If the word “hypnotherapy” brings to mind swinging pendulums and swirling patterns, you are not alone. Newly minted Blaine hypnotherapist Sue Dunstone acknowledges these are common misconceptions hailing from Hollywood films about her choice of practice.
Originally a yoga instructor, Dunstone completed a hypnotherapy program at Bellingham Technical College this past year, graduating in the spring with certification. Including those she practiced on from the start of her education, she estimated she’s hypnotized about 50 people.
“It’s quite fascinating,” Dunstone said. “When we go through school, we learn so much about what’s happening outside us. All that internal meditation, we don’t learn that as children. It’s not part of our education to look inside.”
Inside the blue-hued walls of her home office and under the lull of her northern British accent, it can be difficult for a client to feel anything but calm around Dunstone. Sitting down to a session accompanied by a cushy recliner, a glass of water and a quilt, one may feel as if they are tucking in for a nap or about to begin a good book.
Comfort and trust are paramount during a hypnotherapy session. Dunstone emphasized that the client is always in control: they can easily get up and leave if they want. No one is stuck under her spell. She’s not here to make them cluck like chickens.
“It’s a funny area, because a lot of people automatically think they’re going to lose control,” Dunstone said. “It’s nothing like that. It’s absolute control all of the time, and totally aware of everything that’s happening.”
The deep relaxation achieved during hypnosis is similar to meditation and very subtle, she said. To begin, she has clients focus on the end of her pen and do deep breathing exercises. Once a client is sufficiently relaxed, Dunstone guides them through the hypnosis process.
“Learning to hypnotize someone is the initial skill. The more imaginative you are, the more receptive you are to changing, to allowing yourself to be hypnotized – this allows changes to take place,” Dunstone said. “There’s a lot of work for you as the person coming in for therapy. The more you believe, the more you can imagine. It’s all in that subconscious mind.”
With her facilitation, she said the subconscious mind can reveal itself. Responsible for memory, emotions, imagination, involuntary bodily functions, habits and motivation, Dunstone said the subconscious mind can react in any of these six areas during hypnosis.
During a typical first session, she has clients imagine a safe or peaceful place for them to visit in their mind when they are in a state of deep relaxation.
“It’s all about positivity,” she said. “I want you to feel really good about yourself. By presenting everything in a positive manner, you can take all these good feelings to your safe, peaceful place. And then whenever you think of that, all those good feelings will come.”
Hypnotherapy has several applications, including confronting phobias, stress and anxiety, sports enhancement, medical conditions, nightmares and remembering where to find lost items. Dunstone said she sees clients most often for stress, anxiety, health improvement and sleep.
When hypnotizing a client to help them overcome social anxiety, for example, Dunstone would have them imagine being cool, calm and collected in a previously terrifying situation.
“If you believe it, expect it, really want it and trust in the process, then it will happen,” she said.
“I don’t do any counseling. I just get you to that point [of relaxation], ask some poignant questions and you come up with the answers yourself. There’s nothing from me, other than to keep you in that state as best as I can, and guide you through the process.”
Dunstone said there are different techniques of hypnotherapy. Regression hypnotherapy may be used to recall past experiences, with the potential to reveal the cause of issues the client may be looking to address.
Gestalt hypnotherapy can help settle a disagreement between two people by taking into account the other person’s feelings. It involves role play and being the other party in the experience. Taking on the role of the other person leads to understanding, which leads to forgiveness.
“Regression and Gestalt hypnotherapy help accomplish release and relearning of a situation by facilitating adult understanding at a subconscious level,” Dunstone said. Both techniques “are used in hypnotherapy to help uncover the source of a client’s subconscious resistance to change.”
To reinforce the benefits of change, she offers to record the session so clients can listen to it at home.
In the future, Dunstone hopes to connect with local community resources such as the Healthy Youth Coalition to work with homeless youth and help them to manage stress and anxiety through hypnotherapy.
Dunstone typically offers one to four sessions for clients. She also plans to offer a group hypnotherapy session, once a month, for anxiety and stress. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360/503-7560.