29 Jan 2024

Expert Feature: Hypnotherapy

From Afternoons, 2:30 pm on 29 January 2024

We've all seen the TV shows where a hypnotist asks a volunteer from the audience to get up on stage and then proceeds to hypnotise them so they start clucking like a chicken, but Auckland hypnotherapist June Callan says there's more to it than that.

Young woman undergoing ericksonian hypnosis. 
Paris, France 

VOISIN/PHANIE (Photo by VOISIN / Phanie / Phanie via AFP)


Callan, a registered nurse, was working as a pain clinical nurse specialist when she noticed a lack of options for chronic pain sufferers. She realised hypnotherapy could be an effective tool in pain relief and even some mental health conditions. Callan is now a member of Hypnosis New Zealand and runs her own practice.

She joined Jesse Mulligan on Afternoons to answer questions about hypnotherapy and explain how it works.

“Hypnotherapy can help with a vast array of things but the most important thing is that the client that comes for hypnotherapy has to want the change," Callan says.

"So if you don't really want the change, then it's probably not going to work for you."

Hypnotherapist June Callan

Hypnotherapist June Callan. Photo: Supplied

How does hypnotherapy work?

“I guess it accesses your subconscious mind. So you've got your conscious mind and that's the chattery bit that's talking to you all day, saying you've got to go here, you've got to go there, I've got to do that … Then you've got your subconscious mind that is like a bit of a hard drive site. Often it will run a programme that's not very healthy. So by getting someone really relaxed, you can talk to their subconscious and make suggestions of changes that could be made, and the way they think about things the way they frame things. And the subconscious takes it on board and the change occurs like that.”

Why do you have to be relaxed?

“Because it bypasses that busyness in your in your brain where there's a lot of chatter going on. If it gets you into a really relaxed state, you can let some of that go. And so it just makes you way more accessible for the change that you want to make."

Woman relaxing. 
Paris, France 

GARO/PHANIE (Photo by GARO / Phanie / Phanie via AFP)

A relaxed person is more likely to benefit from hypnotherapy. Photo: AFP / Garo

What’s involved in a session?

“A typical hypnosis session or hypnotherapy session would be probably a good 20 minutes to half an hour of chatting, looking at different techniques, helping the client use the techniques, practice them and so forth and then finishing off with a hypnotherapy session. That's how I run anyway. All the hypnotherapists do things differently.

“If I'm seeing someone for the first time, I don't usually do hypnosis on the first visit. It's just an extensive interview, looking at a lot of their history, what are some things that have caused them to feel the way they do? What are some of the thoughts around their way of being and how do they want to change? I talk to them about things that will trigger change for them.

“It’s getting a feel for the client and getting them to tell me what they want, telling me how do they want to get there, and so really, a lot of the therapy is mirroring back to them what they have already said, so it becomes pertinent to them because it's come from within. I use a lot of their own words and a lot of their own phrases, so that it's relevant to them. I don't use the same words with every single client. It always changes according to what the client feels comfortable with.”

How is this different to hypnotists you see in shows or on TV?

“A lot of people think hypnosis is mind control. And that's when you've seen a hypnosis show and people go up there and do crazy things… cluck like a chicken or do a funny dance or whatever. But how it works is you can actually self-hypnotise yourself. I do teach some of my clients self-hypnosis to help them as they finish the programme with me.

“But in the case of a show, someone will see a show advertised and they'll say to their mate, ‘oh, look at this, this will be a laugh, let's go along’. And so they’re already thinking about going to the hypnosis show and they already thinking about what's going to happen. So in a way they’re hypnotising themselves into it. Then they'll buy the ticket. They're halfway there because they've taken another step towards it. By the time they turn up on the night, they've three-quarters of the way hypnotised themselves already before the hypnotist even talks to them. So then the hypnotist asks for volunteers. By putting your hand up, you're saying yeah, oh, I'll come up on stage and do silly things. So you're giving the hypnotist permission to make you do those silly things because if you didn't want to do them, you wouldn't volunteer right? So then the hypnotist calls some people on stage, he does a couple of things and he can see which people are going to fall the quickest. So it keeps those people up on stage and before you know it, they're in hypnosis and they're performing, so to speak for the audience."

young woman smoking

Hypnotherapy can help with stopping smoking - if the client is really open to change, Callan says. Photo: Unsplash / fotografierende

Can hypnotherapy help with weight loss or stopping smoking?

“I have had clients come and say, for instance, ‘my wife wants me to give up smoking’. And so I say to them, ‘well, do you want to give up smoking?’ and they're like, ‘no, not really’. And so the chances of it being as effective for a person who doesn't really want the change, a lot less more successful than those people who are fully committed and really want to get in there and do the work that's required by them, because hypnosis is not a magic wand or something that I say to you that makes you change. I give my clients lots of techniques to try and ways to change their thinking and so on and so forth. And the people who do the mahi, the hard work, get the best results.”

Can it help with addictions, like gambling?

“If the person wants the change, the hypnotist works with them to find out what it is that's causing them to have the addiction and working on that.

“It's getting to the root cause and not just dealing with it on a superficial level. It gets right down to the nitty gritty and makes the change from the bottom up so to speak, so that it's not just healing a superficial wound. It's getting right down deep and making the change where it’s going to last.”

Are there any similarities between what happens on stage and what happens in your clinic?

"It's the mind working towards a goal... by progressively moving towards that goal or intention, it's hypnotising in nature. It's like when you set yourself goal to run a marathon, for instance, it's small steps towards that goal. And every time you're out there training, you're saying to yourself, 'I'm going to run a marathon, I'm gonna run a marathon'. And so when people come to me for hypnosis for change, they're thinking, 'I want to stop smoking'. 'I want to be free of my chronic pain'. 'I want to lose weight'. 'I'm sick of having a phobia', that type of thing. So it's steps towards achieving a goal or change that the person wants within themselves. 

Can some people not be hypnotised? 

"Yes... especially people who don't want to be hypnotised. If someone comes to me and says, 'oh, you won't be able to hypnotise me', I probably can't. But if they come to me and say, 'I think I'll be difficult to hypnotise because my mind is really busy', that is helpful in the respect that I know what language to use and what techniques to use to calm their mind so that they can be hypnotised and then partake in hypnosis."

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Chronic pain sufferers can find relief with hypnotherapy. Photo: 123rf

Why is hypnosis used for chronic pain?

"Pain is in the brain. But when people get told that they feel that we're dismissing it, and saying it's all in your mind.

"Being in your brain and being in your mind is two different things. Your brain wires itself for pain because pain is a warning signal initially, to keep you safe. For instance, if you put your hand on a hot plate, you pull it off very quickly, but you would still get burned because the the message goes up to the brain, the brain turns it into pain, sends it back to your hand and you pull your hand away and this all happens in a millisecond.

"When pain becomes chronic, the wiring of your neural pathways has become somewhat dysfunctional. But you can rewire the brain... A lot of it is relaxation, mindfulness, reframing the way that you think about your pain, finding ways to entrance yourself in something else because a lot of people with pain, they get stuck, that's all they think about because it's so intrusive into their life. And that's fair enough. But if you can encourage people like that, to do things that bring them joy, things that they would normally be so engrossed in that they wouldn't be thinking about their pain, and by training their brain to think differently, is basically what it what it is with chronic pain. And it takes a bit of work. It's not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of work for the person for the client to retrain their brain. But it has been so successful in that chronic pain field."