Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy in Sports Counseling

Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 2001, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 57-65 2001 Heart-Centered Therapies Association


Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy in Sports Counseling

H. Ray Wooten, Ph.D. and Noelle R. St. Germain, M.A.*

Abstract: The use of hypnosis with athletes is well-represented in the literature.

However, much of the existing functionality of hypnotherapy in sports is geared toward

performance enhancement or aspects of performance. The use of hypnosis in dealing with

developmental and identity issues of athletes has been minimally represented in the existing

literature. Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy (HCH) is a model which utilizes the hypnotic

process while expanding the focus to address the growth, healing, and transformation of

mind, body, emotion, and spirit. This article demonstrates the effectiveness of utilizing the

Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy (HCH) modality when counseling athletes.

The use of hypnosis in sports counseling and athletic training is

modestly represented in the literature. However, almost all of the existing

literature on sports hypnosis focuses on hypnosis for performance

enhancement or aspects related to performance enhancement, such as

concentration and stress reduction (Braybrooke, 1988; Collins, Doherty, &

Talbot, 1993; Heyman, 1987; Krenz, 1984; Liggett, 2000; Morgan, 1993;

Robazza & Bortoli, 1995; Stanton, 1994; Tafti, Besset, & Billiard, 1992;

Wojcikiewicz & Orlick, 1987). This article will examine themes reflected

in the literature on sports hypnosis and will explore uses of Heart-Centered

Hypnotherapy (HCH)with athletes as demonstrated through case examples.

Several authors provide general overviews of the uses of hypnosis in sports

(Liggett, 2000; Morgan, 1993; Taylor, Horevitz, & Balague, 1993).

However, the majority of available literature on sports hypnosis focuses on

using hypnosis for performance enhancement. In addition, many of the

articles that do not focus on performance enhancement per se, describe

characteristics which have a direct effect on performance. For example,

this literature review found that the second most common use for hypnosis

in sports was anxiety or stress reduction (Howard & Reardon, 1986; Krenz,

1984; Naruse, 1965; Onestak, 1991; Wojcikiewicz & Orlick, 1987).

Another common theme in sports hypnosis literature (also connected to

performance enhancement) is the relationship of hypnosis to mental and

psychological training (Krenz, 1984; Onestak, 1991). In addition, hypnosis

has been used for other aspects of performance enhancement, including


* H. Ray Wooten, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor; Noelle R. St. Germain is a doctoral

candidate, Department of Counseling and Human Services, One Camino Santa Maria, St.

Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX 78228-8527

Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 2001, Vol. 4, No. 1


strength and physical and emotional control (Diamante & Baker, 1991;

Howard & Reardon, 1986; Johnson & Kramer, 1961; Liggett & Hamada,

1993; Scott, 1984), concentration (Collins, Doherty, & Talbot, 1993;

Schreiber, 1991), self-concept (Howard & Reardon, 1986), motivation

(Baybrooke, 1988; Darden, 1972; Pearson, 1983), and mood enhancement

(Oakley, Norell, & Cripps, 1995). Hypnosis has also been used to achieve

optimal levels of performance arousal, which are necessary for the

individual to achieve peak performance (Garver, 1977; Liggett, 2000;

McMaster, 1993).

Sports hypnosis has been further investigated in the literature in order

to better understand the relationships among trance states, performance,

pain, and healing. Researchers have examined occurrences of trance states

in athletes and the effects of these states on performance and health

(Callen, 1983; Cancio, 1991; Grove & Lewis, 1996; Masters, 1992).

Finally, in sports medicine, hypnosis has been utilized to decrease pain and

increase healing (Ballinger, 1987; Kroger, 1988).

Although performance is a primary concern for athletes, a variety of

other issues exist which affect the mental health and functioning of

athletes. Various developmental issues impact athletes, including identity

issues, personal competence, and career planning (Jordan & Denson, 1990;

Pearson & Petipas, 1990; Wooten, 1994). Athletes must also confront

identity issues related to their level of participation and achievement in

sports (Greendorfor & Blinde, 1985; Ogilivie & Howe, 1982; Svoboda &

Vanek, 1982). For athletes who focus solely on sports activities, self-

esteem, identity, and social affiliation may be entirely dependent upon their

athletic involvement (Gordett, 1985; Pearson & Petipas, 1990). Once

participation in athletics ceases (either voluntarily or involuntarily), the

individual may experience crises related to identity, self-efficacy, and

helplessness (Kleiber & Brock, 1992). Athletes transitioning out of sports

often must deal with rebuilding identity in a non-athletic context,

constructing career-life plans, and developing personal competencies

(Wooten & Hinkle, 1991).

These examples demonstrate the broad spectrum of developmental and

identity issues that exist in the world of the athlete. However, the use of

hypnosis in dealing with athletes’ developmental and identity issues has

been conspicuously absent from the existing literature.

Almost all descriptions of hypnosis in sports counseling are fundamentally

connected to performance enhancement.

