The Toronto Hypnotherapist

Hypnosis and Toronto Hypnotherapy with Allan Clews.

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Can Hypnosis Help Me Overcome My Fear of Spiders? - Monday August 20, 2012

Posted on August 20, 2012 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (1)

QUESTION: I have a really deep fear of spiders. Seeing one sets me into the full panic mode. Even just thinking about it right now is making me feel a little anxious. My older sister doesn't like spiders, but she doesn't freak out like I do. When I was 14 I fell asleep and woke up with some red bites on my arm that my Dad thought were spider bites. Even then, they didn't really freak me out. That began about 6 months later. Can hypnosis help me?

ALLAN'S ANSWER: This sounds like it is a problem that is deeply rooted in your subconscious. Fortunately, hypnosis has a good track record when it comes to helping people deal with fears like this. I would recommend that you try to find a well-trained hypnotist who is very experienced in the use of Age Regression. It will probably take four or five sessions to eliminate this problem (it depends on the length of their sessions and how experienced they are).

They will look for two events in your life that could be years apart (and vary in their intensity): the Initial Sensitizing Event (ISE) and the Symptom Producing Event (SPE).

The Initial Sensitizing Event would have occurred the first time you felt frightened by spiders and it can usually be traced back to early childhood. It doesn't even have to be severe or memorable.

Our body has an amazing ability to protect itself. It is part of our evolutionary make-up. It is good to fear something that is dangerous.

Unfortunately, this mechanism can operate pretty blindly at times: we eat a peach just before we succumb to the flu and even though the peach had nothing to do with our getting the flu, our subconscious somehow links the two so that the next time we see a peach we automatically feel a tinge of nausea.

Or we see a spider and our older sister screams in terror and runs away. We are not really sure what happened, but her scream and fear triggered various neurons to fire in some deep emotional parts of our brain (particularly our amygdala).

This triggers an automatic fear-response that causes a series of cascading events to happen in our body. Our blood-pressure rises and our heart-rate spikes up. Our adrenal glands start spewing norepinephrine and cortisol. Our immune system shuts down. Millions of tiny valves open and close and blood is directed away from our brain and stomach and pumped into our large muscles so we are ready to devote everything we have to either fighting or fleeing.

And somehow our subconscious mind now links the image of a spider to this fear response. So the next time we see a spider we feel a tingling of apprehension. And this is how it should remain. Except years later something goes wrong and things go a little haywire. You fall asleep and wake up with bites. You are not even certain (because you were sleeping at the time) but you think you were attacked by spiders. This thought begins to haunt you. It seeps into your subconscious.

And because your subconscious is really stronger, faster and more powerful than your conscious mind, within a few years you have a full-blow phobia. And because your subconscious really IS stronger, faster and more powerful than your conscious mind, you cannot talk or think your way out of this problem (because thinking and talking are activities performed by your conscious mind).

This is where the hypnotist comes in, because they have been trained to communicate with the subconscious. They might invoke a specific type of memory (perhaps of remaining calm and aware), use metaphors and sensory-rich visualizations, and make direct suggestions. They might have you imagine dials and gauges that are linked to your norepinephrine and cortisol levels and then teach you how you to use the power of your imagination to turn these dials down.

Then they might use Age Regression to take you back to the initial moment you first became afraid of spiders (which in this imaginary example was when your older sister freaked out and ran away). Then they might have you see this event as if you were sitting in a large movie theatre watching it on the big screen. They might even have you imagine that you are watching these clips forwards and then in reverse. They might make the images turn black and white and then have them move further and further away as if they were being moved down a long hallway (to help you dissociate from the trigger).

They might even get you to hallucinate being that little 5-year-old boy who first developed that fear when his sister screamed and ran away. They might get you to go one step further, and hallucinate that you are having a conversation with your 5-year-old self where you explain why he doesn't really need to fear spiders. They might even get you to ask your 5-year-old self for his help. This is really designed to help you to integrate the deeper, more primal parts of your brain with the higher, more evolved parts of your brain (in particular with your pre-frontal cortex which is supposed to inhibit such overblown responses).

Please keep in mind that phobias are curable. You do not need to let them control you and effect your life in such a deep way. Certain natural processes within you (in particular the deeper, older parts of your brain) have simply run amock and gotten out of control and it is just a matter of training your subconscious to stop being such a drama queen.

