I’m one of those people who just cannot stop learning. There are usually about five books that I am reading concurrently, the majority on some subject related to my various fields of interest. And when I think that I need some serious education, I am not afraid to enter a formal study program.

So it was that in 2008 or thereabouts, when I was looking for a way to help people while at the same time changing career paths, that I found the South African Institute of Hypnotism (SAIH). After intensive study I qualified as a non-medical hypnotherapist. In 2017 I was involved in an online radio station and wanted to deepen my understanding of this media form and so I enrolled in a Masters degree in Media and Journalism at Wits, which I completed part-time over two years, graduating at the age of 56.

After having taken a break from both hypnosis and media for a year or two, I now find myself joining these two skillsets, writing articles for the Find a Hypnotist website, as well as recently having started a podcast channel. I am doing this for a few reasons, namely that I want to situate myself as an expert in the field so as to again attract clients; to provide exposure for hypnotherapy in general and other hypnotherapists in particular so as to promote our modality and as a way to broaden and deepen my understanding of hypnosis, in order to become a more effective hypnotherapist.

Little did I know how much I would be learning from both these activities!

Conducting the interviews for the podcasts is proving to be extremely enlightening. I get to chat with a variety of hypnotherapists who each seem to be specialising in some aspect. I get to learn not only how they operate their businesses, but also how they work with clients. As you listen to these episodes when they are released every Thursday over the next few months, I’m sure you will agree, just how fascinating and insightful each one is. Writing the articles is equally informative, as I get to research various aspects of hypnosis and so deepen my understanding of its uses and applications.

It is inevitable that through conducting the podcast interviews, one will start noticing some similarities and differences, not only in how the featured hypnotherapists work, but also in understanding what issues the general public are seeking help for.

In my experience as a consulting hypnotist I have found that, in the past, about 60% of people that came to see me were those who wanted to stop smoking. Having been a smoker for many years and having successfully stopped as a 40th birthday present to myself, I felt that I understood the challenges smokers face when wanting to kick the habit. In time (and by doing tons of research in ways to use hypnosis in this regard) I have developed a very effective program, which has produced some astounding results. From the feedback I have received it seems that some 90% of my smoking clients have successfully stopped smoking for three months or more.

I have been out of practice for a while and when I decided to reopen my doors early in 2021, it was natural that I would concentrate on targeting smokers through my marketing campaigns. Of course, during the lockdown period when cigarettes were only available at ridiculous prices on the black market, a huge number of people stopped smoking all by themselves. Research by the University of Cape Town showed that about 27% of smokers in their sample attempted to quit smoking cigarettes during the lockdown. The majority of these were African males (62%) and females (68%), while their White counterparts were substantially less: White males (18%) and females (17%). Of those who tried to quit smoking, a third had been successful. This translated to 9% of smokers in their sample successfully quitting smoking. Seven out of ten (71%) smokers who quit during lockdown intended to stay non-smokers after the sales ban was lifted. The biggest reason people gave for wanting to stop smoking during lockdown was the high price of cigarettes (56%). The unavailability of cigarettes (14%) and the ban on the sale of cigarettes (11%) were not as big a motivating factor as the price, neither were health concerns (9%), or not wanting to be addicted to cigarettes (5%). Pressure from family and friends (1.3%) proved to be relatively unimportant in the decision to quit smoking. Most of the respondents who quit smoking did so in the first six weeks of the lockdown.

I felt I had missed out on an opportunity to help these people during lockdown, but at that stage I was working outside the hypnosis field. So when restarting my hypnotherapy business, you can understand why I thought I would focus on this demographic again and do what I do best. But sadly, almost two months later, I am yet to attract a single person who wants to stop smoking! This made me question how I am to proceed and become as busy as I used to be in the previous decade. Did I simply miss the boat, having missed the opportunity to help people to stop smoking during lockdown? Are smokers lighting up again because the ban on cigarette sales has been lifted? Are there now less people now who want to stop smoking? I have yet to find the answers to these questions. (Maybe it’s just a terrible idea to restart my business in the midst of a pandemic that is having catastrophic economic consequences? Time will tell.

It was only when I started doing the interviews with other hypnotherapists for my podcast channel that I realised that there is a shift happening in the reasons why people need the services of a hypnotherapist. And it started with the very first interview I did, which was with Max Kaan.

During our chat, I asked him what people usually come to see him for. Max replied: “Well, pre-Covid, it was definitely smoking cigarettes, and I’m sure every hypnotherapist […] will agree with me and echo the sentiments. Smoking was the number one traffic, followed closely by overweight people, and then the depressed, suicidal people, that sort of thing. But after Covid, it has changed dramatically. The depression is the number one traffic at the moment.”

