Relax, put your mind at ease, and visualize yourself achieving the imaginable. You can also concentrate on the mundane—like flannel or the clouds, while you dull every other sound around you. Sometimes, it numbs the pain and anxiety; other times, it makes you feel like you are in control. Sound familiar? The above are different analyses of hypnotherapy. We spoke with Nicole McDonagh, a professional clinical counselor, trauma focus therapist, and childbirth educator with more than ten years of experience. Nicole is a UNLV graduate and the founder of Mental Edge Therapy—a firm dedicated to helping people take control of their circumstances through psychotherapy.
“I have always done trauma focus therapy,” says Nicole. ‘With Covid and everything else, I realized that, “Okay, there is a calling for helping expecting moms with dealing with all the anxiety and stress that naturally comes with being pregnant.”
The Global Pandemic stretched the United States’ healthcare system beyond measures in 2020; many pregnant women would inadvertently feel unsafe in hospitals. Childbirth is painful, stressful, and can have unexpected consequences—even in the most controlled environment, let alone in an environment plagued with coronavirus fears and life uncertainties. “The unknown can be frustrating. No one knows anything about what,” said Nicole. The tensions of the unknown, the increased level of stress, and fears led Nicole to herald her practice dedicated to helping expecting mothers alleviate some of those anxieties and achieve ‘peace of mind.’
Nicole, however, did not begin her career as a childbirth therapist. “It all started with hypnotherapy.” She claims. “After I was hypnotized on the Las Vegas Strip, my professor asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about being a hypnotherapist?’ Following that, I went to the first nationally accredited school of hypnosis and did two years there.’ ‘I had to get certain amounts of hours to get certified.”
Hypnotherapy, also known as guided Hypnosis, uses relaxation, intense attention, and deep concentration to achieve a heightened state of consciousness. Hypnotherapy essentially puts you in an ‘altered state of awareness.’
Hypnosis, a form of psychotherapy, is used by hypnotherapists to push their clients into a hypnotic state—or a trance. In this state, clients are able to access recessed memories buried in the unconscious mind. Some of these memories may stem from painful and traumatic experiences that have been wholly repressed from the conscious mind.
A hypnotherapist will often help a client gain a different outlook on life and experience circumstances from a different perspective. For example, a patient can be made to re-experience a seemingly painful incident —but this time, from a truthful acceptance of the pain followed by the power that comes from surviving the pain. Hypnosis is powerful, and in all instances, a client will become open to a psychologist and follow the psychologist’s instructions. While Hypnosis is an excellent tool used by psychotherapists to help their clients overcome anxiety, fears, doubt, pain, and bad habits like drinking and smoking, the field certainly comes with its risks. One of such risks is that Hypnosis is not licensed, making it impossible for hypnotherapists to insure themselves if there is an accident or a lawsuit. Nicole says, “I cannot take insurance, so there were moments of doubt.”On her journey to becoming a psychotherapist, “I went back to school to become a nurse, but I did not like biology. Somehow, I found myself in counseling, and that was a big fascination.”
“I studied Psychology and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Minor Addiction Treatment Studies. I went to UNLV, and here I am.”
According to Nicole, a pregnant friend she met during her CPC internship led to an ‘epiphany’ moment. She immediately recognized her path to specialize in hypnobirthing when she helped her friend through the fears. “I first became certified in childbirth education in 2014, but I focused more on people with anxiety. As a hypnobirthing professional, helping mothers give birth to their babies, removing the placenta, and putting the baby on the breast is ‘fascinating.’”
Childbirth can be scary. There are many uncertainties, and medical professionals must make the patient feel like she is in control. Hypnobirthing does not necessarily replace traditional science and medicine in childbirth; instead, it complements other medical personnel’s efforts. “Education is great.” A mother who understands why she feels what she feels is better equipped to fight the pain and push the baby into this world. Traumatic experiences from previous deliveries, unexpected complications, pain, fear, doubt, anxiety, and a general lack of emotional support can lead to an accumulation of stress—which is terrible for the mother and child. As a childbirth educator, Nicole is keen on ensuring that her patients understand precisely what is going on. Education eases fears and anxieties—in turn, reducing trauma. “A lot of trauma happens during birthing when there isn’t sufficient education. It can be scary ‘when you are in the hospital, and they are doing many things, and no one can explain what is going on.”
\With education, a patient will feel more in control. In any birthing environment, a patient should get at least a minute of uninterrupted explanation of what is going on and how she should prepare. If the doctors cannot spare the minute, a patient will feel like there is an emergency—and these feelings only build up stress levels. “When you are stressed, you lose everything. Contraction occurs and you clench. You should relax. Hypnosis can help a patient relax.”
Hypnotherapy in childbirth takes a patient’s mind away from stressors and pain and helps them relax and allow the process to take over seamlessly. When a patient feels in control, she is better equipped to give birth smoothly—and even if there are complications, her mind is better equipped to fight, survive, and give birth.
“I use hypnotherapy as a modality for my client.” Nicole says. “Hypnosis is a higher form of learning. You are driving home, and you do not remember the drive; instead, you are thinking about grocery.” Driving—just like many other activities we do, is automatic. When you focus on the action, you become stressed out, and the action becomes painful. Try to concentrate on blinking, and it becomes hard to blink. Hypnotherapy helps put your mind at ease by shifting your focus to an entirely different activity.
Other than childbirth education and hypnobirthing, Nicole has many other clients with different issues. She tells us that some of her clients are afraid of the mall. “Every time they go to the store, they have a panic attack.” Nicole’s process is to bring up the dreaded emotion so that the clients will come face-to-face with their fears. Once a client can get in touch with his fears and anxiety, “we give them another emotion.”
According to Nicole, one cannot have a negative and a positive emotion simultaneously, “so, I will have to bring up one emotion and bring down the second emotion.”
Human psychology is like two sides of the same coin: there are relationships between people’s interpretation of experiences, yet for others, the same experience can have very different meanings. If a puppy walks into a room, it can be a positive emotion for a person yet a negative emotion for another person. If a person identifies a puppy with negativity, each time he encounters a puppy, the negativity solidifies. And it is the same for people who have positive emotions.
A practical example is one of Nicole’s clients, a gymnast, who could not do a backflip after having a previous accident on the high beam. Every time she thought about the impossibility of a backflip, doing it became impossible. Nicole helped her “backflip over and over again in her mind.”
“It is like perception and visualization,” and there is no concept of time. During a hypnosis session, a client can be made to achieve the things he believes he cannot. It does not matter if graduating law school will take five years; in your mind, you can achieve it over and over again within a 1-hour hypnosis session.
With the Global Pandemic ravaging most of 2020 and ensuring a lockdown of non-essential businesses, we wanted to know how Nicole coped. “A lot of therapy is online at the moment because most of my clients are not comfortable with, or it is not convenient for them, coming into the office.” Nicole says, “It is still a process working on the effectiveness of Hypnosis and hypnotherapy through online medium.”
Hypnobirthing is a field without many scientific studies. An NHS-funded research team studied a randomized selection of 680 women in 2013. Results were not conclusive enough to support or debase hypnobirthing’s general effectiveness; that is, it may work on a patient and be ineffective on another patient. While NHS’s research may be inconclusive, it is essential to understand that hypnobirthing puts a woman in control of the birth process and gives her a higher chance of having a successful birth—even if there are complications.