Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at The Edge. Today I speak with Dr. Stephen Gurgevich who is affectionately known at Sounds True as Dr. G. Dr. Gurgevich is a licensed psychologist who specializes in medical hypnosis. Currently he is the director of The Mind Body Clinic at Dr. Andres Wyles Arizona Center of Integrative Medicine, and he’s also the author of several Sounds True audio programs including The Self Hypnosis Home Study Course, and Deep Sleep with Medical Self Hypnosis, as well as the book and CD set, The Self Hypnosis Diet. He’ll also be teaching an upcoming online course beginning on May 5th on the power of self hypnosis. I spoke with Dr. Gurgevich about how self hypnosis works and the role our subconscious mind plays in healing.
TS: Welcome Dr. Gurgevich, or Dr. G as I call you.
Dr. Stephen Gurgevich: Hi Tami! It’s good to hear your voice.
TS: Beginning on May 5th Sounds True will be offering The Self Hypnosis Online Course, and I’d love to talk with you more about self hypnosis and help our listeners first of all just even understand: What is self hypnosis? I think there are a lot of misconceptions and ideas related to what we might have seen on stage with a time clock ticking, left, right. What really is self hypnosis?
SG: Well I like to say that all hypnosis is really self hypnosis. We see it in different forms. You already mentioned the stage hypnosis, which is basically using parts of what we call, The Hypnotic Phenomena for entertainment purposes but they perpetuate a lot of myths and misconceptions about hypnosis. Basically, self hypnosis, and I’ll use the words interchangeably—hypnosis and self hypnosis—but again all hypnosis is really self hypnosis whether you’re working with a therapist or just doing it entirely on your own or with audio materials. It’s a state of focused concentration. The term hypnosis was coined around 1850 by a Frenchman, but it was misnamed because it’s not Hypnos, it’s not sleep at all. In fact we know for sure that through barene wave studies and imaging studies that the individual who is experiencing even a deep trance with hypnosis is in a waking state, they’re awake, they’re not asleep. So it’s a state of focused concentration wherein the individual is very absorbed in their own thoughts and ideas or a set of images and ideas that they’re choosing to become absorbed in as a way of delivering that message to the subconscious mind or the mind of the body. So I would self hypnosis can be thought of as a procedure, a process or a state of inner absorption, focused concentration and I tell my patients that it’s just about identical to being in a day dream because the subject or the person knows where they are, what they’re doing at all times but they’re also allowing themselves to become so absorbed in their own thoughts and ideas or the images being presented to them, that they can exclude or minimize the mental energy that would be spent on the environment around them. So if you think of being absorbed in a good movie, a good book or just sitting on the beach and staring across the expanse of ocean and you more absorbed in your thought and ideas than paying attention to all the stimuli around you, that is a hypnotic trance.
TS: Now the idea that you see in film or that I’ve even heard about that “I went to a hypnotist, they put me into a trance and I remembered past lives and I said things about affairs that I had that I’ve never told anybody else, etc…and then I came out of the trance and I don’t even remember what I said.”
SG: Boy, you’re hitting on all of the myths and all of the misconceptions, or just about all of them. The biggest myth of that presentation is that no one gets hypnotized any more so that someone gets meditated or gets laughed. The laughing, meditation and hypnosis, and day dreaming are all things we can experience and others can help us to experience it but they can’t do it to us. So the greatest myth about stage hypnosis, or hypnosis in general is that it’s done to somebody so nobody gets hypnotized it’s sort of looks that way when somebody else is talking and the other person might have their eyes closed and when it’s done on a stage, you know they want to do it for entertainment purposes and I think anybody who volunteers to go down on the stage whether it’s hypnosis, singing, or dancing they’re going to perform according to what’s expected of them and there’s more pressure to perform than not to perform. Another myth is that people reveal secrets or would say things that would be embarrassing to themselves and that’s not true. At all times an individual is aware of what they’re doing. When they’re on a stage in a nightclub they can say and do things a little more liberally but they’ve got the excuse of saying, “It was the hypnosis that did it,” but in reality people don’t do things that are embarrassing, they don’t reveal secrets, they don’t get hypnotized by someone else and there’s no going under, there’s no loss of consciousness. There is this state of inner absorption that becomes enhanced and there’s a range of hypnotizeability, or hypnotic susceptibility. It’s a normal distribution where with some people it comes with great difficulty and they’re very poor at it and we call that, Low Hypnotozeability, and there are other individuals who are very imaginative and who can go right into that imaginative state of absorption and we call them, “Highly Hypnotizeable,” and about 70% of the population is average. And it was once believe that if you were very low in tests of Hypnotizeability you’d never be able to learn it or get it, but recent research has shown that it just takes a little extra time. On the audio programs that I’ve done I usually point out to the listener that if it seems to be coming with difficulty or you feel like you’re not getting it don’t worry, more than likely the individual is trying too hard and that gets in the way but all that usually is required is just a little bit of extra time and a little extra practice with it and you can take someone who is low hypnotizeable and turn them into a highly hypnotizeable person.
