It was the mid 1990's and I had left full-time teaching to work at AIDS Project Los Angeles. The program I ran depended on volunteers and there were two volunteer hypnotherapists. The first to arrive was a man named Timothy Trujillo. He wanted to teach self-hypnosis seminars. The second was Frances James, who preferred working with clients one-on-one. (Frances, if she still lives would be well into her 90's now and I can't find her online.)
I admit that I was skeptical. Not about the people, Frances and Timothy seemed genuine enough. I was skeptical about hypnosis. Like many people, my exposure to hypnosis had been Bela Lugosi movies, “You’re getting sleepy, SLEEPY,” and entertainment shows of people doing silly things on stage. As I child, I once ordered a hypnotic disk from an ad in the back of Boy’s Life magazine. What I got for my quarter plus postage and handling was a sort of poker chip with a spiral printed on one side which promised hours of hypnotic fun with friends.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I didn’t take hypnosis seriously. I considered it something of a whimsical lark, something to be silly about and have fun with. My clients would enjoy themselves and anything that promised a little harmless fun was worth having in the program.
Timothy and Frances were both quite popular. Timothy taught the clients to go into a kind of self-induced relaxation mode. While in that mode, he instructed them to imagine a little Pacman character gobbling up HIV cells. On the surface, clients learned how to relax but more than that, it gave the clients something they could actually do for their health—whether it worked or not, the clients were engaged.
Here’s the kicker. It worked. Timothy’s clients began to tell me that their viral loads dropped meaning the amount of active virus in their system was reduced. The clients attributed these results to their practice of self-hypnosis. I understood that that direct cause and effect were in doubt. There were no control groups, no double-blind studies and certainly tons of other variables but anecdotal evidence was impressive. Timothy went on to make quite a splash with Hypnosis in the HIV world. Since then, he has not stopped helping people. You can find him online.
With Frances, it was a different story. Frances worked one-on-one with the clients exploring whatever aspects of their lives they wanted to explore. After their sessions with Frances, the clients were noticeably different. They went in stressed, worried, and fearful. They came out peaceful, rested, rejuvenated, even excited. They would come to me, thanking me for having Frances there. Virtually everyone who saw Frances, many of them multiple times, said they had been profoundly affected in a very positive way.
Frances helped people heal issues from their past and that is where my story leads next.
I spent a lot of time chatting with Frances while she waited between clients. At some point I told her of my being bullied as a child. The bullying had been at times very severe and had lasted for a very long time, grade school through high school. She offered to help me with hypnosis. Eventually, we found the time.
Frances used a regression technique in our session and I found myself standing in a kind of semi-circle of kids who were bullying me. They were taunting me, calling me names, spitting at me, shooting spitballs, all sorts of childish things. Honestly, this event as it happened in hypnosis, never happened in real life. I wasn’t reliving an actual memory but my subconscious created a scene which accurately expressed how I felt as a kid.
Memory is notoriously inaccurate. We think we remember facts but we really remember our perceptions of those events--particularly when those perceptions were influenced by strong emotion.
The odd thing was that as the scene unfolded, I experienced it as a bullied child and as an adult watching it. It was kind of weird. The kid in me felt the taunting and the bullying but the adult in me understood the kids and the bullying in a different light. Frances lead me in a kind of exercise in which I addressed and forgave each and every one of those kids.
Honestly, at the time, I wasn’t sure that I had even been “hypnotized” because I had been conscious the entire time. It felt like a guided daydream. When Frances brought me out of hypnosis, I felt great but I wasn’t completely buying the experience. I didn’t fully realize the benefit I had derived from that session for another 25 years.
One day, I got a call from one those kids from the semi-circle. He was calling to apologize for having taunted me in school. He was on a 12-step program and needed to make amends. It was then that I realized that while I could remember having been bullied as kind of a general notion, I had mentally and emotionally let go of all the details. I did not and do not now remember that guy doing anything bad or mean to me, ever. While I couldn’t change the things that happened to me, in hypnosis, I changed my perceptions and my reactions to them. There was no longer any anger, no hurt, no bitterness, no resentment eating away at me. “Dude, if you want my forgiveness,” I said to him, “you’ve got it.”
It was remembering these two hypnotherapists and the power of their work that prompted me to seek hypnosis training myself. Timothy with his simple but practical way of helping people with AIDS, gave them a way to actively participate in their own wellness and the health benefits, reported by them, were remarkable. And Frances worked her healing individually helping clients, and me, live better by putting the past into proper perspective, healing old wounds. Imagine having an emotional limp for years. You can still get around and perhaps the limp is hardly noticeable but then you realize that the pain that caused the limp is gone. That was what it was like for me.
So now, I’m the one who gets to help people live better lives.