A Skeptical Reporter Explores the Healing Potential of Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis could be your answer to symptoms related to anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and situational depression
Hypnotherapy can change a person’s thinking pattern.

I hadn’t gotten pre-interview jitters since college, but then, I’d never done an interview quite like this. As someone with anxiety and what my family calls “control issues,” I wasn’t particularly enthused to be hypnotized. As a curious journalist, however, I was intrigued. So, I tried to ignore the zero-gravity feeling in my stomach as I logged into my video call with David Wright. The 55-year-old counselor and hypnotherapist is the clinical director at Counseling and Therapy Associates mental health and hypnosis clinic in Taylor. 

My only previous experience with hypnosis was second-hand. I watched — cynically — from the back corner of my high school auditorium as a showman hypnotized fellow graduating seniors at our all-night party. I remembered the man’s claim that hypnotizing someone reluctant to be hypnotized due to fear, skeptical stubbornness, or other reservations was impossible. “That counts me out,” I thought. Yet here I was — fearful, skeptical, and stubborn — offering myself up for hypnosis for the sake of this story. 

Hypnosis is clearly Wright’s specialty, but it isn’t what first drew him to the field of mental health. His interest began at age 17, when he got a job as a counselor at a youth summer camp. He oversaw a cabin of teenagers who would often confide in him. After hearing of their various struggles, Wright decided to pursue a career working with adolescents. This led him to Wayne State University, where he earned a master’s degree in counseling in 1992. Now living in Woodhaven, he’s been practicing mental health counseling for nearly 30 years and is well known locally, in part for his hypnosis stage shows as The Motor City Hypnotist. Last summer, he started a podcast of the same name.

Upon entering my virtual meeting with Wright, I found him to be cordial and approachable. (I wouldn’t realize until midway through our interview that that all-night-party showman had been none other than David Wright.) He began, as he does with each of his clients, by defining hypnosis. “It isn’t magic,” he said. Instead, he compared hypnosis to meditation. He described it simply as a quieting of the mind that allows one to tap into the subconscious. In this state, he said, one is more receptive to suggestion. “I can’t just zap people and change them,” he said. “People who come to me have already decided to change. I just guide them down that path.”

With some of my doubts having resulted from my misconception of hypnotism as some sort of supernatural feat, I found my mind opening to the possibilities — maybe this could work after all.

Wright started the process by asking me to stare at my webcam light, then led me through a series of muscle-relaxation directives. When he began describing the heaviness of my eyelids, I was surprised to find myself struggling to keep them open. Mercifully, he soon instructed me to let them fall closed. 

Still, my true bewilderment came when he told me that, upon attempting to open my eyes, I would find this act impossible. From far beneath my deep state of relaxation, some part of me scoffed. But when Wright directed me to do so, it was as though my bottom and top eyelids were superglued together. 

Wright continued, leading me deeper and deeper into my subconscious and performing other tests that demonstrated the extent of my submersion. Finally, he called me back to reality. Upon surfacing, I felt fully awake, but more relaxed than I’d been in years. Not a single muscle was tense, and my usually restless mind had quieted.

Until this time, I’d only barely registered my own astonishment. With my conscious mind back in the building, I felt somewhat silly for ever having been doubtful. My skepticism now gone, I was fascinated to know how hypnosis could be used to treat mental illness.

Although chemical depression is caused by an imbalance in the brain, which may benefit from medication, Wright said, hypnotherapy can be used as a holistic treatment for conditions including anxieties, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and situational depression. “For most people, these issues are indicative of the brain overreacting to stimuli. In these cases, hypnotherapy seeks to plant suggestions that change a person’s thinking pattern.”

Wright gives the example of a client who has lost a loved one. While situational depression is often part of the normal grieving process, some people may have difficulty moving on from this pain. “It’s a matter of altering the client’s frame of reference so they’re able to move forward with a healthier mindset,” he said.

Hypnotherapy as a treatment for SAD and anxiety disorders is similar, he said. For SAD, the therapist makes suggestions to reshape the brain’s reaction to the change of season, as well as some practical suggestions to promote overall health and well-being, such as eating a healthy diet and keeping a regular sleep schedule.

One of hypnotherapy’s main advantages is its capacity to produce immediate change, Wright said. Traditional treatment using talk therapy to uncover the roots of a patient’s emotional pain has its place, but it can take years. “For me, the reason isn’t as important as the behavior you want to change,” he said. “If we can alter the patient’s thinking and allow them to change their behaviors in as little as one session, I think that’s fantastic.”