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You Are NOT Getting Sleepy…

black-and-white-hypnotic-spiralI am a librarian, and like many in my profession I am innately curious. If you are in the business of ferreting out information, being naturally curious comes in handy. When I’m not at the library putting my curiosity to work for others, I like to learn about learning and behavior – or why we do what we do, and how we can do things better. As such, I am an avid watcher of TED talks, those treasure troves of “ideas worth spreading,” and the related TEDx events organized in communities around the globe.

This summer I viewed one such talk delivered by Kristin Rivas called “The life-changing power of words.” Several years after her sister died in a car accident, she suddenly developed pseudo-seizures and other disturbing symptoms. She was eventually diagnosed by the Mayo Clinic with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and conversion disorder. Her doctors believed she was suffering from traumatic grief, which her body was converting into psychosomatic symptoms. They recommended drugs and intensive psychiatric care, but weren’t optimistic about the prognosis. The Mayo Clinic also recommended one last alternative: hypnotherapy. Desperate, she made an appointment with a specialist in trauma resolution therapy. During one two-hour session she learned that her mind was confusing memory with reality, and sending signals to address a perceived situation. She was then offered a different way of perceiving her sister’s death. The impact of the session was immediate and lasting; she was well. Inspired by her story, I viewed several other TEDx talks on hypnosis. I also recommend Danna Pycher’s talk, “Healing illness with the subconscious mind.”

Shortly after my TEDx marathon, I learned the library would be hosting a four-part series on “Hypnosis and Healing” to explore using the power of the mind to promote motivation, success and well-being. Curious (as ever), I signed up. In our first session, we were given an overview of hypnosis, which is simply a heightened state of concentration in which people are more receptive to suggestion. The person being treated is guided, using imagery and repetition, into a relaxed state, but is still aware. In fact, people go into hypnotic states on their own throughout the day, such as when we are driving somewhere and somehow end up at our destination without recollecting how we got there. This makes the term hypnosis – from “hypnos,” the Greek word for sleep – one of the bigger misnomers out there. Unfortunately for me, a combination of the dark room, soothing voice and sleep deprivation caused me to sleep through two of the four sessions. I listened wistfully to the stories of my fellow workshop attendees as they reported feeling more motivated and energetic. I was so disappointed to have squandered my chance to experience the benefits of hypnosis that I ratted myself out during the question-and-answer period one night to ask our presenter if she had any tips for not falling asleep. She noted that if we had been in an individual session, she would have done something like alter the volume of her voice if she’d noticed me slipping off, but that working in a group didn’t allow for that.

After one of the sessions in which I was snoozing while others made positive transformations, I decided to see what the library had to offer on the subject of hypnosis. I picked up an informative read called The Inner Source: Exploring Hypnosis with Dr. Herbert Spiegel by Donald Connery, which examines the practice of hypnosis and the career of one of its chief proponents. Dr. Spiegel was a newly minted psychiatrist who had learned hypnosis during his residency when he was sent overseas to serve as a battalion surgeon. The power of hypnosis was revealed to him through his work with soldiers grappling with combat stress. After leaving the service, Dr. Spiegel continued to explore hypnosis in private practice, and went on to teach a course in clinical hypnosis at Columbia University for over twenty years. In Dr. Spiegel’s opinion, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis; a hypnotist merely guides people to tap a natural ability to alter their perception and influence their reactions. He recognized that some people are more suggestible than others, and used different strategies to compensate for this.

Hypnosis has been used for everything from behavior modification (quitting smoking, losing weight, and releasing phobias) to coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and pain management on par with anesthesia. So my main wonderment is this: if hypnosis is so useful, why is it viewed as a last resort? If a quick, easy and side-effect-free method to improve our heath is available, why not add it to the mix? I suspect that the checkered past of the practice, from stage hypnotists to unscrupulous charlatans, prevents people from taking it seriously, but the cynical side of me also wonders if our healthcare system isn’t to blame. There is, after all, no money to be made from people who can make themselves well.

My own research into hypnosis continues. There are numerous resources out there for those who’d like to learn more. Our network owns The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hypnosis, which offers an overview of the subject as well several appendices of additional resources. Self-Hypnosis for Dummies is similar, and available as an eBook. Other audio and digital resources abound for help with specific concerns such as insomnia, weight-loss, etc. For those who wish to consult a professional, a searchable database of licensed healthcare workers providing hypnotherapy is available through the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis at

Kirstie David is a Literacy and Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the October 18, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript.

Lydia Sampson

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