You are getting very sleepy…. If you’ve ever wondered just how accurate on-screen portrayals of hypnosis are, Stephanie Smailes is here to separate fact from fiction, as she sits (or lies down) in the hot seat of a Hong Kong hypnotherapist.
I always imagined hypnotherapy would be like it is on TV. I imagined staring at a Sigmund Freud lookalike waving a pocket watch as he urged me to look into his eyes. Images of stage performers commanding me to behave like a dog in front of thousands of laughing onlookers came to mind. Or lying in a dark room surrounded by New Age objets d’art watching a pendulum swing as I open up my subconscious and innermost thoughts, without even realising what’s happening.
Unsurprisingly, hypnotherapy is actually nothing like any of the representations I have seen. After nine sessions, I can say with total certainty that I was completely aware of everything that took place in my sessions.
What I have found to be true about hypnotherapy was how effective and meaningful it was, and the difference it made in my day-to-day life. It may not be for everyone, but I do believe that if you go into it with an open mind, a willingness to change and a clear intent about what you want the outcome to be, you can have an extremely rewarding experience. Here’s how it worked for me.
Hong Kong based hypnotherapist Olivier Courret
I met with my hypnotherapist, Olivier, to have a casual discussion about whether hypnotherapy would be suitable for me. We discussed my reasons for seeking out this strand of therapy, the kinds of difficulties I was facing, and I gave an overview of my life and experiences. Olivier felt confident that hypnotherapy would be appropriate and asked me to complete a suggestibility assessment… to be answered as my 16-year- old self.
Olivier explained that this helps the hypnotherapist to ensure that the metaphors and guided visualisations are ones that will appeal to my subconscious. We booked appointments for the following week, and my course of hypnotherapy began.
In the first actual “session” we revisited the reasons why I’d come. One significant question Olivier asked me was if I could wave a magic wand and have something be different – what would it be? Olivier also conducted a sort of word association assessment where he prompted me with different words and I had to say the first word that entered my mind. I found this quite triggering and frustrating.
I lay back, comfortable on a chaise longue with a blanket, and followed Olivier’s voice as he guided me through a talking meditation. I thought I would feel really sleepy and that I would fight to stay awake, but instead I was incredibly focussed and present. I noticed my mind wandering, but compared to how often my thoughts go adrift in short 10-minute meditations at home, this was nothing. I realised at the end of the session that I had actually been in a trance state for about 30 minutes.
This session was exhausting and totally draining. Olivier had planned for us to do two different exercises under hypnosis, but by the time our session was over I had been in a trance-like state for nearly the full 90-minute session and we had only covered the first exercise. It was a guided visualisation where Olivier prompted me to conjure people I had imagined who I felt had taken something from me that I needed to take back. It was quite surreal; I imagined a safe place, a room that was familiar to me where Olivier requested there was a lot of light and a door. Every time he prompted me, I was to open the door and see who was standing there waiting to be let in. It was quite daunting, but I realised quickly that while I didn’t know who I was going to see standing there, my subconscious would.
It was emotionally draining to dredge through difficult relationships and see people I consciously avoid thinking about. It was harder still to say the things to them that I needed to and take back the energy that they had taken from me. Out of all of the sessions, this was the one where I was entirely focused without any deviation. I left feeling like I’d run a marathon.
After one hour in hypnosis, I requested to stop. I felt a very strong resistance. Nothing seemed clear and I was unable to visualise anything complete. I experienced a sense of haziness and was deeply unsettled; I couldn’t focus, and felt irritable and fidgety. This session was frustrating and left me feeling like I’d failed. Something was starting to shift inside me and I was experiencing a really strong aversion to whatever hypnotherapy was beginning to help me address.
Credit: Stephanie Smailes
I am an extremely organised, punctual, never-forgets-a-birthday, planner-yielding individual and after session three, I completely forgot about and missed the following TWO sessions. I was mortified and extremely apologetic on both occasions, but was astounded that I could make such an oversight twice! When Olivier and I met again after those missed appointments, we discussed the very strong likelihood that the reason I had missed them was because I really didn’t want to come.
Our behaviours and reactions are essentially ways that our minds have learned to protect us from experienced traumas. I think that as I began to unpack the reasons behind the behaviours and beliefs I had that I wanted to change, I had a physical and subconscious reaction to avoid that transformation in order to keep me safe. Luckily, my conscious commitment to addressing and dismantling the coping mechanisms that were making life difficult overrode my subconscious desire to stay the same.
The second half of my hypnotherapy course helped me to address what was continuing to hold me back. One session involved returning to a “safe place” with a basement of objects, to see what representations my mind would present to me. In discussion with Olivier afterwards, I was amazed at how I could relate meaning from these objects to people, feelings or different times in my life.
Once I had cleared the way for change by accepting and letting go all that was holding me back, I started to understand that everything I need, I already have within me.
A final session to eradicate any remaining obstacles involved manifesting a library and burning and destroying the remaining pages of a book that represented everything that came before this moment. Once again, it was the metaphor and symbolism rather than the actual visualisation that felt healing. I was then prompted to manifest a new book, describing its appearance aloud. In this book, I would picture the life ahead of me, the future, and the version of myself that would take me towards it.
I can honestly say that this kind of life-affirming therapy has changed my outlook, how I feel about myself, and how I feel about my journey. I have always been the kind of person when something goes wrong to shout “PLOT TWIST!” and carry on as best I can, but hypnotherapy has helped me to trust myself, acknowledge and accept my feelings, and move through life with more awareness and understanding.