Exploring hypnosis with a local specialist
I was skeptical. I’d never been hypnotized, and Brian Stracner didn’t look like any sort of clinician, sitting at his office desk in a maroon robe and sporting a curlicue beard ala Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin. Still, I played along as Stracner told me to hold up my hand, palm in, and focus on the tips of my fingers.
“Imagine what would happen if wedges were being pushed between each finger,” he said, his voice getting softer with each word. The tips of my fingers trembled a little but otherwise didn’t move. I was still doubtful.
“With each deep exhale, imagine that the hand itself is growing heavier, as if there’s a bag of sand attached to the wrist,” he said. “As your hand relaxes and your fingers spread, you’ll notice the change of breath as … your mind enters these lighter phases of trance.”
Lo and behold, my fingers spread apart unintentionally. And I was in the zone—calm, focused, relaxed. He instructed me to clap my hands. The spell was broken, but the calm lingered.
That’s just one of Stracner’s induction techniques. He’ll occasionally use an antique spinning hypno-wheel, but he mostly keeps it around because people expect him to have one.
For about 10 years, he’s run North State Hypnosis, now located behind the Best Western Heritage Inn off Cohasset Road. His early sessions were hit-or-miss, he said, but he says over the past eight years, he’s never failed to hypnotize someone in a clinical setting. The key was realizing that introverted and extroverted people react differently.
For example, Stracner said he could tell by my body language, clothes and speech that I’m naturally introverted. Had I been an extrovert, he would have used direct suggestion (i.e., “Your fingers are moving apart”).
“Introverted people don’t like to be controlled,” he said. “It has to be self-actualization. Instead of telling them what’s going to happen … it has to manifest in their own minds.”
That’s why stage hypnotists often fail to induce some volunteers from the audience, he said. “You have hypnotists out there who can’t hypnotize about half the population.”
Stracner, a former chef, got into the field of hypnosis quite by accident. About 15 years ago, while he was walking through a parking lot on Nord Avenue, he was hit by a car.
The impact herniated a disc in his vertebrae. For months he walked with a cane and every step was excruciating. Doctors prescribed him opioid painkillers, which didn’t help, and eventually gave him an epidural injection in his spinal cord. His pain only got worse.
“I decided I was going to do something else,” Stracner said. “I got a book on yoga, which got me into meditation. That led me to find a book on hypnosis, and then I started working to reduce my pain with yoga and self-hypnosis to reduce the sensation of pain, that lightning bolt down my leg. Eventually, I was able to cure myself.”
Through that episode, he came to believe in the value of hypnosis from a health perspective and got serious about studying all its modalities. He earned a four-year degree from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Southern California, the only hypnotherapy school in the country recognized by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training.
Then, about a decade ago, he started practicing as a hypnotherapist, first renting an office at Karma Psychic Boutique and then, about a year later, opening North State Hypnosis.
In 2013, he was published in an encyclopedia—Secrets of Stage Hypnosis, Street Hypnotism, Hypnotherapy, NLP, Complete Mind Therapy and Marketing for Hypnotists—for his theory, which is called “perpetual state theory of hypnosis.”
“The premise is that everybody is already hypnotized,” he said. “Our job is to dehypnotize people from those viruses they’ve created within their minds by inner-dialogue, social expectation or media propaganda.”
Take smoking, for example. “People aren’t stupid, but they still become smokers,” he said. “They smoke that first cigarette because it was implanted as a good idea; one of their parents, friends or role models smoked. Then they take that drag and it makes them sick, queasy and light-headed, but they force themselves to continue smoking and it becomes part of their behavior.”
Then it becomes part of the person’s identity, Stracner said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m a smoker,’ and project that onto who they are.”
As a hypnotherapist, he strives to reset that sort of thinking.
Hypnotherapy remains an unregulated field, and the gray area between the clinical practice and stage shows contributes to a huckster image, Stracner said. Hypnotherapists themselves may fuel that reputation by making wild claims, such as promising to cure allergies or enlarge breasts.
Before agreeing to work with a client, he makes sure it’s an area he can help: pain treatment, weight loss, breaking addiction, smoking cessation, overcoming fears and phobias, instilling confidence, realizing self-improvement goals, or preparing for tests and interviews.
“If someone comes in for a pain issue, I won’t see them until I get a referral from their primary-care physician,” he said. “If somebody comes in with a headache and they think it’s from stress, but it’s really an unrecognized brain tumor because they didn’t have [a doctor’s] referral, then the clinician can harm the client.”
For people who are interested in hypnotherapy, Stracner recommends getting a preconsultation and asking about the practitioner’s experience, educational background and credentials.
“You can experience hypnosis, but there are a lot of crummy hypnotists out there, unfortunately,” he said. “Pretty much anyone can do it—or say they can do it.”