I found this very enlightening. In subsequent interviews I asked the same question of the other hypnotherapists I spoke to. Athenea Fay reported that she deals mainly with victims of trauma, as did Aiden Lottering. I was, however, specifically intrigued by an interview I did with Durban hypnotherapist Heather Fountain. She reported that she was seeing a dramatic increase in people suffering from Covid-induced trauma.

Heather was talking about how she is helping health care workers who are suffering from anxiety and stress by giving them free relaxations sessions. During our chat she said something that caught my attention: “We have all the people who’ve been on ventilators for weeks and weeks. Now I’m treating people for claustrophobia and for not being able to close doors when they go to the loo, or not being able to close the shower door when they go for a shower. They cannot be confined at all, because the minute that happens, they start having full-blown anxiety attacks. Not only that, but if there’s anything in the background that is repetitive […], that triggers the rhythmic movement of the ventilators on their faces. And they’re suffering from extreme anxiety and claustrophobia.”

She goes on to make a prediction as to how hypnotherapists might have to change the focus of their services: “I think that’s going to be a very real thing that needs to be treated. And I always believed that fears and hypnosis, they just work so well together.”

This reminded me of a newspaper article I recently read about an ‘explosion’ of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among teachers in public schools. With more than 1 300 teachers already having succumbed to Covid-19, many teachers have had to deal with the grief of having lost a colleague, as well as the anxiety of being exposed to Covid-19. A school principal is quoted as saying: “How do you motivate a teacher that is so despondent and going through that because of a loss of a colleague, two colleagues, at the end of the day?”

Another article, this one from a US perspective, points out that the mental health of teachers could be put under severe pressure: Many say their psychological well-being is suffering in ways they’ve hardly ever experienced.”

I previously wrote an article for this website in which I highlighted the ways in which hypnotherapists are adapting to Covid-19, specifically in that they have moved online and are reporting having great success using this method. All the interviews I have conducted for the podcast echo this sentiment. However, it seems that Covid’s impact is going to influence not only the way in which we provide our services, but also the kind of services we will need to provide in future.

This might mean that some of us (including me) might need to shift our focus and reskill ourselves with new techniques in order to deal with the expected flood of Covid-related stress and PTSD issues that might just be coming our way soon. (In my next article, I will deal with PTSD specifically and how a new hypnotherapy technique has been scientifically proven to help a client overcome this debilitating disorder within just six sessions.)

Meanwhile, hypnotherapists like myself will have to quickly pivot our service offering so as to most effectively help clients who need more than to just to stop smoking (although of course you can still do that very effectively using hypnosis!) We will not only have to brush up on the skills we learned during our training, but also learn new ones.

We will need to market our services in a more specific way so as to reach those who are suffering from trauma specifically related to Covid-19. These may include anxiety, stress, depression, phobias and PTSD, to name just a few. The target market might include teachers, students, health care workers, those who have been hospitalised, families of h deceased, even those living in old age facilities. How we reach these people with the message that we have the skills to be able to help them is going to be a challenge all on its own.

Sharon Dill, a hypnotherapist from Johannesburg, has told me in her interview how Google Ads are starting to shut down adverts from hypnotherapists. This will have a big effect on the way in which hypnotherapists advertise their services, as Google has been an important way to do this. While word-of-mouth is still the most effective method, direct approaches such as those employed by Heather are going to have to be explored too. Heather has been approaching health care facilities in her area in order to let the health care workers know of the ways in which she can help them.

Perhaps part of the answer lies in approaching organisations that work in this specific field. Belinda Roxburgh inspired me when speaking about how closely she works with an organisation called World without Wine, through which she has attracted many clients who want to end their alcohol addiction. This makes me wonder about organisations that might exist that deal with PTSD, stress or the other issues highlighted here.

It is clear that personally I am on another learning trajectory. I for one will be implementing some changes starting today in order to prepare for the challenges when dealing with the issues brought about by Covid-19. I will brush up on some hypnotherapy techniques I have not used much in the past and learning the new one I will detail in the upcoming article on PTSD.

And while I am eager to help clients work through their issues and problems, I am excited by the way in which my media experience is helping me broaden the visibility of hypnotherapy to the general public who are in need of our services. At the same time, I am thankful for the opportunity to chat with my hypnotherapy colleagues, because in this way we can get to know each other better and start forming networks.

When I feel myself less equipped to deal with a certain issue, I can freely refer the client to someone who does deal with that particular issue on a regular basis (and trust that they will send the smokers to me?) Perhaps in this way we can strengthen our bonds and by doing so elevate hypnosis, increase our visibility and ensure that what we do is credible and trustworthy.

The Hypnosis Works! Podcast releases episodes every Thursday. The first of the interviews with hypnotherapists will be published starting 26 February 2021. Subscribe to the Hypnosis Works! Podcast Channel wherever you find podcasts, including Spotify, Apple, Google and here.

Hypnotherapists who are interested in being interviewed can contact me to schedule a chat.