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Cover Story March 11th, 2010

  Untitled Document


by lyle e davis

There’s an old story floating around within the hypnotist profession that it is truly an honorable calling.

Above, Dr. Michael Dean, retired stage hypnotist; photo is probably 50 years old. If still living, he is now in his late 80’s.

Why? Because, so it is said, God was the first hypnotist. By his hypnotic power he put Adam into a deep trance, removed a rib and, voila! A woman was created!

I’m not sure hypnotists need to invoke the Almighty to sell their craft. They are doing pretty well on their own - though they have come a long way from the days when they would perform from the back of traveling wagons in the early days of our country. Some hypnotists have become very wealthy from their profession, usually those are the hypnotists who do stage shows.

There are basically three areas of hypnosis: Hypnotherapy, Stage hypnosis and Self-hypnosis, though all hypnosis is, in effect, self hypnosis. We shall attempt to deal with and explain all three.

One of the best known stage hypnotists in the San Diego area was Dr. Michael Dean (real name Sanford I. Berman). He held himself out to be a semanticist when he wasn’t performing but he found he could make a lot more money entertaining.
If still living, he is in his late 80’s now, retired in Las Vegas at last word.

Hypnosis is actually used today in many areas . . . as anesthesia, for example. It’s used in dental work and sometimes even in serious surgeries, though that tends to be more prevalent in Asia. The traditional medical establishment is accepting, even encouraging, alternative therapies. Law enforcement uses hypnotism -- most commonly in helping people recall crimes they've witnessed, though the Escondido Police Department could not recall ever using it. They, and other jurisdictions, are a bit gun-shy on hypnosis because a defense attorney successfully argued in a court case that a witness’s testimony was “tainted” beause it had been obtained under hypnosis. The police departments then tended to back off.

It's used as entertainment. Therapeutically, it's used to treat an array of problems, addictions, smoking, pain management, weight loss, depression, even to heal more quickly following surgery.

I have some personal experience within this arena.

I used to be a smoker. A terrible smoker. A two to three pack a day smoker. I had smoked since I was, probably, about 12 years old.
One of the smartest things I ever did in my life was to quit smoking. That was about 20 years ago. Maybe longer. (The true means of testing if you have quit smoking is if you can’t remember just when it was you quit).

I have hypnosis to thank for helping me quit a filthy habit that I couldn’t quit myself.

When it comes to will power, I didn’t get a whole lot handed to me at Mother Nature’s Assembly Line.

Quitting didn’t come easy for me, not even with hypnosis. It took, in fact, two takes.

Before turning to broadcasting as a college major, I had first majored in psychology. During my studies in Psychology I studied hypnosis a bit, practiced it at parties. Then I changed majors to broadcasting, began to build a career in that . . . and pretty much put hypnosis to the back of my mind.

And I continued smoking.

Then, one day, I heard a hypnotist being intereviewed on KSDO radio, which was then one of the top news radio stations in San Diego. The hypnotist impressed me with his simple, straight forward explanaton of how hypnosis worked.

I decided to try him.

He had offices in the La Jolla area, but his fee was only $150. Even though this was, maybe, 20 years ago the fee is still about the same. $150 per session, plus or minus, depending upon the hypnotist. The difference is, I had two sessions. Many hypnotists today will use three or four. I think the latter is better because you have more immediate followup and support.

He sat me down in his pleasant, dimly lit office. And we talked. Just get acquainted talk. Small talk. Put someone at ease talk.
In therapeutic hypnosis, it’s important to be relaxed, to have a good relationship with the hypnotist, and to be trusting. Yes, you are conscious of what's going on. Yes, you 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.

Hypnosis is sometimes described as a mental state usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which typically is preliminary instructions and suggestions. Hypnotic suggestions may be delivered by a hypnotist in the presence of the subject, or may be self-administered ("self-hypnosis,” “self-suggestion” or "autosuggestion"). The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as "hypnotherapy."

Contrary to a popular misconception - that hypnosis is a form of unconsciousness resembling sleep - contemporary research suggests that it is actually a wakeful state of focused attention and heightened suggestibility, with diminished peripheral awareness.

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 remember my psychology professor once giving me the simplest of explanations for hypnosis: “Imagine a fresh lemon in front of you. It smells nice and lemony. Imagine taking a knife and cutting a quarter slice out of that lemon. Now, imagine sucking on the meat of that lemon, extracting the juice. Right now, your salivary glands should have kicked in and you are salivating.

That, in its simplest form, is hypnosis.

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

After about 20 minutes my hypnotherapist suggested we begin and he suggested I try to follow his suggestions, that I could, at any time, break the session, that I would be in control at all times, but that I would consciously try to follow his suggestions and remember them for use whenever I needed them.

