Gwen Bristol has served in a variety of ward Primary and Relief Society positions, as an organist in some wards, and stake Young Women positions. Gwen provides Habits & Happiness life coaching services and clinical hypnosis (both online and in person). She has also been a freelance writer for the past 19 ½ years, with a strong focus on positive psychology, leadership, and human potential. Find out more on her website, or for more information contact her at email@example.com.
I became a certified clinical hypnotist in 2020, following 20 years of self-hypnosis to manage the symptoms of a pituitary tumor. My husband and I had counseled together, read the handbook regarding hypnosis, and prayed about it. I moved forward tentatively, but also with excitement, because hypnosis had been so helpful to me.
From the moment I first started working with clients, I loved the fact that hypnosis could help make their lives better and happier. I was thrilled to see people cut back on drinking, stop smoking, lose weight, and gain confidence. Nearly half of the clients I saw had experienced some sort of childhood trauma—often sexual abuse—and the hypnosis techniques helped them set aside unfounded feelings of guilt and shame, so they could make positive changes in their lives.
This rewarding situation did come with some unexpected challenges, though. One day, a client called, saying a friend told her that hypnosis was strictly against gospel teachings. This stunned me, because I had studied it out in my mind and was sure I received personal revelation regarding hypnosis.
Once again, I dove into the handbook and saw that the wording had changed. Here is how it reads now, from section 38.7.6:
“For some people, hypnosis can compromise agency. Members are discouraged from participating in hypnosis for the purpose of demonstration or entertainment. ‘The use of hypnosis for treating diseases or mental disorders should be determined in consultation with competent medical professionals.”
This was surprisingly comforting, because everything in the handbook related to things I had been taught in my classes—and it was distressing, because there is a lot of misinformation about hypnosis and what it’s used for.
Improved Decision Skills
Like technology, hypnosis is simply a tool that can be used for both good and bad purposes.
During hypnosis, brainwave patterns drop from beta down into alpha and theta states. Alpha and theta brainwaves allow people to learn rapidly, the way a child does. In fact, during my classes, I was often struck with the idea that we are commanded to be like little children, and especially, to have faith like little children.
Before the age of seven, most children live in alpha and theta brainwave states. They are highly suggestible, so they easily believe what they are taught.
Around the age of accountability, the brain changes, and children begin thinking in the beta brainwaves state—where our higher reasoning and most conscious choices reside. This is a blessing because our agency to choose goes hand in hand with beta-brainwaves. It’s not always easy, though, because by the time we’re able to choose, most of us have already developed some unhealthy belief systems.
At the same time, because every child of God is unique, some are more easily influenced by outside suggestions than others are.
According to the world-renowned hypnotherapist Marisa Peer, 95% of our behaviors are governed by subconscious programs. These subconscious programs are the beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us, and they’re usually installed before children reach the age of accountability.
These subconscious programs often take the form of thoughts like these:
- I’m not good enough. I will never be worthy of living the type of life I want to live.
- A happy life has never been available to me, and it never will be.
- There’s something wrong with me. I will never be able to connect with others the way I should.
With these types of beliefs running in the background, it’s no wonder that so many people sabotage their best efforts to become better. Hypnosis can help by bringing people back into the alpha-theta brainwave state, where, from an adult’s perspective, they can make better choices about what they believe.
However, hypnosis always works best when it’s paired with conscious choices—because conscious choices are why we are here on Earth. We choose what we want to be, what we want to do, and the kind of life we want to have eternally. Hypnosis backs up those conscious choices by bringing our heart and emotions on board with what we’ve already chosen for ourselves from a logical standpoint. When hearts and minds are working together, focused on one goal and one belief, miracles happen.
This is where clinical hypnosis differs significantly from stage and street hypnosis.
Embracing and Protecting Agency
Street hypnosis and stage hypnosis focus on demonstration and entertainment purposes. These techniques can override natural logic, and people hypnotized this way begin making choices from pure emotion. Likewise, some sales tactics rely on a technique called ‘conversational hypnosis’ that can also override the beta-brainwave state. In these conditions, people are only using their emotions, rather than their conscious choice, and they can be led to make decisions that impede their progress on the covenant path.
When I think of these types of hypnosis, I think of Korihor, Nehor, and Sherem.
In contrast, the techniques for clinical hypnosis are meant to help people embrace and protect their agency.