This article will demonstrate uses for Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy

(HCH) in sports counseling which expands beyond performance

Wooten & Germain: Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy in Sports Counseling


enhancement. Case examples will be used to demonstrate the effectiveness

of using HCH in working with athletes.

Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy

A broad based definition of hypnosis refers to an altered state of

consciousness characterized by certain physiological attributes (e.g.,

relaxation, slowed breath rate), enhanced receptivity to suggestion, and

increased access to unconscious thoughts, memories, and emotions. The

HCH modality utilizes the hypnotic process while expanding the focus to

address the growth, healing, and transformation of mind, body, emotion,

and spirit. HCH is an eclectic modality that utilizes traditional and

Ericksonian hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Transactional

Analysis, developmental psychology, cognitive-behavioral techniques,

Gestalt Therapy, and pre- and perinatal psychology. Zimberoff and

Hartman (1999) state that the ultimate goals of HCH are “living a

harmonious balanced life; a life so balanced and conscious that one

maintains equanimity, composure, and spiritual focus even at the moment

of death” (p. 9). It is beyond the scope of this article to describe HCH in

detail. An in-depth description of the HCH model can be found in

Zimberoff & Hartman (1998). The following two cases demonstrate the

efficacy of HCH in sports counseling and the corrective experience created

to effect change and healing

Case 1

Stan was a junior scholarship football player at a NCAA Division II

college. Stan was part of the starting line-up and had received extensive

playing time as an outside linebacker. During the second game of the

season Stan sustained a mild trauma to a ligament in his left knee. The

training staff and the team physician were optimistic about the injury and

gave a positive prognosis indicating that he would be back in several

weeks with appropriate rehabilitation. The training staff set up an intensive

rehabilitation schedule. Stan was in good spirits and was initially

motivated with the rehabilitation. After several weeks of rehabilitation Stan

was cleared for practice by the head trainer and physician. However, Stan

was reluctant to practice and the training staff accommodated his fears and

allowed him to exercise on the field at his own pace. Continued

rehabilitation and assessment indicated that Stan was physically ready to

practice and eventually play. Since the injury Stan had become agitated,

moody, and had become increasingly negative concerning the treatment

and the training staff’s assessment that he was physically ready to practice.

Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 2001, Vol. 4, No. 1


Trainers and coaches discussed Stan’s needs with him and attempted to

motivate him. The campus counseling center was utilized, however, Stan

would not “open-up” and missed several appointments. The training staff

thought that he needed stress management and pain control. Stan agreed

and was referred to me (RW) for the hypnosis procedures.

Stan reported to the first session fifteen minutes late. He was

withdrawn, mildly depressed, and stated that he was anxious because he

had never been hypnotized before. We discussed the dynamics of hypnosis

which alleviated much of his anxiety. He agreed that he could certainly use

some relaxation and agreed to proceed. Once the induction process began

Stan started sobbing uncontrollably and began complaining of panic

symptoms (e.g., pain in his chest, difficulty breathing). Stan admitted to

being depressed, difficulty sleeping, and recently experiencing panic

symptoms. We briefly discussed Stan’s history and feelings. He agreed that

he wanted to get to the source of his emotional pain. We immediately

moved from a focus on stress management and pain control to pain

exploration and exacerbation.

Utilizing the Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy modality we began with

Stan’s current situation and associated emotions. Stan released a spectrum

of emotions and subsequently followed the affect bridge back to the source

of this pattern in his life. Stan went through several regressions.

Predominant themes in this session included past coaches and in particular

his father who were overly demanding, abusive, and shaming. Stan had

become so thoroughly hardened that he had literally anesthetized himself

to the physical pain he had experienced. Abuse included injunctions such

as “suck it up,” “don’t feel,” “don’t be a sissy/wimp,” “you will let the

team down (and the community),” and “you get love by being successful in

sports.” As Stan grew older, his parents had increased their expectations

and had demanded (explicitly and implicitly) that he do certain things and

be a certain way. Stan feared that if he did not meet those expectations, he

would be rejected and abandoned. Due to these experiences, Stan had

developed a constant state of tension which blocked his experience and

inhibited his aliveness.

In the session, Stan vocalized his fear that he possibly could not return

to his previous level of athletic performance and would therefore be a

major disappointment to his family and friends. He believed that he was

unlovable and a disgrace to his family. Stan stayed with the process and

continued to release and let go of unwanted thoughts, feelings, and body

blocks. Stan proceeded to make new decisions that reflected that he was

lovable regardless of his performance and that he was lovable even if he

Wooten & Germain: Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy in Sports Counseling


chose not to play football any longer. He was able to release the “gender

straitjacket” that inhibited his actions and was able to experience the

nurturing that he had always longed for. During the session, Stan got the

message that he could express his full range of emotions safely without


Stan had several more HCH sessions and focused on the release of

intense negative emotions and body blocks. Any change in functioning

eventually produces a change in structure as was apparent in Stan’s body

as he released numbness and pain. Stan was able to re-own his experience

and was willing to experience those things that he had previously

repressed. A new aliveness and energy returned to Stan as he continued to

eliminate barriers.