Why Did My Friend Do Things He Would Never Do While on Stage with a Hypnotist? - Friday July 20, 2012

Posted on August 20, 2012 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (0)

QUESTION: I went to a live hypnosis show with a friend who is really shy. He volunteered to go on stage and ended up doing the silliest things and acting like a complete fool and doing things he would never do. Then when it was all over, he denied doing any of it and accused us of making it all up. Yet hypnotists claim that no one can be made to do anything they don't want to do. They also say we will remember everything that happened to us when we were in trance. Why the discrepancies?


ALLAN'S ANSWER: This is a great question. Firstly, a shy person is never shy with their closest friends. In fact, I bet that when he is alone with you, he has a wicked sense of humour, is a bit of a practical joker and loves to make you laugh and smile. In other words, beneath his shy exterior he is probably a bit of an entertainer.

So it wasn't so much that he ended up doing things that he would never do, but rather he did things he would love to do if he wasn't held back by his shyness.

Secondly, I would also be willing to bet he did remember being on stage and acting like a fool. I am also willing to guess that the stage hypnotist stated (in a very theatrical way and said as much to the audience as to your friend) that your friend would forget everything. This really gave your friend "plausible deniability" (or an excuse to pretend it never happened).

Of course, it is possible to induce amnesia with hypnosis. So while it is most likely that your friend consciously remembers what happened, it is possible that he is such a good hypnotic subject that he pushed it from his conscious awareness.

What you have to understand is that as stage show has a radically different goal from a therapeutic session. One is geared towards entertainment and the other towards healing. One wants people to act as silly as they can to get laughs, while the other is focused on healing, transformation and growth.

The first thing a stage hypnotist will do is ask for volunteers to come up onto the stage with them. Then they will do a quick suggestibility test that accomplishes two things. Firstly, it allows them to determine those individuals who are highly hypnotizable. And secondly (and far more importantly) it allows them to see who is willing to play along with them.

As someone who is interested in the therapeutic application of hypnosis, my goals are very different. I want my clients to remember everything that happens during their session. So when they come to see me (or they visit my website), I make sure to stress that they will recall what happens because this is an important element of the healing process. I want them to gain "insight" into their subconscious motivations (which is why we often refer to this type of work as Insight Work). I want them to bring those hidden impulses into the light.

I should also mention that hypnosis is remarkably effective in helping people overcome shyness and social anxiety. So if your friend ever wants to come out of his shell and be really entertaining, he should find a reputable hypnotist who is trained to help people with this problem.

Where Does Mindfulness Come From? - Wednesday February 15, 2012

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Mindfulness, at least the version popularized by psychologists and mental health care workers in the western world is an offshoot of Buddhism. This practice was brought into contemporary psycho-therapeutic practices over 30 years ago by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who learned of it through his practice and study of Buddhism. Although a student of Zen master Seung Sahn, Dr. Kabat-Zinn attempted to strip it of it’s overtly Buddhist elements in order to make it more palatable to the western audience. There have now been hundreds of scientific studies conducted on Mindfulness that prove this practice has tremendous healing powers.

Do I Have to Be a Buddhist to Practice Mindfulness? - Wednesday February 15, 2012

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

No. If you delve into the literature and research Mindfulness on the Internet, you might come to the conclusion that the Buddha invented Mindfulness 2600 years ago. However, it is a normal human faculty or power and as such, it is as old as humanity itself. To believe that the Buddha invented Mindfulness is akin to believing he invented walking. We have all experienced moments of Mindfulness. Some of us more than others.


Police Officers, Customs Agents and soldiers in a war zone have all been taught how to practice certain forms of Mindfulness on a regular basis. Because all Mindfulness is, is the act of being consciously aware. So any activity that requires a high degree of focused attention is a form of Mindfulness. Whether of not it is looking for that one person who acts suspicious as you drive down the street in a police cruiser or keep your awareness so focused on any possible roadside bombs.


What the Buddha did was to recognize the importance of this innate human ability as a tool for human development and transformation and must have felt it was very important because he made it number seven on the Eightfold path to enlightenment

Is Mindfulness Found in Other Spiritual Traditions? - Wednesday February 15, 2012

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Of course. I am not a Buddhist and was introduced to the spiritual philosophy of the early 20th-century mystical rogue and I can’t think of a better term than, bad-ass saint, George Gurdjieff, over 30 years ago by a professor of Psychology in a Theories of Personality class. One of the first things Dr. Christopher Holmes taught us in that class was a very advanced form of Gurdjieffian Mindfulness.


I have been a student of the Gurdjieff Teachings ever since and have being practicing various Mindful exercises on a daily basis for over thirty years. We just never referred to it as Mindfulness.


