Today, we continue with our series “Things You Didn’t Know” as we hear from NYC practitioner Ruschelle Khanna, who helps us to better understand hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy is a guided or interactive experience, much like meditation, where the practitioner is guiding you into deep relaxation. Hypnotherapy allows our brain to search for information not otherwise accessed when we are fully awake.
While hypnosis has been used since the dawn of civilization, when we began enlisting the help of shaman and medicine men (and women) in order to cure a multitude of ailments, our modern understanding of hypnosis began around the 18th century with a man named Franz Mesmer.
Mesmer used early hypnosis techniques to treat patients. He was interested in unblocking the flow of “fluids,” or energies, throughout the body and used hypnosis to do this.
Another common form of hypnosis, Ericksonian hypnosis, is named after its creator, Milton Erickson, who was an American Psychiatrist around the turn of the century.
Erickson stated that, “All hypnosis is self hypnosis,” implying that the client was always in control.
Ericksonian hypnosis sessions are influenced by client imagery, memories, and sensations - basically any preferred feeling states such as happiness, joy and passion.
The session is then primarily conducted by the therapist, but sometimes both therapist and client talk throughout the hypnotic experience as well.
Hypnosis sessions generally do not involve physical touch of any kind.
Hypnotherapy can look quite different or quite similar depending on the individual seeking care and what they are going through.
For example, Dana, a young executive comes in describing difficulty in decision-making about her next career move. I begin the session by discussing with Dana times when she has made decisions with ease. I then would use Dana’s information to craft a meditative-like journey to assist joy in finding answers to her questions.
Another example is Tom, a young man who experienced severe bullying and abuse as a child. He decided to try hypnotherapy to relieve symptoms of trauma that were interfering with his work and family life. Tom and I had already spent several sessions preparing for his hypnotherapy. In his first hypnotherapy session, we revisited a painful childhood memory, exploring the experience from a safe perspective. An example of this might be having Tom watch the traumatic experience from a movie theater in his imagination. Tom then has control over the experience by stopping and starting the memory as he needs, as well as turning the experience on and off. Through this process, Tom is able to think of this memory with less discomfort in his day to day life.
And thirdly, Christine wanted to try hypnotherapy for severe chronic muscular pain associated with her autoimmune disease. Christine and I focused our session on creative visualization to reduce her pain response. In this session, Christine determined it would be helpful to imagine being given a numbing medication at the site of her pain. During hypnosis, we imagined together what it would feel like being able to take a numbing agent. By exploring what that might be like, we prompted the body to produce a similar response as if it were actually happening.
I have found that using hypnosis combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a goals-oriented, here-and-now talk therapy approach, to help clients manage panic and anxiety has been extremely useful.
While CBT focuses on paying attention to thought patterns that may be contributing to the experience of panic or anxiety, hypnosis allows for deep relaxation (no thinking required), which is helpful for managing the physiological symptoms of panic and anxiety. I tend to go back and forth between these two tools based on how the client is feeling in each session.
Hypnosis is very effective for treating insomnia, as well. Hypnosis centers around bringing one to a “hypnagogic” state. This the the state we experience right before drifting off to sleep. By practicing deep relaxation of the nervous system and offering gentle suggestions for relaxation, the body becomes more and more accustomed to falling and staying asleep.
Chronic pain is another issue area where hypnotherapy can be a super effective treatment. Because pain is such a subjective experience, hypnosis allows us to find individualized and creative ways to go in and help the brain change it’s experience of pain. This combined with activating the relaxation response can be a powerful tool.
Hypnotherapy sessions are generally 1 hour or under. Clients can expect to find hypnotherapy impactful in as little as 1-8 sessions. Some clients enjoy the process and make it a part of their regular self care routine. Some even learn to do self hypnosis and use it instead of meditation.
Personality types may not matter as much as a client’s willingness to participate in a relaxation exercise. The more willing someone is to participate, generally the better the results.
Hypnotherapy sessions can work in the moment, or clients can report back about the impact of the sessions weeks later. For example, a client may begin therapy with a complaint (“I have back pain”), and one day after some time in treatment they will come to a session stating they realized they hadn’t had pain in days.
Two things that might be helpful before attending your session are: 1) establishing a willingness to try it, and 2) to pick one thing you would like to see improved or helped from the session. Hypnosis works best with a clear end goal, such as, “I want to sleep better,” or, “I want to feel more focused.”
Hypnotherapy allows clients to experience flow states. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a flow state is defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It’s always nice to be around the experience of flow.
Hypnosis is a very versatile tool. In terms of searching for the right hypnosis practitioner, many practitioners do specialize in something, i.e. weight loss, smoking cessation, anxiety, etc. So the first place I would start is a Google search in your area of the type of hypnosis you are looking for.
I would also focus on finding someone that will give a free consultation. Since choosing a hypnotherapist is all about the relationship, it's nice to have an idea of how that person feels via phone or video chat. Hypnosis is all about feeling comfortable, so it must be a good fit.
Finally, try to ask questions. Explore for a practitioner that appears as though they can help you and work toward your first courageous step: connect with them! I am sure they will be happy to hear from you.
Thank you, Ruschelle, for sharing your perspective with us and helping us learn more about hypnotherapy.
If you would like to reach Ruschelle directly to continue the conversation or schedule an appointment, please email her at [email protected] You may also connect with Ruschelle on Instagram: @ruschellekhanna.
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Ruschelle Khanna, LCSW is the Founder of Ruschelle Khanna, LCSW & Associates, a therapy practice located in the financial district and midtown. Ruschelle has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist. A graduate of Columbia University, Ruschelle spent 10 years directing mental health and substance abuse clinics throughout New York City. Ruschelle loves working with high achieving adults to support them in living their best lives. Ruschelle has studied hypnotherapy with Rachel Hott and Stephen Leads at the NLP Center in New York.