For example, a large majority of the people I’ve worked with struggle with anxiety. We talk about what they want, and they tell me the types of choices they want to make—they want to slow down and think things through before reacting, they want to see the good in the world, and they want to be free from the fear of being judged or rejected by others.
During our discussions, we go into detail about the behavioral changes they want to make and the way they want to feel about themselves because of those changes. Then, when they’re in hypnosis, I repeat what they’ve already decided they want. Their own choices become the suggestions that they respond to.
This works brilliantly for many people who are trying to stop smoking. We discuss possible alternate behaviors, such as mindful breathing, drinking lemon water, chewing gum, or using a patch or prescription medications to help. They let me know what they want to do, and I feed it back to them while they’re in hypnosis. In the alpha-theta brainwave state, they are often able to latch on subconsciously to what they’ve already chosen for themselves on a conscious level. Many people leave feeling hope, which feeds their faith and their ability to feel charity.
Hypnosis Eases Unhealthy Self-talk
This is particularly important for people who have struggled with abuse as a child. In most of the cases I’ve seen, they feel guilty, shameful, and completely unworthy to walk the covenant path the way they really want to. Hypnosis eases the shame so they can more easily believe that they are children of God, and that all the promises he has made to his children apply to them.
Most of the clients I work with come to me for emotional reasons, but occasionally I will see someone for managing pain, sleep patterns, or similar conditions.
Hypnosis can help with physical symptoms by addressing the emotions that are tied to them. However, this should be done with caution, because not all physical issues are rooted in an emotion or belief. Without a strong cause, attributing physical symptoms to an emotion could make a client feel guilty rather than empowered to make better choices.
Ethical Clinical Hypnotist
An ethical clinical hypnotist will always ask for a referral from a physician or psychologist before working with a client for medical or psychological issues, and they won’t take on issues that are beyond their expertise.
Clinical hypnotists can help with issues like weight loss by assisting behavioral changes, such as limiting over-eating or junk food. There are times, though, when weight gain is caused by a physical issue, such as a pituitary tumor. These are the types of cases where a doctor’s referral is necessary, so that the proper medical procedures are reinforced, and the client feels empowered to follow through with the correct treatments.
Another Resource for Leaders
As an LDS leader, understanding clinical hypnosis could give you another tool to help people who are trying—really trying—to overcome their bad habits, but somehow keep sabotaging themselves. In these cases, they could be running a subconscious program that undermines their best efforts. As you listen to the Spirit regarding whether hypnosis could help them, discuss the following ideas with them:
- How hard is this individual trying? Is there a conscious plan in place? For example, if someone is trying to stop smoking, are they using patches or taking prescription drugs to help them? If they are trying to lose weight, are they exercising and monitoring their nutrition? If the answers to these types of questions are yes, hypnosis could help build positive momentum.
- How difficult were their growing-up years? People with challenging backgrounds and relationships often have layers of subconscious programs that keep them stuck in the same routines. In this case, it could be helpful to work with a psychologist or hypnotherapist to help reframe and release those false beliefs.
- If someone you’re working with is interested in hypnosis for managing pain or other physical issues, ask them to proceed only after they have a referral form from their doctor. Many clinical hypnotists have ready-to-go referral forms that can be emailed to individuals, who can then take them to their next appointment for a signature. This ensures that both the doctor and hypnotist understand what the issues are. It also provides a clear understanding of roles: the doctor diagnoses and treats the issues, while the hypnotist works with the subconscious mind to help create an environment of positive change.
It could be helpful to become acquainted with the professionals in your area that offer hypnotherapy. Ask questions—specifically, ask about how they protect their clients’ freedom of choice. Listen to the Spirit concerning how much they care about their clients, whether they are ethical, and whether they are skilled. This gives you an additional resource if hypnosis comes up with someone you’re working with, and you want to ask further questions.
Additional Help with Challenges
As you work with people who are interested in getting hypnosis, ask why they’re interested in hypnotism. Many times, people see hypnosis as a quick fix, rather than part of the concerted effort it takes to overcome challenges. Remind them that the Lord loves effort. Caution them to find a hypnotist who cares about their agency and will protect their ability to choose during the entire process.
Hypnosis can be amazingly helpful, especially for issues like stopping smoking or managing anxiety, but remember, hypnosis is just a tool. It can be used for both good or evil, and it works best when it’s used to reinforce the efforts of righteous conscious choices.