Hypnotherapy? I'm back in the room

By Paul Lester, February 24, 2011

You left me last month having decided, after years of worrying about everything from nuclear war to the price of oil (spot the connection), to pay a visit to my local hypnotherapist, to see if he or she could cure me of my terminal unease.

It wasn't an easy decision to make. I know Jews are synonymous with shrinks, especially in the States, but personally, I've always been wary of having my head examined for fear of what they may find.

As a result, I've never been to a therapist or had any psychiatric treatment of any kind, unless you count the time I lay down on my friend's couch and moaned about the deteriorating state of my marriage for three hours, although technically that doesn't count because he didn't charge.

If the "therapy" part of the equation gave me the jitters, the "hypno" bit filled me with utter dread. I haven't been put into a deep trance, even if one of my exes once droned so monotonously about the events of her day I swear I fell into a coma.

Still, at least the hypnotherapist's practice was literally over the road from my house, so if the worst came to the worst I could always leave, with just the one main-ish arterial to negotiate in my stupefied condition. And best of all, if it worked, I might finally be rid of that gnawing sensation that I've been living with for the last three decades in the pit of my stomach - and I'm not talking about my mother's and ex-wife's cooking, which in both instances was terrific, especially my mum's burgers, which made great Frisbees down the park.

As I approached the door, I was consumed with terror. What if the hypnotherapist puts me under and I never wake up? I might miss my son's barmitzvah, or the new Lady Gaga album. More frightening still, what if the hypnotherapist is a total babe and, all drowsy from her treatment, I lose all inhibitions and start professing undying love for her? Then again, I'm presuming it's going to be a female. What if it's a man and I discover, through unlocking my subconscious mind, that I actually find HIM a total babe?

We interrupt this column to inform you that, as unappetising as it might sound, every heterosexual male makes a judgment about a woman's comeliness when he first meets her, be she black, be she white, big or small, a dairy-maid or a dermatologist (thought: if your aversion to milk gave you a rash, how useful would it be to know a dairy-maid-dermatologist?).

It transpired that my hypnotherapist was a woman (my coming out would have to wait), who was at the exact point on the attractiveness spectrum that it wouldn't prove a distraction during my consultation. What a relief - I wouldn't be making a semi-conscious move on her and get chucked onto the street by whatever the hypnotherapist clinic equivalent of bouncers are (in this case, a little old lady on reception).

What did unnerve me, however, was the detailed probing of my psyche that she undertook before she began the hypnotherapy itself. She asked so many questions about my childhood and adolescence, I was worried I'd fall asleep ahead of schedule. I'm not saying my upbringing in the suburbs of north London was uneventful, but let's just say one of the highlights was the day I got lost in WH Smith in Watford and cried like a baby, which given that I was four years old at the time, I sort of was.

Hold on - talk about eureka moments. Was this the start of it all, the source of all my manias? Did my fear of abandonment and annihilation all stem from this one incident? Was a stationer in South Herts to blame for three decades of despair? I mean, I know they charge the earth for set squares and compasses, but that's ridiculous.

But, the hypnotherapist explained as she told me to lie down, I wasn't there for regression therapy, just to remove some of my low-throbbing anxiety. Her voice assumed a robotic softness as she gently urged me to relax. I would, she assured me, remain awake throughout; I would just feel as though I was about to fall asleep.

Being preternaturally conditioned to resist taking anything, ever, remotely seriously, while also being comically suggestible, I did find myself drifting off, and I did start having, as she suggested, "pleasant thoughts", even if they weren't exactly of the gambolling lambs in meadows variety.

And, do you know what, after a half-hour or so of the hypnotherapist's soothing mantras, despite the fact that she appeared to be reading them off an autocue, I did start to feel lighter, my stomach less knotted. This woman, it occurred, was a genius! Sixty minutes of treatment and I was on the way to being cured. Soon, I could face the world anew, free of years of deep-seated obsessions and compulsions! It would be like being born again.

All it would need, said the hypnotherapist, was another few sessions. At 60 quid a pop? What? That's a quid a minute! I'd rather, I concluded, be depressed. Got to have something to talk about, haven't I?

Last updated: 1:59pm, February 24 2011