Hypnotherapy as an alternative modality

As a prescriber of psychiatric medication, I worked with a lot of disorders. As a therapist I also knew the value of working with the subconscious mind. My preference was to refer patients to therapy whenever possible, usually to a psychotherapist, but also a therapist who did EMDR. One woman in particular was a complex case. I wasn’t getting very far with medication. She was isolated at home and very scared. So I referred her to therapy. The therapist recommended EMDR to deal with trauma. The client knew I did hypnosis; she had seen flyers on my walls about hypnosis and hypnotherapy. So she decided to come back to me for that. It turns out she was suffering from a traumatic episode she had not told me about before. So I went into hypnotherapy mode. She subsequently decreased the number of medications from 14 to 2. She was also able to leave the house and have a normal life.

That is a typical response that occurs through hypnosis. She had tried medication. She participated in psychotherapy. With hypnotherapy she experienced a dramatic change and an enhanced experience of life.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

I encountered many healing ventures while looking for ways to help people through integrating body, spirit and mind. Yet I wanted a real education to prove I knew what I was talking about. So I entered a master’s program in the college of nursing. It was initially to be a therapy-only program. As the college had just opened a nurse practitioner program which included certification to prescribe medications,  I elected to do both (psychotherapy and psychiatric medication).  This began my 20 year experience in prescribing psychotropic medication.

In Arizona, a psychiatric nurse practitioner can prescribe medication without medical supervision. I worked in a variety of psychiatric settings - from inpatient to outpatient to nursing homes, with a wide variety of clients - from high functioning working adults to those with serious mental illness, and with adults from 20 to 80 or older. In order to integrate complementary treatments with psychotropic medication, I opened my private psychiatry practice in 2004. 

Early in my career I participated in a research study for the use of medication in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That made me very proficient at recognizing symptoms of PTSD.  In my initial evaluation, I always screened for these symptoms. What I have found is that PTSD symptoms exist more than is usually acknowledged. Past trauma seemed to contribute to much of the depression and anxiety symptoms which my clients were exhibiting. 


I referred most clients with PTSD to EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprogramming. As a hypnotherapist I understood the way EMDR is supposed to process emotions; but EMDR is not hypnotherapy, so it does not access the feeling mind. EMDR fits the current medical model, getting at trauma issues in a unique way, but I was frustrated by the limited scope of practice. So I began to do more hypnotherapy with fewer referrals to EMDR.

As my experience with hypnotherapy grew I realized more and more that it is a safer, faster, more effective tool for giving people their lives back. But my own limiting beliefs kept driving me back to prescribing medications.

Changing the world without medication

My original idea had been to change the world without medication, but I found that medication seemed to help people. Prescription medication can be very effective. The downside of medication is of course the physical side effects as well as interactions with other medications. Some medications are very toxic. People gain weight, get diabetes, and experience irreversible consequences; all arising from the medications. I did not want to prescribe medications that could harm people. I wanted people to get better without causing harm.

As a provider, what I also saw as I prescribed medications is that it became interdependent. It was as if I was addicted to clients coming to me for their prescription medication and they were addicted to the need for a continuous pattern of prescriptions. It became a relationship that was all about medication. It wasn’t about the relationship of health and healing. It was all about medication. I was dependent on them to come to me so I could prescribe medication and make a living. They were dependent on me to prescribe medication. It was not the deep personal relationship I had sought in a healing career.

I find that hypnotherapy is the natural way of helping people get their lives back, to heal on many levels; not just the physical level, but also on an emotional level.

The longer I worked with medications the more I realized that, while medication might help people with their mood, it did not change how they saw the world. It did not change their relationships. It did not change them.

I was very fortunate early in my career to have a wide variety of experiences and receive training from several psychiatrists; experiencing their world view, how they approached medication, and how they worked with clients. I worked with a psychologist and became certified as a psychotherapist.

Throughout, I continued to prescribe medication even though I considered it a dead-end street.

For example, I had a client in such severe pain that it was causing anxiety and depression. She was frustrated with the medical system because she could not get her pain to go away with the usual treatments. So we did hypnotherapy around her pain. She was able to decrease her pain level from an eight or nine down to a two or three, on a scale of 0 to 10. We continued with her normal pain prescriptions and psychiatric medication, and she continued to see her pain doctor. Yet, when she was most frustrated and depressed she would ask, “Can you just put me in trance so I can get out of pain?!” And so we did.

I was fortunate in one position to work with a physician who integrated alternative modalities, which led me to further study to become a naturopathic physician.

With each new degree and certification I would attempt to distance myself from the ‘medication track’, but always one fear or another, precipitated by life events, brought me back to it. It wasn’t the life or manner of practice I wanted, yet I couldn’t seem to get away from it. For many years I used affirmations and meditation to do self-hypnosis, but somehow I remained unaware of the field of hypnotherapy. When an internet search brought it to mind, I saw it as a step beyond. It was a means of interacting directly with the affective (feeling) mind.

As I became a hypnotherapist I continued to work in the public health system, still integrating different pieces of my toolbox. That is, until I was told very specifically by a medical director that it was not permitted; I was there to prescribe medication.
With the blessing of my husband, I opened my own integrative psychiatry practice. In that practice I utilized hypnosis and other alternative modalities for health and healing. I was gratified as I worked with a hypnotherapy client because each time a significant change occurred. It was so gratifying to have them leave my office feeling happy or calm more relaxed.

But again, I got scared and began to take insurance, which meant prescribing more and more medications.

As I was now decidedly ‘stuck’ I decided to seek hypnotherapy for myself to clarify my fears and set a sustainable path. That therapy reinforced my desire to help people find their own way to health and healing. And, having then experienced it myself, I settled on hypnotherapy as my primary tool.


That is how Hess Hypnosis Heals came to be, and I no longer prescribe medication.