TS: Your voice is also quite hypnotizing, Dr. G. I’ve noticed even just as I’m listening to it now, I’m starting to slowly enter the trance state because I’ve heard you guide people, guide audio listeners through various kinds of trance works. What do you think it is about your voice that makes you so hypnotizing?
SG: Well it’s probably a cultured monotone. The advantage is that it helps when I am working with individuals because I can speak in this monotone and after 37 years of practice I’ve used to controlling my voice, or using my voice in a way that helps an individual let go of paying attention to the other things going on around them so that they can use my voice as maybe a starting place of focusing their attention and then that allows them to create this passive or relaxed concentration of being more absorbed within their own thoughts and ideas and that helps exclude these other stimuli. The drawback to this voice is that you don’t want to hear me sing. It’s like the one note samba.
TS: OK, fair enough. But I would be curious about is, is it possible to introduce listeners right here and now to a short hypnotic exercise that could give us a sense of what it means to enter the hypnotic trance state?
SG: Well, I would think so. I can go through a simple, we call it the procedure of helping somebody go into trance, or make this shift in consciousness to go into that daydream like state. Call that a Hypnotic Induction Method, and there are many…everything from progressive muscle relaxation to looking at a spot on the wall and suggesting their eyelids are heavy, but there’s one that I like to use that just involves using some words and we can do that right now if you’d like?
TS: I’d love to.
SG: OK, so I’ll be speaking to you but it’s also to the entire audience and I would invite the audience to take my voice with you and begin by adjusting your position to be comfortable wherever you’re sitting or reclining…allow your eyes to close…let your eyes close. And closing your eyes is already a step in minimizing the influence of distraction from visual stimuli…and with your eyes closed you’ll notice that now you can pay more attention to the sounds around you. Survey the sounds…notice them…including my voice and allow or give your permission for all of the sounds around you that may be safely ignored to be there as background sounds. Allow them to turn into the sounds of waves on the ocean. Let any of the sounds that are naturally occurring around you be pleasant and even sounds that at first might seem to be distracting or annoying, perhaps a television playing, a motor outside, other sounds and noises, a dog barking…use everything. Give them your permission to be there and if they seem very distracting or annoyingly distracting then take control of them by commanding that they be there and by unplugging yourself, or disconnecting from any struggle with those things around you then you can direct your attention inward. This becomes a very gentle journey into the center of yourself. It’s like unplugging, disconnecting, detaching from all of the obligations and responsibilities of the world and now allowing yourself to turn on imagination and in imagination you can travel to any place on the planet and be there now. Putting together all you would experience. What you would hear, see, smell, taste, feel the warmth of a morning sun or perhaps the cool breeze off an ocean, or the sound of waves, maybe you’ll notice that the sky is filled with stars. In your imagination you can have anything you desire exactly as you would like it to be or you may allow it to unfold and evolve in very pleasant ways effortlessly for yourself. Sooner or later you discover you can also travel in time. You can regress, going back to a pleasant experience you enjoyed, perhaps a honeymoon, a vacation, a delightful friendship, time of play or you can progress into the future and see yourself experiencing what you want as if it has already happened. It’s already been achieved and accomplished and now you can enjoy what has already happened for you. In your imagination you may also be taking my voice with you as a background sound, sometimes noticing that you’re not noticing what I’m saying that’s fine, for you really don’t have to listen to me. You are doing this with two parts of your mind. One part of your mind is your conscious thinking mind. The part of you that will naturally continue with thoughts or ideas, questions, that’s fine, and the other part of mind is what we call subconscious, sub because it’s below or beneath your thinking level of awareness and your subconscious mind is the mind of your body. Your subconscious is so much smarter than I am or you are. It’s the part of you that is managing all four chambers of your heart, your pulse, each breath, managing your immune system and managing the entire community of over 70 trillion cells within your body, and each cell in your body responds to the images, ideas, and thoughts and feelings you put in your mind so by allowing yourself to relax comfortably now, peacefully now…making this a gentle journey within, all of the cells of your body begin to respond, or resonate, or vibrate to this message of comfort that you’re allowing yourself and at all times you’re in control, you’re making this happen by letting it happen and if at any time you find yourself trying