Weird S.B. has touched on unusual medicine before, but hypnotherapy is both so out there and so relatively popular that it deserves a column all its own.

Hypnotherapy is a technique that purports to alleviate or do away with a staggering list of illnesses, neuroses, and addictions – including, according to the Web site of local hypnotherapist Rebekka Putnam, nail-biting, rejection, irritable bowel syndrome, bed wetting, fear of heights, menopause, and test anxiety. The technique is particularly popular as a means of quitting smoking and helping with pain.

The process of hypnotherapy is relatively simple. Putnam’s Web site says that hypnosis is really “guided meditation” and is no more than a way to relax the mind, making it receptive to the unconscious desires hidden beneath a set of ingrained behaviors. Someone who truly wants to quit smoking, the theory goes, will be able to find the willpower to do so through using more of their mind than they typically would in a normal state.

While Putnam’s claim that “anything is possible” with hypnotherapy may be debatable, it is undeniable that the therapy is neither invasive nor potentially harmful, unlike many traditional medical solutions. Neither pharmaceuticals nor surgery are required, and side effects are nonexistent.

The one great fear potential hypnotherapy patients seem to have – if the many, many assurances on the Web sites of Santa Barbara hypnotherapists are any indication – is that they will somehow be induced to behave strangely or will be tricked into bizarre acts. But hypnotism in literature and film, where most people form their ideas of the technique, tends to have far more dramatic results than in real life. The film Office Space, in which the main character is hypnotized into a state of complete relaxation and then left in it permanently when his therapist dies mid-session, is not realistic, as all hypnotherapists will hasten to reassure their clients.

And there is a surprising number of hypnotherapists in this area, for anyone willing to make the attempt despite their qualms. There’s even the Hypnotherapy Training Institute of Santa Barbara, which offers a number of classes for aspiring hypnotherapists. According to the Training Institute, “Hypnotherapy is the key to personal growth and lasting change” and can benefit the therapist as much as the client. Of course, becoming a hypnotherapist’s an expensive process three training modules are required, each costing almost $1,500 plus the cost of textbooks.

While certified hypnotherapists who make their living from the practice have a vested interest in promoting the benefits of the technique, the scientific consensus seems to be that there may be benefits and as our understanding of the brain continues to develop, who knows?

There is one anxiety, however, that hypnotherapy is guaranteed to remove: a fear of being hypnotized.


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