Carmel Valley >> The body listens and responds to the mind — mostly the subconscious mind — which, more often than not, isn’t conducive to good health says a Carmel Valley hypnotist.
“Most of what we tell ourselves is negative, critical, judgmental or fearful,” said Bee Epstein-Shepherd, whose specialty is training the human mind to change its attitude.
Epstein-Shepherd, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, has spent most of the past 20 years teaching clients how to use hypnosis — self-hypnosis — to achieve better results on tests, in sports, at their jobs, in breaking bad habits, in conquering fear and anxiety, and, most remarkably, in health, an area in which amazing things are possible.
And the first hurdle she often has to clear as a hypnotist is eliminating the misconception that a client is relinquishing control of his or her mind when hypnotized.
“People are afraid of it because they think there’s some kind of mind control, and the hypnotist is going to control your mind,” she said. “In reality, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and what hypnosis does is allow you to have more control over your mind and yourself.”
Misunderstandings about self-hypnosis are largely the result of stage shows, during which volunteer subjects perform silly antics in front of amused audiences. But that, she said, is basically a parlor trick.
Such entertainment might be a hit at a county fair, but it often frightens the many people away from the positive aspects of self-hypnosis, particularly in health, she said.
“When I work with a person who is going in for surgery, I also make them a custom CD they can use on their own to relax the body, give the body instructions on healing, and make the surgery easy,” Epstein-Shepherd said.
Nervousness prior to surgery can make the muscles tense, which makes it more difficult for the surgeon to make the incision, she said. When the body is relaxed, the surgery goes more easily.
Dr. Ian Lipski, associate professor in MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at the University of Texas, has had significant success using hypnosis with various procedures.
“Hypnosis can be used in multiple environments within the perioperative setting, including the operating rooms,” Lipski said. “But also, what we’ve been using quite a bit is in the off-site kind of domain which includes MRI settings, bone marrow, interventional radiology, just to name a few.”
Lipski said anesthesiologists often are called in to sedate patients who are claustrophobic for MRIs, or patients who are being prepped for an epidural, but fear needles. Hypnosis is an effective tool to calm the patient and reduce anxiety in such situations, he said.
“There’s actually quite a lot of data that exists already in that environment of MRIs and the use of hypnosis to relax patients, decrease their needs for medication, and also to decrease scan incompletions,” Lipski said. “If a patient is more comfortable staying still in the scan, the MRI scan can actually be completed. And I’ve had several patients over the last couple of years where I use some of the techniques that I learned to calm patients, relax them, and kind of go through the process of a formal hypnotic induction.”
Joyce Kapp, a registered nurse in Monterey County, said Epstein-Shepherd used hypnosis to prepare her for major surgery, and also while recovering from the operation.
“My surgeon allowed me to bring in my hypnosis just prior to the surgical procedure,” Kapp said. “And then I had a recording from Bee that I could listen to afterward. The hypnosis we did kept me calmer and decreased my pain levels.”
Guy Montgomery, regarded as the world’s foremost researcher on the use of hypnosis with surgery, published a paper from a comprehensive study that states that 89 percent of surgical patients in hypnosis-treatment groups had better outcomes.
“Across surgical studies, hypnosis has been demonstrated to effectively control pain and emotional distress, and to improve recovery,” wrote Montgomery, associate professor of Oncological Sciences at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “As patients were drawn from a wide variety of surgical contexts (orthopedic, cardiac, gynecologic, ophthalmologic, head and neck, cosmetic), the results support the position that hypnosis is an effective intervention for a wide variety of surgical patients."
Hypnosis helps chemotherapy patients mitigate pain and discomfort, nausea and other common side effects, Epstein-Shepherd said.
In fact, one client regularly felt so stressed prior to her chemotherapy, and had such fear of needles, that she experienced uncontrollable nausea and often passed out before each treatment, she said. Hypnosis made the difference.
"The people who administered her chemo thought that what we did with hypnosis was a miracle because she was over it. And she was able to tolerate the chemo,” she said.
Epstein-Shepherd’s work with hypnosis also extends to athletic performance (she’s worked with multiple PGA Tour golfers), stress reduction, anti-aging, academic performance, career improvement, weight control, sleeplessness and behavioral changes.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 726-4371.