Libertyville hypnotherapist helps patients with problems ranging from stress to chronic pain
By Judy Masterson
LIBERTYVILLE — After Lillie Jones underwent hypnosis in an attempt to quit cigarettes, she stopped at a restaurant and purposely sat in the smoking section.
"I didn't feel any different," Jones said. "I ate breakfast, had my cup of coffee and I sat there, with smoke all around, waiting for the onslaught. Nothing."
Jones, of Waukegan, smoked for 46 years before finally quitting in January 2005.
"I had a bout with lung cancer and kept smoking," said Jones, 65. "I had a heart attack, had a stent put in and I was still smoking. I was almost at the emphysema stage and a friend of mine said 'God blessed you to overcome cancer and a heart attack and you're throwing the blessings back in his face.' That scared me. I knew I couldn't stop on my own."
Then Jones found Erin McRaith, owner of Breakthrough Hypnotherapy. "I saw her once," Jones said. "We talked and then she handed me a tape. She said 'Lillie, you'll only listen to it once.' And I did. And I haven't smoked since."
McRaith, a certified hypnotherapist who has clinical practices in Libertyville and Evanston, said she began studying the alternative therapy in an effort to help family members with addictions and also in searching for a cure for her own migraine headaches, cured through hypnosis five years ago.
"Once you have something debilitating like migraines, you assume you'll keep getting them," McRaith said. "You worry about them. You wonder when they'll come on again. It doesn't matter what you think causes them, you get them because your thoughts create your reality. Through hypnosis, I now believe I can't get them. If I ever feel one coming on, I remind myself I can't get them — and I don't."
Hypnosis works because the subconscious mind "does not know the difference between fact and fiction," McRaith wrote in The Truth About Migraine Headaches, an article she penned in 2004 for Hypno-Gram, a newsletter published by the National Guild of Hypnotists. Through hypnosis, the subconscious is reprogrammed "to believe that it would be impossible to get another migraine headache."
Power of the mind
"You can take your life back if you learn the power of your mind," McRaith said. "If you thought you'd always be healthy you could be healthy."
McRaith was trained at the Leidecker Institute of Hypnotherapy in Elgin.
Sheila Swenson, clinical intern training coordinator for the institute, said hypnotherapy entered the mainstream when the medical field began recognizing the mind/body connection.
"The popularity of guided imagery is what really helped us because hypnosis is a deeper version of guided imagery, which is the realization of accessing the imagination," Swenson said.
Swenson pointed to research studies on brain scans that show a direct connection between mind, body and thinking.
"Hospitals across the country are using hypnoanesthesia, in which you can immediately reduce pain and discomfort and train the mind to see pain and discomfort differently," Swenson said.
McRaith recently treated a pregnant woman who, for medical reasons, could not use typical forms of anesthesia for labor and delivery. She also successfully treats, she said, many medical conditions related to stress including obesity, acid reflux, irritable bowel, shingles, Type II diabetes and hypertension.
"One of the things that led me to hypnosis was a 1998 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that detailed the multisystem damage that chronic stress can inflict on the body," McRaith said. "It can alter your blood sugar levels, cause chemical imbalances, create gastric acid and adrenalin, all these chemicals that your body should only have in a state of crisis and that long-term hurts the ability to fight infection."
McRaith receives referrals from MDs, from area psychologists and from two oncology practices. She leads classes on using hypnosis for weight control at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools. The next three-session class begins May 2.
Leigh Burger of Gurnee said she has lost more than 60 pounds using McRaith's method of self-hypnosis.
"I went for weight loss and stress relief and she was able to help me on both fronts," Burger said. "I developed diabetes and because I travel a lot for my job it was hard to diet. I was considering gastric bypass surgery when I was referred to Erin. I decided to give her a test. I wanted to stop eating potatoes and I haven't had a french fry or any other potato in over a year and haven't thought about them since."
Burger said McRaith also helped her deal with stress from her job as executive for a clinical diagnostic company.
"I was pretty much not a nice person," Burger said. "Now when I get stressed I start taking deep breaths and I listen to tapes that reinforces that. As soon as my hand touches the doorknob from the garage into the house, I'm able to leave my job on the outside."
"I've worked with people whose entire lives have changed by being able to relax," McRaith said. "What you're teaching with stress and anxiety relief is really how to cope with stress. You won't stop the problems, but you don't allow them to stress you."
No magic bullet
Burger recognizes that hypnotherapy is no magic bullet.
"You can't go there and figure 'they're going to get into my subconscious and make me stop,'" Burger said. "Hypnotherapy just opens you up to reinforce the things you have the motivation to do."
McRaith has helped golfers improve their swings, kids stop having nightmares and women to get pregnant. She has helped people overcome phobias including fear of driving over bridges, of needles, of tests, of flying. She can help dump old emotional baggage for good. She once regressed a patient suffering from chronic headaches to age 7, to revisit a stressful incident with her father. The headaches never came back.
A typical session with McRaith costs $100. She offers a four-session weight loss package, including tapes, for $360. Some health insurance plans cover the treatment and some will pay with a physician referral, McRaith said.
Hypnosis cannot make anyone do something against their will, or go against their moral or ethical beliefs.
"And you can't get stuck in hypnosis," McRaith said. "You will either wake up or fall asleep. Everyone enters a hypnotic state before they fall asleep. It's a state of complete relaxation where your mind filters out everything, pretty much."
McRaith said her success in treating certain conditions is a result of the time she spends getting to know her clients. "I begin with a 20- to 30-minute interview and I design each session for the individual," she said. "None are ever the same."