habits with positive habits. Self-care rituals are vital. Instead of reaching for the biscuit tin when I get home from work, I now head upstairs to do the 12-step skincare routine that I’ve never gotten around to completing before.
Is age a barrier to results? “If people want to make changes, it doesn’t matter how old they are, we can help them,” says Kiernander. But hypnotherapy alone won’t ensure lasting behavioral change, says clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi, managing director at The Lighthouse Arabia. “It does not have a compelling evidence base like other forms of psychotherapy. Working with hypnotherapy in isolation will not be beneficial. It is most helpful when it is part of a larger psychotherapy treatment plan.”
Some studies include one published by the Stanford School of Medicine in 2017, which found that certain areas of the brain had altered activity during hypnotic trances. In particular, the area responsible for staying focused and open to verbal suggestions that allow for a change in behavior. The study also looked at the limitations of hypnotherapy, finding that an estimated 15% of people won’t be easily receptive to hypnosis. People who are cynical about the treatment will be more likely to show little to no changes in their brain patterns when receiving hypnotherapy. Those open to it might only require a single session to combat their issues, while others might require several.
It is important to find a qualified hypnotherapist that comes highly recommended and who you can trust. A 90-minute session costs from AED550 – but if you’re struggling with phobias, stress, or even chronic pain, the results can be priceless.
Originally published in the October 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia