Students filled the Agora on Oct. 10 to watch their classmates use their shoes as binoculars and bet on fake racehorses during the Granville Towers Hypnotist Night performance by Dr. Jim Wand.
“It was pretty funny to watch, especially because a lot of our friends were up there,” first-year Hailey Wynn said.
This was Wand’s 15th year performing at Granville Towers. Wand, a professional stage hypnotist, is one of the most visible figures in hypnotism in Chapel Hill. He consistently fills his shows for UNC students.
The stage hypnotism that Wand practices is not the only form of hypnotism used by members of the Chapel Hill community. Claire de la Varre, who has a doctorate in educational psychology and is a certified hypnosis instructor, said stage hypnosis is for entertainment purposes.
“There’s a lot of wild things you can do with hypnosis that you would not do in a clinical setting," she said.
The American Psychological Association describes hypnosis as "a therapeutic technique in which clinicians make suggestions to individuals who have undergone a procedure designed to relax them and focus their minds." Many clinicians consider hypnotism an effective treatment for several ailments.
De la Varre said hypnotism differs from therapy because hypnosis works with the subconscious mind rather than the conscious mind.
“With hypnosis you bypass that critical factor in the conscious mind and you go straight into working with the subconscious,” de la Varre said. “Our conscious minds are rational, they’re analytical, they are making decisions, they are weighing out the options, but they also get in the way.”
Hypnotists are not hypnotherapists. Clients tell hypnotists exactly what they want to change, and hypnotists make suggestions to fit what the client wants. Unlike therapy, clients are in control of all suggestions that they get from clinical hypnotists.
De la Varre has been in private practice as a consulting hypnotist since 2008. Her practice, Positive Spiral Hypnosis, is one of many in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.
People come to de la Varre with a wide range of issues, from various phobias to autoimmune disorders. She has recently been getting referrals for children with gastrointestinal problems. The treatment plans for each issue differs, but she typically does three to four hypnosis sessions with each client.
De la Varre is also a research professor at the UNC School of Dentistry. She works as a hypnotist at the Comfort Center, a dental fears clinic, alongside Dr. James Beck.
Beck, a distinguished professor at the School of Dentistry, founded the Comfort Center to help people overcome their fear of going to the dentist through hypnosis and other gentle practices. Appointments at the clinic do not coincide with visits to the dentist. He reiterated that patients who go to the clinic are always in control.
“Hypnosis is not something that is done to you,” Beck said. “You do it to yourself, with some guidance.”
Hypnosis has been used at UNC to treat other illnesses as well as dental fears. Olafur Palsson, UNC professor of medicine, is internationally recognized as an expert in the use of hypnosis for gastrointestinal disorders. He is best known for creating the North Carolina protocol for irritable bowel syndrome, which uses hypnosis in its treatment.
As for the future of hypnosis in Chapel Hill and elsewhere, de la Varre said she's hopeful people will be more open to using it as a treatment option.
“I wish more people would think of it as a first line thing,” said de la Varre. “People often don’t know what you can use hypnotism for, but it is a really awesome technique.”
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