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She was "out" in less than a minute. The hypnotist had talked to Olga Schmulders, a Harvard graduate student, for the first time in his living room last Tuesday night. He said just a few words and then started a slow countdown. Her eyes closed and she was completely mesmorized. "Olga, you can't remember the number eight," or "You can't bend your left arm," he told her. It was obvious that, despite efforts to resist, the hypnotist had Schmulders acting exactly as he wished.
But that was only part of the show. More surprising was what the hypnotist said after proving that Schmulders was hypnotized. "The stunts are for you skeptics," the hypnotist said. "Now Olga, I want you to relax completely and to think of all the wonderful feelings which you have now," he said, in contrast to his earlier tricks. "Tomorrow, you will concentrate harder on what you study, and you will pursue your interests more avidly because now you know that you can succeed. You will tell yourself that without even thinking about it from this point on."
What the hypnotist had done was to show another aspect of his craft--one that has emerged in this country only recently. He had performed hypnotism to correct particular negative behavior patterns and substitute them with more desirable attitudes. Its practitioners say that it is difficult to find many people willing to undergo "serious" hypnotism. But its use is becoming more widely accepted.
Hy Sampson is one of these hypnotists. He has left the stage and used his skills for what he believes is a more constructive end.
A middle-aged ex-concert pianist and civic engineer, Sampson has worked with hypnosis in conjunction with psychologists and therapists for more than 25 years. For the last 15 years he has received clients in his modest Brookline apartment. In a series of five lessons, Sampson teaches his students "self-hypnosis", which is what he calls his hypnosis program. After the lessons Sampson says each client can hypnotize himself to achieve "self-embetterment."
Sampson's noticeable lack of Houdini jargon and techniques emphasize his desire to take the occult out of this mysterious art. "Hypnosis goes by a variety of different names; it is a coin phrase. For me, hypnosis is nothing more than the accentuation of concentration while in a state of relaxation, and generally speaking this is what I help people to do, to better utilize their existing potential," he says.
Sampson's style involves two basic steps. First, he must establish a close rapport with his patient and dispel any tension or distrust the patient may have. Sampson says he can gain this trust just about anywhere--in a coffeeshop or over a drink. But he says he feels this is a critical stage because he must make his patient believe that hypnosis is useful in a practical way, that it is natural and far removed from the talent show or the circus. Sampson then applies one of a variety of hypnotic techniques--he has a repertoire of about seven--best suited for his patient. At this point, he uses hypnosis to induce a state of complete relaxation. There are many different depths and intensities of hypnosis. Sampson has found from experience that he need induce only a partial level of somnambulence for certain people to get beneficial results.
"What I dislike about many of the meditation programs which are flying around the country now, is that they are standardized procedures which supposedly fit for anyone who tries them. I just can't believe that," Sampson says. Each individual's hypnotic needs differ so he must match the right hypnotic technique to the patient's "suggestibility" and general inclination to relax. He says he "treats every person differently in one way or another" because no two people are exactly alike. "In fact, after a typical session, many of my patients feel that they haven't been 'hypnotized' whatsoever. You see, I try to make the whole process as conscious and tenable for the person who I am working with as is possible."
The second basic step in Sampson's program uses hypnosis for purposes often beyond mere relaxation. Having perceived his patient's problems through reports from doctors and previous sessions, Sampson gradually begins to suggest helpful attitudes that may aid patients to tackle whatever difficulty they may have. Sampson says the results of these suggestions, given while in a subconscious state of relaxation, have been very positive. Thereafter, Sampson shows his patients how to make these suggestions to themselves while in the privacy of their own home. It's a process of attitude conditioning and eventually, attitude programming, by which Sampson believes a person can improve his "self-image" and mentally psyche himself into a desired pattern of behavior. It is clear after listening to a session Sampson held with the grad student Schmulder, that he disdains using the arcaneclinicaljargonofpsychoanalysis.
