Most of our images of what a hypnotist does come from bad TV — but in the right hands, this technique is not about making people “very sleepy” so they can squawk like chickens.
For Edmonton social worker Terri Cooper, it’s a powerful but simple technique that helps people change things in their lives.
Cooper, now 43, was always a natural at counselling others. “I was one of those teenagers that everyone brought their problems to.” She went on to study social work at the Edmonton campus of the University of Alberta.
For more than a decade, she worked with families in crisis. It was difficult work, especially since few wanted her advice. “It’s hard to work with people who don’t really want to see you.”
Cooper wanted to help people in a more empowering way. While she was flipping through the want ads six years ago, she saw an advertisement for a two-day course on hypnosis.
The basics she learned showed her the technique had a lot of potential — and made her realize she needed to learn more. So Cooper began taking more courses in hypnosis and a psychotherapy technique called neuro-linguistic programming.
Cooper then quit her job and opened a private practice, offering hypnotherapy and social work counselling.
Most clients come to her with a short-term goal of changing a behaviour like quitting smoking, improving body image or increasing their confidence.
Cooper begins with an assessment to find out her client’s goals and to make sure they don’t need more intensive therapy for a serious mental health issue.
At the first session, Cooper tries to get her patients to talk about what they want. She gives then homework, asking them to put these plans into writing.
Session two involves actual hypnosis. To induce the relaxed but aware state, she varies her technique, depending on the person. Some don’t like to close their eyes, so she uses what’s called a waking hypnosis. Many find fixed-eye induction works best: They stare at something for a long time, listen to Cooper’s voice, and count backwards.
Once hypnotized, Cooper incorporates the words her client has given her to suggest a change in behaviour. She often makes CDs of her suggestions so clients can use it later at home. She also sells hypnosis MP3s on her website.
Cooper believes the hypnotic state is not magical or strange. We do it all the time when we concentrate or when we’re driving. Since our minds are highly suggestible in this state, it is an important time to suggest to ourselves new ideas.
Diane Peters once hawked magic pens at the Canadian National Exhibition. She’s now a writer and part-time journalism instructor.