BY RYAN E. SMITH You’re getting sleeeeepy. Verrry sleeeepy.
Then — bam! — it’s all over, and you’ve delivered a baby.
OK, it’s not nearly as easy as that, but you might be surprised by how hypnosis is being used these days. It’s not just about getting people to stop smoking or lose weight anymore.
Hypnosis is quietly helping athletes increase their performance and surgical patients manage their pain. And yes, it’s even gained the notice of prospective mothers.
“When the mind is relaxed or the woman is not in fear, she’s able to relax her body. When the body is relaxed, when all the muscles are relaxed, normal, natural functions [such as childbirth] don’t need to hurt,” said Hayuta Cohen, an Israeli-born hypnotherapist in Encino who has led several classes in HypnoBirthing.
This is simply one way that treatments once considered alternative are evolving to become more widespread. In addition, many of these therapies are being integrated with traditional medicine. For proof, look no further than the existence of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, founded in 1993.
“There’s definitely a move toward integration or bringing the best of multiple traditions,” said Malcolm Taw, assistant clinical professor at the center.
More than one-third of American adults used some sort of complementary medicine in 2007, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Taw said the reasons are simple.
“Overall, the patients want this,” he said. “They want to avoid potential medications or other interventions, whether surgery or injections, and they want to try other treatments that have less of a side-effect profile.”
Some have tried Western medicine without success. Others are looking for a less expensive choice or one that is natural and uses the body’s inherent abilities to heal itself. Many of these therapies, often termed complementary and alternative medicine, have roots that go back decades, if not centuries, in other parts of the world. The way practitioners are tinkering with them and using them in conjunction with Western medicine, however, is modern and ever-changing.
Just ask Uri Kenig.
The psychotherapist from Israel set up shop in Encino 23 years ago, and at first glance his office looks like any other. There’s a large window letting in plenty of natural light, a comfortable couch for the patient — of course — and soothing music available at the touch of a button.
But there is something unusual in the corner of the office: a high chair, the kind you might find at a patio bar, and in front of it, a short stool. This is where Part Two of Kenig’s unique form of treatment takes place — the part that comes after you’ve told him your life story. It’s this part that has attracted the attention of approximately 1,000 of his colleagues in Israel.
“Something was always missing for me about the incomplete process of talk therapy,” Kenig said. “I found myself hearing, time and time again, clients saying to me: ‘I understand my problem. What should I do about it?’ ”
The conundrum led the 60-year-old to look at the mind-body connection and how chronic emotional problems may lead to chronic physical conditions. Kenig’s investigation took him beyond traditional talk therapy, and into the world of energy healing and touch therapy. That’s where the chair in the corner comes into play.
As part of a system he developed called IPEC (Integrated Physical Emotional Clearing), Kenig sits on the low stool and asks clients to hold out both arms. He pushes down to check muscle resistance and either touches the hand to different parts of the body or asks questions.
“I’ve devised, in a very accurate and planned way, by questions, to get slowly a feedback from the body, from the unconscious mind,” Kenig said. “On specific words, the muscle will go weak. On specific other words, it will be strong. … There is a psychological story. The client is completely unaware.”
He then cross-checks what he says the body tells him against numerous charts and two large, colorful, home-made matrixes filled with hundreds of words that lead him to an assessment. Kenig, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the California Graduate Institute, said he has used IPEC to trace one patient’s migraines to problems at work and another patient’s breathing problems to an issue dating back to the client’s birth.
Kenig then uses LED light therapy or vibrating massage directed toward certain organs or body parts considered to be the source of the problem. He also uses music and meditation. The underlying theory behind the method is that the universe is made of energy and every individual has his or her own energy fields. In order for change to break through that field and restore a normal balance, it needs a little push — in this case, aided through things like light or vibrations.
The most recent statistics show that more than 1.2 million Americans sought some sort of energy healing therapy in 2007. That’s minuscule compared to the nearly 39 million people who used nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products, such as fish oil and ginkgo biloba — the largest category measured — and a much smaller segment than even the 3 million-plus who turned to acupuncture for relief.
Despite the increasing numbers, it’s still a field that has a lot to prove, believes Dr. Larry Bergstrom, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I haven’t found these types of therapies to be helpful,” he said. “They distract from addressing important aspects of each person’s illness.”
He further explained, “The people who invent and use these techniques fill a niche for a patient for whom conventional medicine has failed. I don’t think the [technique] is the issue; it is listening to the patients, believing them and creating a scenario where the patients can help themselves become better.”
“The therapy is producing very fast results,” he said.
That’s what attracted one patient from Encino, who has seen him for a number of problems, including chronic fatigue.
“One session with him is the equivalent of 50 with another therapist,” said the woman, who asked that only her first name, Ada, be used to identify her. “He, with his technique, is like a laser that cuts through all the nonsense that we keep telling ourselves as people to justify our behavior. … Then he energetically clears the need to continue with the behavior.”
Another Jewish patient, a 36-year-old from Tarzana who asked to be identified only by his initials, E.M., said he sought help from Kenig for a persistent, itchy rash on his hands and feet.
