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The practice of Hypnotherapy helps some, hurts others, stumps many

By Lauren Ortego, Point Park News Service

PA Hypnosis Center. Photo by Lauren Ortego.

Joseph Goth was in dental school when he first experienced hypnotherapy – his professor at the time successfully stopped blood flow in both of his arms during an in-class demonstration.

Maureen Milligan found success in her weight loss journey after frequent visits to the PA Hypnosis Center, and after a brief stint working as an administrator there, believes that hypnosis can help anyone willing to embrace it.

Others, like Sherron Hall, have less success, finding an uncomfortable environment and what she considered useless audio tapes, which ended with her spending over $400.

The popularity of hypnotherapy is rising, with people turning to it in a variety of forms and therapists, but not everyone finds success.

Hypnosis was first introduced to Pittsburgh in the early 1940s, with the success and fame of Dewey Deavers. Deavers was a self-taught in hypnosis and gained a lot of attention from local press such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Press.

Deavers began using hypnosis to help people, with a claim from a Post-Gazette columnist that Deavers had helped him stop smoking. Deavers, however, wasn’t the only influential hypnotist in Pittsburgh. Kay Thompson, the first female president of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dentistry, taught a class in medical hypnosis, hypnosis used for medical purposes, for many years.

Joseph Goth’s first run-in with hypnotherapy was a class taught by Thompson when he was a third-year dental student. One day, Thompson asked for a volunteer to come in front of the class for a demonstration involving hypnotherapy; Goth was chosen.

“She said, ‘I’m going to take this catheter needle and I’m gonna put it in this vein, and I’m going to put a catheter needle in the other vein,’” Goth said. “And naturally, both the needles started to bleed.”

After inserting the catheters and turning to the class, Thompson instructed Goth to stop bleeding – and he did. Both arms, with the needles still injected, ceased bleeding. Thompson then proceeded to instruct Goth to only allow the right one to bleed, and it followed. After the demonstration, Goth didn’t even need a bandaid for the small holes the needles left.

Since then, and after graduating and starting a dentistry practice of his own, hypnotherapy remains a part of Goth’s life.

“As a practitioner, I’m very unique because I’m very open-minded to alternative ways of treating patients,” Goth said.

Goth is in a rare position, as someone who has both been trained to use hypnotherapy and someone who has been treated with hypnotherapy. He even used the practice in place of anesthesia, something his teacher, Thompson, often used as a replacement.

“One patient, I was able to do four upper and lower extractions, taking all of their teeth out without anesthesia, without being put to sleep, without novocaine,” Goth said. “Another patient, I took their wisdom teeth out without anesthesia, totally under hypnotherapy. There was very little bleeding.”

Photo by Lauren Ortego.

Pain for the patient after the surgery was minimal, and the scars not only healed quicker, but better. Today, Goth doesn’t use hypnotherapy, but instead chooses to refer patients out to Dan Vitchoff at the PA Hypnosis Center.

“I’ve sent him tons of patients over the years,” Goth said. “Tons of them.”

Goth met Vitchoff through friends years ago and since became very close. Once, after a traumatic event in 2006 involving the death of a friend, Goth felt depressed. Vitchoff heard about what had happened to Goth and offered his services to help. While the three-hour session didn’t completely heal him, Goth says it brought a peace and balance that lead to acceptance of the death.

Goth only attended the one session back in college at the time, but cites his former training with hypnotherapy as a reason to why he was so receptive to the treatment, despite only being there for a few hours. He has since gone back as early as a year ago.

“Some people say ‘Oh, that’s not gonna work,’ Well, yeah, if you say it won’t work, it won’t work,” Goth said. “You have to be receptive and open to it, and it can do many things.”

Maureen Milligan, 51 from Cranberry Township, also found success with hypnotherapy.

After gastric bypass surgery, a popular form of surgical weight loss, Milligan found her weight still fluctuating and sought to solve that with hypnotherapy. After a few months of sessions, Milligan began working for Vitchoff and saw first-hand the various kinds of people and ailments hypnotherapy could help.

“Immediately upon leaving the [PA Hypnosis Center], I really felt a difference in my attitude and my thinking process, it was really strange,” Milligan said. “I went for several [sessions] with him and I was able to lose the weight and I’ve been able to keep it off.”