"The subconscious is rather naive in a sense. It doesn't know the difference between reality and imagination. Therefore, if I can get my subject to visualize himself acting in a certain way while subconscious and in a state of hypnosis, then, with concentration and repeated practice, we hope that he will begin to act out his visualizations in reality," Sampson explains. He points to scientifically controlled research programs, some carried out at Columbia University, that demonstrate the ability of the subconscious mind to train itself for the acceptance of constructive suggestion which it can give to itself. This concept underpins Sampson's technique of "self-hypnosis".
Sampson has something for just about everybody. Many of his patients are sent by doctors who have listened to his public presentations or have caught on to him by word of mouth. Some are doctors themselves. Lists of his patients include lawyers, housewives, fat people, smokers, jocks and wonks. "I had a guy come to me last fall who was a football player for Worcester Tech. Now here was an interesting case," Sampson says as he eases into a story. Apparently, this guy was a superb practice punter, but when it came to games he always shanked his kick. He choked under the pressure of charging linemen anxious to tear his head off. In his sessions with the football player, Sampson would run through each detail of a typical snap and kick, recreating the trauma that the punter would experience during a game. With the aid of Sampson's suggestions under hypnosis, the punter began to visualize a perfectly kicked ball sailing yard after yard, regardless of gowling rushers. Thereafter, the football player could psyche himself into a similar depth of concentration in actual playing time, so that gradually his punting not only improved, but became exceptional. The punter is now trying out with the Miami Dolphins.
"Organic chemistry? Yeah, that unnerves a lot of students. I've had some real messes come to me, and I help them to deal with the pressure," Sampson said. The importance of relaxation, achieved through hypnosis, is as great in working with college students as with any other group. Sampson also focuses on memory retention--better memorization of detail and fluid concentration during exam-taking. "Some of my students look at what I do for them as a way to get better grades. This may be true in one sense, but I look at my work primarily as a way to help these young people to survive tension and pressure, and to even enjoy courses which were previously nerve-wracking."
Hy Sampson did not always limit his activities to serious hypnosis. He was on the stage until about 15 years ago, when Sampson said his life changed dramatically. One night he signed to do a performance for a local charity drive for the "Ship Hope" project. "I was told to put the whole audience to sleep so that the ushers could have a look through everyone's wallets--for a good cause of course," he adds. "It was after the M.C. thanked him personally that Sampson suddenly realized that hypnosis could be used for productive ends, beyond entertaining the rich on behalf of charity. "Since then," Sampson adds, "I've put my black cape into the closet."
But he occasionally reflects on the stunts he used to pull on unsuspecting audiences. A common stunt was to hypnotize two persons from the audience, and then show each person one picture which he described alternately as the funniest or saddest ever seen. As you can imagine, one person would be laughing uncontrollably while the other would stand aghast, on the verge of tears. "That always brought the house down," Sampson admits.
"I hear that some of the fellows at Harvard have an interest in a school called Pine Manor," Sampson jested. Several years ago, in a rare performance, Sampson was contracted to put on a show for their entertainment. He hypnotized three women from the audience, and told two that they were from a different planet and were unable to understand or speak English. He told the third that she was very special because she could speak English, and understand what the other two girls were saying to each other in their "moon gibberish." The first two gossiped with their gibberish, while the third told the audience what they were saying.
"Well, everything went just fine for awhile," Sampson sighed. "We had these two girls chatting in moon gibberish and seeming quite interested in what each had to say, and the third was nodding her head, and telling the rest of us about what her friends were saying. Something about boys as I remember it. The audience was getting a good laugh. But then suddenly, I noticed that the girls had stopped talking and were looking fearfully down at their friends in the audience, and I guess what they saw were earth creatures, not friends. So, off ran these two hypnotized girls through the back door of the room, screaming bloody murder in moon talk."
Not many would know how to handle these two Manor moon women. "What could I do?" Sampson asked. "I had to run after them, drag them down, and bring them out of it. And afterwards, they didn't have the slightest notion of what they had been doing. Great place, that Manor."
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