Decades is a long time to be in chronic pain.

Merrilee Ellis first became acquainted with pain when she was 12. Despite all the time she spent in doctor's offices, neither a diagnosis nor relief ever came, only weird medically-prescribed ideas to try: eating charcoal, taking tons of aspirin, drinking and bathing in Arkansas hot springs. By the time she was 20, she was emotionally exhausted, and gave up trying to figure it out. She moved on with her life, relying only on her daily handful of pain medicines to get through.

Years later, in 2016, she read an article about a Colorado Springs hypnotherapist who treated people with medical issues, including chronic pain.

"I called him immediately and went in five or six times," Ellis said. "We turned off my chronic pain, right from the beginning."

Amazed by the therapy, Ellis, a school counselor at the time, decided to pursue hypnotherapy training and help others in the same way. After completing schooling at Hypnotherapy Academy of America in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2017, she opened her business, Hope Counseling & Hypnotherapy, in Monument the following year.

"I don't have crystals. None of this is metaphysical," she said. "This is your God-given ability to calm yourself down or to calm down your nerves, or relax your muscles, or shift your mindset out of something you got stuck in."

What is hypnotherapy

Colorado Springs hypnotherapist Liz Ash sees the brain as a neurological computer. Just like your real computer, your brain also gets little glitches — programs that were installed during childhood, for example, that need to be uninstalled now.

"Hypnosis is a great modality for doing that," Ash said. "It makes it possible for people to shift and change and adjust the way they think and feel or the way they react."

A number of issues send people to hypnotherapy: weight loss, smoking, drug use, help getting over a relationship, chronic pain — it runs the gamut. But it's most often stress and anxiety that prompt people to seek help.

"Anxiety may surface in a number of ways," Ellis said. "They may have relationship problems, they may have fears, they may have habits they want to change. When we get down underneath what’s really going on, it’s usually anxiety."

Robert Lanucha sought Ash's help for weight loss in January. After years of cycling through weight loss and gain, he was at his heaviest and craved help. He was hesitant at first, unsure if he could be hypnotized, but after their first session, he dropped 10 pounds, and has since lost 33 more. 

"Being hypnotized is pretty cool," said Lanucha. "You don’t feel like you were hypnotized because you’re 100% aware of what’s going on. You're not under mind control. She tells you you can do whatever you want. Her methods are positive and reassuring and gave me the power to do everything myself because nobody can do it for you."

Hypnotherapy helps calm the nervous system, and brings the client into a state of trance, a state we naturally go into and out of many times during the day. Think of driving, a process so automatic you can zone out and end up at your destination with no memory of getting there.

Hypnosis takes you out of the rational, conscious mind, which accounts for 5% of mental activity, Ellis said, and into the subconscious mind, which makes up the other 95% of our mental activity.

The conscious mind is all we know. It's active whenever we're awake, taking input from our five senses and filtering how we see the world. But the subconscious is active all the time, when we're awake and asleep. It keeps our heart beating and our lungs working. It's where we store our emotions, memories, beliefs and automatic thoughts and behaviors.

"In-between the two is your critical faculty," Ellis said. "It’s the gatekeeper to your subconscious and it develops between ages 7 and 11. Little kids are a sponge. Everything that goes into the conscious mind goes into the subconscious. It forms a lot of how you emotionally relate to things. Some say it’s like a child is running your life. Most of us don’t want a child running our life."

By entering an altered state in hypnosis, your brain waves relax, which causes your conscious mind and critical faculty to follow suit. That's when the therapist is able to talk to your subconscious, and help you let go of habits and change patterns and thoughts.

"A lot of it is reframing and learning how to think in a different way," Ash said. "We all have a perspective, a lens we see through, and when we look through that lens, we see everything that way. I help people put on a different lens. People have been focused on the problem, but what’s everything that’s not the problem that you’re not looking at?"

What a session looks like

Ellis' quiet office, where soft music plays, sets her clients up to enter a trance from the moment they walk in. She starts her 75-minute sessions by having clients sit on a couch, where she offers them a magic wand, filled with glittery sparkles, and asks: "If you could achieve anything from today’s session what would you like to achieve? What could be different in one session?" She then moves them to what she calls the "magic chair," a cushy recliner on the other side of the room, where she takes a seat next to them and begins hypnosis. 

What happens in a session can look different depending on the therapist and client. Ellis has multiple ways to work with the subconscious, sometimes having her client look inside their body to decipher where they hold stress. Sometimes she has them look to the past or future. And sometimes she simply uses imagery from nature, such as a waterfall, to help convey the idea change is natural, and moving on is part of life.

"Your subconscious doesn’t understand time. When you're in hypnosis you can’t tell how much time has passed," Ellis said. "It doesn’t know logic or reason. What your subconscious knows is imagery. That’s why I usually am describing things and using imagery to help us."

An issue can be solved in one session or multiple visits, depending on the client. Ash would love to get the job done in one visit ($200), but finds the sweet spot seems to be three. For $600 you can stop smoking or eliminate a phobia.

"Therapy should be brief and effective," Ash said. "There are a lot of types of therapy out there, but hypnosis is solution-focused. If someone was coming to me every week for a year, I’m probably not doing my job."

Ellis sells packages of three, six or 10 sessions ($150-$1,200), as well as a three-session smoking package for $360. 

"Your conscious mind has a lot of resistance to change, and your subconscious mind can change things quickly and easily," Ellis said. "Some people say it took me a long time to get here and it'll probably take a long time to get better. The answer is nope, you could change instantly."

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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