or struggling or making an effort to do this, let go. You make this happen by letting it happen. It’s a very passive or relaxed from of concentration and we call that trance in the clinical language, but it’s just about identical to a daydream and in a daydream you know where you are, you know what you’re doing, but you’re choosing to let yourself be more absorbed within and the beauty of doing this is that you are accessing the mind body connection. All of the cells of your body respond to images of health, healing, vitality, energy. You can also offer images or ideas of accomplishments and achievements you desire and the mind of your body responds to them as if they are real for your subconscious cannot tell the difference between what is real and what you imagine. And you’ve had times perhaps of jumping out of the way of something on the carpet or floor that turned out to be harmless but in the moment you jumped out of the way. Part of you jumped you out of the way before you could even think to do it and that same part of you, that subconscious, is always protecting you, always looking out for your very best interests and value so you can create images and ideas of what you desire and the mind of your body responds to them as they are real. And in this experience now allow yourself permission to know that whenever you need to, whenever you choose to, you can do this again. You can return by simply closing your eyes and allowing yourself to create a gentle journey into the center of yourself. Turning on your imagination to recreate a pleasant scene and sooner or later you discover that you’re not noticing many of the things that are going on around you. In a comfortable and safe manner which lets you direct your attention to the mind of your body to receive all of the messages you desire for health, healing, vitality, achievement, and this all belongs to you. You’re doing this. This all belongs to you. And now, allow yourself to shift over to another part of this experience and that is in bringing yourself to a comfortably alert waking state, a refreshed waking state. As I count from 1 up to 5 using each number to progressively feel a greater alertness and refreshment…so as I’m counting from 1 to 2 arms and legs begin to feel a wave of energy of refreshing energy…from 2 to 3 hands and fingers, feet and toes getting ready to move and do things again…from 3 to 4 and now a delightful refreshment joins you at the very front surface of your mind so at 5 you open your eyes and may now assess the experience you’ve had feeling quite refreshed and feeling good. So that would be an example of how it would work.
TS: Wonderful! I think that’s really helpful.
SG: and then what we do, you know that parts of it are the induction, meaning start talking and directing attention inward, and then there are some words and phrases to sort of educate about what it is and I think people feel safer with hypnosis when they know what it is and they realize it’s not done to them by a hypnotist. And then the final part is what we call, alerting or arousing, where you want to make a section of it where you come to an alert waking state feeling good and feeling refreshed and at that point I like to do what we call ‘debriefing’ so I would ask you Tami, as I was speaking what were you experiencing, what did you feel, what was going on with you?
TS: Well I came up with an image which was a beautiful ocean spot. So I was sitting by the water and breathing it in and relaxing and feeling quite fabulous.
SG: Excellent! Excellent! Did you have any sensations of heaviness or lightness or warmth or coolness?
TS: I think basically it was a feeling of relaxation, warmth, sparkliness, those kinds of things.
SG: Was there any time that you could notice that you weren’t noticing what I was saying?
TS: I noticed that I felt a little like I was drifting in and out.
SG: Excellent, Excellent! Again, all of these questions I’m asking are looking at what types of hypnotic phenomena you experience like alterations and perception of feeling heavy or light, or was your imagination able to recreate, you know, like sounds of waves or the feeling of being at the ocean and in your case, or whether or not you could notice that you weren’t noticing what I was saying In much the same way we experience a daydream and let me ask you, how long were doing this? How long did it seem to you that we were doing this experience?
TS: It felt like it was around 10-15 minutes.
SG: OK. Sometimes when I ask that question individuals might say that it seemed like three minutes and it might’ve actually been 20 minutes, others might say that it felt like it was 25 minutes and we may have only done it for 8 or 12 minutes. So time distortion, alterations in perception, being able to recreate an imagination also having some better recall in memory. Those are all the hypnotic phenomena that are typical but they’re also waking state phenomena, there’s nothing special about the hypnosis. The hypnosis just helps somebody focus their concentration in this relaxed manner so that they can create those phenomena with greater ease, almost effortlessly.
G, you’ve applied self hypnosis–and you call it ‘medical self hypnosis’– to all kinds of issues and symptoms and I’m curious if there are certain symptoms, certain health challenges that you’ve found hypnosis works best with?
