Cancer and its treatment takes an impossibly heavy physical and emotional toll on patients and their families. Physicians are great at laying out aggressive treatment plans—but it’s way too easy for mental and spiritual support to get swept aside right when it’s needed most. One complementary therapy that’s gotten a lot of attention in the last few years for its power with patients—in scientific studies and by individuals—is hypnotherapy. (Don’t worry. It’s different from the hypnosis you see on t.v.!) We caught up with nationally recognized certified hypnotherapist Monica Obando to get answers on if hypnosis can help with cancer—and how.
How can hypnosis help cancer patients?
Most of the time, hypnotherapy patients want to address the emotional aspects of dealing with cancer. Hypnotherapy can help with cancer because it is a faster way to find your purpose and peace. For cancer patients, it allows them to discover answers that they already intuitively know, but their conscious mind is reluctant to hear.
For example, some people already know they want to treat their cancer medically—with radiation or surgery or chemotherapy. That’s right for some people and what they feel good about. Others aren’t sure if they want to treat their cancer at all and struggle with the decision. Hypnotherapy lets you get in touch with what you’re really feeling deep down. Bringing those feelings to light and the reasoning behind them can make you feel more confident and at peace with what you decide to do.
Cancer often makes people face the possibility of mortality and want to let go of regrets. Does hypnosis help cancer patients with that?
We all have things in our lives that we regret. When you realize that something very serious is going on with your body, you don’t want to leave anything unsettled. Those unsettled pieces of our lives create a nagging feeling. To find peace with family and friends—and most importantly themselves—you need to discover what it is and address it. You need to remove the secrecy around it so you can let go of what’s weighing you down. Sometimes, that’s even things you’re not aware of.
Also, for some, depending on your type of cancer and stage, there is a feeling like this could be the end of the road or is the end of the road. Death is present in all of us. But none of us truly know what happens after death or what it’s quite like. This creates a lot of stress beyond your cancer diagnosis. Your stress hormones start to rise up. That’s more inflammation and more fuel for cancer cells. That’s why hypnotherapy, yoga, and breath work are so good for cancer patients. Those tools calm your body. When you’re calm, your cells function better and your immune system works better.
People with chronic or terminal illnesses consistently report struggling with feelings of guilt and shame. Do you find hypnotherapy is a good tool to address that too?
Yes. Absolutely, hypnosis can help with cancer patients’ guilt and shame. We work a lot on forgiveness in hypnotherapy. First, forgiveness for feeling guilt. Then, why are we feeling the guilt? It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion. There’s nothing I haven’t heard or that people need to be hesitant to say. I’ll hear, “I feel guilty because I worked too much.” Okay, why did you work so much? “Because I wanted money to travel.” Have you traveled? “No.” What stopped you from traveling? Was there something that became more important?
As humans, we get stuck in loops with our thoughts. Hypnotherapy helps to find the root cause behind your thinking and feeling, so you can accept what you’re going through and also where you’ve been. Even with really negative experiences in the past, people often survive or recover. Visiting situations of times when people have had trauma and how they’ve coped helps them also have hope with cancer.
But how does hypnosis help with all of this? How does it work?
Many women think hypnosis is like being asleep or out of it. But it’s really a mental state that can be best described as trance-like. When you’re in a hypnotic state, you’re actually able to have improved ability to focus and concentrate and greater awareness.
One thing that hypnosis allows for is increased suggestibility. With increased suggestibility, your critical and conscious mind isn’t as active—which some people believe can be a benefit of hypnotherapy over traditional psychotherapy. This lets you be more open to receiving suggestions and cues from your hypnotherapist.
Your mind can change through repetition. It already does, in many ways. We learn what we keep doing. That’s why something as simple as affirmations can change our thinking and thoughts. I’m beautiful. I’m powerful. I am deserving. I am worthy of love. Have you ever gotten in your car after work, driven home, pulled in the driveway, and realized you don’t even remember anything about the drive home? You think: Wait, did I stop at that stop sign? Did I run a red light?
That’s actually a state of hypnosis. Hypnosis works by using repetition. When your mind is really familiar with something through repetition, it relaxes. With that relaxation, we are able to access all sorts of emotions and events that your conscious mind suppresses.
I’ve seen hypnotherapy on TV, and it makes me nervous. Is hypnosis in hypnotherapy anything like that?
