Kimberly has been afraid of snakes for as long as she can remember. “I freeze up, have a panic attack. I can’t breathe,” she says. After discovering a few of them in the garage of her vacation home, she was left feeling so uncomfortable she didn’t want to go back. She had the snakes removed, but Kimberly felt it was time to face her fear. So she did what any Cleveland Park resident would: She got online and posted to the listserv.

“I need to overcome my paralyzing fear of snakes. Any recommendations for a hypnotist?”

Kimberly had already tried eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a psychotherapy treatment used to alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories. That didn’t work.

“I expect that I will reprogram the way I think of snakes and react to them and will overcome my fear of being at my country house through hypnotic suggestion,” says Kimberly of going the hypnosis route. “I know of no other way.”

City Desk contacted several hypnotherapists, including Masud Ansari, a self-proclaimed “hypnotism master” and president of the Institute for Ethical and Clinical Hypnosis in Northwest, to see how this might work.

Ansari claimed he can remove a phobia first by trying to understand what caused it—getting to the root—and then delving into the hypnosis. Ansari didn’t want to talk much about how the hypnosis itself goes down—trade secrets?—but he assured us his method would be effective, especially when it comes to snakes.

Then he hung up.

Next City Desk tried Joseph Mancini, Jr., a certified clinical hypnotherapist in Rockville. He said he’d be willing to talk, but only under one condition.

“I need to see your final copy and have the right to change anything you say about what I have told you.  My reason is that I want to be sure that you present accurate information to your readers,” he wrote.

At the suggestion of a neighbor from the listserv, Kimberly sought the help of Joe Mallet, a licensed hypnotherapist right there in Cleveland Park. Mallet declined to comment, citing confidentiality. He referred City Desk to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH).

Through the ASCH, we contacted Learita Scott, a retired hypnotherapist, and Carol Newman, a licensed clinical psychologist, both of D.C. Both shed some light on how hypnosis works in overcoming a phobia. Basically, the idea is to teach the client to relax and eventually move to a point of self-hypnosis, where he or she can enter a light trance. Chanting a little mantra (like: “Snakes are my friends, snakes are my friends”) can help.

During an actual hypnosis, the therapist may suggest the client imagine the original fear (like: “Snakes, ohmmmmgoddddd”), have him or her “experience” it, and coach them through relaxation.

“There’s nothing magic about hypnosis in which the hypnotist will say ‘oh! you will go into a trance and when you wake up everything will be different.’ Hypnosis is done with the respect or concern for the client,” says Scott.

After two sessions with Mallet, Kimberly reported back to City Desk, saying she feels as if the hypnotherapy is working.

“Yes! I can’t believe it after 40-plus years,” says Kimberly.

Photo by Tobyotter, Creative Commons Attribution License