SG: Yes. There are many actually. And I think that’s a good point you mention about me calling it ‘medical self hypnosis’. The terms ‘medical hypnosis,’ or ‘clinical hypnosis’ I’m using deliberately to distinguish it from the stage hypnotists and the stage hypnotists and the media have just perpetuated so many misconceptions it turns of people from recognizing that this can be valuable tool for themselves, but basically all hypnosis is self hypnosis and whenever asks myself or Dr. Andrew Weil–my colleague and friend at the integrative medicine program where I work—what does hypnosis work best for? Usually our response is, “skin problems and gut problems.” We find that for some reason things like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, those kinds of GI problems, and skin problems including viruses like the Human Papillomavirus or warts. In fact just yesterday I received The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosiswhere they report that hypnosis was five to one times superior to medical approaches for treating warts in a sample of women. And we know that warts are the virus, the Human Papillomavirus. Hypnosis is also quite effective in problems with pain and some individuals can use for anesthesia. We know that when combined with surgery, or if somebody learns hypnosis before surgery they have less anxiety, they have less pain afterward, they use less medication and less anesthesia. Their recovery times are faster, they don’t have the side effects from any anesthesia that’s being used and they have shorter hospital stays and faster wound healing. Those have been well documented in numerous studies now.
TS: Could you explain in some of these examples you think self hypnosis is particularly effective? Take an example like you mentioned with warts, why would that be an area of strength?
SG: Well, I think in part that we do have, you know hypnosis allows us to access or connect to the mind/body connection. When we’re anxious our bodies produce stress responses with cortisol and those oftentimes interfere with immunity. They lessen or lower our immunity and when we combine relaxation with hypnosis, which we usually do because it’s motivating and comforting, the relaxation response in and of itself is helpful in being able to lower blood pressure, to increase blood flow and that increased blood flow delivers more oxygen and nutrients and other chemistries. It enhances the immune system, so I think the short answer would be that hypnosis, or using the power of one’s mind allows them to access the mind/body connection and basically direct what the body is doing at that subconscious level for their comfort and for their healing.
TS: Now I know you’ve worked with Sounds True to publish an audio series and a book on working with self-hypnosis for weight management and weight loss, how does it work when it comes to the self hypnosis diet?
SG: Well, the self hypnosis diet actually turned out to be more interesting than I first thought. We’d been getting excellent feedback from individuals using it. It’s not a diet at all, in fact in the self hypnosis diet we discourage restrictive eating and we discourage dieting but what the self hypnosis diet, the book, does is it helps individuals learn hypnosis and apply hypnosis in a variety of ways that will help them achieve their ideal or perfect weight. One of those ways is in helping to create lifelong patterns of eating, hunger management, and activity patterns that will basically let them eat anything they want once these patterns are established. It also addresses emotional factors that influence eating. Sometimes they’re very conscious where people realize that they eat out of emotion. Sometimes it’s totally unconscious where they don’t realize they have the weight, yet the weight is performing a function for them. I think we have some examples in the book of individuals that experience the trauma in early life, and later in life they have weight they can’t shed no matter what they do until we address what purpose is the weight serving, and in so many cases it can be protection, it controls attractiveness so they don’t have an uncomfortable or scary or traumatic experience again. It also enhances motivation for doing all of the right stuff, choosing the right and wholesome foods, the correct portion sizes, being able to go through the holidays and maintain these healthy patterns of eating and activity and also being able to enhance their motivation, to really enjoy it. I think a key to it is that you have to enjoy all of the changes you’re introducing and that’s one of the nice things about hypnosis when we apply it for habit control, whether it be smoking, or weight loss. If you’re feeling comfortable and it seems to be happening effortlessly our motivation increases and I think even in our home study course where we have our hypnotic apothecary—that’s another one of the Sounds True programs that we did—there is one audio program on loving exercise, loving to exercise, that’s another part of the self hypnosis diet…increasing all of the motivation one needs to create lifelong patterns of healthy eating and physical activity. In many ways the self hypnosis diet is a follow-up to Dr. Weil’s, Eating Well for Optimum Health, we’re just putting into play by using the power of mind as well.
TS: Now I understand how if I spend time in a trance state–visualizing myself exercising or visualizing myself eating vegetables and salads and being drawn to those kinds of foods– how that would help me make habit changes in my life. I get that. That seems intuitively obvious. What’s not obvious to me is that the underlying emotional issues that you mentioned—perhaps I’m over eating because I want protection or because I don’t feel safe—how does self hypnosis help me uncover and then heal those deeper emotional issues that are really driving the weight gain?
