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,"
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
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.
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