Business of the mind
Local hypnotherapists help clients reach root of personal issues
Dr. Jay Irvin compares the mechanics of hypnotherapy to riding a horse. While some riders believe they are in control, the horse ultimately makes the decisions.
And so it goes with human consciousness.
'Most people think the conscious mind is in charge,' he said, 'but the subconscious is really in charge of about 90 percent of our lives.'
After decades of media stereotypes likening the practice with magic, voodoo and mind control, hypnotherapy is gaining ground - as well as respectability - in a growing field of non-traditional wellness options. That growth is being felt in East County, where the number of naturopathic doctors, chiropractors and massage therapists grows steadily.
Clinical hypnotherapists Johnny E. McDonald and Irvin offer alternative routes to personal growth and healing with their full-time hypnotherapy practices.
Irvin, a psychologist and former restaurateur who's been in business for nearly three years at the Gresham Hypnotherapy Clinic,16 N.E. Hogan Dr., started his practice in Southwest Portland. He had plenty of clients, but thought he could offer more east of the larger city.
'When I first came here, there was no one actively practicing hypnotherapy,' he said. 'I came here believing there was an underserved community in East County.'
A North Carolina native, Irvin, 47, is aware of stereotypes that the Gresham area is less alternative-minded than the faster-paced Portland. With population growth and migration, however, he sees things changing fast. And Irvin would rather be early than late to the party.
'Stereotypes are changing in Gresham,' he said. 'You can either be an early adopter or an also-ran.'
A hypnotherapist helps bring subconscious thoughts, feelings and motivations to the conscious mind. A practitioner helps clients harness the useful ones while scrutinizing those that keep them from getting where they want to go, Irvin and McDonald said.
With clients seeking ways to cope with everything from grief and anxiety to smoking cessation and weight loss, modern hypnotherapy offers something for everyone.
'So many great things can be done,' said McDonald, 59, who started his practice at 135 N.W. First St. last November. 'Clients say 'I wish I had known about this 20 years ago.' I've been amazed at how often people get at least some, if not total, relief from this.'
A vocational work-adjustment counselor for 20 years, McDonald has practiced hypnotherapy in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Louisiana. By coincidence, he and Irvin both studied at the Hypnotherapy Academy of America in Santa Fe, N.M.
While plenty of misconceptions abound, McDonald finds the Gresham-area audience a little ahead of the curve.
'I'm finding Gresham to be more progressive than some places I've had my practice,' he said. 'At least people here have heard of hypnotherapy. Some other places, it's just this side of devil worship. People are really uninformed.'
Neither McDonald nor Irvin use props to help patients reach 'trance' state. Contrary to popular belief, the hypnotist does not control the patient's thoughts or actions. It's more about guiding the patient to a relaxed state where he or she can access subconscious thoughts.
'Everybody has a different experience,' Irvin said. 'It's totally different than Hollywood. It's a relaxed place. Many patients have said they feel like they could go to sleep if I'd just shut up.'
Regardless of what initially motivates a client to seek hypnotherapy, it's usually about something else entirely.
'The truth is, we've got a lot of fairy tales inside us,' Irvin said. 'Some serve us well and some don't.
'I become an advocate for the inner child. It's not about weight loss. It's about emotional issues that are unresolved.'
Irvin, who teaches a free monthly orientation class for hypnotherapy novices, said it was his own impatience that led him away from slower-paced psychotherapy to hypnosis.
'If I know a way to create a behavior change, it seems unconscionable to do therapy for years when the results can happen in months,' he said. 'This is more suited to my temperament.'
Much like with psychotherapy, in hypnotherapy the patient is the one ultimately responsible for doing the productive work.
'One of the things we're trying to do is teach people how to take care of themselves,' McDonald said. 'That's one of my goals. There's so much clients can do themselves. Maybe they haven't come across this information before, but none of this is any secret at all.'
Both Irvin and McDonald make sure they know what their clients want to achieve going into hypnotherapy. Measuring goals and outcomes is equally important.
'I'm a workman,' McDonald said. 'If you said 'I want a fence,' I would just build the fence. Tell me what you want to do, what your goal is. Occasionally, I'll see they've reached it before they do.'
On a client's final session, he enjoys listening to hear the progress he or she has made.
'I don't charge for the last session,' he said. 'I just sit there and feel great.'