Forget the stage-show cliché, hypnosis can improve health and change lives, writes Clodagh Finn
Mention the word ‘hypnosis’ and some people still imagine a Svengali figure urging a misfortunate volunteer to “Look into my eyes”. That, however, is starting to change as science proves that hypnosis can bring real health benefits.
The late surgeon Dr Jack Gibson used to say: “The rewards are a thousand-fold, for example, freeing ourselves from pain, unlearning negative thought patterns, withdrawal from drugs, etc.”
The former county surgeon at Naas General Hospital was so convinced of the power of the subconscious mind that he used hypnosis to perform over 4,000 procedures — operations, amputations, dislocations — without anaesthetic. He also treated more than 60,000 patients for various addictions, phobias and psychosomatic diseases.
Now, his work is going to reach a new audience as 35 of his treatments, developed as a series of audio recordings, are made available on a website launched by his son-in-law Andrew Gibb.
You’ll find an account of how, aged 94, he helped Fair City star Orlaith Rafter give up smoking. He might have found it heartening to know that another actress from the popular RTÉ soap, Fiona Brennan, went on to become a clinical hypnotherapist after quitting acting.
She had an epiphany on stage in 2007 while playing Alison, the long-suffering wife of a very angry man in Look Back in Anger and decided she had had enough of the “insecurity and humiliation”, as she puts it, that can come with a career in the arts.
The change to hypnotherapy was not as radical as it seems. She was drawn to her new career by the very same things that first led her to acting — a deep interest in people and in the power of the imagination.
Now, like Dr Gibson before her, Fiona Brennan is passionate about chipping away at any lingering misconceptions about hypnotherapy and her new book, The Positive Habit (Gill Books, €16.99), aims to bring its benefits to more people.
The mind, she tells Feelgood, is an incredibly powerful tool when you know how to use it. While she still hears the occasional stage-show joke, she says people are beginning to understand hypnotherapy’s benefits.
Science has shown hypnosis to be a genuine psychological phenomenon with several uses in clinical practice. A number of studies, quoted in various journals, quantify some of those benefits, proving hypnosis can help alleviate stress, ease pain, restore sleep, and help give up a number of substances.
Brennan has seen that first hand, in particular in her speciality area treating stress and anxiety. She says she was prone to anxiety herself and used to believe that the heaviness of angst was just a normal part of the experience of being alive.
However, she discovered during her own training that she was actually in control of the feelings and thoughts she believed were controlling her, a lesson she tries to bring to the people she helps every day.
“A lot of people are struggling with anxiety and stress and depression,” she says, adding that many opt for medication to feel better.
A member of the Clinical Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Association, Brennan says some of her clients have been amazed to find that their racing mind and anxious thoughts calm when they take simple steps, such as taking up to seven very deep breaths.
There was such a demand for her work that she launched an online self-hypnotherapy programme called the Positive Habit in 2016. It struck such a chord that she followed it up with a book of the same name.
She says this is not a Pollyanna type of positivity: “The most positive thing a person can do for their mental health is to have the courage to feel negative emotions. The real damage is done by suppressing those emotions. It’s OK to have anxiety. That is where it all starts.”
Awareness, however, is not enough. That is where the book comes in. The clinical hypnotherapist wanted to equip readers with the tools and strategies to turn negative thoughts into positive emotions.
She says there is no point in telling people to change their mindset without showing them how to do so. The book, she says, is designed as an accessible and affordable manual to help people do that.
Accessibility and affordability were also behind Andrew Gibb’s decision to post Dr Gibson’s audio treatments on a new website.
“His pioneering work deserves to be out there. People are still suffering from the same conditions and this is a lost resource that can help people in the peace and quiet of their own homes,” Dr Gibson’s son-in-law tells
Dr Gibson was introduced to the power of self-hypnosis when he operated on a Bedouin tribesman who refused an anaesthetic. The doctor asked him if he had suffered great pain while he removed a growth from his leg; the patient said he felt no pain as he had hypnotised himself.
The surgeon went on to be a tireless advocate of hypnosis and used it extensively — and successfully — during his work as a surgeon abroad and later at home in Naas General Hospital.
There are many testimonies from patients who explained how it worked for them. One of them, Michael Cronley, who lost an arm in a turf-cutting accident, said: “I was in unbearable pain. It was like a red-hot poker, it was so severe. [Dr Gibson] told me he would hypnotise me and the pain would go away. Then, under hypnosis, he explained that the nerves would carry all of these impulses to the brain because the mind was unaware that there was no arm or hand.
However, in his lifetime Dr Gibson, who died in 2005 aged 95, was disappointed that hypnosis was not more widely used in general medicine: “Hypnosis is simply reaching the subconscious mind and then reconditioning it. It saves admission, it is pain free, it is natural. There are many uses for it and when learnt it can make all aspects of our lives better.”
He might be pleased to see that is now slowly starting to change.
In 1968, Dr Jack Gibson made his first record, a 45rpm vinyl record called How to Relax with the help of his son-in-law Andrew Gibb, who produced and marketed it. The following year, he recorded How to stop smoking and it went straight into the charts.
Over a 50-year career, he drew on his medical use of hypnosis to develop a series of audio recordings intended to offer people an alternative to drugs and anaesthetics.
The Relaxology Series, as he called it, contains 35 different treatments which can now be downloaded to help a range of conditions from acne and anorexia to stammering and arthritis pain.
Other downloads include: How to enjoy losing weight; How to be free from asthma; How to be free of migraine; How to deal with adolescence and How to stop snoring.
Digital downloads cost £15 (€17.60)and are available along with eBooks and DVDs of Dr Gibson’s work at www.drjackgibson.co.uk
In The Positive Habit author Fiona Brennan takes readers on a clearly signposted journey helping them to develop six new positive habits — the habits of love, calmness, confidence, gratitude, hope and happiness.
But you need to sign on the dotted line before you start reading. On page 35, the author makes a promise to the reader — she says the material in the book has been researched and designed for the reader’s greater good and that she believes 100% in the power of The Positive Habit.
In turn, the reader is asked to commit to reading the book in no more than 21 days and to listen to the accompanying recordings every day for 66 days. No skipping ahead either; read the book in the order that it’s written.
You’ll need a notebook and a private space too. That’s the hardest bit because this book is full of achievable goals. Who, for instance, can’t see the benefit of setting aside 14 minutes a day for your mental health, as the author suggests?
She also has a host of practical suggestions that won’t take any time out of your day. For instance, she says you can tie a new habit into an old one and say your new affirmations while brushing your teeth or having a shower. To find out more, see The Positive Habit by Fiona Brennan, published by Gill Books (£16.99).