I Tried Hypnotherapy, and I Still Wonder if I Was "Really" Hypnotized

It all started on Groupon.
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Pia Glenn
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It all started on Groupon.

Tears spilled from my eyes, but not in a way that I had ever experienced before, or since. The memory has stuck with me for about three years now, and it seems like every few days I find myself wondering, Was I really hypnotized?

It all started on Groupon, as many modern-day adventures do. Actually, not that many things start there for me, since I have a funky habit of forgetting that the deep discount service even exists, although I know lots of people swear by it. For me, a friend will mention it or I'll recall a time when I've bought one and remember that Groupon is even a thing, and I'll take a gander at the offerings.

The "Health & Fitness" category is my Groupon go-to, and from there it was just a short series of clicks until hypnosis and hypnotherapy Groupons started popping up. I was intrigued.

I'd like to think I have a healthy balance of curiosity and skepticism when it comes to hypnosis. I had previously thought about it, but just out of casual inquisitiveness--it was never really high on my real-life to-do list. It was a thing that happened in movies or on TV, and although I knew it was practiced in actual, off-screen life as well, it existed on the periphery of my awareness with no urgency to personally experience it, nor to explicitly avoid it. It was just another thing in the world.

At that time, I wasn't seeing a therapist of any sort, but I believe in the beneficial effects of seeking professional assistance to sort through the billions of strands of life that can get so easily tangled for each of us, and I started to seriously consider giving hypnotherapy a try, as a new approach to a previously existing goal.

I didn't have a Let's just throw something else at the wall and see what sticks mentality about it, though. I want to maintain my mind and heart in good working order, but I don't want just any old person tinkering around in there doing the maintenance. Unfortunately, lots of certified professionals can behave in inappropriate ways or practice detrimental techniques, doing harm in the most precious of places where they were tasked to do good.  

Also, a particular therapeutic approach might be wonderful for some but just not a good fit for others, so I got to researching. I had phone conversations with everyone who was advertising, and I also had to tell myself that being on Groupon does not automatically make a business proprietor a huckster or a snake-oil purveyor. There's a certain "bargain bin" mentality through which I view not just Groupon, but LivingSocial and also other discount sites, when in reality, just like anything else, each situation deserves its own evaluation.

For every conniving spa that's cobbled together a "package" of things that they would normally do for free to sell as a Groupon, there's a sincere establishment using Groupon to provide a quality service to a larger clientele than they had been, and I know merchants have their own, sometimes very different, experiences with Groupon from the other side.

I talked to almost all of the hypnotherapists that Groupon introduced me to, and I became more and more interested in it with each conversation. I settled on a male practitioner offering a 3-session package, and I scheduled my first appointment.

His office was in a building of offices with very familiar white-noise machines stationed just outside every door. Therapy of all sorts seemed to be going on in the various little rooms, and I was about to try a new variety.

He was a disheveled, almost sloppy man with a deep and gravelly voice, the absolute opposite of the stereotypical suave gentleman cooing look into my eyes... We made basic introductions, I sat on a comfy couch facing his comfy-looking hair, and he officially began the session by telling me he would NOT be saying "look into my eyes," or anything of the sort.

No shade to pocketwatches, but there were none present.

No shade to pocketwatches, but there were none present.

He wasn't condescending about it, but he made it clear that we were in a therapeutic office, not onstage at a lounge in Atlantic City. He ran through a list of all the hypnosis clichés and then asked me to discard those notions entirely. Switching gears to explain what his approach actually was, as opposed to what it wasn't, he said he uses the power of suggestion to induce a state that is between consciousness and unconsciousness, and that in this state we could explore painful issues I'm dealing with and possibly redirect my emotional responses to something akin to peace and resolution.

If I wanted to, and he deemed it appropriate, he could also "implant" emotional responses and behavioral changes, with particular strategies for, say, people who want to stop smoking or biting their nails, but that would happen further down the road, if at all. He spoke with a stern authority and confidence that told me he was Very Serious about this as he described his extremely high success rate.

The opening strains of the X-Files theme song played in my mind, but in a gleeful way—I appreciated what felt to me like his professionalism, and I was excited to give this a try. After his primer on how he practices hypnotherapy, he asked some very traditional talk-therapy-type questions about my history and what I was seeking help with or looking to resolve.

As the appointment came to a close, or so I thought, he smiled and said, "You'll notice there's been no hypnosis yet." I smiled and nodded that I had, even though I had become quite emotional in discussing my past, and was plucking from the box of tissues that comes with every office practicing therapy of any kind to dab at my eyes, which were (at that point) misty in a familiar way.

The appointment was well over the hour-and-a-half mark by then, and he said he would be ending it by measuring my susceptibility to the power of suggestion.

Haughty though it may be to say, I'm damn near impervious when it comes to run of the mill interpersonal manipulation attempts and sales pitches. This was different, however. This was not deception--there was no trickery involved, just the application of a technique, through very specific means that were explained to me in advance, for which I willingly signed up. This was not deception or suggestion designed to get me to buy a used car.

He leaned forward and asked permission to touch my wrist, and I had a sudden flash of panic: what if the hypnosis did work and this man was a predator? We were approaching two hours of talking at this point and I hadn't felt uncomfortable one time, but this was also a stranger and I was brought here by a Groupon and hypnosis was a completely unknown variable.

I've had many moments of fear or disgust at the thought, or proof, that someone had unwanted advances or worse in mind, but this is the only time I can remember having such a knee-jerk reaction to the fear of being alone in a room with a man in this context, not because of anything about him or even an indescribable feeling, which it's important to pay attention to, but simply because I had no idea if I was about to be in a compromised state of awareness. As a survivor, I felt that fear, but my gut told me that it wasn't him or anything about him, it was the possibility of hypnosis, and it passed as quickly as it came.

***

I wish I could tell you exactly what happened, which probably answers my lingering question of Was I hypnotized? in the affirmative. What I do recall is that it began with closing my eyes and connecting to very deep breaths while he counted up and down in ascending and descending intervals, periodically tapping my wrist.

His gruff voice took on an insistent tone that was urgent but somehow not abrasive or jarring as he instructed me to inhale and exhale. I know that he said other things, and I was aware of speaking as well, but the prevailing memory is of utter stillness. He released my wrist and I sat, completely slumped over, in a state of total motionlessness like nothing I had ever known.  

What I recall of coming to is that I was directed to lift my head but not open my eyes yet, and I remember the sensation of muscular hesitation, like for a moment I wasn't sure I'd be able to. I did lift my head, and when I opened my eyes, as instructed, what felt like an ocean of tears poured out of them.

I've had some epic crying fits in my day, but this was completely different. I wasn't in the act of crying as much as my eyes were emitting a powerful, steady flow of tears that showed no sign of stopping. It felt almost involuntary, free of the rhythmic pauses and muscle contractions of traditional crying, and I was briefly embarrassed, as though I was wetting my pants, except it was my face.

How long had I been "under"? Had I been crying the entire time? When I discovered that about 20 minutes had passed, the feeling I had was that I had continuously been sobbing and my eyelids were somehow sealed shut, the tears all collecting behind them until I opened my eyes again.

Physiological realities be damned, that sensation of having sprung a leak has stuck with me, and in addition to the physical sensation, it felt like I was breathing a sigh of relief from deep within my brain, a sensation that has yet to be repeated.

I didn't go back for another session. At first, that was merely a result of prolonged difficulty in scheduling, but I think there was also an element of fear at the power of the experience and wondering if that truly was "real deal" hypnosis, and what might happen if I went back. If I were to go back, I'd be sure to bring a bucket to catch the tears.