I Turned to Hypnotherapy To Cope With My Grief From My Miscarriages—and It Worked for Me
A calm, soothing voice led me down 10 flights of stairs. I heard fingers snap and walked out onto a white, sandy beach where my abuela (grandmother) stood wearing a black cloak and an owl perched on each shoulder. She'd been dead for 15 years.
I was in another hypnotherapy session, being guided into a trance, just after experiencing my second miscarriage and dilation and curettage (D&C). My body felt unnatural, and the dreamy state of all that hope growing inside me was gone, replaced by gloomy confusion. I'd come into Stephanie Voss's office mourning a ghost again, frustrated that I no longer believed in the idea of the woman I'd felt destined to become. Why had I miscarried twice? What had I done wrong?
I hadn't talked to anybody other than my husband about our fertility struggles before a lucky Google search pointed me to Voss, C.Ht., a hypnotherapist now located in Prescott, Arizona, whom I connected with immediately. "We use the imagination to give ourselves suggestions about what we want," she had explained. "We clear blocks, open up to the best possible outcome, and understand it may be something other than what we came in expecting."
I definitely wasn't expecting to see my abuela and a pair of wide-eyed owls, and yet in that state of half-consciousness which Voss had escorted me into, there my grandmother was. She leaned in close, smelling of lavender like she did when she was alive, and told me to surrender. When I came out of trance and the fog lifted, my abuela's cryptic message became clear: I had to let go of the heartache.
What Is Hypnotherapy?
Hypnosis isn't a new practice—a physician named James Braid coined the term in the 1800s. It's a type of therapy that heightens a person's focus and concentration, making them more relaxed and open to suggestions.
"Hypnotherapy gets us into a state of mind where a belief, no matter how rooted, can change into something more fitting with our current values," says Los Angeles-based hypnotherapist Michael Colucci.
A typical session usually lasts anywhere from one to two hours. You start with a cognitive portion and discuss issues before the certified hypnotherapist leads you "under," which often begins by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position and focusing on your breath. From there, you learn cues that usher the body into a hypnotic state. Closing my eyes while tightening and relaxing different muscle groups, watching as I pulled apart and brought back together my pointer fingers, or imagining descending the 10 flights of stairs I described above were ways I often fell into trance. There are many methods available for a hypnotherapist and client to use together during hypnosis that can help align the subconscious mind with conscious desires, but for me listening to repetitive words and phrases, soothing music, or guided imagery that moved me through a visualization were the tools I responded to most.
Once in hypnosis, that's when changes can happen, when the part of our conscious mind that examines and analyzes ideas, known as the "critical factor," gets bypassed. This facilitates an opportunity to address old thinking patterns and build new associations. Typically, someone is under for 20 to 30 minutes, but it can take longer for the subconscious mind to be reached or suggestions to be established. Finally, a hypnotherapist will lead you out of trance so that you are fully awakened.
"One is never out of control during hypnotherapy or on another planet, just totally relaxed, which is healing in and of itself," says Julie Weingarten, C.Ht., another Los Angeles-based hypnotherapist I've been fortunate enough to work with.
Being in trance is not sleeping, but very much a restorative experience. At no time did I feel out of control during hypnotherapy, but it did feel like I was in an altered state of mind, and a restful one, too, as if somebody had turned off the computer of my brain. That's what allowed me to see my abuela. There are self-guided hypnosis recordings out there, yet for me having a practitioner customize my inductions by using personal language and images was what made me a willing participant.
The Benefits of Hypnotherapy
After my pregnancy losses, it felt like everywhere I turned I'd encounter another mom snuggling her baby and I felt the fresh sting of not yet having a child. Had it not been for weekly hypnosis sessions, I don't think I would have done some of the deep forgiving and healing work Voss suggested, like when she encouraged me to "apply the compassion I desperately wanted to share with another life on myself" or led me to "go within, redecorate my uterus, and make it warm and welcoming." (It was awesome in there; my uterus had lava lamps.)
Of course, hypnotherapy is not a pregnancy guarantee, so I had to manage my expectations. Part of my work was accepting that my husband and I might have to undergo fertility treatments or end up adopting our child, that our family was out there if I allowed it to come however it would come, if I understood that I couldn't force it to go my way. "My job is to help people live lightly with authentic purpose regardless of how things go," says Colucci. "Every single client, it comes back to self-love and acceptance."
Hypnotherapy gave me a way to rewrite the stories that dictated my life and how I felt about life. It made me more tolerant, more resilient, more able to receive. It made me feel safe enough to recognize all possibilities, knowing that if I couldn't carry or birth children, I could handle that grief with a qualified, gifted practitioner guiding me.
How To Start Hypnotherapy
It's important to find a certified health care professional trained in hypnosis. It helps to research a hypnotherapist's qualifications and read up on the school where they studied. A personal recommendation and reviews from other clients can also be useful.
Finding someone you match with is enough to get you started if this alternative form of therapy is calling to you to deal with loss or something else. Along with grief and loss, hypnotherapy has been shown to also help people with phobias, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, and stress, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but experts caution against it being used to treat serious mental illness.
A session ranges in price, but is typically upwards of $100. Inquire with your insurance plan to see if the hypnotherapist you are working with is covered. You can also consider working with a licensed mental health professional who is also a certified clinical hypnotherapist by searching The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis database.
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How Hypnotherapy Helped Me
As for me, I got pregnant four months into my hypnotherapy journey. There was medical involvement too—I had a septum cauterized in my lava lamp-decorated uterus and did a round of IVF. But hypnotherapy helped me open up and make space in my life. It was the game-changer I needed, not only on my path to motherhood, but day-to-day as well, helping to increase my mental flexibility while anchoring me in self-love. Whatever the outcome, I had self-love.
Those two owls on abuela's shoulder? I'm now a mom to two amazing daughters. My body heard me approving of her, trusting her, and thanking her. It still does. And I continue to cherish her through everything.
Katya Lidsky is a writer, host of The Animal That Changed You podcast, and very much a dog person. Follow her @KatyaLidsky