Clergy Using Hypnosis as Counseling Tool

AnderheggenHypnosis, a word that evokes skepticism and even fear, is actually no different from Madison Avenue advertising or the prayers one hears in church, according to a counselor with 20 years of experience in hypnosis. “An advertising jingle or a prayer, heard over and over again, has the same effect as hypnosis, and that power of suggestion can change a person’s behavior,” said the Rev. George C. Anderheggen, a member of the National Association of Clergy Hypnotherapists and director of the Newtown Counseling Center. About 70 members of the clergy from across the country belong to the organization.

“The elements used to create the altered mental state in hypnosis, such as music or monotone of spoken words, are the same as the chanting voices and incense found in a church or the repeated admonishing of a preacher,” Anderheggen explained. “Every clergyman who stands up there is a hypnotist, whether he likes it or not. Anderheggen, 59, is a state-certified marriage and family therapist and has been in private practice for more than 15 years, Before that, he was a counselor of Episcopal Social Service and assistant rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bridgepost.

He said many of his clients are corporation executives who use hypnosis to cope with great amounts of stress. Hypnosis also can be helpful to people trying to break addictions.

“The biggest obstacle to hypnosis is fear of surrender. People fear that they won’t be able to come out of the trance, that they will be made to look foolish or to reveal a dark secret about themselves,” Anderhaggen said. “But prayers, something more people are comfortable with, can change one’s state of mind. Since the clergy has power and authority, a prayer that drives home the point that a person is unworthy can make him feel unimportant,” Anderheggen said, noting that a pastor could turn that situation around and create prayers that help people improve their self-esteem.

Members of the clergy who use hypnosis in counseling see it as a tool to help them grow spiritually and discover more meaning in their lives. More simply, positive suggestions spoken repeatedly are used to transform destructive areas into positive behavior. “You can change a few words, ‘I won’t get well.’ to ‘I will get well,” he explained. “Most churchgoers, however, consider hypnosis ‘a tool of the devil,’” Anderheggen said. “There are a lot of people who want to run away from hypnosis. It’s almost worse than the word, ‘sex’. Being in the altered state does not mean giving up all control, as many people think.”

Hypnosis, according to one practitioner, is similar to daydreaming, or driving down a highway and going from one exit to another without being aware of what happened in between. Or it can be likened to walking in a forest and feeling small and overwhelmed by its beauty, explained Candace Reedbenyie, a psychotherapist and an Episcopal lay reader at Christ Church, Redding. Since it isn’t easy to convince members of the clergy of the benefits of hypnosis, Aderheggen often works with a few interested church members at a time who may be willing to voice prayers in positive rather than negative terms. “You take it slowly and suggest that everything in life has a hypnotic quality about it.”

The Rev. William Curtis, director of the National Association of Clergy Hypnotherapist, said he uses hypnosis to help someone he is counseling relax and allow different thoughts to enter his mind. Curtis, a Presbyterian minister who lives in Florence S.C., said, “If I can get that person to relax and let go of his conscious mind that says, ‘I’ll never amount to anything,’ we can make that person begin to believe in himself as well a God.”

Anderheggen said a positive prayer might begin, “O Lord God, we appreciate your many gifts. In every way we grow stronger and become more aware of our fellow men, more aware of our inner sacredness…” “That’s a positive approach,” he said.

Bridgepost Post June 6, 1987, about Rev. George C. Anderheggen. By Julie Miller.

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