In an episode of the 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” hypnosis goes awry when the daffy Gilligan is hypnotized into believing he is in love with Mary Ann — and then into believing that he is Mary Ann.
In the 1959 novel and subsequent film versions of “The Manchurian Candidate,” an American soldier is hypnotized in order to assassinate a U.S. senator. (This also happens to be the plot of the Ben Stiller comedy “Zoolander.”)
Depictions of hypnosis in popular culture tend to portray the practice as a mind control tool, either for slapstick laughs or to carry out a sinister plot.
But in a small yellow house in East Blue Hill, hypnotherapy is being used as a tool to help people overcome a wide range of issues.
For Hugh Sadlier, a board certified hypnotherapist, the technique helps people overcome a range of bad habits by tapping their own subconscious mind.
“There are all kinds of bad habits, whether emotional or physical,” he said. “Usually when a habit takes hold, it will influence us, and if it’s not a good habit they want to make a change.”
His interest in hypnosis began when he was a sociology major at Bates College. One night, a friend’s brother came to their dorm and demonstrated hypnosis on another friend, Doug.
“He said, ‘It is cold in here’, so Doug went to get a sweater,” Sadlier recalled. “Then he would say it’s hot, so Doug would take off the sweater.”
Sadlier was intrigued by hypnosis from that day on. After earning a master’s degree in education and working 15 years as a high school guidance counselor, he decided to learn more. He has been board certified since 1991, and has practiced out of East Blue Hill and Portland for 25 years.
The two most common issues Sadlier helps people address are weight loss and smoking cessation. But over the years, he has assisted hundreds of patients to deal with a multitude of other problems such as addiction, anxiety, eating disorders, fears and chronic pain.
Sadlier says that while the old trope of swinging a pendulum in front of someone’s face can help that person relax, he usually uses vocal cues to guide the client into relaxation and then into hypnosis, which he describes as an “altered state of consciousness.”
“They are not asleep — the person is always in control and can come out of hypnosis at anytime,” he said.
Once a client is in hypnosis, the conscious mind that we use to make day-to-day decisions takes a backseat to the subconscious.
The subconscious is then able to accept “suggestions” for how to remove the bad habit. Sadlier explained that the conscious mind may know it wants to quit smoking, but it takes the subconscious mind to undo the habit.
Once the bad habit is released, it is replaced by a new way of thinking.
“You replace whatever contributed to the bad habit with what you want, with an image of the way you want yourself to be,” Sadlier said.
On average, it takes four sessions for clients to be rid of the habit they came to address.
“It can happen very quickly,” Sadlier said. “It takes about four sessions to disconnect from the bad habit and replace it with a new path.”
After a number of office sessions, Sadlier teaches clients self-hypnosis so that they can continue at home.
Yvonne Pollien of Steuben first saw Sadlier last August to help resolve issues stemming from a past traumatic experience.
Pollien felt anxious, disorganized, and unhappy, and was overeating because of the stress.
After her first session with Sadlier, she noticed a change. After several sessions, friends noticed, too.
“I had a friend who didn’t even recognize me,” Pollien said. “She said, ‘What in the world happened to you?’”
For Pollien, hypnotherapy alleviated anxiety and improved her concentration and memory.
“It gave me a sense of calmness that I so desperately needed,” she said. She lost over 20 pounds, and after going without a date for three decades, she is successfully dating again.
“I owe [Sadlier] because he gave me my life back,” she said. “It can pull you right back where you need to be.”
Hypnotherapy is now becoming more widely accepted among medical and mental health professionals as a healing tool.
In 2012, two Swedish studies found that 40 percent of patients undergoing hypnotherapy one hour per week for 12 weeks saw an improvement of irritable bowel syndrome, compared to 12 percent of patients in the control group.
Sadlier has helped clients eliminate symptoms of cancer, diverticulitis, encopresis, high blood pressure and epilepsy.
“There are ways beyond traditional medicine that can be helpful,” Sadlier said. “Hypnosis can enhance the effects of traditional medicine.”
There is one catch to its healing powers: the client has to be committed to making a change.
“I encourage people to make the change they want to see and help guide them,” Sadlier said.
“I worked really hard because I really wanted change,” she said. But if you are committed to the change, it is worth it, she said.
“[Hypnotherapy] just gives you your freedom. It gives you your life back.”