SG: oftentimes we have to ask ourselves to give us the answer. Let me give you a quick example. I saw a young lady, she was in her 30’s and had two children and she was well over 250 pounds. In the course of taking history from her she had been all kinds of diets but she told me that when she was younger that she was quite thin and that she gained weight when she went to this modeling college. She was scholarshiped to go to a modeling college and it was during doing the hypnosis that a recollection came back to her that she arrived to the college early and a kindly janitor showed her to her dormitory room because the facility hadn’t, she was the first to arrive. Unfortunately, that night he came back and raped her and over the course of the first three to four months in this college she started putting on weight, and it wasn’t until we had actually done the hypnosis some 12 or 15 years later that that recollection came to mind. It was out of mind, but it wasn’t out of body. Once that came to mind she could make a choice. So I think whenever we uncover a psychological or emotional reason for a set of symptoms whether they be a headache, a stomach ache, or excessive weight the next step is being able to ask ourselves, “Do I still need it?” and then we tell our mind/body what we want instead and we do it in a way that lets it feel safe giving us that, because again oftentimes its producing symptoms either because it’s protecting us or there’s an emotional conflict. Think of the metaphors which are basically the language of the mind/body…you have a boss who’s a real pain in the neck and that’s the way you’d describe that person…he’s a real pain in the neck. He comes into the room and you reach for the back of your neck cause the muscles are getting tight. Well the emotional conflict is you can’t tell that person what you really think of them…otherwise you might lose your job, or jeopardize your job so instead the mind or the body says, “I’ll take it,” and it goes out of mind but that metaphor about the person being a pain in the neck creates headaches, neck pain, and that’s due to the emotional conflict of, you’re darned if you do, you darned if you don’t, so the mind/body says, “I’ll do it. I’ll take it. I’ll express it for you.” So frequently when working individuals with medical problems, or medical conditions, skin conditions actually in particular, I’m asking the metaphorical question while they’re in trance, “What’s getting under your skin? Who’s rubbing you the wrong way? What’s erupting? What’s coming to the surface? What needs to come to the surface?” That’s literal language that the subconscious responds to because the subconscious mind doesn’t use figures of speech the way we do consciously. It literalizes them…so if we say “he’s a pain in the neck,” muscles in our neck are going to respond in a literal fashion. If we say, “That just burns me up!” we might have more stomach acid, and reflux…or, “Ah, that just bugs the___out of me!” we might end up with some irritable bowel syndrome. So oftentimes when we’re looking at the emotional factors, we’re looking to see…is it functional? Is it protecting the person? Or is it dealing with an emotional conflict that they’re darned if they do, darned if they don’t so that we can find a better solution.
TS: How can the practitioner of self hypnosis be sure that they’re not just covering up conflicts or problems, but that they’re actually uprooting them and getting underneath them? Do you know what I mean? I could see there could be a tendency for something…in many of the applications…do you know what I mean? I’m just gonna keep visualizing the positive, keep visualizing the positive, but I’m really covering something up in the process.
SG: I think that’s a really good point. I think part of what we’re doing in the audios that I’ve created with Sounds True. There’s usually suggestions offered during the trance work that if there’s a purpose or if there’s a function for these symptoms that the subconscious can show that to you in a comfortable manner. And then they come to mind where all of a sudden the individual has the, “aha!” but in a comfortable way of seeing the meaning of those symptoms, much like again a skin condition…understanding, you know, what’s rubbing them the wrong way, or what’s getting under their skin, or who’s getting under their skin. So the question is…all we have to do is ask the metaphorical question, “Who’s burning you up? What’s burning you? Who’s rubbing you the wrong way? Who’s the pain in the neck? What do you need to get off your chest? What’s smothering or suffocating you?” And the mind/body presents that information and it really is an “aha!” moment of, “Oh, yes!” and then we can choose again because frequently many of these things happened…may have happened many years ago, or decades ago but the pattern keeps repeating because again it’s out of mind but it’s not out of body until we release it or address with those metaphorical questions when doing our self hypnosis.
TS: And do you think that the more that one repeats a medical self hypnosis approach to a problem that it’s more likely that the aha! moment will emerge at some point? If you keep doing it over and over again?
SG: Yes I do. I think that it’s not uncommon when I see patients in my practice that I might see them maybe a week or two later and they’ll tell me that, “You know I was practicing my self-hypnosis and I had all these recollections come to mind of this experience I had,” or it might have been an uncomfortable experience or just a conflicting experience, or it could have been an experience that happened on the playground in second grade and then they come to realize, “I think that’s connected to this.” And it came to mind because they were working on removing a set of symptoms.
TS: So for example if somebody let’s say has a fear that they’re working with…I’m not sure, what’s a common fear that you’ve worked with, a lot of clients with, Dr. G.?
