How to use hypnosis to ease childbirth and soothe migraines

How to use hypnosis to ease childbirth and soothe migraines

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hypnosis. Just the word conjures up mental images of swinging pocket watches, swirling eyes and that class party where your friend pretended to be a chicken. But what you may not know is that hypnotism can mean big business with salaries of some hypnotherapists going into the six-figures and stage hypnotists requesting $1,000 - $4,000 per event.

But, what exactly is hypnosis? Merriam-Webster defines it as: a trancelike state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject.

In this trance-like state, one is more open to suggestion and, yes, can be more easily talked into twirling like a ballerina or dancing like Michael Jackson.

Besides stage-shows, hypnotists and hypnotherapists are sometimes sought out by those looking to overcome addictions and even help ease the pain of child birth or migraines.

Penny Chiasson is a practicing hypnotist in Flowood, and has helped clients with issues ranging from chronic pain, smoking and teeth grinding to headaches, nail-biting and weight-loss, just to name a few.

While being trained in hypnosis at the American School of Clinical Hypnosis International (yes, there is a school for hypnotists), she is also a Board Certified Hypnotist, Certified Professional Hypnotist Instructor, a Member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, and, if that were not enough, she is also Board Certified in Nurse Anesthesia.

So let’s say you schedule a session with Chiasson. She says that your first meeting would usually consist of spending time talking about hypnosis and to clear up any misconceptions you may have about what it is. First, she says, contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not mind control.

“When someone is is hypnosis, they can choose at any time to participate or not to participate,” she says. In other words, a hypnotist can not make someone do what they do not want to do. Chiasson also says that if she were to hypothetically pass out while she had someone hypnotized, that person would not ‘stay under’ for the rest of eternity. “After a few minutes you’re gonna be sitting there thinking Okay she’s not talking and you’re going to open your eyes and look around.”

But the image of a hypnotist swinging a watch back and forth, that’s real. It’s called eye fatigue and it’s caused by someone focusing on one point and, as Chaisson describes, “everything fuzzes out and you get [the eyes] going from side to side and it engages how the right brain and the left brain work together and you can begin to induce hypnosis.”

While being a Board Certified Hypnotist, Chiasson is also a Board Certified Nurse Anesthetist. (Source: WLBT)
While being a Board Certified Hypnotist, Chiasson is also a Board Certified Nurse Anesthetist. (Source: WLBT)
Inside Chiasson's office in Flowood, Mississippi (Source: WLBT)
Inside Chiasson's office in Flowood, Mississippi (Source: WLBT)

If you go to a hypnotist looking to overcome a habit, Chiasson says that you must actually be ready to change. “Hypnosis does not negate your free will,” she explains. “Hypnosis makes it easier to follow through on your desire. There is no magic arm that is going to pull your hand away from your face and keep you from having that cigarette... When you get to the grocery store, if you start to turn down the cookie aisle, the hypnosis isn’t gonna say Nuh-uh-uh.

But if one is serious about taking control of a craving, let’s say smoking, the most popular habit she is asked to help quash, she says that a typical session would have a “suggestion component,” meaning that while the client is in hypnosis, she would provide suggestions that the cigarette no longer matters, smoking is a thing of the past and that the client has decided that they are now a non-smoker.

Before you discount this, according to a survey by The Truth Initiative, quitting smoking cold turkey has a success rate around 5 percent. With treatments such as a nicotine patch, nicotine lozenges or the prescription drug Chantix, the success rate rises to about 20 percent. Chiasson says that with the clients who come to her for smoking dependency, she has a success rate of 50 percent or higher.

And according to a study published by the American College of Chest Physicians, “Smoking patients who participated in one hypnotherapy session were more likely to be nonsmokers at 6 months compared with patients using nicotine replacement therapy alone or patients who quit ‘cold turkey.’”

But not all sessions are created equal and a patient coming in to quit smoking would not get the same session as one coming in for migraine troubles. First, anyone coming to Chiasson for a medical problem must first get a referral from their physician. After the all clear, she says a migraine appointment would revolve around suggestions associated with comfort.

Because migraines can be caused by vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels, a popular visualization technique is to have the client imagine a nice cool evening around a camp fire. They are relaxed and have their feet and hands extended, feeling the imaginary heat from the imaginary flame and what this does is that it tricks the body and triggers a biological physiological response to dilate the blood vessels which takes the pressure away from the migraine.

Although every migraine is not the same, she says that “if you teach [those who suffers from migraines] stress reduction techniques… you can minimize and lessen the migraines." Chiasson then goes on to say that “anything that is influenced by stress can be helped with hypnosis,” whether that be high blood pressure or stomach issues.

