Health & Harmony: Hypnotherapy can be a route to inner motives

Hypnotherapist Annette Annechild with Coastal Star columnist Paula Detwiller.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Paula Detwiller

    Why do we continue unhealthy habits knowing full well we’re paying a price? Why does our own “will power” so often fail us, even to the point of self-loathing?

    I’d been wrestling with that question recently in connection with my out-of-control caffeine habit when I met a psychologist whose business card listed, among other services, hypnotherapy.

    Wow. My mind leapt back to an old movie. A Freudish-looking doctor suspends a pocket watch in front of a patient’s eyes, swinging it like a pendulum, and intoning, “You are getting veeeeery sleepy. You will soon fall asleep, and when you awake, you will remember nothing about the next 10 minutes …”

    Could hypnotherapy be the help I needed? Could it help me break my self-destructive coffee-and-cola habit once and for all?

    “It’s not like the hypnotism you’ve seen in the movies or on the nightclub stage,” explained the psychologist, Annette Annechild of Delray Beach. “Hypnotherapy is a combination of meditation, visualization and therapeutic techniques. It’s a way in, to deal with yourself.”

    Sign me up.

    A few weeks later I am sitting in Annechild’s office learning more about the topic.

    Hypnotherapy was brought to the U.S. in the 1940s by dentists, to help patients endure pain in the pre-Novocain days. Practitioners like American psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980) advanced the field, pioneering various clinical techniques. Today, almost every professional sports team has a hypnotherapist who can help players improve their mental focus a la Tiger Woods.

    “We need to learn how to control the mind,” says Annechild, “because the mind lies.”

    It certainly does. It seduces me into believing I need that café latte to be alert and productive. It pulls me toward the Coke machine with sweet, bubbly promises of happiness. It tells me not to worry about the upset stomach, the pounding heart, the subsequent blood sugar crash, or the fuzzy brain and irritability that show up as the buzz wears off.

    Annechild says hypnotherapy helps us reach the unconscious mind, or intuition, which never lies. Getting into a deeply relaxed state opens us up to our unconscious mind and allows us to work with it, she says.

    And so we begin. I recline in her leather chair, close my eyes, and focus my attention on slow, deep breaths according to Annechild’s softly spoken instructions. Inhale. Exhale.

    “Now imagine a warm white light coming in through your feet … relaxing the feet … and now the light comes up into the ankles, fills the calves, the knees, and now the thighs …”

    I feel the warm light flowing up through my body and out the top of my head — the power of suggestion at work. Once I’m limp as a rag doll and glowing from the inside out, Annechild tells me to drift down a staircase into my subconscious mind. 

    There’s a hallway at the bottom with a room at the end, a special room just for me, filled with healing properties. There’s a special chair in the room, and if I sit in it, all attachments I might have to anything not good for my body will begin to drain from the soles of my feet. 

    “Just let it all go now, completely,” she whispers. “You’re totally safe, totally protected, and anchored now in that true self that’s always peaceful, always does the right thing, drinks the right things, eats the right things.”

    She instructs me to “pull up a chair for the child, or whatever part of us really likes soda and coffee and caffeine,” even though the adult knows it’s not good. “Imagine her … and tell her to give you any information about that part of yourself that breaks the rules and has the caffeine.”

    Suddenly I see myself at 11 years old, eating a meal in a restaurant with my family. I’m having my favorite: cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. The mood at the table is tense. Family members are not talking to one another. I comfort myself with a sweet, cold, fizzy gulp.

    “And you can imagine comforting her, the way a wise parent would comfort a child, and letting her know that the caffeine has to go. It’s just not good for her.”

    Another scene pops into my mind. Now I’m 19, cramming for a final exam in college, doctoring up some stale dormitory coffee with cream and sugar so I can stay up longer to study. 

    Eventually Annechild brings me back up the staircase. She asks me to slowly open my eyes as she counts to 10. 

    I tell her about seeing the 11-year-old and the college student. She says those memories, long forgotten, are caffeine triggers in my unconscious mind. She encourages me to take home the audio recording we’ve made of our session for further self-discovery.

    “Hypnotherapy gets to the root of things a lot quicker than other therapies, and with better results,” Annechild says. “People have an experience. And it changes things.” 

    As I pack up to leave, I realize it’s a good idea to love, rather than loathe, my caffeine-dependent inner children. But I’m kicking her out of the driver’s seat. From now on, I’m taking the wheel.

    Note: Hypnotherapy prices vary; a 50-minute session in Annechild’s office costs $250. She also offers pro bono services to those with financial hardships.

Paula Detwiller is a freelance writer and lifelong fitness junkie. Visit her at

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