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Work: Hypnotist Karen Gray Makes Suggestions

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Karen Gray - SARAH PRIESTAP
  • Sarah Priestap
  • Karen Gray

Name: Karen Gray
Town: White River Junction
Job: Hypnotist and director of Green Mountain Hypnosis

A tip to all dentists out there: Next time you're about to drill into a patient's pearly whites, don't warn them that it's going to hurt. That just burrows the expectation of pain into the patient's subconscious, according to hypnotist Karen Gray, and makes the experience more unpleasant than it needs to be.

"Your body follows your head in everything," she told Seven Days. "How we use language can set you up for success, can set you up for failure, can set you up in any direction, really."

As a certified, professional hypnotist, Gray uses words to help people recalibrate their expectations and behaviors all the time. At her Lebanon, N.H.-based practice, Green Mountain Hypnosis, she sees clients seeking to tackle a slew of health and lifestyle changes, from quitting smoking to losing weight to reducing stress or anxiety.

Before her current vocation, Gray, now 43, worked in Lebanon as a registered nurse. Her friend John Burchell, a trained hypnotist, had experience using the method as a pain-management tool and asked her to let him hypnotize her on multiple occasions. But Gray was thoroughly uninterested. "I do science," she said she would tell him. "I do evidence-based practice."

Eventually, she gave in and let him hypnotize her — and was instantly sold. Newly gung ho about hypnotism's healing powers, Gray traveled to Virginia Hypnosis in 2016 for training and certification. She planned on incorporating what she learned into her nursing practice but, about halfway through the 100-hour program, realized she would be better able to apply her new knowledge if she switched careers completely. She and Burchell launched Green Mountain Hypnosis later that year.

According to Gray, hypnosis works because it temporarily disengages the conscious mind, allowing the hypnotist to suggest things to the subconscious. That overrides the filter that often stands between subconscious thought — where habits, reactions, emotions and behaviors lie — and conscious thought, the home of rationality and logic. Once in the subconscious, these suggestions have staying power, allowing new habits to form and stick.

Gray routinely sees four clients a day for sessions that average 60 to 90 minutes. Sometimes she works with clients remotely over video chat. She also maintains a wellness blog, is creating a podcast series and will soon offer classes.

"I can train people to be hypnotists, because we need more," she said. "Everybody should have one."

Gray spoke with Seven Days about her practice. (The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.)

SEVEN DAYS: What is hypnosis to you?

KAREN GRAY: To me, hypnosis is the art of learning how to use this brilliant machine — your body and mind — and all your abilities and resources to their best potential. It's learning how to take back control of all those parts of your life that you thought were out of control before.

SD: When most clients come in, are they nervous? Skeptical? Excited?

KG: The short answer is, yes, all of that. Generally, most people who make it into that chair want to be there. We do the consultation over the phone, so by the time you get here, you have a good idea of what's going to happen next.

I think most people unfortunately come to hypnosis because they've already done everything else. And I would much prefer that they come here first, because it's much easier.

SD: Why is that?

KG: Let's say that you suffer from anxiety. The normal, current course of action would be to go to your primary care doctor; they will refer you to mental health, or refer you to mental health and put you on medication. That medication takes more than a month to take effect. It has side effects. And traditional talk therapy is a long, long-term plan: months to years.

In anxiety treatment with hypnosis, we can get better control over the symptoms in a much shorter amount of time. We can complement the work that your mental health clinician and your primary care doctor are doing to make it more effective. You get practical tools that you can implement anytime, anywhere, and nobody needs to know you're doing anything.

SD: Have you ever not been able to hypnotize someone?

KG: Twice there have been people who, despite my best intentions and best efforts, just weren't participating, and I've done everything in my repertoire. But if you're not an active participant in your change, I can't make you be.

But people are easy to hypnotize. You already know how to go into hypnosis. Daydreaming — that's a hypnotic trance.

Think about it on a continuum. There's that zoning-out-in-class daydreaming piece. And then there's something called the Esdaile State; you can do brain surgery there, without anesthetic. The kind of work we're doing here to produce changes can happen literally anywhere on that continuum.

SD: Any unconventional cases?

KG: I helped a man get over a fear of eggs — the texture, the idea of eating them. They just freaked him out to no end.

We were able to change those perceptions to create a new understanding of the benefits of eating eggs. We desensitized him to the unpleasant reactions.

SD: How do the hypnosis shows differ from what you do?

KG: Mostly just in how we use it. The mechanics of it are the same, but then the application is different.

SD: So, if you wanted, you could do a show like that?

KG: Yes. I won't, though. [Laughs]

Reporter Sabine Poux tried hypnosis with Karen Gray as part of this story. Read about her experience here.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Word Whisperer"