I remember he used both positive and negative reinforcement suggestions. He asked me, for example, to think of the most beautiful place I’d ever seen on earth. I’ve seen a lot of lovely spots but I decided few could compare with Lake Tahoe. He asked me to fix that in my mind and whenever I had not smoked for an hour, or for a day, to picture that scene in my mind as positive reinforcement and a pleasant reward for accomplishment.

It was also suggested that I put a rubber band around my wrist and snap it whenever I had the urge to smoke. That stings. It is a negative reinforcement you associate with smoking.

He also asked me to bring forth a mental image of the ugliest, most repulsive picture I could imagine. I remembered a terrible restroom I had visited in Mexico where the toilet would not, or did not, or was not flushed. That view was enough to make a sewer rat gag.

That was the image he wanted me to bring to my mind whenever I even thought about a cigarette.

He also made a tape recording of the session so I could listen later, if needed, for reinforcement.

The tape was needed.

Remember, I said quitting smoking is not easy, even with hypnosis.

I managed to quit . . . but probably for only about three or four weeks. I smoked just one cigarette. Couldn’t hurt, I thought. It was just one. I soon was back up to three packs a day. It stayed that way for almost a year when I got a call from the hypnotist’s secretary, asking how I was doing.

“Terrible,” I answered. “I fell off the wagon.”

“Would you like to come back for another session?” she asked.

“What’s the fee?” I asked.

“There’s no charge, you have a one year guarantee.”

I booked an appointment, measured my pack of cigarettes so I would be able to smoke the last one in the pack just before I re-entered my hypnotist’s office.

And it worked!

The second time around it was much easier. I’m kicking myself now because, though I’ve searched high and low and in all drawers and boxes in the house, I have not been able to find that tape which had his name and phone number. He did a good job and I’d be pleased to recommend him . . . but 20 years of time has dimmed the memory. Bless him, whoever he is.

This phenomenon came into being largely because of a fella named Franz Anton Mesmer, who was born in Austria in 1734. It's also from Mesmer that we get the word "mesmerized," which, supposedly, is to be fascinated by another to such a degree as to be under some mysterious power. Mesmer, a doctor, meant something else entirely.

Mesmer spent most of his adult life in France and enjoyed, for a time, the support of Marie Antoinette. Initially, his theories revolved around the use of magnets and ‘magnetic waves.’ Most other physicians considered him a quack. He made a fair amount of money, but by nearly all accounts he was sincere. He treated the poor for free. The medical establishment abhorred his theories and was determined to take him down. All but one, a Dr. Deslon, a respected court physician. Deslon believed in the phenomenon of animal magnetism but did not believe it had anything to do with magnets. Deslon believed it worked (sometimes) via the imagination of the patient, by what we would now call suggestion. Or hypnosis.

While Mesmer actually pooh-poohed the idea, Dr. Deslon continued with his theory, study and practice. So, Dr Deslon should probably receive more credit for what is today’s modern form of hynpotist than Mesmer, for whom the term has been associated. Still later, a Scottish surgeon, James Braid, who died in 1860, would actually coin the term, ‘hypnotism.’

I'd been interested in hypnotism for some time. Though by training and profession I am a skeptic I had also studied it, albeit briefly, and had heard of its efficacy from enough people over the years to know there must be something to it. I'd spoken to some law enforcement people who had used hypnosis forensically. I knew people who had tried it to quit smoking and to lose weight. I knew enough to know that the stereotypes -- the hypnotist working a stage full of people, such as Dr. Michael Dean’s famous . . . "Down down, deeper and deeper, your eyes are getting heavy, heavy, heavy" in his nightclub act from the 60’s and 70’s where he would cause shy little librarians to act like a hooker, big, strong Marines to cry like babies, bashful types to sing great pop songs . . . all of this was, really, a stereotype. Still, I was skeptical. Could I be hypnotized?

The answers to how a hypnotist gets people from an audience of strangers to come up onstage and do outrageous or silly things such as: 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.

A stage show works like this: the hypnotist calls maybe 30 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 Archimedes Circle thingies. 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. The best groups are junior high or high school or college students; people at a convention away from home; less-inhibited crowds. The point is fun, laughs. The last people onstage are the most susceptible to hypnosis.

And then it’s showtime!

Sometimes therapeutic hypnosis is a last resort. One hypnotist is quoted as saying, "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. Dr. Denise Budden-Potts, of San Marcos, confirms that she typically will hold three to four sessions per client.

Many hypnotists say if they can't make at least a dent in a problem in three sessions, then they probably can't help.

Mine offered only one session.

He also made it clear hypnotism's not a magic bullet. You don't get hypnotized and suddenly drop 50 pounds. Helping people quit smoking or lose weight is the bread and butter of hypnotists, but they also treat clients with social phobias, fear of flying (particularly since 9/11). They treat 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 hypnotist’s office is dominated by a huge, soft leather chair. The curtains were drawn. He played music -- barely audible.

