Hypnotherapy gains ground in Boise area

It’s not about past lives and it isn’t a county fair stage show

adutton@idahostatesman.comMarch 8, 2014 

Benjamin Schoeffler paces in his office while working with Boisean Suzanne Michelle on her final hypnosis session. “I was looking for some breakthroughs in my career and personal life,” said Michelle, who gave permission to be photographed while under hypnosis. “I wanted to get through the subconscious blocks and limitations that I couldn’t do otherwise on my own.”

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

  • FROM THE HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY

    Many members of the health care industry consider hypnosis a legitimate way to help treat certain disorders, when performed by the right practitioner.

    - The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health) says studies show hypnosis “significantly improved various measures of hot flashes in a group of postmenopausal women” and “appears to reduce perceived hot flashes in breast cancer survivors and may have additional benefits such as improved mood and sleep.” The center says women who used self-hypnosis during a type of breast biopsy “experienced anxiety relief and reduced pain when compared with standard care.”

    The center says hypnotherapy “is the most widely used mind and body intervention” for irritable-bowel syndrome.

    - According to companies such as Aetna and Cigna, the Internal Revenue Service allows patients to pay for hypnosis using tax-exempt spending accounts, such as flexible spending accounts. Hypnosis must be prescribed by a doctor to treat a specific diagnosis.

    - The Mayo Clinic and the American Psychiatric Association say hypnosis can help with bad habits like smoking, types of anxiety or pain and conditions such as insomnia and nausea. The clinic says adverse reactions are rare but include headache, drowsiness or dizziness, anxiety or distress and creation of false memories. The association’s 2009 policy statement on hypnosis is long and in-depth. Among other things, it says, “To be adequate for medical purposes, all courses in hypnosis should be given in conjunction with recognized medical teaching institutions or teaching hospitals, under the auspices of the department of psychiatry and in collaboration with those other departments which are similarly interested.”

It was an unlikely career change: from bike mechanic at Google’s campus in the Bay Area to medical hypnotist in Boise. But from the time Benjamin Schoeffler heard an Australian hypnotist on a radio show talking about how hypnosis could be used for pain management, he was hooked.

“I was blown away, because I thought, ‘Hypnosis is fake,’ ” Schoeffler said. “I think it was the fact that your mind could be so powerful that it could change the way you perceive something very real and very powerful like pain. ... You could change how you experience the world just by shifting your perspective a little bit.”

For the next four years, hedevoured every book he could find about hypnosis, took courses and met people who would become his “hypnosis mentors,” he said.

Schoeffler enrolled at the online Hypnosis Practitioner Training Institute, took a year of courses and did an internship to get a certification in 2012. The Moscow native moved to Boise to start his practice, Thrive Hypnotherapy, in an office he shares with Synchronicity Counseling on Americana Terrace, off South Americana Boulevard.

One of Schoeffler’s favorite areas to work in is pain management. The instant gratification of watching someone feel less pain is fulfilling, he said. (However, it’s not the most lucrative area to practice, because it doesn’t usually take many sessions to see a change. Schoeffler charges $85 for sessions that run 45 to 60 minutes each, after a 60- to 90-minute intake.)

Schoeffler is one of a growing number of Treasure Valley hypnotists who specialize in certain conditions, such as anxiety, smoking and pain management.

The hypnotists generally don’t have set prices — some companies have package rates — and their treatment schedules vary based on the problem and the client.

CAVEAT EMPTOR

There is little consensus about who’s qualified to perform hypnosis, and even some hypnotists say it’s a buyer-beware industry.

“I could certify my dog as a hypnotherapist,” said Kaylan Vialpando, who worked in fitness and nutrition before opening Mindset Hypnosis and Health on the Boise Bench. Vialpando keeps her client appointments under 20 per week, some of whom she sees for months, some just for weeks.

“There is no education, there is no regulation, there’s nothing required — I mean, if you wanted to call yourself a hypnotist tomorrow, you could,” Vialpando said. “I think that’s wrong; it’s one of the unfortunate things” about the industry.

People who’ve searched for ways to fix a problem and seek hypnosis as a last resort might be soured on the experience if their introduction happens in the back of someone’s house, with incense burning and a “whole new-age vibe,” she said.

There is an array of membership and certification groups for hypnotists, from regional to national, with a range of requirements to join or receive a stamp of approval.

Regulation isn’t something everyone wants. In other states, efforts to set standards for hypnosis went too far by trying to limit the practice to licensed psychologists and psychiatrists, even though hypnosis doesn’t help people with some psychiatric disorders, Vialpando said.

But effective hypnotherapists are getting a steady stream of word-of-mouth business in the Treasure Valley, Vialpando said.

In some cases, they get referrals from local doctors and hospitals.

The health care industry generally approves of hypnotism for certain uses. For example, St. Luke’s Health System offers five-week courses in Boise and Meridian taught by a nurse and “HypnoBirthing” practitioner. Parents learn self-hypnosis techniques and other skills for childbirth, according to the St. Luke’s website.

Jessica Hixson took the classes when she was pregnant with a son.

“I really fell in love with hypnosis then,” she said. Her love of hypnosis — and how it built on the meditation she learned to do as a teenager — was so deep that she opened River Valley Hypnotherapy in Boise about five years ago.

Hixson focuses on weight loss and irritable bowel syndrome, including hypnosis for children undergoing IBS treatment at St. Luke’s.

Though demand has gone up about 10 percent each year since she started, she keeps her patient list small, like Vialpando. Hixson sees five clients a day for 90-minute sessions that cost $110 each.

Hixson is torn on the issue of regulation, seeing pros and cons. She recommends people seek practitioners who are certified by a national association and are members of the National Guild of Hypnotists.

‘LIKE TAKING A BUBBLE BATH’

Schoeffler connected some of his clients with a Statesman reporter, upon request. He stressed that he does not give out client information without permission and doesn’t ask clients to offer testimonials.

Gracie Walker, of Boise, was working for a chiropractor when Schoeffler came in to give everyone a free consultation. Walker liked what she saw and made an appointment last summer.

Like many hypnotherapy patients, she was troubled by anxiety and stress. “I was just kind of rushing through life and not focusing,” she said. “It’s kind of embarrassing at first, like, ‘What am I going to do?’ ... I was skeptical.”

Schoeffler started giving her homework, including work to become more “mindful,” she said.

Now, Walker credits hypnosis with being able to mentally isolate problems, to be in the moment instead of worrying, and to “hold my own hand” through daily stressors.

“It’s so soothing, it’s like taking a bubble bath,” she said.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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