After a few months of sessions, Milligan began working for Vitchoff and saw first-hand the various kinds of people and ailments hypnotherapy could help.

“I got to see the aspects of all the different people coming in, and for different things,” Milligan said. “Some people it was for alcoholism, some people it was for sports-related [injuries], some people had test anxiety, weight loss, smoking – those [last] two were the biggest things.”

Milligan found it easier to convince people to try hypnotherapy since she had once been a patient.

Of course, hypnotherapy doesn’t work for everyone. Sherron Hall, 56 from Hubbard, Ohio, sought out the PA Hypnosis Center for weight loss – a common issue people seek hypnosis to work out.

When she arrived, she had a meeting with Vitchoff that lasted a few minutes before she was given tapes to listen to in a darkened room.

Hall, already uncomfortable about the idea, felt as though the Center didn’t help ease her anxiety about the process, and her lack of results didn’t make the uneasiness any better.

“They had a guarantee when I signed up for it,” Hall said. “But the real guarantee was that I would have to keep coming and coming and coming, and to me the whole process is they want you to keep buying tapes and more visits.”

Hall first heard about the Hypnosis Center on the Internet, through their website. After her experience, she looks back on the first visit and feels that she was very pressured into signing up for a package with them after already spending upwards of $400, citing the long drive as a reason to sign for it right then and there

When Hall expressed her concerns with driving nearly an hour each way back and forth from her home in Ohio only to feel uncomfortable throughout the session, she recalls being told to simply come in, again.

“They would say, ‘Well, you’re gonna go home, you’d be wasting a trip here,’ and use that kind of tactic to sort of take care of it and have you sign,” Hall said.

Hall represents the two percent of patients that the PA Hypnosis Center claims on their website that hypnosis won’t work.

“I wanted it to work so bad, and I went for it,” Hall said. “Which is very unusual for me. But, I should’ve known, because it was uncomfortable for me from the very first time, but I thought I’ve got to try and make this work.”

Vitchoff did not respond to a request for comment on the two percent of the negative experiences, and no complaints were found about the center on the website for the Better Business Bureau, a non-profit organization focused on advancing marketplace trust.

PA Hypnosis Center. Photo by Lauren Ortego.

Dr. William Snow, a therapist in the Pittsburgh area, uses a form of hypnotherapy different from that of the PA Hypnosis Center – Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, which is a very specific form of hypnosis.

Unlike traditional hypnotherapy, in which patients are treated using commanding language, Ericksonian hypnotherapy uses more indirect suggestions and allows for a more trance-like state. Ericksonian hypnotherapy was developed by Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist who pioneered hypnosis in therapy in the early 1900s.

“The focus of my practice is more therapeutic,” Snow said. “And actually what I do is I’ve taken some of the techniques and principles of hypnosis and in one way or another incorporated it into all of the therapy that I do.”

Snow, like Goth, was introduced to hypnotherapy at an early age, recalling a friend at the gym he used to attend talking to him about it. The friend had been a student of Dewey Deavers, and wanted to know if Snow would like to start a group to practice hypnosis.

Snow, along with a friend and a few classmates, began training by first working on each other, supplementing practice with elements learned in their psychology classes. After graduating, they began to use their knowledge of hypnosis in internships and eventual jobs in psychology.

“Someone might come to me for whatever problem, let’s say anxiety or phobias, which are related to anxieties,” Snow said. “As a therapist, what I do is an evaluation session first, talk to them about what I’m going to do, and then figure out the best way to help them do that. Hypnosis may be a direct part of that, or not.”

Snow uses aspects of hypnosis in his practice, so whether or not the patient is being directly treated with hypnotherapy, there’s still traces of it in the psychotherapy used to treat them.

“We’re talking about opening up the path between subconscious and conscious communication,” Snow said. “And that can be done in a variety of different ways like teaching [patients] progressive relaxation and imagery work that they can take home and do themselves, or positive/auto suggestions.”

Hypnotherapy is often seen as a gimmick by the general public, with images of tarot cards and gypsies conjured upon hearing the word “hypnosis,” but the doctors and patients who use it have proved that, while it may not work for everyone, it can be worth a shot.

“You gotta want it to work for it to work, you have to be open-minded to it,” Milligan said.

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