Lifestyle Health

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Fit to be tried: Hypnotherapy for food cravings

Amanda Phelan

THE first thing you see as you walk into Sean Flanagan's office are two wicker baskets crammed with cigarette packets.

These half-used packs of coffin-nails are deposited by grateful clients the hypnotherapist has liberated from nicotine addiction.

Getting people off the smokes is just one of the problems Flanagan helps clients to confront. He also deals with everything from panic attacks to fear of flying, public speaking to driving test worries, and even sexual problems.

But can he help with sugar cravings and provide a shortcut to sticking to that New Year's diet? I decided to give it a try.

Visions of swinging watches and The Jungle Book scene where Mowgli is lulled by the sibilant snake singing "Trussssst in me" are swept away after a few minutes by Flanagan, a down-to-earth Bray man who practices his craft in a cosy studio in the Morrison Chambers, on Dublin's Nassau Street.

Flanagan seats clients in the comfy black armchair in his office overlooking Trinity College. He takes his desk chair and whizzes around the room getting prepared, before sitting to my left.

The hypnosis begins. "You are relaxed. Your eyes open on the count of two. And again. Each time you are experiencing deeper relaxation, but you are aware," Flanagan intones.

He lifts my arm and it flops back heavily. By the third lot of counting, drifting into a pleasant state, it's almost irritating to be roused.

Zoning out is easy. Then it's time to resurface as the hypnotist nudges you reluctantly back into consciousness by counting to five, "...when you will open your eyes".

"How long do you think you were under?" he asks. "Ten minutes," is my guess. "Try over half-an-hour," grins Flanagan, who has been practising full-time for more then 12 years -- and has a long waiting list despite the €150 price tag for each session.

The hypnotherapist says that most problems can be fixed within two or three consultations. He insists there are no secrets about his methods. "It's just simple relaxation and getting in touch with the subconscious as well as the conscious mind."

There are no special powers involved, he says -- hypnosis is just focused thinking. Through relaxation, you can access parts of the mind normally out of reach.

It is by amalgamating your mental parts -- conscious and subconscious -- that Flanagan can give you the freedom to move beyond using your old knee-jerk responses to emotions that are part of the human condition, such as stress, loneliness, fear or tiredness.

He doesn't claim to be a cure-all, however. "Some things aren't in my range," he says.

For example, he'd never deal with heroin addiction. Or there's the time a husband marched his wife into the office. "You help her with her driving test," he told Flanagan before leaving.

A few minutes into the hypnosis, Flanagan discovered why the woman was nervous.

"She couldn't drive," he says. "Of course she was worried. She'd only had three lessons. I told her to keep her money and put it into proper driving tuition."

But Flanagan reckons he can tackle my food cravings and afternoon dash for a Mars Bar and coffee.

Session one is simple -- talking for an hour, followed by 30 minutes hypnosis. Session two is a bit more confronting -- it feels like having a scalpel taken to the emotions as you are led through the feelings that may motivate your cravings. Session three is like a recap, with hypnosis included. Flanagan says he doesn't stop your bad habit, he just helps you to get to a place where you learn to be able to do it for yourself.

So after our final session I head into Dunne & Crescenzi. The waiter opens the door and smiles: "The usual? Coffee and a Danish?"

"Hold the Danish," I say.

Thanks Sean. Now, how about tackling my penchant for designer jeans?

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