LUNENBURG -- "You are getting sleepy," is not part of Linda Donalds' vernacular when she is performing hypnosis.
Donalds, who lives with her husband Jamie and five-year-old daughter Kalina, is a National Guild of Hypnotists-certified hypnotist, and the owner of New Horizons in Hypnosis in Lunenburg.
Donalds' interest in hypnotism began in her senior year of high school at Acton-Boxborough, where she saw a performance by a stage hypnotist.
"It was very interesting, but the thing I felt was most interesting was that my friends next to me in the front of the auditorium became hypnotized and started responding to the hypnotist on stage, even though they weren't on stage.
"I was one of the first people to recognize this, and I was watching them and thinking, 'This is really strange.'
"Now I know that hypnotists know that a certain portion of the audience will also become hypnotized. (The hypnotist) eventually observed the audience, and he decided to do something with them.
"Besides him making it fun and entertaining, he started talking about the uses of hypnosis for other nonentertaining things like self-confidence issues, grades, sports and self-esteem, things that kids are concerned about and can really relate to.
"After the show I still couldn't believe what had happened to my friends, but I couldn't find much information about it.
Donalds graduated from Rutgers University with a major in anthropology and a minor in archaeology and Native American studies. She was working in the computer networking industry when she saw that an introductory hypnosis course was being offered through a community education program.
"I loved it," she said of the class. "It was so fascinating that people have the ability to get into this other state of mind and use suggestions to change their behavior in ways they didn't think possible."
In 1997, Donalds took hypnosis certification courses from Arthur Fecteau. She attended the NGH annual convention, acquired her first certification, and "was just hypnotizing friends, family and people I would run into at barbecues."
By 2006, with additional certifications and experience under her belt, she decided that it was time to open her own business. That year, she officially opened New Horizons, through which she taught community education courses and offered private sessions.
Seven years later, her practice continues to grow, with her main focus hypnosis for weight loss, smoking cessation and stress relief.
"Everything really comes down to stress relief and confidence, which are at the root of what is driving a lot of things," she said. "You can help people just by focusing on those two aspects, but people are often focused on the weight loss and smoking cessation.
"I also love working with people who have sleep issues," she said, noting that she receives medical referrals. "I just need a physician's note."
Donalds said physicians sometimes feel they cannot do everything as a physician and will refer patients for hypnosis so their patients can "give it a try."
"If the sleep apnea were due to being overweight, for example, I would work on the weight issues."
Donalds said that many medical issues are triggered by stress. "Just knowing they have (medical conditions) can cause people more stress and aggravate the issues, so if they have less stress and can relax, it can do them a lot of good."
She emphasized that she never gives a diagnosis or treats a condition, but said that she can help people who are diagnosed by a doctor.
"People are different and all have differing amounts of baggage. Some people respond well, some people take more time, but they start with the same program."
"Upon a client's first visit, there is an initial consultation, with an intake form filled out ahead of time, and we go over the information and talk about what hypnosis is and is not, and what they might expect," Donalds explained.
"Toward the end of the session, I hypnotize them. That part is designed to help them feel some stress relief, but isn't part of the main thing they came in for. It's more to show what hypnosis is like for them."
"Everybody I see can be hypnotized," she added. "I don't need a pendulum or a spiral wheel."
But does it work?
Donalds said scientific studies have shown that under hypnosis, parts of the brain show real changes in perception, as well as in the brain's pain processing centers.
"Hypnosis is a unique state, and we know it works because brain scan imaging has shown what is going on in the brain during fully awake, sleep, hypnotic and meditative states. They have shown that hypnosis is not the same as sleep, although it is similar to meditation and guided imagery," she explained.
"Hypnosis is the altered state you get into, but it also involves different techniques. I do a lot of direct suggestions and guided imagery, but I find if someone isn't responding as well as I would expect after a couple of sessions, I might move into other techniques."
One technique that Donalds uses is age regression.
"When you're in hypnosis you are in a very heightened state of awareness; a focused state that makes it possible to access things" that may have been stuck in the subconscious.
According to Donalds, in hypnosis, brain waves change from beta to alpha, a more relaxed state. It is in the relaxed state that one is able to access creativity and visualization.
"You then go into the theta state, like when you are dreaming or having very creative daydreaming or deep thought," she said.
"Some are surprised and so relaxed when they come out of hypnosis that they then decide to continue. But the initial consultation is a stand-alone session in case a client decides not to go forward. It's basically a stress relief session. And since stress is at the root of what most people are going through, people are relaxed and like, 'Wow.'"
Bariatric surgery support
Donalds also teaches self-hypnosis so her clients can do it themselves, but her most recent training is in bariatric surgery support. Patients who undergo such treatment, in which the stomach is reduced in size, are physically changed, but still desire to eat. Losing weight and keeping it off depends largely on learning to eat in a new way. That is where hypnosis comes in.
"Some (bariatric surgery patients) will lose only some weight and may gain it back. The emotional-mental part hasn't been changed, just the physical part," she said.
Such patients are supposed to work with psychologists and dietitians, show success in losing weight before surgery and continue seeking support afterward.
"Some people simply don't qualify. Surgery can be very successful for some and not for others. It all comes down to the mind.
"Hypnosis is a complementary way to work with the medical aspect, both before and after surgery, and for those who gained the weight back. There is even a way to do virtual gastric bypass to make the mind think that the surgery happened, for people who don't want to do the surgery but want the effects of it," she said.
More information on Donalds' practice is available at www.newhorizonsinhypnosis.com or 508-246-2721.