Hypnotherapist offers stress relief

Updated: 2014-05-17 04:21

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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Hypnotherapist offers stress relief

Fan Xin, director of the psychological counseling and psychtherapy center at Peking University, treats a patient on Wednesday. People can't be hypnotized if they don't want to, she says. [Photo by Zheng Wei/China Daily]

Xiao Dan lolled on a sofa, droopy-eyed and slack-jawed, as Fang Xin spoke in a quiet, rhythmic voice next to her.

The hypnotherapist, who's also the director of the psychological counseling and psychotherapy center at Peking University, led Xiao into a trance.

Xiao, a 29-year-old sales manager (who asked that her real name not be used), came to Fang's small, cozy office in order to overcome a fear of public speaking.

In soft, measured tones, Fang said, "Close your eyes, and relax your body, starting from the head, neck, shoulders and arms to the feet."

Xiao's shoulders trembled slightly as Fang mentioned that part of the body.

Fang continued: "We'll start a new journey. You'll become the master of yourself, and put the judgmental part of you behind the sofa or on the ceiling."

She later asked Xiao to recall a time when she successfully spoke in public by using all the five senses, even remembering what she smelled at that moment.

After about an hour, Fang said, "In a moment, I'll count one, two, three and you'll wake up feeling refreshed."

As Fang counted, Xiao lifted her head from the sofa, wriggled her toes, took a deep breath and finally opened her eyes, fully awake.

"I felt close to being asleep, but my mind was alert. That night, I slept like a log," she recalled later.

Fang said that quite a few of her visitors indeed fall asleep in her office.

"This is clinical hypnosis, a tool for mental healing rather than show or entertainment," she pointed out.

The trance that Fang puts her clients into is a mental state similar to when one becomes immersed in a heartfelt movie or interesting book, she noted.

In such a state, people are highly susceptible to suggestions, she said.

But she dismissed various myths surrounding the technique, such as revealing one's bank account or password while hypnotized.

"People can't be hypnotized if they don't want to be, and the instinct for self-protection is always there," she explained.

However, she did stress the importance of practitioner ethics. For example, male doctors shouldn't hypnotize female patients alone.

Hypnotherapy is often used to help people handle stress and anxiety, control their weight, stop smoking, manage pain and unlock their hidden potential.

Fang said her patients include some nationally known athletes, who usually seek the latter type of benefit.

Parents also bring in their children before they take the college entrance examination, known as gaokao, to help them relax and achieve a positive result, she said.

One session typically lasts an hour and costs upwards of 1,000 yuan ($160) at most privately run mental therapy workshops in Beijing.

On one occasion, Fang's skill was put to a special test.

Invited by local police, Fang hypnotized the witness to a serious crime and managed to get him to refresh his memory regarding some crime details.

"But the outcome varies," Fang said, repeating the fact that a person can't be hypnotized "if he or she doesn't want to be".

Hypnosis has yet to be scientifically proven as a tool to enhance memory, said Tian Chenghua, a professor at the Institute for Psychiatric Research at Peking University's No 6 Hospital.

As a registered psychiatrist, "I don't practice hypnotherapy," he said. Instead he supplies mental counseling.

He pointed out that hypnotherapy is a practice that is poorly regulated by the health authority.

Fang agreed, saying she received her training and certification as a qualified hypnotherapist in Germany.

Since then, she has helped train others. She says that now there are several hundred qualified hypnotherapists in China.

Dai Wenji, a mental health doctor at Peking University's No 6 Hospital, provides hypnosis but said it usually doesn't work for serious mental illnesses like severe depression or schizophrenia.

Of Dai's patients over the past two years, most suffered from functional mental problems like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

At most, she might see four patients a day, and to improve access to her services, the hospital may set up a special unit for hypnotherapy, Dai noted.

At the public hospital, it costs 60 yuan for each one-hour session, she said. And it's partially covered by public health insurance.

Fang has led efforts to establish a group for hypnotherapy under the auspices of the Chinese Mental Health Association.

"The initiative aims to help expand the development and academic evaluation of the practitioners. We don't want to see any patients cheated by substandard practitioners," she said.