To the uninformed, mere mention of a hypnotherapist conjures up all sorts of images. You imagine a guy sitting in a dark room, the only light coming from a large gold chain dangling from his neck. He starts swinging the chain at his subject, his voice lapsing into a monotone, his manner almost zombie-like.
Well, in the case of J.P. Erickson, forget it.
Erickson, a sports hypnotherapist, is anything but a zombie. And no, he doesn't wear a turban or flowing robes either. Doesn't even own a crystal ball.
He is a soft-spoken guy who operates in a bright, sun-lit room, sans props. It is just him, his subject--in this case, arm and wrist wrestler Lori Cole--and a recliner chair.
"Just relax," he tells Cole in a soothing voice. "You can feel the relaxation rushing over you. It's starting down in your toes. It's working its way up your legs, through your chest, into your neck."
Soon Cole, in the recliner, has drifted into what looks, to the layman, like nothing more than a peaceful sleep. She seems oblivious to all around her.
Her rapidly flickering eyelids are the only clue that anything unusual is going on in her head.
Erickson has never stopped talking, never increased the decibel level of his voice, never grown more forceful.
But he has a message to deliver and he is getting it across.
"Imagine yourself being a winner," he says to Cole, "being the best in the world. Nothing and nobody can stop you. You see yourself exploding with more power than you've ever had before. You find strength you didn't know you had, a feeling of unshakable confidence. You know you are going to do the best you can, that you will do whatever is necessary to achieve your goals.
"You are going to carry that confidence back with you when you return to the waking state. You are going to connect these feelings of confidence and relaxation with the next tournament you are in. Those feelings are going to outweigh any negative feelings you have had in the past. Instead, it is going to become an overwhelming feeling of being in control."
Erickson tells Cole she will be awake on the count of five.
One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five!
Her eyes blink open. She's awake.
Her eyes remain glazed and, for a few minutes, she's not sure of her surroundings. But the messages she received in the hypnotic state have not been lost.
"When he first called me about hypnosis," says Cole, "I was kind of leery. I thought hypnosis was a lot of hocus-pocus."
Erickson had seen Cole wrist wrestling on television and the sport interested him. He didn't know it at the time, but she was definitely in need of help.
"I had always had heavy butterflies before tournaments but arm and wrist wrestling was something I enjoyed," Cole says. "But I didn't enjoy it once I had turned pro. Suddenly, there was pressure with the money involved."
At stake was as much as $5,000 per tournament, but the sessions with Erickson relieved that pressure.
Cole, now 30 and a resident of Encino, has been arm and wrist wrestling for 10 years, but it's the four under Erickson's guidance that she has most enjoyed. Over that period, she has won six of her nine championships in various world-wide arm and wrist wrestling organizations along with prize money totaling nearly $50,000.
There is a difference between the two sports. In arm wrestling, the combatants lock arms while holding onto a peg with their free hand. In wrist wrestling, the free arm is placed underneath the active one. The object is the same: Bring your opponent's arm down.
"I am calm and confident now when I compete," Cole says. "I play off those feelings. There is so little pressure it's almost like I'm not competing."
An arm or wrist wrestler can be subjected to prolonged stress. Tournaments can consist of as many as six to eight matches spread over 18 hours.
How do you maintain your intensity over such a long period? Cole uses self-hypnosis, a technique she learned from Erickson. All she needs is a quiet spot to talk to herself and she can put herself into the same relaxed world to which she has been transported so many times by Erickson.
When she snaps herself back to reality after 15 minutes, she feels confident and completely relaxed, she says.
Erickson's methods are finding a wide application. Along with Cole, he is currently working with athletes from kick boxing and golf to auto racing and dart throwing.
Nelson Plasentia swears by Erickson.
"Hypnosis has become an essential part of my training," says the 25-year kick boxer, who is currently training at a Van Nuys gym and is in his second year under Erickson. "It teaches me self-control, relaxation and enables me to conserve energy so that I can get the most out of my ability. By being relaxed, I avoid tensions and am able to go into the ring with a clear mind. I am able to react better to punches that are thrown at me. I am able to blank out the audience so that I am concerned only with my opponent."