According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, May 23 is Clinical Hypnosis Day. In celebration of this upcoming “holiday,” today I’ll share with you the story of my father’s (and by extension my own) experimentation with clinical hypnosis.
You may be wondering what exactly is clinical hypnosis. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis answers this question (and many others) on their website.
Clinical hypnosis is an altered state of awareness, perception or consciousness that is used, by licensed and trained doctors or masters prepared individuals, for treating a psychological or physical problem. It is a highly relaxed state.
My parents were two of the squarest people I can image. They may have come of age in the turbulent 60s and been a young married couple in the swinging 70s, but as far as I can tell, during my childhood they lived their lives as good Catholic Republicans. My dad went to his grave proud of the fact that he’d never been drunk, something he held over my mother because of the one time she drank too much while partying with her brother before he shipped off to Vietnam and was puke sick for two days. I honestly believe–after viewing my parents through the critical lens of my adulthood–that neither of them took an experimental puff of weed or snort of coke, never had a psychedelic experience; never attended a key party; never so much as sampled a dish containing tofu, lentils, or curry. Even in the most experimental decades of their lives, my parents showed themselves to be nothing but straight. All to say, I was quite surprised when I remembered my father’s dabbling in hypnosis.
It all started with our family physician. Somehow that old boy had gotten himself mixed up with hypnosis. Want to stop smoking? Want to lose weight? Want to be a better salesman? Want to do well in school? Want to feel happier? Want to be more successful? Dr. Carrol could help.
I’m not sure if Dr. Carrol did in-office hypnosis treatments. It seems to me
that a busy physician wouldn’t have time to sit with folks while they counted back from ten. Instead, Dr. Carrol made and sold hypnosis tapes.
It was a brilliant scheme. Dr. Carrol probably went into a recording studio, ran through the steps required for achieving different goals, then had the cassette tapes of each program manufactured. Once the tapes were ready, Dr. Carrol could sell them to his patients. The patients could use the tapes whenever it was convenient (immediately prior to falling asleep was recommended), and Dr. Carrol could rake in the money without sacrificing any precious office hours.
To be fair, I don’t know if Dr. Carrol actually raked in money from his hypnosis tapes. Yes, it was the 70s, and people were trying all sorts of new techniques for better living, but Dr. Carrol was practicing in a small town in the heart of Cajun Country. I suspect most of his patients were too conservative to try something as far out as hypnosis. Perhaps if one of his tapes was a big success it was probably the one purported to help people stop smoking. In the 70s the dangers of smoking were coming to light and people were strongly encouraged to kick the habit. Perhaps even in Cajunland, people were desperate to quit smoking and would try just about anything that might help change their unhealthy ways. If a medical doctor said hypnosis was the way to go, why not give it a try?
How Dr. Carrol sold my dad on hypnosis tapes, I have no idea. My dad was not–had never been–a smoker. My dad did struggle with his weight, so maybe he got hooked up with a set of weight loss tapes. What surprises me the most was that my dad was tight, not prone to spending money unnecessarily. He was a young man with a wife and two little kids and not much money. How did Dr. Carrol convince him to buy hypnosis tapes?
Maybe Dr. Carrol got my dad with tapes that were supposed to make him a better salesman. My dad was a salesman by profession. If you’ve ever read or watched Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, think Willy Loman.
My dad should have been a carpenter or maybe a plumber or even an auto mechanic. He could fix almost anything, build almost anything. I once asked him how he knew so much about car and home repair, and he said he’d had to learn because he could never afford to hire someone to do the work for him. He said he’d go into an auto parts store or plumbing supply shop or lumberyard and ask questions until he figured out what to do. This was in a time before YouTube, and I never saw him pouring over a library book from the do-it-yourself section, so he really must have had innate mechanical abilities to supplement the information he gleaned from the people who sold him supplies.
My father should have been a tradesman, not a salesman. I believe he would have been happier working with his hands. However, somewhere in his life my dad had picked up the notion that being a salesman was more prestigious than working in the trades. He may not have attended collage, but he could move one rung up the social ladder if he got a job in sales.
I believe my dad wanted to be a good salesman. He wanted to be considered a success. He wanted to bring home enough money to keep his wife and kids comfortable. I suspect my father did not have the innate knowledge or personality traits of a natural salesman. I suspect he felt he could use a little help. I suspect he hoped hypnosis would do the trick.
I was vaguely aware that my dad was listening to the hypnosis tapes at night. I was 7 or 8 a the time and mostly unconcerned with the affairs of the adults in my life. My dad did share with the family a motivational catchphrase he got from the tapes. I feel happy! I feel healthy! I feel terrific! he’d say enthusiastically, probably trying to convince himself. Sometimes my mom and sibling and I would say it too. Sometimes I still say the words (out loud, enthusiastically) when I’m trying to pep myself up.
I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea for me to listen to
hypnosis tapes before bed. I don’t know if my parents bought something intended for kids or if they just used what my dad already had. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to listen to a tape, but I don’t remember being opposed to listening. I remember being told that listening to the tape would help me do better in school, even though my grades were fine.
Every night after tucking me into bed, my dad would press the play button on his tape player that had been moved into my room. Dr. Carrol’s voice was soothing and relaxing and because I listened to the tape as I was falling asleep, it didn’t take time away from anything I wanted to do.
I wish I remembered what Dr. Carrol said on the tape, what instructions he gave. Better yet, I wish I had the tape now so I could listen to what I was told on those nights decades ago.
I remember being skeptical of the whole hypnosis thing. Even as a little kid, I wondered how what someone said on a tape could help me do better in school. I don’t think my parents told me anything about the subconscious or how hypnosis is supposed to work. What I do (very clearly) remember thinking is that while what I was hearing on the tape probably wasn’t going to do anything for me, I was going to pretend it worked in order to please my parents. So in the mornings after listening to the tape, I would pop right out of bed and pretend to be excited and happy about going to school.
Of course, now I have to wonder if the hypnosis actually did work. Was I in fact only pretending it was working? Could my skeptical brain only embrace hypnosis if I could continue to disbelieve it but accept the changed in my behavior it caused by telling myself I was only pretending? Why would I feel the need to pretend it was working if it wasn’t?
I don’t remember how many nights I listened to the tapes as I drifted off to sleep. It doesn’t seem like I did it for very long, but memory has a way of distorting time. I also don’t remember why I stopped listening to the tape. Even complaints wouldn’t have necessarily gotten me off the hook, as my parents made me do plenty of other things I complained about. If my parents thought the tapes were valuable, one of them would have pressed the play button every night whether or not I wanted to listen. I can only imagine my parents decided Dr. Carrol and his hypnosis were not worth our time after all.
In retrospect, I wish my patents had continued to play the tape for me. Maybe the messages it contained would have helped me live a better life. Maybe whatever instructions given on the tape would have saved me from the depression that settled over me within a couple of years and has been with me on and off (mostly on) for most of my life. If I had the tape now, I’d listen to it at bedtime every night and hope for a change.
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