- Julie Peck decided to try hypnosis to help overcome her anxiety of being around people unmasked.
- She booked a one-hour virtual session with certified clinical hypnosis practitioner Shauna Cummins.
- The session taught Peck some coping mechanisms and gave her a “great sense of joy.”
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I care for my 80-year-old mother in my home, so ensuring her safety and that of myself and the rest of our family from the COVID-19 virus has been nothing short of an obsession for me. We’ve been hypervigilant about masks, hand washing, hand sanitizing, staying home, social distancing when out, and much more.
Despite all my precautions, my mother caught COVID-19 anyway: She took a spill when visiting her brother – what I thought would be a safe trip – and ended up in the hospital and subsequently a rehab facility.
Yes, you guessed it – that’s where the pandemic reached out and touched her. Thankfully, unlike with so many others, she was lucky; she had a fever and some other mild symptoms for a couple of days, but was otherwise unbothered.
Add to this the fact that I live in an area of the country where both vaccinations and masking are not issues of common sense and public health but political lightning rods, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid going out in public – even now that my 14-year-old is the only one who’s not fully vaccinated (and he recently became eligible).
I’d like to support our local merchants and restaurants, but the thought of being anywhere inside with more than a few strangers is anxiety-producing. I don’t even really like grocery shopping, which occurs in a reasonably large store where I can control my surroundings. Although it’s a strain on my budget, I pay extra for delivery.
I’ve read about hypnotherapy and always been interested in it.
I also have a connection to hypnosis through my mother: She was a heavy smoker when I was younger, and after a lot of nagging from me – I was tired of being squashed into a closed car with her, my father, and my grandparents like a sardine in an oversized hotbox – she finally disappeared for an afternoon to get hypnotized. When she came back, she never smoked again.
I always wondered what it was that did the trick. So when it came time to get over going out, I figured that if hypnosis was strong enough to break my mom out of a two-pack-a-day rut, it could get me over my anxiety of going out in public.
I set up a session with Shauna Cummins, a certified clinical hypnosis practitioner and the author of “Wishcraft.”
Cummins is based in New York’s Hudson Valley and New York City but also works via Zoom and by phone, offering single sessions beginning at $200 and packages of three sessions for $525.
I chose a single session to see how I fared with the technique. Cummins later told me that while “everyone can be hypnotized,” some people are more naturally “conducive” to this kind of mind work.
Cummins has traveled all over the world practicing her craft, including performing sessions on behalf of JetBlue, The Queens Museum, and The National Gallery of Denmark.
On the day of the session, Cummins and I hooked up via Zoom as arranged. However, our connection proved to be unreliable. I’m unsure whether the issue was on my end due to the weather, or on her end – she explained to me that she lives “out in the middle of the woods.”
We agreed to speak by phone instead. Given my level of Zoom fatigue, that was perfectly fine.
Once we got our connection issues settled, Cummins took the time to talk with me about my understanding of hypnosis and answer all of my questions so that I’d have a comfort level with our session.
She was clearly extremely knowledgeable about her vocation, talking with me about the history of the practice and debunking the myths that I’d built up in my mind about hypnosis over the years thanks to what she called “the Hollywood version,” which seems to mostly have as its goal making its subject perform behaviors or say things unconsciously.
Cummins drew comparisons between hypnosis and therapeutic techniques with which I was already familiar – Eastern techniques like acupuncture, in which needles are used to unblock the subject’s chi, or energy, and Chinese medicine, which primarily uses herbs to re-establish the flow of energy.
She also talked about features that hypnosis has in common with techniques used in Western forms of psychotherapy, like eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), in which the subject is asked to think about upsetting images while the therapist has them move their eyes side to side very quickly.
It made a big difference to me that Cummins was so relaxed and willing to answer all of my questions, even though I had a million of them. She then checked to make sure that she fully understood my goals. Then it was time to begin.
I made myself comfortable on my bed – I was excited to get started and hoped it would work.
When the session started, I had my eyes open and focused on a point in front of me – no swinging old-timey pocket watches or swirly spirals.
At Cummins’ direction, I allowed my vision to gently blur and eventually closed my eyes, relaxing more and more as we went along. The session continued in much the same way that I do when I sit down to meditate, with some deep breathing.
At this point, the order of events during my session starts to become a bit blurry. Notably, I recall that on the last deep breath I took, Cummins (who, incidentally, has the perfect voice for this sort of work) instructed me to “breathe up into my mind,” and instantly, the image of my head turning into a brilliant, beautiful flower sprang into my imagination, and I felt a sense of joy.
To be clear, Cummins didn’t prompt the vision of any particular images – her voice just guided me into a state of deep relaxation. She said that some people have a sense of feeling different things while they’re in this state, and for others, they see various images. I definitely fell into the latter camp.
While all of the images I saw under Cummin’s guidance during the session were incredibly bright and realistic, I was conscious that I was awake and in my own room the entire time.
Later in the session, we focused on wishing well for a group of people, a concept that I was able to apply later in my first time venturing out.
The image that sprang to my mind as Cummin guided me through this part of the session was of Captain Marvel flying through space, looking down on all under her protection.
Laugh if you will, but I took my son out for a long-overdue haircut in a crowded fast-service men’s barbershop just a few days later where, unsurprisingly, we were the only ones masked, and I was able to recall this image and breathe through the experience without flipping out and having a “Network” moment (“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore…”) or lapsing into a serious, full-blown panic attack.
My session with Cummins lasted just under an hour.
When it was over, I felt refreshed and energized, as if I’d just woken up from a full night’s sleep, but I definitely needed some “me time” to process the experience.
After the session, Cummins was kind enough to send me an email with some tools I could use on my own, including a suggestion to do some free writing before bed to cement what I’d learned. She also included two recordings that allow me to experience a little of the atmosphere that she evoked when we spent time together. I haven’t managed to do the free writing, but the recordings are great for reinforcement.
While I’m still not ready for indoor dining, there’s no question that my hypnosis session helped me be calm and serene when taking my son for his haircut.
In terms of overall benefits, I also developed an unexpected sense of joy from the images that I ended up seeing as a result of Cummins’ work with me.
During this grim chapter in all of our lives, feeling exuberant for once was a pretty remarkable achievement – better even than being around the inevitable unmasked people, and definitely more exciting than walking like a chicken.