Other doctors gave him cortisone, but his condition didn’t improve. After a few meetings with Kenig, E.M. said he was cured. The apparent source? Anxiety over whether to continue his education after college or enter the workforce.
“At first, I was a bit apprehensive about it because I never really was a fan of head doctors of any sort, or homeopathic. I didn’t know anything about it,” E.M. said. Now his attitude has turned 180 degrees: “You’ve definitely got to give it a try.”
Still, many unanswered questions linger, and scientific studies have a long way to go as they investigate the effectiveness of many alternative approaches. Kenig said he is not aware of any studies being conducted concerning IPEC.
Some research is under way in other areas, however, such as the field of hypnosis, once considered the realm of stage performers who made audience members cluck like chickens. Serious science is aimed at overcoming this caricature, however.
One current study at Baylor University is examining the effectiveness of hypnosis in reducing the severity and frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women and breast cancer survivors; another by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is implementing a training program in presurgery hypnosis for nurse anesthetists.
Hypnosis, which is defined as an altered state of consciousness characterized by increased responsiveness to suggestion, is used to relax the body and then shift attention to a narrow range of objects or ideas. You can even hypnotize yourself.
“All hypnosis is self-hypnosis,” said Cohen, who is certified in the practice by the National Guild of Hypnotists and is also a registered nurse. “They used to believe that the hypnotist had magical powers, but we don’t.”
Not everyone believes that last part. Cohen said her fellow Israelis tend to be particularly suspicious of hypnotherapy in general.
“Israelis are the only group that generally asks, ‘What if I don’t wake up? I worry about losing control,’ ” she said.
Experts say those under hypnosis cannot be coerced into doing anything against their will, but events earlier this year have raised concerns over how the practice is used and by whom. A Florida school principal with a history of using hypnosis to help athletes perform better and students relax before big tests brought the issue to the forefront in April after one of his pupils was found dead of an apparent suicide a day after being hypnotized.
The educator is now on paid leave, and while newspaper reports indicate there appears to be no connection between the hypnosis and the suicide, he is being investigated for possibly violating a law prohibiting the performance of therapeutic hypnosis without the presence of a medical professional.
Still, with 500,000 people using hypnosis in some form as of 2007, the therapy is not going away. If anything, it’s only being adapted to more uses, which include treating chronic pain, respiratory ailments, stress, anxiety and headaches.
And then there’s HypnoBirthing, a copyrighted educational course in which women and their birth companions take classes in self-hypnosis as an alternative to traditional birthing preparation methods such as Lamaze. Only 23 percent of participants — which have included celebrities Jessica Alba and Pamela Anderson — end up using epidurals, compared to the national average of 71 percent, according to the HypnoBirthing Institute, which has offices in New Hampshire and Arizona.
Cohen said she thinks the field of hypnosis will continue to shed its old image and move in the direction of becoming mainstream and integrated with traditional medicine.
“Kind of like what chiropractics went through years ago,” she said. “It’s considered less and less alternative and more a complementary part of treatment.”
Fern Saitowitz of West Hills is a cancer patient who looked to Cohen and hypnosis to help her sleep.
“I don’t like sleeping tablets, and I’d rather use hypnotherapy to go to sleep than take a sleeping tablet,” she said.
She described the sessions as exercises in relaxation and guided imagery. For Saitowitz, a former scuba diving instructor, that meant imagining herself on the beach and then underwater.
“It touched my heart,” she said, adding that she hasn’t had any sleeping problems since her first session. “Whatever she did, it worked really well.”
For skeptics still worried about the power of suggestion, Saitowitz said to, well, relax.
“People do think that it’s mind control, and it’s not like that at all,” she said. “She helps you go into a place in your mind where you can relax and you can make your mind work for you.”
Alternative and complementary medicines, led by dietary supplements, are only going to get bigger, said Dr. Steven Rosenblatt, a physician and complementary medicine practitioner based in West Los Angeles who was one of the earliest adopters of acupuncture in the United States.
“What we’re realizing is that in order to truly treat the complete person, we need more than one tool, and complementary medicine gives more tools for treatment,” he said.
Which means there could be an increasing number of people like Dafna Tene.
When her father was terminally ill with cancer nearly 10 years ago, she started seeing Feline Kondula, a nutritional consultant at Nutrikon Wellness Group in Toluca Lake, in hopes that she could help him. It turned out to be too late for that, but the facility that houses practitioners of acupuncture, Pilates and other therapies all under one roof attracted Tene to stay for her own health.
Tene, 43, a real estate broker and mother of three from Calabasas, now eats organic food, has given up red meat, and downs about 18 pills containing vitamins and other supplements each day. Whenever she gets sick, she turns to Nutrikon.
“We laugh in our family. We call [Kondula] God. … She cures everything,” she said.
Well, almost everything. For Tene’s fear of flying, she sought out help from Kenig and his IPEC method. So far, she’s a believer.
“A lot of people who follow Western medicine look at me like I’m crazy. But you know what?” she said. “It works. It 100 percent works.”