Hypnotic healing By Nicole Wong (HK Edition)
Updated: 2008-06-20 07:14

For over a decade, graphic designer Sylvia Chan chain-smoked through her sleepless nights, as she contemplated over her artworks on the computer screen. Her attempts in quitting smoking had proved futile. Neither nicotine gum nor willpower helped her kick the habit.

An advertisement by a clinical hypnotherapist in a local magazine caught her attention. Chan made an appointment and she found herself in the therapist's couch next week. Her eyes closed, Chan listened to the therapist telling her to relax her body and soon she slipped into a hypnotic state.

"My therapist told me a story about a man who was living in a house unhappily. He was painting the house black and it made him very sick," Chan recalled. "The next day I had a cigarette and cringed at its link to my lungs. I stubbed out the cigarette straight away."

Chan has not smoked again since her session last year. While hypnotherapy is still an alien concept to some, it has been gaining its place in Hong Kong in the last few years, as a treatment to a variety of issues from nail biting and insomnia, to weight loss and phobias.

As Rene Lien, director of Hong Kong Institute of Clinical Hypnosis explained, people receive and retain many signals from the outside world at a subconscious level. As we are not aware of this process in our conscious mind, many of these signals turn into fears and reactions that we cannot explain.

"For example, a client may suddenly vomit when he eats an orange, even though he's always liked the fruit. Such reaction may trace back to a moment he doesn't recall: when he choked on the juice of a sour orange, or when he saw an old man eating an orange in the street in a disgusting manner," Lien said.

Once the therapist identifies the roots of the problems during consultation, he or she will lead the client into the hypnotic state, using techniques as progressive relaxation and visual images. Depending on individual cases, the client may be given direct or indirect suggestions, metaphors and mental pictures.

"I had a client who's rather strong-willed and his problem was eating late-night snacks," said Raymond Lai, director of Hong Kong Clinical Hypnotherapy. "Instead of direct commands, I gave him metaphors of a baby quitting thumb sucking, as a habit that fades away from one's subconscious state as one grows up."

According to Lai, hypnotherapy can be a much more effective solution to many emotional and cognitive difficulties than traditional forms of therapy, such as counseling and talk therapy. Over the course of four hypnotherapy sessions, the client should see a significant improvement.

"Someone who suffers from depression is often still wrestling with childhood trauma, like being locked up in a room by his father. It can take a longer time for the client to sort these issues out in his logical mind through talk therapy. Hypnotherapy, however, tackles and resolves these issues in the subconscious directly."

With its application to a wide range of issues, hypnotherapy is steadily becoming a popular treatment among those who seek a quick fix to their problems. Hilda Li, clinical psycho & hypnotherapist, has witnessed a growing acceptance of the therapy by the public in recent years.

"Five years ago, most clients would use it as a last resort, after they had tried other means of therapy and failed," Li recounted. "Nowadays, there're many clients who come into the clinic and ask for hypnotherapy straight away, since they've read much about it and believed in its efficiency."

"One of the keys to the therapy's success is trust," Li added. "Sometimes I'd suggest hypnotherapy to a client, if I think it's the most effective treatment for the issue at hand. If there's a trusting relationship between the therapist and the client, the client will take the suggestion, just as a patient will take the doctor's prescription."

As one of the most experienced clinical hypnotherapists in the city, Lien has also received clients from all walks of life and age groups. Children aged 7 or 8 have come for his consultation with total conviction in the therapy, while their parents watch over the procedure.

"I had an 8-year-old client with concentration problem. When I asked him why he chose hypnotherapy, he said he'd seen it in movies and TV and he believed it'd work," Lien noted. "There're also clients in their 70s, who have no doubts that hypnotherapy will help them. It's all about having an open mind."

Despite such growing demand, the number of qualified clinical hypnotherapists remains small in Hong Kong. The treatment is available at some wellness and even aromatherapy centers in town, though the therapists' qualifications are not standardized and the fees are somewhat daunting.

"After I had my session, I saw an ad by a certain wellness center and they charged HK$3,000 per session, or HK$7,500 for three sessions. Another center charged about HK$1,000 per session, but it could take up to eight sessions to quit smoking. In the latter case, the therapist's qualifications weren't even listed," Chan said.

In choosing the right hypnotherapists, both Lien and Lai concurred that clients should look carefully at the professional memberships of the therapists, which are good indications of their academic qualifications and experience. At Lien's clinic, treatment fees vary depending on the issues, while Lai charges HK$5,200 for four sessions.

"Some professional associations require over 300 hours of practice for a therapist to qualify as a member, while others require far fewer hours of practice. Those who are interested in seeking hypnotherapy should do some research about this, so they can be sure to find experienced therapists."

For all the hype that has been gathering around the subject, Lai pointed out that hypnotherapy is a serious treatment that addresses the emotional difficulties of a person. Through his encounters with clients over the years, Lai has also helped many others as well as seen his own personal growth.

"It's about the matters of the heart, as they say," Lai contended. "Hypnotherapy has broadened my understanding of human emotions, and I feel I've grown a lot as a person throughout my career as a therapist. It's also given me a great deal of satisfaction, when I see my clients heading towards positive changes."

( From China Daily HK Edition 06/20/2008 page4)


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