Hong Kong hypnotherapist unlocks power of the subconscious to help change lives
Practitioner aims to clear up any negativity by rewiring the neural pathways
As the client focuses on the longest finger of her left hand, held away from her face, hypnotherapist Sonia Samtani softly repeats the words: "You can feel your fingers pulling and separating, pulling and separating apart." The mantra continues, until the client's fingers start to spread.
"And now you can feel a magnetic force between your hand and your head, pulling your hand towards your face," Samtani says. "I don't know if it's your hand moving towards your face, or your face moving towards your hand, but it's getting closer and closer, and your fingers are still pulling and separating apart."
With fingers now spread like branches on a tree, the client's hand does indeed start closing in on her face. Before making contact, Samtani returns the client to full consciousness and asks her if she's OK.
This is not entertainment, says Samtani, a self-development professional and owner of the All About You service, based in Tsim Sha Tsui.
It's a simple demonstration to show the power of the subconscious mind and how it can be mastered. This can be especially valuable if we want to make changes in our lives, Samtani says. She has no idea how stage hypnotists make audience members walk and squawk like chickens.
"That's Eastern hypnosis, and people do it on the streets in Hong Kong. They'll ask you to give them your wallet or watch, and suddenly you'll snap out of it and wonder, 'What did I do?' They use a method to penetrate your mind and put messages there, so you'll believe you want to give to that person or act in a certain way."
Samtani stresses that she's a hypnotherapist, not a hypnotist. "People often joke and say, 'I don't want to look at your eyes. You might make me do funny things'. Hypnotherapy is nothing like that," she says.
She practises the Western school of hypnotherapy pioneered by Dr John Kappas, under which clients remain aware of what they are going through. "There has to be a willingness and permission. It's basically going into a very calm, relaxed, meditative state in which you get access to your subconscious mind. The therapist is merely a facilitator that guides you on the journey."
Divorce lawyers have referred clients dealing with separation and loss to her, Samtani says. Hong Kong-based champion racing driver Dan Wells has also consulted her, and says their sessions have helped him win a string of races.
Sigmund Freud, the so-called father of psychoanalysis, believed the unconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious mind and is the warehouse of our memories. Kappas theorised that, due to our binary way of thinking, memories are stored in terms of good or bad, likes and dislikes. This helps to form our beliefs, but also our fears and insecurities.
Triggers in our daily lives can make us feel or behave a certain way based on these memories. If they are detrimental, Samtani says, hypnotherapy can clear up any negativity by rewiring the neural pathways. It can plant positive suggestions, new self-serving beliefs, deep in the mind, she adds.
Personal beliefs - religion aside - result from an accumulation of three similar incidences that thereafter stay with a person for life, Samtani says.
For example, if you were bullied at school and started to feel that you weren't good enough, reminders from your mum that your brother gets better grades may lead you to conclude that you are inferior. Then if you liked someone and they didn't like you back, it would reinforce that conclusion.
"By this time your mind has accepted that you're not good enough. It has become an internal truth. This is why people experience trauma for years; they're in a frozen state caused by an incident in the past," Samtani says. "We discover what's happened in a person's current life that has caused an issue, find the root of the issue, and go back there - what we call inner-child healing. It's about healing a younger version of you in this life."
Wells, the 2015 Asian Formula Renault champion, met Samtani by chance after winning a session with her through a business networking group. At the time he had begun to think his fledgling career as a racing driver was over, but "since seeing Sonia, I have won every race I have entered - currently at 10 consecutive wins," says the 24-year-old Wells.
"The power of the mind is huge, everyone always says that, but Sonia is able to help guide me to levels I never knew existed. I've seen many areas of my life improve as a result."
There's nothing spooky about the hypnotic state, says Samtani, who has practised as a hypnotherapist since 2008 and has been training others since 2010.
How it's reached is revealed in the first level of a series of five workshops that she runs aimed at acquiring certification from the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association. She also insists trainees explain the process to people they work with to put them at ease over what they are about to experience.
First, trainees familiarise themselves with Kappas' "theory of mind". Between the conscious and the subconscious mind lies what he called the "critical filter". One of the arts of hypnosis is to help the client penetrate this to enter the subconscious.
The first tactic, Samtani says, is to increase stimulus - "message units" in hypno-speak - to confuse the mind. This basically triggers the flight or fight response, and takes many subtle forms. It could be simply asking the client to stare at a finger (as with the pulling and separating fingers). Samtani may also simultaneously ask the client random, irrelevant questions.
The stimulus stops abruptly when the client has reached "crisis" point - and the therapist softly taps the forehead and says "deep sleep". The client will then crash from a heightened state of consciousness, through the critical filter, and into the subconscious. Samtani compares it to jumping from a diving board deep into water. In this state, the client is lulled deeper into the mind, and work begins through a process of connecting with past memories and visualisation.
Some people submit to hypnosis more easily than others, Samtani admits, and there are ways to discover which type they are and alter the technique accordingly. It is sometimes also essential to determine whether a client has a fear or a phobia, she says, and this is a grey area between scientific fact and abstract metaphysics.
"Gravity was once metaphysics; now it's physics," Samtani notes.
"We believe that a fear is something that has an origin in this life. You know what's happened and you feel justified to have the fear. Like you can say, 'I'm really scared of dogs because I was bitten by one when I was two'.
"A phobia is something you're feeling. It's severely physiological and you don't know why or where it came from. Again, maybe it's somebody who's scared of dogs. There's no incident, no recollection, but the body starts shaking. There are some people who are petrified of water. If they see a bathtub that's not even filled to the brim, their legs start to shake. That's a phobic response. Phobias are usually, we believe, related to a past life."
If someone does not believe in past lives, the therapist will use a different method because it's essential to work in alignment with their existing belief system, she says.
Samtani says she has trained about 70 people. A few have gone on to become professional hypnotherapists, while some "just do it for personal well-being and are satisfied with that".
She has seen increased interest in the field since she became accredited, but growth has been incremental, she says. Recently, more Hongkongers have been coming to her with panic attacks and anxiety-related problems. "It goes in themes. I have maybe six months of relationship issues, where people come to me, sometimes as couples, and I help them understand each other."
By resolving issues and altering clients' outlook and behaviour, all manner of things become possible, she says. She has helped people with weight loss, fear of failure and indecisiveness. Some have released old habits and gone on to achieve their dreams.
"I had a client who manifested a job," Samtani says. "She left her banking career and said she wanted to work for Google. We created an image and planted it in her subconscious mind that she is working for Google, and then surrendered and let it go. She had written assignments and essays, psychometric tests, and then interviews on Skype and in person. She finally went to Singapore and now she's working for Google.
"It is all down to belief," she says. "There's always two sides to a person. There's a part of them that believes it's possible and they're capable - otherwise they wouldn't want it - and there's a voice of fear that says, 'I doubt it can happen, good things never happen to me'. There's always a voice of love and courage, and a voice of fear. Mostly, the voice of fear is much louder.
"Hypnotherapy confronts that voice and reduces the toxicity of the associated emotions to bring about a smoother and more pleasant experience of life."