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If you've ever seen a stage hypnotist, you might think hypnotism is all about volunteers doing outlandish things for the amusement of a live audience.
But there's a whole lot more to it than that, says Bryan Toder, a Lafayette Hill hypnotist who treats patients to stop smoking, lose weight, stop snoring, reduce stress and fears, enhance their sales and/or relationship strategies, and even improve their golf and tennis games -- all at his hypnosis practice, the Plymouth Hypnosis Centre.
Toder, 52, trained with Dr. Scott McFall in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2001. He started as a stage hypnotist and moved to clinical hypnotism -- a transition that's common for clinical hypnotists, he notes.
"If I can have someone walk around the stage with a live Martian in their hands, the stuff I do in my office is baby stuff by comparison," he quips. "Stage hypnotism is an excellent start for clinical hypnotism."
Up to 22 clients walk into the Jewish practitioner's office each day, and they can walk out incredulous at the results.
"I had a guy in yesterday, a narcotics officer for the attorney general's office, who wanted to quit smoking," confides Toder. "He couldn't believe that hypnotism actually works."
Bruce Klauber could have warned him about the efficacy of those results. The 57-year-old Philadelphia resident saw Toder six years ago to treat his addiction to smoking.
"Smoking was one of my favorite things in the world to do, and I didn't want to quit, but my partner of 20 years gave me an ultimatum to quit smoking or get the heck out," recalls Klauber.
As a musician and singer, smoking was also affecting his on-stage performance.
"It got so bad that when I was singing on stage, I couldn't stifle a cough. I knew something had to be done."
Responding to an advertisement that Toder had placed in a local newspaper, Klauber made an appointment with the hypnotist, and asked him to make him want to quit his 30-year addiction. That was seven years ago; Klauber has not smoked a cigarette since then.
"The first five to six days, I was going nuts, trying to rationalize how I could have a cigarette. But I didn't smoke after that first appointment -- and I haven't smoked since," he says.
Catherine Bonner, 58, saw Toder five years ago when she lived in Philadelphia and had been struggling to lose weight for two decades. "I tried everything, and though it worked for a while, I gained the weight all back," she says.
So Bonner made an appointment to see Toder. Over a period of seven months, she says she has lost 40 pounds -- and maintained it since then.
"If I start to put on a couple of pounds, I just go back to the hypnosis tapes Bryan gave me and the weight comes off," she explains. "The tapes give me positive reinforcement to make the right food choices."
There are only a few people who cannot be hypnotized, according to Toder. "People will tell me, you can't hypnotize me, but it's a knee-jerk reaction. In truth, the only people who can't be hypnotized are those who are drunk or on drugs at the time, someone whose I.Q. is 70 or below, and children under 6 years, who can't pay attention long enough. Also, if you're trying to be disruptive or defiant, or just don't want to be hypnotized."
Certain Taboos Exist
Toder refuses to do past-life regression, or to assist people in finding lost objects. And he stays away from things out of his professional sphere.
He notes: "I don't work with sexual problems for men or women. I don't do any weird stuff, and if they are too 'out there,' I refer them to a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist."
The technique that he uses is called neuro-linguistic programming or NLP, and with it, he has helped people overcome fears of bridges, fears of dogs, and has assisted with weight loss and smoking cessation. Lately, he's seeing increased bookings for stress-related concerns.
What concerns him is peoples' misconceptions about hypnosis: "It's not what you see on TV. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and people under hypnosis are always aware of what's happening around them all the time -- they're not in a spell.
"I can't make anyone do anything against their will," he acknowledges. "All I'm doing is giving people the steps to hypnotize themselves. I'm not doing it to them."