I only really stumbled upon this term in the summer of 2011 when I was reading a book on Dialectical Behavior Therapy that highlighted the importance of Mindfulness as a therapeutic tool. And the more I delved into Mindfulness, the more I realized I had been practicing it since I was in my early twenties. I was just using different terms and names to describe it. I called it self-sensing, consciously perceiving, self-observation and most importantly, self-remembering.


So when I finally read the Buddha’s discourse on Mindfulness I had to smile because it was all so familiar to me. In fact, the most important Mindful exercise, one I have been doing as many times a day as I can, was not even mentioned in this discourse and that is the Mindful practice of Self-Remembering.


Mindfulness is practiced in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. They would use terms such as Presence and Remembrance. It is also found within certain branches of Hinduism. It is even found in the Hindu Vedantas which pre-dated the Buddha by at least 200 years and was probably where he learned of it. You will also find terms like the Witnessed and the Witness, or the Field and the Knower of the Field, and icons of two birds, one engaged in the world and the other watching it, sprinkled throughout Hindu scriptures and sacred art. Metaphors that perfectly encapsulate the inner separation that is an essential component of all Mindful practices.


I even came across a very elaborate Mindful exercise when I was reading the Apocryphon of John, a 2nd-century AD Gnostic Christian text that makes the reader/listener profoundly aware of the various components of their body.

What Are the Buddha's Teachings on Mindfulness? - Wednesday February 15, 2012

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Well let’s just step back a moment and discuss the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha taught there were four different aspects to Mindfulness. Firstly, to become Mindful of our physical body. Secondly, to become Mindful of our feelings. Thirdly, to become Mindful of our mental processes or thoughts. And finally, to be Mindful of certain elements of Buddhist theory.


Now a couple of examples of the fourth one would be to become Mindful of the ‘Four Noble Truths’ - or to be Mindful of the fact that life involves suffering, suffering is caused by attachment, it is possible to end suffering, and suffering can be ended by embracing the 8-fold path. Another is to be Mindful of the impermanence of existence and Mindful of the fact that nothing will last forever, nothing is eternal. Something that science fully concurs with because even though this world seems so solid and permanent it only came into existence four billions years ago and will eventually be destroyed when our sun dies in about another five billion years

So How Does Your Own Understanding of Mindfulness Differ from the Buddhas? - Wednesday February 15, 2012

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Well... I would emphasize things differently. I see six different aspects to Mindfulness and they all overlap with the Buddhist teachings. And I have to stress that this is my own extrapolation from the teachings that I follow and you will not find it laid out in the writings of Mr. Gurdjieff or even in the work of his immediate students.


So this is my own understanding. One that come from having practiced these technique for over 30 years.


The first, and most basic form of Mindfulness, one that I continually pull myself back to throughout my day, when I notice my awareness has wandered, is the practice of Self-Sensing, or becoming aware of my physical body. Particularly aware of it as one organic whole. Sensing my entire body from top to bottom, front to back and side to side. Sensing my body breathing. This is in accord with the Buddhist teachings and is akin to our sense of touch. Recognizing of course, that not only do we have sensory receptors on the surface of our skin, but throughout our body.


The second, and this is where I differ slightly, is by becoming Mindful, or aware of the world around me. That is, what I can perceive through my external organs of perception. So what I can perceive with my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Or my sense of sight, sound, smell and taste. And this doesn’t just mean becoming aware of what I can see, or what I can hear, or smell, or taste. But looking, listening, smelling (and possibly even tasting if I happen to be eating or have flavoured gum in my mouth).


The third involves becoming Mindful of my feelings and emotional states. Mindful of whether I am loving or angry, joyful or despairing, peaceful or fearful.


The fourth involves becoming Mindful of my thoughts and mental processes. Mindful of the words and internal dialogue floating through my head.


And the fifth, which you will find hints of if watch some of the videos of Buddhist Monks, is the technique that Mr. Gurdjieff called Self-Remembering. It is an extremely advanced form Mindfulness and it involves the simultaneous practice of the first and second steps. It involves the division of our attention into two. So one part of my awareness is focused on being Mindful of my physical body as one organic whole through the process of Self-Sensing, while at the same time, simultaneously being aware of the world around me. So sensing my body as one organic whole, while simultaneously actively or Mindfully looking, listening and smelling (and possibly tasting). In other words aware of my physical self, here in this present environment.