SG: Public speaking, a fear of embarrassment, a threat to the ego that “I’ll embarrass myself,” or “I’ll make a fool of myself.” So public speaking fear is a common one, or social anxiety.
TS: OK. And so then part of the self hypnosis program would be to visualize yourself in front of a group speaking successfully, seeing everybody clap and applaud and give you rounds of standing ovations. Is that true? Would that be part of the…
SG: Yah. You’d want to focus on the positive and not give any energy to the negative and in a case like that it’s not uncommon that if the individuals, particularly if they ask themselves the question, “Where did this come from? Where did I learn this?” Because when…you know in the one program we did for Sounds True, Relieve Anxiety with Medical Hypnosis, in that one there are some trance work sessions where we’re asking the question, “Where did you learn this?” Because we’re only born with two fears: falling and loud noises. As babies, those are the only two fears that sort of come with the equipment. Everything else that we’re afraid of is learned and anything that can be learned can be unlearned. And hypnosis is a great way to do that…unlearning and learning at a subconscious level. So we ask the individual, “Where did you learn that?” And it’s quite common that an individual had one experience of maybe going to the blackboard in 4th grade or 7th grade where they actually panicked, or got scared, or people laughed at them, or they didn’t know the material, and that like a seed sort of germinated and became an anxiety that they have throughout their life until they address it again.
TS: Now this thing that you said is interesting…We’re born with two fears: falling and loud noises, the fear of loud noises. What about just the inherent and instinctive fear of dying? Fear of extinction?
SG: I don’t know. When I say loud noises and falling I’m just thinking of the research that has been done on fear but I don’t know if they’ve ever looked at it, you know at that level of our mortality. I do know that when fear of our mortality does arise in our lifetime, let’s say somebody gets cancer or has a bad illness, there can be a lot of anxiety provoked by the fear of dying and one of my colleagues, an oncologist who uses a lot of hypnosis came up with a hypnotic death rehearsal for patients that were very, very anxious about death…and by going through it in imagination in a comfortable way, they discharge the anxiety and no longer become afraid of it. So I think we can take just about any fear and replace it by feeling comfortable and in control, and it may take a little practice. A few sessions on our own even, but you know the sympathetic nervous system produces the sympathetic arousal which is anxiety and the opposite of that is the relaxation response. So any time we combine relaxation with thoughts that we’re choosing to have about something we are unlearning the fear associated to it and we’re learning comfort associated to it. In fact, that’s a large part of the relieve anxiety program I did and also the relax RX program which was heavily based on just getting really good at producing a relaxation response, physically and mentally.
TS: now beginning in May, you’re going to be offering with Sounds True, an online course in self hypnosis…and I can imagine that people would want to take the course because there’s all kinds of issues they would like to resolve in their life using this technique, but I can also imagine, people would be like, “oh, I’d love to learn this so I could use this technique with various clients that I work with…if I’m a healing practitioner of different sorts. What do you think about that? Can people learn self hypnosis from audio programs and from an online course and just go off and start helping other people?
SG: Well, you know I sort of make a distinction between training clinicians…because there’s this term, hypnotherapist that’s becoming common parlance, but actually I look at more as either somebody’s a physician, a dentist, a social worker, a marriage family therapist, psychotherapist, or psychologist that uses clinical hypnosis in their trade or in their field of expertise. Because hypnosis in and of itself is not a therapy. It’s a collection of tools that can be applied in many different ways. I know that the research that’s been done to compare the effectiveness of using audio materials versus a live person have shown that audio materials can be just as effective. But I think in…like I’m really excited about doing this online course because it gives me the chance to actually talk and speak with the students that are going to be enrolled and I think there’s a special magic when you can address your own personal problems and get a personal answer and that really helps remove any of the hurdles or obstacles to the progress one makes in learning. The home study course that I created…I think is quite good. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for many, many years and I’m really grateful for the opportunity you gave me and now the opportunity to actually talk to people as they’re progressing along with that course is exciting to me.
TS: But what you mentioned about hypnotherapy as a particular field…you’re not necessarily in favor of hypnotherapy being a distinct field…you’re thinking it should be combined with a different set of trainings and clinical expertise…so if I’m a doctor I can use hypnotherapy as one of the tool in my toolbox. Is that what you’re saying?
