Tuesday, September 2, 2014 · 12:18 a.m.

Hypnotherapy helps the unconscious become conscious

Skeptics abound, local professionals discuss alternative medicine

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Sonya Naulta has a new hypnotherapy business on North Market Street. (Photo: Staff)

You are getting sleepy, very sleepy. Sleepy. Very, very sleepy.

Now, quack like a duck. 

That may be how many people think of hypnotherapy.

But local professionals said there is a difference between hypnosis for entertainment and hypnotherapy used as an alternative medicine.

Hypnosis for entertainment might have a random participant quacking like a duck on a stage in Las Vegas.

But hypnotherapy as alternative medicine involves a professional who guides a patient into a natural altered state for healing purposes.

“It is very natural,” Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib said. "We go through altered states all day. [Hypnotherapy] allows your unconscious issues to become more conscious. I’m trying to uncover what’s in your unconscious that may be causing your problems.”

Hypnotherapy is an alternative therapy that is gaining more and more mainstream acceptance as having medical benefits and positive side effects, Pimental-Habib also said.

“You can think of it in the same general healing family as acupuncture, massage [or] Chinese herbs,” he said. “All of these are kind of nonmainstream or alternative or holistic treatments. But they are gaining much more respect and popularity every year in our country. These are things they’ve been doing in China or India for thousands of years.”

Local professionals said hypnotherapy can treat behavioral disorders or phobias. It can help people stop smoking or overeating.

Certified clinical hypnotherapist Sonya Naulta, who also has a master's degree in social work, said she hopes to use hypnotherapy to help local residents tap into creativity and inner strength, in addition to what she already does in using it to help people change unwanted behavior.

Pimental-Habib has a personal practice where he practices more traditional psychotherapy, incorporating hypnotherapy when needed.  

And he also works in a larger wellness center, called Well Nest, which offers a variety of alternative healing practices, such as yoga and meditation.

What is hypnotherapy?
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal ran a story about medical hypnosis.

“Hypnosis has been the subject of fascination, intrigue and ridicule for centuries,” Melinda Beck wrote in the WSJ article.

The article also noted that some groups that issue hypnotherapy certifications are lax in standards and that a psychologist named Steve Eichel caused controversy in 2002 by getting hypnotherapist credentials for his cat, Dr. Zoe D. Katze, from several different organizations.

The article also likened the practice's effects to that of a placebo effect. 

Naulta said that hypnotherapy is the “use of hypnosis in a therapeutic manner in order to achieve a therapeutic goal.”

The origin of the word hypnosis comes from the Greek “hupnos,” which means sleep.

The client experiences a heightened sense of awareness and focus and is relaxed, but not asleep.  

“Hypnotherapy uses the light trance state to help a person feel comfortable,” she said.

Clients often experience immediate beneficial side effects, such as feeling calm and centered, sleeping better or eating healthier.

During the first session with Naulta, she spends the first 30 to 45 minutes explaining to the client what hypnotherapy is and how it works.

Then she asks them to envision what their goal is and how their life will be different when they reach the goal.

“The purpose is to get them thinking about the future,” she said.

Many people have difficulty picturing their goals in detail, she said.

“They can’t just say, ‘I’m happy, I’m healthy,’” she said. “Nine times out of 10, people will tell you want they don’t want. But if you think about what you don’t want, your mind creates a picture of what you don’t want. We train ourselves not knowing it. The hypnotherapy I do is retraining the brain.”

According to the WSJ last week, two studies found that one hour a week of hypnotherapy for three months had positive effects in 40 percent of irritable bowel syndrome.

The positive effects could last for as long as seven years, also according to the article.

The industry, the profession
The alternative medicine industry is expected to reach nearly $115 billion by 2015, according to ReportLinker.

And the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists outlines how to make a profitable career out of hypnotherapy.

Local hypnotherapy practices range in size.

Naulta has had a studio on North Market Street for about six months, but business hasn’t been booming.

She has had other hypnotherapy businesses around Chattanooga. In the time she’s been at her new location, she’s only had a couple of customers, but she’s working on building up her business at the North Market location.

She charges $100 for the first session and $50 for subsequent sessions, she said.

According to the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists, in 2008, the national average rate was $85 an hour.

Pimental-Habib said he charges on a sliding scale.

Naulta said that she typically recommends at least two sessions for her clients, and Pimental-Habib does a minimum of three sessions.

He and Naulta said that people are often scared of hypnotherapy because they have the misconception that they will feel out of control. (Maybe they will start clucking like a chicken against their will?)

But the idea is to give clients more control over themselves.

“There is nothing to be afraid of,” Pimental-Habib said. “You’re in control the whole time.”

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