And the sixth, which is only hinted at in the Gurdjieff tradition is to Self-Remember while breathing in an element of blissful delight. I was actually quite lucky because this was the very first thing I learned about the Gurdjieff Teachings when I was in that first class on that first Monday of the term in January of 1981. I subsequently learned that if I had joined the Gurdjieff Foundation or a group connected to one of his students such as JG Bennett or Willem Nyland I wouldn’t have been taught to Self-Remember for at least two or three years and I might never have been taught how to breath in that element of emotion.

Emotions and Hypnosis - Sunday January 29, 2012

Posted on January 29, 2012 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

(ASK ALLAN ABOUT HYPNOSIS) QUESTION: I recently read a book about self-hypnosis and there was an exercise to remember the saddest movie I have ever seen. By the end of it the tears were streaming down my face. Is it harmful to explore emotions through self-hypnosis.


ALLAN'S ANSWER: There is no such thing as a "bad" emotion. Emotions only become toxic when they get stuck. So if you want to imagine seeing the saddest movie in the world, then go for it. Allow the tears to flow and imagine that an enormous storm has blown through the landscape of your mind. Imagine that your tears have carried away all of the muck and dirt within you. See, sense and feel your tears washing away dark clumps of blocked emotions. Then imagine the sky clearing and the sun coming out and feeling so clear and cleansed inside.


Another thing you can do is to focus on an emotion that has been causing you some trouble. Perhaps anxiety, low self-esteem, jealousy, anger or whatnot. Put yourself into a state of self-hypnosis and then recall a time when you really, really felt this emotion. Step into that memory. See what you saw, hear what you heard, and build as complete picture as you can.


Then pay attention to the way the emotion manifests itself in your body (the most common being: stomach/heart/throat/jaw/face/large muscles). Then see, sense and imagine the various ways that this emotion has impaired your life. Then just image releasing it through your hands and feet as you breath out. Imagine it draining out of you. Then see, sense and imagine yourself in the some future (future pacing) scenario (one where you would have previously experienced this emotion) acting and feeling differently.


To give an example: Let's say you suffer from social anxiety, particularly when you encounter a pretty girl. Recall one especially devastating moment and see what you saw, hear what you heard and notice the knot in your stomach, the moistness in your palms, the redness on your face and wherever else it manifests in your body. Then see, sense and remember other times this same feeling has risen up from somewhere inside and overwhelmed you and impaired your ability to just talk to a girl. Then imagine this feeling draining out of your hands and feet. Breath out and release it. Now visualize yourself in the future comfortably walking up to a pretty girl and asking her what time it is. See her smile warmly and look into your eyes as she answers.

Why Hypnosis Recordings Don't Work as Well as a Live Session - Wednesday January 25, 2012

Posted on January 29, 2012 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (0)

ALLAN SAYS - ASK ME A QUESTION ABOUT HYPNOSIS: "I have attended group hypnosis sessions and listened to all sorts of hypnotic tapes. However, I never felt hypnotized and they have not helped me with my insomnia and chronic fatigue. Is it possible that I am not hypnotizable?"


MY ANSWER: Group hypnosis sessions and hypnotic recordings have never really worked for me either. However, one-on-one sessions are different, because I have had some hypnotists take me to the deepest realms I have ever experienced. The problem with group sessions and recordings is that they were not specifically designed for you at that exact moment in time.


For example, when you breath-in certain muscles in your body automatically tense up and when you breath-out they automatically relax. So when you are being hypnotized, the hypnotist can time phrases such as "relax" "let go" "go deeper" to coincide with your out-breath. They piggy-back their words onto naturally occurring processes within you and thereby heighten the effect.


The hypnotist can also say things like "that's right" when they see you swallow or adjust your body or even twitch. And when they notice the muscles on your face flattening and your face growing symmetrical, they can say "beautiful," "wonderful" or "you are doing so good."


"The hypnotist can also time... their words and phrases... to coincide with your breathing... so that their words... take on different quality... a more resonant quality... that paces your reality... at a subconscious level...allowing your subconscious... to know that the really paying attention... to you."


The most effective hypnosis does not involve the hypnotist "putting you into a trance." It is not a battle of wills. This is far too one-sided and authoritarian (which was how hypnosis was practiced back in the 1920s). Rather it is more like a dance between the two of you. There is an ebb and flow and a leading you progressively more and more inwards into such profound states of awareness where miracles really are possible.


Of course, do not rush out and make an appointment with any hypnotist. First do a little research on them. Check their qualifications. Then talk to the hypnotist on the phone or even arrange to meet them, because it is so important that you feel comfortable with them.


Comfortable enough to let go and deeply relax.