The room temperature dropped just before the anesthesia set in. She felt no pain, but somehow she could feel the doctor move her liver, just before he slipped the band around her stomach to make it smaller. When Wendi Deskus awoke, she found herself not in a postoperative suite but in a hypnotist's office. She hadn't really had bariatric surgery — it had only been described to her during hypnosis. Before awakening, she was told, she would behave as if the surgery really had taken place.
Now 40 pounds lighter and 21 inches thinner, Deskus says the session with Sarasota-based hypnotherapist Rena Greenberg catalyzed her weight loss.
"It's kind of hard to believe, but I know that I felt it and that's what I experienced," said Deskus, 52, of New Port Richey.
Hypnosis isn't a parlor trick pulled off by charlatans. It's a valuable tool health professionals have used for decades to help people become more open to changing habits — and it has become particularly useful for those contemplating weight-loss surgery who don't want to, or can't afford to, go under the knife.
"Hypnosis isn't a magic wand, it's about retraining the mind," Greenberg says. "I help people change the way they think about food."
Greenberg, who has a degree in biopsychology, has used hypnosis for weight loss at more than 75 hospitals since 1990. She added gastric bypass hypnosis to her wellness arsenal two years ago. She learned of European hypnotists simulating gastric bypass surgery, and studied the actual surgical procedure in order to more realistically describe it during her sessions. It's a unique enough offering that it landed her a segment on ABC's Nightline this year.
During a one-hour session, Greenberg guides her clients into deep relaxation, then talks them through the surgery, taking them from anesthesia to the operating table, to the moment they wake up after the surgery.
In a series of meetings, Greenberg discusses the client's struggles with weight loss, helps define goals and troubleshoots potential obstacles to making healthier choices.
"It's a guided journey, like a movie. You feel you're like a part of it," Greenberg says. Her clients know they haven't physically been there, but just like in a movie, they know the characters and the action well, she says.
In addition to four in-person sessions, clients also receive personalized CDs to reinforce the nutritional habits she recommends: whole, water-rich, unprocessed food.
Listening to the CDs, "each day they go back into the hypnotic state and reinforce those positive suggestions of empowerment," Greenberg says. "What happens is these images get to take root, they can control their life and their habits, being active, and now these suggestions become ingrained."
Greenberg says she has used the technique on about 200 people, and most have maintained at least some of their weight loss.
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While gastric bypass hypnosis may be a particularly creative application, hypnosis long has been found effective for conditions that have some psychosomatic element or involves forming habits, says Philip Shenefelt, a University of South Florida dermatology professor and president-elect of the Florida Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
Shenefelt likens the conscious mind to a clunky, outdated computer with limited storage capacity. But the subconscious, he says, is more like a supercomputer, with power over everything from heartbeat to fight-or-flight response.
Hypnosis "quiets the conscious mind and lets us work with the subconscious mind directly and may get a better kind of change in that subconscious system than willpower does,'' he said.
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Denise Matson, another of Greenberg's clients, says the concept seems to be working for her.
"For me, to eat healthy is a positive affirmation," Matson, 55, says. "When I think about, 'Do I want that piece of cake?' I don't have a positive feeling. That, to me, is part of the reframing."
Matson, who splits her time between her mother's house in Seminole and her home in Jacksonville, has struggled with her weight her entire life.
She lost more than 100 pounds once, put it back on, then lost 70 pounds about three years ago on Weight Watchers, only to gain it back.
Since her gastric bypass hypnosis in June, Matson has dropped 45 pounds off her 5-9 frame.
"There's no magic pill, you still have to work at it, but it makes those choices easier and more positive," Matson says.
Deskus agrees that the process isn't magic, but it can be powerful if you're already motivated to change.
"You need to have that want and desire for it to come out that way," says Deskus, who quit smoking cold turkey with the help of hypnosis.
"With the reinforcement, and having a goal to reach and knowing you're going to achieve it,'' she said, "you're going to stick to it."
Los Angeles Times
Not everyone is equally amenable to the mental magic of hypnosis, which can help a person experience imagined sensations or movements or not feel sensations — such as intractable pain — that are all too real. A new study uses brain scanners to distinguish between people who've got a knack for the technique and those whose grip on reality is just too tight for them to benefit much from hypnosis.
The research, published recently in the Archives of General Psychiatry, proceeds from a widely observed phenomenon: that some people are readily and fully hypnotizable while others are not. Researchers from Stanford University put 12 subjects already identified as highly hynotizable into brain scanners that measured the structure of their brains and watched them at rest and at work. Twelve other subjects who were not readily hypnotized were put through the same battery of scans.
The researchers found no differences between the typical structures of the two groups' brains. But at rest, they noticed that the brains of the "high-hypnotizeable" group behaved a bit differently.
Specifically, the researchers found differences in the two groups' "default mode network," the complex of brain regions that hums along when a person is not engaged in a specific cognitive task.
For the highly hypnotizable, a brain structure associated with purposeful attentional control — the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — is activated alongside the default mode network when the mind is at rest. This would suggest that the highly hynotizable have a tighter coordination between brain areas where attention, emotion, action and intention are processed, wrote the authors of the study. And it means that for the highly hynotizable, there's something about the self — or the self's sensations — that can be modified by purposeful attention.
To Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel, one of the study's co-authors, the differences seen between the two groups on brain scan appear to confirm the impressions of practitioners like him: The highly hynotizable are people who can readily immerse themselves in thinking about things without having their attention interrupted by pesky reminders of reality or of competing cognitive demands.
"They get sidetracked by sunsets and lost in movies; they tend to show up three hours late for things because they lost track of time," Spiegel says. By contrast, he adds, those who are resistant to hypnosis don't suspend judgment easily, tend to be more fastidious in their habits and are less trusting of people.