During one of my nightly scrolls through TikTok, I came across a hypnotist. In the video, a blonde woman lulled someone else into a trance, all while on a yacht — pretty luxe, right? Of course, I clicked the hypnotist's profile and was introduced to Magdalena Kalley, a life coach and hypnotherapist. Scrolling through Kalley's videos for the better part of an hour, her profile bio caught my eye. In it, there was a link to sign up for a FaceTime hypnosis session. Though I considered myself a hypnosis sceptic, I couldn't resist — I decided to reach out and try it myself.
Hypnosis has an iffy reputation. Many see it as a birthday party act, something on par with a stage magician. It also "still has the stigma of 'mind control,'" Kalley tells me later, as we prepare for my session. But, she adds, "It's science. It's not magic, it's not crap."
There's a difference between "show hypnosis" and therapeutic hypnotherapy, says Kristen Harrington, a relationship therapist who offers psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. "Hypnotherapy is for healing the mind, the soul, and the body by creating an exceptionally safe, focused moment of attention that helps a person through relaxed intention," Harrington tells Refinery29.
As I looked deeper into the practice, I found that hypnotherapy has science-backed benefits. Research shows that hypnotherapy can help people reduce stress, ease sleep disturbances, and even improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. One 2007 study showed that patients who were hypnotised needed less anaesthesia during minor surgery and fewer painkillers afterwards. And yes, there is some evidence that it can help people with bad habits like smoking.
Hypnosis works by tapping into a state of mind that we experience daily, Harrington explains: "We go into trance regularly during the day, for short periods. We’re not even aware of it." She’s talking about those times you’re driving on a motorway and you suddenly realise you’ve been zoned out for 20 exits. Hypnotherapists access that kind of mental state during your session, then make suggestions aimed at modifying behaviour. "It helps the person open themselves up beyond their usual conscious defences, so that they're able to see things differently than they normally would or adopt a new belief about something," she says.
The practice is often used with cognitive behavioural therapy, a technique that also aims to retrain your mind to adopt more positive thought patterns.
But you can't be hypnotised into doing something you don't want to do. And not everyone can be hypnotised — over the phone or in real life. About 10% of the population is categorised as "highly hypnotisable," according to a study out of Stanford Medicine. Many of the other 90% likely can be hypnotised, just not as easily.
Still, could it really be done over FaceTime? Harrington says yes. "Generally they're in person, but because of COVID I'm doing it online as well. It can be done virtually," she says. "It works over FaceTime just as well as it does in person," Kalley agrees. "If you follow my instructions and I tell you to feel something or imagine something and you do it, it'll always work."
I was ready to test their assurances out. Kalley started our session by asking me, "What is in your head that I can fix? What would make your life better?" My request was classic, verging on cliché: I asked for help lowering my stress and anxiety levels, and I wanted to stop biting my nails. (What? I had to at least try!) Kalley took a few notes during our convo, and we began the hypnosis session.
The 20 minute-long session was over in a flash. Kalley had me visualise walking down a set of stairs, deeper and deeper, until I reached an elevator that guided me through the meditative-like hypnosis. In fact, when Kalley brought me out of it — by saying "eyes open" — I questioned whether I'd fallen asleep; I felt that refreshed. "You did amazing," Kalley told me. "I saw your eyes moving." She said that I may notice some changes right away, but she also planted "seeds" in my consciousness that would reveal themselves later on, or with repeated sessions.
In the days following, I actually felt noticeably less stressed, specifically less worried about the things I couldn't control. After a second FaceTime hypnosis session, this time with Harrington, I felt like I was able to relax even more, and tap into the root of the stress I've been feeling over these past few months.
And those benefits have lasted almost a month now. That said, I'm still nibbling on my nails — so it's certainly not a cure-all.
I didn't expect virtual hypnotherapy to work on me, but I ended up really enjoying my sessions. Still there are doctors who don't recommend the technique, so to be on the safe side, check in with your primary care doctor or therapist to see if it's right for you. If they're on board, ask them if they have any recommendations, or browse through the directory provided by the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists to find a professional in your area.
All the FaceTime appointments did make me curious about how much more effective an in-person hypnosis session might be. Once the pandemic is over, I might try to get hypnotised IRL. Although... I might have less to stress about post-COVID, anyway.