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

I had told him that one of my problems with hypnotists was that, having studied hypnosis, and having played/practiced it at one time, I found myself often intrigued and fascinated by the hypnotist’s technique, to see if it is one I had read about or studied.

He acknowledged this but asked me to put that analytical part of myself “up on the shelf” during our time together and focus more on following his suggestions.

Fair enough.

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. 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.

Before he brought me out of the trance (by snapping his fingers!) he told me that when I awoke I would feel fine, strong, relaxed, full of life, full of peace and well-being.

After he 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, He taught me a technique using my tape recording as reinforcement.

Hypnosis helped tremendously. The urge to smoke 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. I found it relaxing, moving and, well, mesmerizing.

Hypnosis can help in many areas, for example, in therapeutic sessions, some hypnotists can teach women how to (1) orgasm on command, (2) orgasm over depression, (3) have better orgasms with their lovers. And when he said orgasm, he meant full-body orgasm: "Full-body orgasms move us into a state of mind called the parasympathetic nervous system, which releases endorphins."

Endorphins: the body's favorite homemade drug. If anyone ever figures out how to synthesize endorphins and smoke them, the marijuana industry (not to mention the opiate industry) is done for. One hypnotist told me that all fear-based emotions involve adrenaline. Whatever emotions that are not fear-based involve endorphins. "I teach people how to achieve this endorphin state." These sessions are absolutely legit: there is never any physical contact between the therapist and client, no clothing is removed, etc. He told me some hypnotherapists disapprove.

One of the more controversial aspects of hypnotherapy is that of age regression. In hypnotherapy the term describes a process in which the patient returns to an earlier stage of life in order to explore a memory or to get in touch with some difficult-to-access aspect of their personality. Older readers will remember the “Bridey Murphy” incident of years ago. In 1952, Colorado businessman and amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein put housewife Virginia Tighe of Pueblo, Colorado in a trance that sparked off startling revelations about Tighe's alleged past life as a 19th-century Irishwoman and her rebirth in the United States 59 years later. Bernstein used a technique called hypnotic regression, during which the subject is gradually taken back to childhood. He then attempted to take Virginia one step further, before birth, and suddenly was astonished to find he was listening to Bridey Murphy.

Her tale began in 1806 when Bridey was eight years old and living in a house in Cork. She was the daughter of Duncan Murphy, a barrister, and his wife Kathleen. At the age of 17 she married lawyer Sean Brian McCarthy and moved to Belfast. Bridey told of a fall that caused her death and of watching her own funeral, describing her tombstone and the state of being in life after death. It was, she recalled, a feeling of neither pain nor happiness. Somehow, she was reborn in America, although Bridey was not clear how this event happened. Virginia Tighe herself was born in the Midwest in 1923, had never been to Ireland, and did not speak with even the slightest hint of an Irish accent.

Bridey gave her date of birth as December 20, 1798, in Cork, and the year of her death as 1864. There was no record of either event. Neither was there any record of a wooden house, called The Meadows, in which she said she lived, just of a place of that name at the brink of Cork. Indeed, most houses in Ireland were made of brick or stone. She pronounced her husband's name as 'See-an', but Sean is usually pronounced 'Shawn' in Ireland. Brian, which is what Bridey preferred to call her husband, was also the middle name of the man to whom Virginia Tighe was married. But some of the details did tally. For instance, her descriptions of the Antrim coastline were very accurate. So, too, was her account of a journey from Belfast to Cork. She claimed she went to a St. Theresa's Church. There was indeed one where she said there was—but it was not built until 1911. The young Bridey shopped for provisions with a grocer named Farr. It was discovered that such a grocer had existed.

I repeat, I'm still a skeptic. Hypnotism 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.

Dr. Denise Budden-Potts says one of the biggest things she’d like to see this article accomplish is to recognize that hypnosis is simply channeling the trance to achieve some desired outcome. Hypnosis always involves motivation and suggestions towards a desired goal.

A hypnotist is not some Svengali-like person. Research shows people will follow only those hypnotic suggestions that are within their moral code. Although the conscious mind becomes suggestible, the rational mind remains active and people know what is “right” for them.

She also points out that all hypnosis is, really, self-hypnosis. It’s a way to bypass the conscious mind and gain access to their unconscious . . . a deep state of relaxation involving body and mind that can be developed and altered toward achieving a goal.

Dr. Budden-Potts finds goals, finds desired outcomes . . . what obstacles. exist For what purpose does the client want to make changes? Only then does she begin the induction portion of hypnosis. She points out that “hypnosis is not about entertainment, we want people to help better themselves.”

She helps her clients to overcome public speaking anxiety, to exercise regularly, to overcome sleeping problems. She will work with light hypnosis, then work into a deeper hypnosis. New patients can usually see Dr. Budden-Potts within two or three days of calling her. She can be reached at 760.798.9076.





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