APRIL 30, 2004

It's all in your mind ? now let's get it out of there

A trip to the subconscious may be just the ticket for your patients' unwanted behaviours. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream

"You're getting sleepy. Your body is more and more relaxed. Your eyelids are feeling heavier and heavier."

Not exactly the sort of thing one would expect to hear at the doctor's office, but some FPs have opened their minds to hypnosis as a therapy to help their patients curb some bad habits.

"You can really change people's outlook on life with hypnosis," says Dr Allen Rodgers, a family physician in Peterborough, ON. He's treated about 100 patients with hypnosis, mainly on smokers looking to get off the smokes and also on patients suffering from a variety of phobias. "I've seen very good results with some of my patients," he says.

Dr Rodgers learned hypnotherapy back in the early 1980s at the Ontario Society of Clinical Hypnosis and later upgraded his skills at the Ontario Hypnosis Centre. "I've always been interested in complementary medicine because it's an extremely powerful technique," he says.

Each session takes about 45 minutes and, depending on the person and the problem, it may take anywhere from one to several sessions before results are seen. "We find the root cause of the issue and deal with it," explains Georgina Cannon, director of the Ontario Hypnosis Centre and an instructor for the National Guild of Hypnotists, the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association and the International Board of Regression Therapy. She's taught doctors, nurses, health practitioners and others learn how to use hypnotherapy for pain management, smoking, overeating, alleviating allergies, anxiety, and a host of other problems.

For someone looking to quit smoking, therapy would start with a series of questions about how and when the patient started smoking. "We're also trying to build a strong relationship because for someone to go into the hypnotic state, they have to trust us," says Ms Cannon. "And it's not like what you see on TV or in the movies. People are always fully aware of what's going while they're in the hypnotic state."

Then, with the help of some soothing music, she'll ask the patient to focus on her voice and guides them to relax the facial muscles, neck, arms and the rest of the body. Next, Ms Cannon tests to see if the smoker reaches a deep state of relaxation by checking if their breathing has slowed or if there's a change in skin tone. "We're essentially looking for a change and to see how calm and rested they are," says Ms Cannon. According to Dr Rodgers, "It's a heightened state of inner awareness that allows you to be open to suggestions."

The next step is to have the patient visualize a fork in the road, with one leading down the road of smoking, which is full of negative things, like ill health and disease. The other road is smoke-free and full of life, energy and good health. The therapist then makes a suggestion such as "For the betterment of your mind and body, smoking is a poison and you must keep your body healthy at all times."

"We're trying to access the person's subconscious mind and change how they see things," says Dr Rodgers. The goal is to have these new messages replace the negative ones so that if a smoker thinks of lighting up, the subconscious mind kicks in and hopefully deters the unwanted behaviour.

In Canada, there currently isn't any regulation of hypnotherapy ? something both Dr Rodgers and Ms Cannon would like to see changed.

Both practitioners feel that when it's used properly, hypnosis can be a very effective tool. And it has the added advantage of having no negative side effects. "You can't really do any harm since it's almost like meditation," says Ms Cannon. Dr Rodgers wonders why more docs haven't given it a try.



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