There are even some hypnotists who teach the art of “dental hypnosis,” which, when mastered, allows someone to deaden their mouth enough to have dental work performed without any form of medication. But one must be in at least Stage 4 of hypnosis to experience analgesia, the inability to feel pain.

Chiasson does not teach dental hypnosis, but business is good nonetheless. When interviewed for this article in mid-August, she was fully booked until October. And while one can do a single session just to experience hypnosis, she suggests between 4 to 6 sessions for most clients who want to kick a habit or take control of stress.

For more information about Penny Chiasson or if you are interested in teaching hypnotism, click here.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “HypnoBirthing”? If you think it’s someone hypnotizing a woman while they give birth, you would be wrong. As explained by Cassandra Newman, a HypnoBirthing coach in Ridgeland, HypnoBirthing is an entire program that is focused on: mindful relaxation, guided imagery, positive affirmation and what is called ‘self-hypnosis.’ So if a woman has a HypnoBirth, no one hypnotized her; she hypnotized herself.

Newman says self-hypnosis is more common that one may think. “When you’re driving home and it’s the same route every day and you’re thinking about a whole bunch of other things and then you get home and you think, How did I get home? That’s hypnosis. That’s actually called road hypnosis.”

Other examples Newman gives are being absorbed in a good book, getting ‘in the zone’ before a game or being immersed in prayer.

“Everyone can get into that zone,” she says. “When you’re in that zone, when you’re in a game, you’ve put yourself mentally in a state that makes you sure that you compete well and you use all of your skills. I teach parents all of those skills to compete in their game, which is having a baby.”

When one is in self-hypnosis, or ‘deeply-focused,’ while in labor, Newman says they are more able to listen to their bodies and experience the birth in a more relaxed and calm way.

Birth, she says, “doesn’t have to have an accompanying trauma or drama. And when that does occur, we know how to handle it. We go forward and fix those things. We don’t automatically view [birth] as an accident waiting to happen.”

We have been trained through social media, through dramatic movies, that birth looks a certain way and when you only see that birth is portrayed in a dramatic, painful, horrible way, that’s what sales.

Newman’s goal is to take away what she calls “the medical language” of pregnancy and to talk about birth “in a way that makes sense.”

"HypnoBirthing brings you back to that place where birth used to be a long time ago... This is about deep relaxation. Would you like to be relaxed during your birth? Would you like to feel calm? Then this is probably the class for you.”


Learning to relax, says Newman, is an essential tool taught in HypnoBirthing because when you reduce fear that then reduces tension which aides in having a less painful birth. And while she says there is no guarantee of a pain-free birth, Newman does say that “more women are satisfied with their experience. The sensations are less intense, they are manageable.”

Newman says that a majority of women who have a HypnoBirth choose not to have medication during labor, which is not to say that someone can’t have medicine. You can, she says, but what if the anesthesiologist isn’t there because the birth happens too fast or what if the epidural does not work? While this is extremely rare, only happening to 1-2% of women, Newman explains that what you learn in HypnoBirthing will make you prepare for anything, while, and this is the most important part, remaining calm.

Catherine Gray says she practiced HypnoBirthing during her second birth and “was in a place of profound peace” upon entering labor.

“My birth was calm and gentle,” she says. “The sensations were still very intense, but I was able to approach them with confidence in my body...”

Gray says she had a smooth, un-medicated birth to a 10 pound, 8 ounce baby boy and was “surprised that he came out without me screaming or even pushing as hard as I could.”

So what does the medical community think of this? “They’re amazed," Newman says. “The nurses are amazed. I’ve had nurses ask me ‘What did you do to her?’ I have to say, ‘I did nothing except help her prepare.’”

Raquel Boyd Scott, a registered nurse working in labor and delivery at UMMC, says that “watching women in labor who practice HypnoBirthing is an awe inspiring and empowering experience.”

“My husband is a high school football coach,” Scott says, “and he talks to his defense all the time about finding a place to go in their minds to get in the zone. I love to watch my hypno-moms get in their zone.”

She says women who have practiced HypnoBirthing develop a “contagious calmness” and are able to relax their bodies which, according to Scott, “is one of the most important techniques to learn for labor.”

Each Sunday for 6 weeks, starting either in the Fall, Winter, Spring or Summer, Newman teaches HypnoBirthing in a group or private class. All medical students, nurses and obstetricians can attend for free.

She says that anyone who is open to the process of relaxation would benefit from HypnoBirthing, but stresses that a client must learn to “let go a little bit" and can’t be so high strung. “I don’t think [HypnoBirthing] is limited to a certain type of person,” she reiterates. "Every person is going to benefit from relaxation.”

To learn more about Cassandra Newman and HypnoBirthing, click here.

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