Stan eventually had his family come for family therapy sessions. Stan

expressed himself openly, honestly, and with emotion. His family

responded affirmatively and agreed to support him in every way. Stan

chose to continue to play football, however with a new emphasis. The new

emphasis was playing for himself and his enjoyment and becoming more

engaged in extra-curricular activities. Stan played the last four games of

the season and brought with him a new energy that was contagious. Stan

was awarded several honors for his motivation and spirit and was named

one of the team captains for the season.

Case 2

Liz was a fourteen-year-old “elite swimmer.” She was referred to me

(RW) by her coach and parents. They were concerned about her bizarre

behavior before swim meets and reported that she “loses it.” The coach had

tried numerous techniques but nothing had worked. He acknowledged

increased stress and pressure from the swim meets but felt that her reaction

was outside of what would be expected. Liz had a history of being nervous

and anxious before swim meets and her symptoms had intensified during

the past two swim meets. Her coach described her behavior as an extreme

fear of making mistakes, vomiting, and obsessing with her goggles and

swim cap, which had developed into compulsive rituals. Liz was now

spending up to forty-five minutes fixing and adjusting her goggles and

swim cap before a race. In consultation with Liz, her parents, and the coach

a decision was made for Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy as opposed to other

behavioral or cognitive approaches. The decision was made to get to the

source of the difficulty rather than temporary symptom alleviation.

Liz presented for the hypnotherapy session on time and in an affable

manner. She stated that she was a little nervous yet excited about dealing

Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 2001, Vol. 4, No. 1


with her symptoms. In the interview Liz reported that in a previous swim

meet her goggles slipped down over her mouth when she came off the

block during the start. She swallowed water, started to gag, and briefly

panicked with feelings of helplessness. Liz reported that she somehow

responded appropriately and continued the race. She posted a dismal time

for the event and felt she had been a huge disappointment for her parents

and coach. She and her parents had high expectations for the swim meet

and that particular event.

Liz started her session with the experience at the swim meet and the

associated emotions. Liz began gagging and experiencing panic symptoms.

During this initial exploration she spontaneously regressed to an

experience when she nearly drowned as a three-year-old. Liz reported

accidentally stepping off into her backyard pool. Liz reported being under

water and feeling herself going down into darkness. She stated that she felt

helpless, hopeless, and impending doom. Liz gave these feelings a voice

and truly got in touch with feelings of despair and agreements she would

uphold if she ever got out of the pool. Her father eventually pulled her out

of the pool. Her experience following this ordeal was filled with fear and

shame as she had to face two extremely frightened parents. Liz was in the

process of releasing intense emotion when she suddenly stated that

everything went black and she did not know where she was. She pulled her

legs up to her chest and buried her head. She reported feeling panic

symptoms and impending doom. She started choking and gagging which

exacerbated the panic. I reminded her of the “1-2-3 STOP” safety rule

while encouraging her to breath through the sensations and fear. Liz

reported feelings of sadness, grief, not being good enough, and fears that

she would not be accepted. She was encouraged to breathe and stay with

the process for release. Liz stopped resisting the experience, continued to

breathe and stayed with the sensations and feelings. She eventually felt a

shift in her body, thoughts, and emotions. Liz reported feeling inexplicable

sensations and movement in her body accompanied with a feeling of hope

and well-being. She reported being held by both her mother and father and

the room being filled with bright light. Liz began to sob as she described

the compassion, warmth, and love from her parents. We continued the

healing part of the session and anchored the experience.

Liz had several more Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy sessions and

continued to integrate the connections and the healing. Liz reported a more

loving and relaxed relationship with her parents and a new capacity to

communicate more openly. The maladaptive symptoms were extinguished

as evidenced in subsequent swim meets without the anxiety, obsessions, or

Wooten & Germain: Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy in Sports Counseling


compulsions. Liz’s swim times have continued to improve since the

sessions, as well as her relationship with her parents and coach.


Hypnosis is a common modality for performance enhancement and as

a research tool when investigating mechanisms underlying physical

performance of athletes. Cognitive and behavioral techniques have been

the treatment of choice for athletes and have proven to be empirically

sound. Hypnotherapy, on the other hand, is often the last resort in treating

athletes. The value of HCH is the speed and depth at which

psychotherapeutic goals can be achieved. HCH can accelerate the

conversion of insight into action and bring about more rapid relief of

disabling symptoms. In the cases presented, the maladaptive symptoms

could not initially be alleviated by traditional cognitive-behavioral

techniques and time was a mediating variable. Furthermore, there were

indications that the symptoms of the current dilemmas had roots earlier in

the athlete’s life. The HCH modality gets to the source and helps to

uncover negative symptom patterns that have become difficult to see

because of life’s stresses and strains. The recovering of significant

experiences facilitated the clients’ (i.e., athletes’) understanding of their

current attitudes and behavior and allowed for modification, clarity, and

healing. In both cases, the athletes achieved a reconstructive understanding

on the emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical, and spiritual level. The

process of HCH allowed for restorative acts by the clients which resonated

in both their personal and athletic lives.


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