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Getting Abreast of Modern Hypnosis : Health: Practitioners say it can help with your taxes, sculpt your body, even make you cluck like a chicken. But only if you want to.


NASHUA, N.H. — Need help with your taxes? Looking for a non-surgical way to enlarge your breasts? Want to cluck like a chicken?

Tried hypnosis?

The National Guild of Hypnotists says it can help you with everything from losing weight to regaining your memory. More than 1,000 hypnotists and onlookers gathered recently at the guild's annual convention to share the conviction that hypnosis isn't just for sideshows.

Hypnosis is "very well accepted as a complementary therapy by many medical professionals . . . all over the world," said Dwight Damon, president of the 5,000-member group.

When the guild started 44 years ago, it comprised mostly stage performers known for making people cluck like chickens or faint with a snap of the finger.

Today, about 90% of hypnotists work in clinical or professional settings, while only 10% work on the stage, Damon said.

This year's convention featured seminars on topics ranging from improving one's sex life to enlarging one's breasts.

"The fact that the mind can resculpt the body is not anything unusual," said Pamela Winkler, a professor at St. John's University in Springfield, La.

Winkler, who taught the conference's "Techniques for Breast Enlargement," promises hypnosis can increase a woman's breast size by 2 to 3 inches in 12 weeks.

Not all uses of hypnosis are so unorthodox.

Police officers use it to help victims and witnesses of crimes remember important details (although such memories are often considered suspect or banned in court, including in California). Medical patients in burn units use it to cope with their painful injuries.

And, of course, many people use the therapy to quit smoking or lose weight.

Hypnosis's ascension into the loftier realm of therapy doesn't mean some of the older tools of the trade no longer exist.

The blinking lights and spiraling discs used to put patients into a hypnotic trance were hot sellers at the convention.

"They're very good for people who grew up with the Twilight Zone," said Michael Sharkey, a Brooklyn, N.Y., practitioner.

The entertainment value of hypnosis also was evident in the crowded convention halls, where young women in hypnotic trances swooned as admirers looked on.

"He's one of the best in the country," one onlooker said of hypnotist Gerald Kein, of Deland, Fla.

Every time Kein pulled his earlobe, his subject, Susie Stokes, fell forward as if asleep. "It was very relaxing," Stokes said afterward.

Marx Howell, a hypnotist who works with crime victims and witnesses for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said his friends always joke about "looking into his eyes."

"But you can't hypnotize someone unless they want to be," he said. "It's a misconception created by stage hypnosis."

The key to hypnosis--or "the magic of the mind"--is cooperation, said Ormond McGill, who has been a stage hypnotist and a professor for more than 60 years.

McGill, nicknamed "The Dean of American Hypnotism" by his colleagues, said the relationship between a hypnotist and a patient is that of a teacher and a student.

"You naturally have to want to do anything," McGill said. "You can't make someone cluck like a chicken unless they want to."

McGill's own stage act features 20 audience members who sway to Hawaiian music and drink Hawaiian champagne--also known as water--at his suggestion.

He said most people are open-minded about hypnosis, so he isn't bothered by those who laugh or are skeptical of his trade.

"I feel like they're having a good time," he said. "I'm not concerned if they don't believe."

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