SG: Yes, it is exactly. And my rule of thumb is, I don’t think a clinician should use hypnosis to treat a condition unless they’re also trained to treat that condition without hypnosis in some way. So I’m not saying every psychologist has to learn how to become a surgeon, but certainly can understand how to use psychotherapy, and psychological techniques to help somebody get the best results from a surgery, but you’re right…I was working at the medical department at IBM some years ago and I noticed that some of the employees that retired enrolled in a lay school of hypnosis to become certified hypnotherapists and some of these schools were a few weekends, some a few months…and they learned a lot about the techniques of hypnosis but they didn’t have any background in medicine, psychology, social work, or the other fields that be actually using this therapeutically and I likened it very much to going to school to become an injectionist. You get good at learning how to do an intramuscular injection, a subcutaneous injection, or an intravenous injection, but you’re just an injectionist and you don’t have the background about what to put in the syringe, and how to titrate the dosage. So I think that there’s a lot of people that use the term, “I’m a hypnotherapist, or a certified hypnotherapist,” and it doesn’t mean that they have the background to really treat the conditions therapeutically…they just went through a lay school and got that credential. A colleague of mine, a Dr. Steven Eischel actually applied for certification from about 8 different certification programs in hypnosis but he applied for his cat, Zoe, and he put on the application form, Zoe D. Catz. So it’s, Zoe the Cat, in German. He got 8 certificates back for the money that Dr. Zoe D. Catz is a certified hypnotherapist, and I think that that’s a danger to the public because you know hypnosis is very, very safe, but there is times when we are dealing with some sensitive material or sometimes some traumatic material that it’s better to have someone who knows what they’re doing and can handle any issues that arise rather than somebody who just learned how to do the techniques.
TS: Well yah, even back to the example that you gave of self hypnosis working with warts. You know I would want somebody helping me—thank god I don’t have warts—but, that would know that proper analysis medically, of my situation as well as giving me some hypnotherapy exercises in case it turned that it was a more complicated skin situation that was actually a symptom of something deeper, more complex, you know I wouldn’t want to just be trusting a hypnotherapist.
SG: Well, yah I would agree with you on that. You know there’s really only one bonafide certification program that I’m aware of and that’s the one that’s available through the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. It’s one of the two major medical and psychological associations devoted to the research, study and training of clinical hypnosis and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis does have a certification program that requires supervised training, a number of years of experience and a couple different levels of certification… for those listening, they also offer a referral service and asch.net.
TS: Well Dr. G. I just want to circle back for one second because you mentioned how the body listens to messages that are literal. It listens literally. So when we say that person is a pain in the neck, it hears it literally. How do we know that? How do we know that’s what the body is listening to?
SG: I guess I can’t present any scientific evidence about the linguistics of it, but it just seems that that’s the way the body responds and in the last five to ten years we now have neuro-imaging abilities that we didn’t have in the past and the studies are really quite exciting to me because now we can see what’s happening in the brain and it was at one time believed, “it’s all in your mind. You’re just doing this in your imagination.” Not so. What we’re seeing is that, you know the Dalai Lama was correct, people that use their mind to meditate are actually changing their brain…neuro-plasticity or brain plasticity, and with the neuro-imaging with hypnosis studies we’re seeing that if somebody is imagining that their right foot is hot or on fire or being burned, the part of the brain that would correspond lights up and is active as if it is really happening so as somebody’s imagining things and it seems that the words we use do get literally translated and the brain responds or the body and brain and mind/body respond in that literal manner. I’ve got some textbooks from philosophers on metaphor that is really some heavy stuff, but I do think our ability as humans to conceptualize metaphorically involved many more dynamics of our brain function than we thought about before. That’s a great question, Tami. I mean that would an ideal question for research to look at.
TS: Well, I’m sure as somebody who’s taken so many people through hypnotic trances, you’ve studied and really looked at what kind of language works best, what kind of language the unconscious will respond to, so I guess I’m curious just to understand more besides that it takes things literally, what kind of language does our body/unconscious best respond to?
SG: Now that’s a great question too. One of my teachers many years ago was a psychiatrist named Milton Errickson, and Dr. Errickson was sort of known of using indirect methods and he was a master with words and language and I think that one of the greatest things I learned from him was the power and the importance of tailoring. Tailoring meaning, if you can make something more personal to somebody, it’s more effective for them. So if somebody buys a relaxation tape and the person is describing sitting on the beach and the person’s never been to the beach, or they don’t even like sand or the beach, it’s gonna be very ineffective. But if you know that somebody maybe attended a particular school, or they grew up in Indiana and you can mention, you know, getting a fresh sweet corn in August…something just as minor as a personal thing that is tailored to them really can have a very profound effect on influencing that trance experience…empowering it in a positive way.
TS: Makes sense. Anything else though, about language?
