As we climbed to the second floor office of the hypnotherapist in north Bogota, I recounted the number of movies I had seen claiming to control the human mind through hypnosis. It was a frightening list, and conjured images a dimly-lit overbearing office and a sinister magician with a pocket watch. To the relief of my hyper-active imagination, we were greeted by a cheerful Sarah Wall as we entered her sunny office with large windows and a glass roof.
“Everybody has a vague idea about hypnosis,” says Wall, a 33-year-old, legal practitioner of hypnotherapy from Brighton, UK, “but usually they’re thinking along the lines of stage show hypnosis of the 90’s where people were made to do silly things.” Accustomed to some initial skepticism, Wall explains the medical relevance of the practice and its increasing global acceptance.
Hypnotherapy is a form of therapy that uses hypnosis as a tool to achieve a self-established and clearly defined goal. It is the amalgamation of the mind and introspection as a means to modify the messages the body sends to the subconscious. It is most popularly used as a means to modify lifestyles, like quitting alcohol or cigarettes; reducing stress associated with the pain of surgery, giving birth, chemotherapy; and resolving issues related to confidence and self-esteem like fear of public speaking or anxiety before attending big events.
But the foundation of the therapy lies primarily with the willingness of the patient to seek a significant change in their current situation. “By the time you come to me,” says Wall, “you should be willing to find a solution, and be clear of what your life will look like after.”
Wall’s interest in the field arose from a personal crisis, as her life changed drastically in a very short period of time in her twenties. Born and brought up in London in the 80’s, Wall graduated in Marketing from the University of Manchester. She pursued a fashionably glamorous, yet stressful, corporate lifestyle for seven years, before her company in Brighton asked her to stay at home when she got pregnant with her daughter in 2004.
Her marriage to her Colombian husband had also ended, forcing her reevaluate her life. “I know it sounds contrary, but the whole process was a very positive awakening,” says Wall. “My wonderful life as a successful and married career woman was gone, but I knew what I was experiencing would affect my fetus.” Wall then began researching ways to convert the whole process of giving birth, which everyone expects to be awful and painful, into a more holistic and enriching natural experience. “That how I first came across Hypno-birthing, which has medically shown to reduce time spent in labor, and reduce the need for epidurals,” she says.
One daughter and several intensive courses in the field later, Wall registered with the General Hypnotherapy Register in UK, and has been practicing for over five years now. A normal session with Wall begins with a thirty minute Q&A about the life of patient and what they would like to change. “We begin with a clear understanding of what our final outcome will be, and how we will know that it has been successful,” she says. This is then followed by twenty minutes of focused relaxation, which is the official hypnosis.
Unlike the movies, this does not require the patient to follow an oscillating object. “We can reach a deep state of focused relaxation by simply talking,” says Wall. “Our words and the language we use have a very specific effect on us during his hypnotic state. It is during this period, that we visualize what your future would look like,” she says. Unlike traditional therapy, where patients reflect on their past and how it affects their present, hypnotherapy focuses on skills required by patients outside the session in the future.
Combining elements of solution-focused therapy and psychotherapy, hypnotherapy has helped patients significantly alter their lives right after the first session. Despite the wide range of “problems” or symptoms hypnotherapy can alleviate; from infertility to quitting smoking; there is a pattern for the recovery of each patient. “We focus on breaking down the ideas around the problem,” says Wall, “and replace them with positive triggers that help you visualize your future”.