Can hypnosis heal a broken heart?

Cheryl Cole was rumoured to have seen television hypnotist Paul McKenna after her husband Ashley Cole cheated.

Cheryl Cole was rumoured to have seen television hypnotist Paul McKenna after her husband Ashley Cole cheated.

Published Jun 2, 2014


London - Despite knowing her once-passionate relationship was well and truly over, Sarah Tucker simply couldn’t get her ex-partner out of her head.

Six months after John had told her he wanted to end their four-year relationship for good, she still found herself thinking about him, musing on what might have been.

“I felt so frustrated with myself and my inability to move on,” says Sarah, 49, a divorced author who lives with her son, 15, in South London. “I didn’t want to waste any more time thinking about him.”

It’s a feeling many women will recognise. When a relationship breaks down, wallowing over what went wrong can become dangerously addictive - and the only answer, well-meaning family and friends counsel, is time.

But Sarah decided to try something rather more radical: she was hypnotised out of her heartbreak.

Hypnotherapy has become popular, of late, as a tool to break all manner of addictive habits from smoking to over-eating. But now thousands of women are turning to it to help them move on from a relationship gone wrong. Its selling point over traditional therapies is its claim to be a quick and effective way of tackling the issue that’s troubling you immediately, rather than after weeks of crying on a psychologist’s couch.

Cheryl Cole was rumoured to have seen television hypnotist Paul McKenna after her husband Ashley Cole cheated. And just last month, Strictly Come Dancing professional Camilla Dallerup told how she sought the help of a hypnotherapist to get over her ex-fiancé Brendan Cole.

There’s certainly no doubt hypnosis has come a long way from its beginnings as a circus act with swinging pocket watches. Modern hypnotherapists combine hypnosis with techniques such as mindfulness, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy.

In a typical session, a client will be talked through relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and visualisations - imagining being in a pleasant, calm place - to encourage them to enter a trance-like state.

It’s then, say hypnotherapists, that a person can change their negative subconscious thought patterns. Even the NHS recognises it may help with anxiety, emotional eating and pain during childbirth.

For Sarah, hypnotherapy certainly allowed her to move on quickly and easily.

“John and I had great chemistry,” says Sarah. “The conversation was sparkling and we shared similar interests: we both love to travel and went away on romantic breaks.

“But the relationship wasn’t perfect; our lifestyles just weren’t compatible. On several occasions we broke up only to get back together - we were like moths to the flame.”

In February 2013, the relationship finally ended. “It was his decision and I accepted it, but in the months after the split he kept getting in touch with me,” says Sarah.

“He said he wanted us to be friends but I didn’t feel we should - I couldn’t just switch my feelings off like that.”

But then, this January, a friend of Sarah’s died from cancer and John contacted her after he heard the news. Sarah found herself having unwelcome feelings for him again - and decided she needed to put a stop to them for good. “When I confided in a friend, she recommended hypnotherapist Ailsa Frank,” says Sarah. “I was sceptical, but decided to give it a go.”

The hour-long, £100 (about R1 800) session started with a long talk about Sarah’s childhood, her life and the relationship that was bothering her, much like during traditional therapy.

“I then lay down and Ailsa started to count down from 300, repeating words like ‘calm’ and ‘comfortable’,” she says. “After 15 seconds I felt myself go into a trance-like state, although I was still aware of everything she was saying, and she took me through a series of suggestions to help me think differently about the break-up.”

Ailsa asked Sarah to imagine herself standing by a lake and throwing in a pebble to represent every negative thought she had. “She also got me to think of my ex as a stepping stone - important in my life, but only as part of a journey on to something else.”

Sarah says she left the session feeling cleansed and transformed, with a strong sense of having let a significant weight go. “It was better than normal therapy, where you’re sobbing buckets,” she says. “I felt physically lighter and subconsciously clearer.

“The next time John entered my thoughts I didn’t feel anything, save a contented sensation that things had worked out for the best.” After just two sessions, Sarah found her ex was no longer in her thoughts at all.

According to Ailsa, who has been practising for nine years in leafy Ascot, Berkshire, hypnotherapy works so well because it addresses the deep part of the mind that holds the “programmes” of our behaviour.