SG: I think it always has to be positive and we have to be aware of a couple words that we commonly use that can undermine our effort, for example, “Try.” You know we use the word all of the time and there’s no literal representation of a “try”. I can’t show anyone a try. It doesn’t occupy space. It has no weight. We can’t measure it. It’s literally not there. It’s only a figure of speech, but when we use the term the subconscious literalizes It, which means put it on trial…see whether or not and I remember one study many, many years ago where they gave a group of patients a prescription for a skin condition and were told, “try this for two weeks.” They also randomly another group of patients with the same condition and gave them the same prescription but were told, “This will do it for two weeks, or use this for two weeks.” And the group that “tried” it had 50% less success. So I always tell my patients, and I think it might even have it in our Sounds True products, remember what Yoda said in Star Wars, “There is no try. There is do and do not.” So anytime we’re doing hypnosis, or self hypnosis, if we find ourselves saying try just convert it to do. Do it rapidly, do it poorly, do it correctly, do it easily, do it gently, but no trying is allowed is sort of my motto. And the other word is “Not.” Emile Coue, a Doctor in France in 1920 wrote the first book on Auto-Suggestion and he was the individual that came up with giving his patients affirmations. He’s famous for the one, “Everyday, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” He advised his patients, “when you do give yourself self-talk, and positive affirmations, remember never the nots.” Because when we say “not” it doesn’t mean anything to the subconscious. If we say, “I do not want a cigarette” all the subconscious hears is, “I want a cigarette,” because you can’t literalize NOT, a not. So, I would say that the key about the language we use is to keep it positive and that’s the beauty of imagery as well. It bypasses any of the semantic difficulties. If we can picture It the way we want it, the message is delivered quite directly without any translation.
TS: And I’m not supposed to use any negative imagery, so for example in the case that we used of the fear of public speaking…I don’t want to say…I don’t want to imagine I’m not going to have people boo me. I don’t want to bother going through that exercise…
SG: Right…I’m not going to stutter. I’m not going to forget where I’m at…we don’t want to include any of the negatives. We want to suggest to ourselves what we do want and not waste any energy on what we don’t want.
TS: And the reason for that…
SG: is that the subconscious cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. It just simply acts on everything we’re thinking and imagining. It’s like a real time system that vibrates to what we create with our thoughts and ideas in mind. A great example I use with, particularly the non-believers, and these are usually gentlemen engineers over the age 50 who tell me I don’t know why my doctor sent me to you, I don’t believe in any of this stuff…I’ll go outside in the Tucson summer, sit under the shade of a palm tree and have him imagine how cold it was where they were working in Poughkeepsie, NY, or Rochester, and in the winter a bitter cold, and really having them close their eyes and imagining how cold it is and then I have them open their eyes and look at the goose bumps on their arms and we’re sitting in 105 degree Tucson shade, but yet their body produced goose bumps just to the thoughts they put in their mind. So I think we just want to keep it all as positive as we can and catch ourselves, cause we all use patterns of speech that we take for granted without realizing, “How would that be interpreted subconsciously?”
TS: And just one final question, Dr. G. I’m curious if you’ve found symptoms or conditions that hypnosis simply can’t touch?
SG: You know, there’s some that I’ve found don’t work as well as others, um…but my colleague and friend Dr. Andrew Weil over 25 years ago, he would send patients to me and I would call him up and I’d say, “I don’t know anyone’s ever used hypnosis for this…” maybe a kidney disease, or an immune disorder, and his response was always, “Just do it!” We don’t know how powerful the mind is and we discovered that we were able to help individuals with transplants of corneas and tissues into selectively repress the rejection factor just using the power of their mind to do it. So I’m always open to the idea, you know our minds are much more powerful than we realize and I think this whole emerging field of neuro-plasticity or brain plasticity is right up the alley of using hypnosis so, but I have had times when for one reason or another, either because the condition wasn’t amenable to using the power of the mind, or there might be factors involved…maybe there’s another destiny involved for that person, or other factors that the hypnosis just doesn’t take enough of the layers off of it to be effective.
TS: Thanks Dr.G. That was a comprehensive and useful introduction to medical self hypnosis, and beginning May 5th, Dr. Gurgevich will be offering an online course on self hypnosis. He’s also the author of several Sounds True audio learning programs including, Relieve Anxiety: Using Medical Self Hypnosis, The self Hypnosis Diet, Relax RX which is a program that teaches relaxation techniques using medical self hypnosis, as well as the Self Hypnosis Home Study Course and a program that he recorded along with Dr. Andrew Weil which is an introduction to medical self hypnosis.