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Getting started: Hypnosis

August 6, 2001 Posted: 1027 GMT

NEW YORK (CNNfn) -- Admit it. When you mention hypnotists someone invariably instructs you in a semi-spooky, totally mocking tone: "Look deeeeeeeeeep into my eyes. You are starting to feel very sleeeeeeeeeppy."

For decades, hypnotists have battled the popular notion that they are either silly pranksters who make you crow like a rooster on command or, worse, are sinister practitioners of mind control. The truth, say those in the biz, is something far more benign, and definitely less dramatic. Hypnotists, they say, are helpers.

"People who become hypnotists are attracted to it because they want to help people," said Dwight Damon, a practicing hypnotist for more than 50 years.

Stop smoking and improve your golf swing

Certainly, the profession has changed. In the 1950s, when the National Guild of Hypnotists was founded, about 90 percent of its members were stage hypnotists. They made their mark by making people sing, dance, and sometimes humiliate themselves while under the spell of hypnotic suggestion.

By contrast, the vast majority of hypnotists never step on stage, but use their skills to help clients deal with problems. Most commonly, people seek hypnotic help to conquer smoking and overeating. But hypnotists will also be there to help you get on airplanes, pass the bar exam, or improve your golf swing.

"There is a very wide range of uses," said Dr. Richard Harte, a New York City hypnotherapist, who also holds a PhD in psychology.

And although the general public is not always completely aware of what hypnotists really do, Damon said a growing number of people are turning to them for help.

"People come looking for it because the new generation doesn't want an injection or a pill," said Damon.  

In the late 1940s, when Damon became interested in hypnosis, he turned to books to learn about the art. That, too, has changed in recent years. There are now courses, many of them sanctioned by national hypnotist groups like the National Guild.

Becoming a hypnotist registered with the National Guild of Hypnotists
requires 100 hours of class work and a certain amount of continuing education every year. Beyond that, members can ratchet their qualifications one notch higher by becoming board certified. This requires passing a battery of both oral and written exams, and publishing work in professional periodicals such as the Journal of Hypnotism

Harte also suggested that budding hypnotists find mentors who have good reputations. Being connected with someone who has a good reputation reflects well on anyone who is trying to become established in the business and will help them bring in the clients they need.

As the range of applications for hypnosis has broadened, so too has the type of people who have become hypnotists. Many are "lay" people who become hypnotists are those who have kicked a habit using hypnosis.

But many professionals these days are finding it a useful tool in their practices. Most, like Harte, are psychotherapists who now incorporate hypnotism to help clients control stress or overcome phobias. Some dentists use it to help patients who can't take anesthesia to control pain during dental procedures.

Likewise, some doctors and nurses have become trained in hypnotism to help patients feel better when medications don't work. When his wife was ill with cancer, Damon used hypnosis to help her get through the more trying days.

Success to be had

Those who use hypnosis as one tool to enhance their practice of medicine or psychotherapy can find that hypnosis can become a full-time job. Others, said Harte, who is also an instructor, have full-time jobs and do hypnosis part-time while they build their clientele.

Harte said people considering becoming hypnotists should possess a sincere desire to help people, be open to learning new things and experiencing personal growth, and should be willing to take on the management of their own business.

This last point is the one that tends to trip up most budding hypnotists. Harte said many hypnotists have trouble learning the finer points of marketing their businesses. In addition to advertising and making pamphlets to give potential clients, Harte said hypnotists have to find creative ways to get the word out about their business.

When he began his career in 1982, Harte said, he never passed up an opportunity to educate people about his business and the practice of hypnosis in general.

"You have to promote yourself," said Harte. "I went to corporations and did stress management seminars at lunch. There was never an opportunity I turned down."

Those who learn the fine points of marketing their talent can have successful full-time practices and earn a good living. The rates hypnotists can charge vary by location, but those who are skilled and run a good practice can charge more than $100 an hour. In more expensive locations, like New York City, seasoned hypnotists can charge up to $200 an hour.

The potential financial rewards are obvious. The rewards that are not so obvious are the psychic ones.

"It really is about helping people," said Harte, "and helping them realize they don't have to live with phobias and stress."

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