“The power of the unconscious means we can do things like tie our shoelaces or drive a car without thinking about it - but it also controls our emotional habits and reactions to things,” she says.

“In fact, we’re all going in and out of semi-unconscious states all the time - for example when we read a book and get so caught up in it we forget where we are.”

Ailsa says the therapy works well for heartbreak as it is good at changing the feelings a woman often harbours for a former partner.

“If you just have a conversation with someone about a break-up - as you might do during traditional therapy - they’ll feel better for about five minutes, but it might also trigger deep feelings of anger and frustration,” she says. “Hypnotherapy is more effective as it helps you let go of those feelings altogether.

“When I’m working with someone who wants to give up alcohol or smoking, for example, I help them change their perception of that drink or cigarette so they don’t want it any more. The same happens with people getting over a relationship - they simply won’t feel interested in that person any more.”

For today’s time-poor, results-orientated generation, hypnotherapy is appealing because it promises fast results.

“It’s a true modern-day therapy,” says Kirsty Hanly, a cognitive hypnotherapist based in London. “People just don’t have time to see a psychotherapist three times a week for five years. Hypnotherapy is much more focused.”

She says she regularly sees both men and women seeking help to get over a painful break-up or divorce, or the death of a partner.

“They may be having obsessive thoughts about their ex, or just feeling depressed and worried they’ll never meet anyone else again,” she says. “Some people experience panic attacks. The shared imagined future they had with someone has suddenly been snatched away from them.”

This was certainly the case with Emma Healy, after her husband Chris announced he wanted a divorce. “We had been together for seven years and married for 18 months,” says Emma, 34, from West Sussex, who works in communications. “We’d had a fairytale wedding, were renovating a house, we had a dog, we were trying for a baby.”

Then, after an argument in June 2012, Chris, 34, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, said he wanted to end their marriage. “It was a complete shock,” Emma recalls. “I kept asking why, but he wouldn’t give me a specific reason - he just said he was unhappy. Although we were going through a rough patch, I’d thought we’d try harder than this.”

Unable to sleep or eat, Emma was signed off work for six weeks with anxiety. “My friend had suffered a trauma and had really good results from hypnotherapy so suggested I try it,” Emma says. “I didn’t pin my hopes on it, but I came out feeling like I’d been deep-cleaned and was walking on air.”

During her first session, which cost £80 and lasted an hour and a half, her therapist had her visualise herself carrying a rucksack of emotional baggage, then taking it off, tying a balloon to it and watching it float away.

Emma says: “The sparkly feeling I had when I got out of the session was transient, but overall the feeling of losing that baggage has remained. I think it helped me accept, on a deep level, that things were over - I felt free of my ties.

“Now I know that we were deeply incompatible and we’ve both moved on to be happier with other people. No part of me misses him.”

Despite these glowing testimonies, there’s still debate over hypnotherapy’s benefits. Dr Michael Heap is a clinical and forensic psychologist based in Sheffield who has practised hypnotherapy himself. Yet while he believes it seems to help people with some emotional issues and phobias, he admits it isn’t backed up by scientific evidence.

“Hypnosis helps people, but not necessarily in the way they believe,” he says. “It’s nice and relaxing, like any therapy is - but the idea that it accesses the unconscious is a very old idea that has no place in our modern understanding of the mind.”

He adds that hypnotherapy can have a strong placebo effect - when someone’s belief that something will make them feel better is so strong that it actually does. “There’s evidence that just by telling someone they are going to have hypnosis they’ll feel an extra effect,” says Dr Heap.

However it works, Amanda Paul, 41, found hypnotherapy a helpful tool when deciding whether or not to end her marriage to Philip, 48, a photographer, two years ago.

“We’d been together for ten years but were having problems for a while,” says Amanda, who lives in South London and works in publishing. “I felt we wanted different things. I knew I loved him but wasn’t sure I was in love any more. But I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.”

She had two sessions of hypnotherapy and says it helped her get to the root of the problem. “The therapist didn’t offer advice - she simply helped me to realise what I wanted.

“I realised that, deep down, I already knew it was over, but I was scared of being on my own. We’re both much happier now we’ve moved on.” - Daily Mail

* Some names have been changed. A To Zen Of Travel by Sarah Tucker is available as an e-book from Amazon.

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