Stage hypnosis you see has nothing to do with hypnotherapy. The senses are acute in hypnotherapy. You’ll hear the outdoor noises from right inside the office. You are never under my power. Not ever. Not at all.
I do get asked a lot if falling asleep is part of hypnotherapy. That’s never the goal or intent. If a client is so relaxed they fall asleep, I always gently wake them up. I don’t want anyone asleep through therapy. It’s also important for your hypnotherapist to explain and educate as to what will happen during the session. When you know what to expect, you can be more comfortable.
Do you use a pendulum put people in hypnosis?
Some hypnotherapists do use a pendulum. But I do not do that. There are other methods of induction that work just as well and do not require use of a pendulum.
Even knowing that hypnotherapy is not like what you see on TV, do you still get clients who want to do it but are still afraid?
Yes. Some cry from the unknown. But this happens in other forms of therapies too—not just hypnotherapy. I think a lot of that fear really comes less from hypnotherapy and more from a fear of being judged and misunderstood for their thoughts or traumas. When I do hypnosis to help cancer patients, there can be more fear because of the amount of stress they’re under. People have heavy things they need to share, and they’re afraid to do or say the things they need to say to feel better. But that’s what therapy is for. It’s what I’m here for—to let you say those things in a place that’s non-judging.
For my clients who are so afraid, tell them, “I don’t bite.” That always gets them to laugh. I am open and stay open. If they need to cry, laugh, whatever—that’s okay. Another thing that helps is diaphragmatic breathing. You focus on really engaging and breathing fully into the abdomen. Most people are shallow breathers, and just breathing fully helps physically and emotionally. With shallow breathing, you don’t get enough oxygen to the organs in your body. That stress leaves you in a fight-or-flight situation, which most cancer patients are already in. As soon as you learn how to breathe deeper, you can feel instantly better.
What do you feel like after hypnosis?
People say, “I feel weird.” But we explore that a little bit. You come to realize that the weird feeling is actually because you feel lighter and less burdened—and most of us don’t know what that’s like. That, I think, is another way hypnosis can help cancer patients—and everyone. You don’t realize that you walk around so weighed down by all of life’s expectations and experiences. The ones you remember and even the ones you don’t.
How many hypnotherapy sessions do you need to have a dramatic improvement?
People feel better after one, two, or three sessions. But I offer packages of five because that’s what I believe offers the most amount of time to address things that come up. Each session is two hours long.
Before the first session, I ask people to be specific about some things they want to change. So, for hypnosis to help cancer patients, I hear answers like: I feel like I’m abandoning my family and friends. Once, I really hurt someone I loved. I don’t talk to my mother. I need help from the people in my life, but I have a hard time accepting it.
First, we address the problem at hand. But then other things come up that need addressing too because each new thing piques curiosity. We need to go to the past to confront these things. Once you do this, you can reach what I call your higher self. It’s a different dimension of us that is more aware and enlightened.
Your subconscious mind has lots of insight and knowledge and answers. Everything that you have lived in your life is there. The things that you are good at and are easy are programmed into your subconscious mind. That’s why they’re effortless. Things that are a struggle are not. Accessing memories through hypnotherapy allows you to see things in your life from a different perspective and essentially “reprogram” your subconscious mind. But, alone, so many people are reluctant to go there or hear about it. We’ve been taught to only listen to our conscious mind, which is so polluted with everything we see and here over the years.
One question we got asked is: can I do hypnotherapy if I’m Christian?
The goal of hypnotherapy is to make you feel. It’s not to argue about heaven or reincarnation or whatever your beliefs are. Your hypnotherapist should not be doing that. It should be about helping you and getting you results.
What do you recommend your clients do outside therapy?
The first thing is to breathe. Breathe consciously. We’re changing the body’s metabolism through breath. Also, breath helps release waste. That’s important and also in cancer. I also recommend grounding. We are earthy beings, and we need to feel the earth. Shoes are a barrier. We need time with our feet on the ground. We also want to get out in the sun to get vitamin D.
Another thing to do is a journal. No need to write a novel. Just thoughts. The idea is to bring the thoughts from your subconscious mind to the conscious mind and actually engage with the thoughts in your head that you’re not noticing normally. One I see a lot is: I am so ugly. People write that in their journal. When they reread it and take that thought in through their eyes and hear it in their head, they can confront it and change their thoughts. Changing the mindset and how you view yourself through hypnotherapy gives you peace. Peach with yourself and your life gives you the emotional and physical energy to better cope with your cancer and heal.