Interview by Patrick Stephenson
Fallon Cultural Blog
Last summer, I underwent hypnosis. I expelled some anxiety and got the traumas of my past expunged.
My hypnotherapist was the Twin Cities’ Susan Just, CH & CPHI, a success coach, certified hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. Previously, I’d thought hypnotism fraudulent, snake oil to con cash from the in-pain gullible, who’d do anything to feel better. Give me a salve. Swing a watch before my eyes and make me walk like a chicken and imitate Elvis. “You are getting very sleepy.” It seemed the realm of mustachioed, silent-movie villains, Ouija boards and Miss Cleo (ne Youree Dell Harris).
Nevertheless—to experiment—I chose hypnotherapy. It was new, and interesting, and unique. Have you been hypnotized? No, you haven’t (unless you have), and I wanted that prize. That desire led me to Susan, who’s conducted over 2,200 sessions in the last three years. She has a private hypnotherapy school licensed by the State of Minnesota and has trained over 48 people to be certified hypnotherapists. I’m glad I found her, because hypnotherapy was a profound, cathartic and life-changing experience.
During my five sessions with Susan, I conked out in her hypnosis chair as she led me through childhood experiences that were the root of my present-day anxieties. I remembered getting lost at Disneyworld when I was eight. I remembered a Kindergarten girl glaring at me when, at six-years-old, I spilled Hawaiian Punch on my faux-Chuck Taylors. With Susan’s guidance, I remembered the womb, feeling imprisoned in innards. I forgave grade-school bullies. I forgave ex-girlfriends and ex-friends. I forgave my parents (for not buying me a Big Wheel for Christmas) and my sister (for being slobby). Anyone who’d done me wrong got a clean slate. I got a clean slate.
This spring, I decided I’d talk to Susan again. I wanted to know why and how she became a hypnotherapist and for what reasons others have sought her help, whether they’d been changed, too. This is a long interview.
— Patrick Stephenson
Photography by Andrew Ranallo
What first drew you to hypnotherapy?
I first was drawn to hypnotherapy because I was interested in past lives. I was curious about spirituality and the metaphysical world, like energy healing and intuitive skills. I used to do a lot of astrology, but I kept that behind closed doors because I was in, you know, corporate America. But I decided I needed that exposure. I had a couple of past lives done and realized I wanted to help people experience their past lives. Even though past lives can be the “sexy” topic, and I’m an expert at it, I have a strong appreciation for this life. I like helping every individual on their life path, whether they are agnostic or atheist, religious or spiritual. I help people stop smoking, lose weight, achieve more intimacy, release their fears, feal more confident, and adjust their relationship with themselves and the world. To me, that’s rewarding.
What was it like the first time you went under? The first time you were hypnotized yourself?
The first time, like for everyone else, I was nervous, wondering what to expect, but I’ve learned we go into hypnosis several times a day—when you’re on the computer, when you’re on the phone, when you’ve missed your exit when you’re driving. All those are times when we’re actually in self-induced hypnosis. When you’re focused on a charming, mesmerizing speaker on stage, you’re actually in a state of hypnosis. The cool thing is, hypnosis is simply a focused state of attention. I help people get away from that focused attention on their weight, on smoking or drinking, on the things they don’t like about themselves or about the world—I de-hypnotize people!
What is your mission as a hypnotherapist? You said you’re an “engineer of the mind”?
I’m a mind mechanic! [laughs] Or a mind masseuse. It depends on what I’m feeling that particular day. My goal is to help people be who they really are. And to make their process easier. Because everyone is wonderful. Everyone is beautiful. But we have these self-sabotages in our subconscious, and by using this simple technique, I help people drop a whole load of burdens. Not by shoving them down or ignoring them, but by really engaging in the process of living life. I help people live their lives more fully.
How would you define living fully?
I teach people to use their emotions as a language. We have our emotional body, our physical body, our intellectual body. A lot of times, our physical body and our intellectual body are at whatever age we’re at, but they tend to be the big bullies on the street, because our society is afraid of emotion. We’re so used to people wallowing in their emotions or stuffing them down, and not necessarily doing anything about them. I help people actively engage with their emotions and learn what their emotional body is trying to communicate. When you’re sad, you’ve lost something; when you’re angry, you’re actually afraid of something. In fact, at the root of all our emotions is fear. We’re actually afraid of saying that we’re afraid! I help people dial that fear back, identify what’s causing it, and choose a satisfying response. So you gain more responsibility for your life. You gain more opportunity. That’s the cognitive stuff. The subconscious unconscious work that I do, that’s what allows people to be their most effective.
So, actively living is engaging with every moment? And if you feel an emotion, you really, intensely feel it rather than detaching—out of fear?
Exactly, or shoving it down. And, and…not even feeling it intensely, but being able to understand what it means. Living authentically. It sounds kinda like, “Oh peachy keen,” hocus-pocus stuff, but through hypnosis and self-hypnosis, I’ve found it’s easier being Susan. I like being Susan. I like Susan. It’s not egoistic. I find that I attain a meditative state—even while I’m talking with you right now. I feel very relaxed, very composed. My energy is more sustainable. That doesn’t mean my life is perfect, but I have problem-solving skills and capabilities. And you’ve probably found that for yourself: after sessions you’ve become even more resilient. You can parse through things more easily and readily. Sometimes, things really do suck, but they don’t have to suck for as long as they used to.
Because you understand what sucks is temporary and so it doesn’t last as long.
Exactly. And it’s not about wallowing. We’re not taught how to turn off those emotions. Once we’ve decided what to do about an emotion, you get to turn it off. Once you’ve taken a bath, do you keep on taking a bath? No, you get out of the tub and you towel off. Once you’ve figured out what your anger, or your fear, is telling you, you can turn off that emotion.
How would you describe your business here? I notice you have a nice leather chair here. It’s very comfortable. Can you describe for me how you have things set up?
Yeah! I like my clients to feel comfortable. [My office] is kind of a home, but it’s a very comfortable yet professional setting. I do straddle many different worlds. I’m definitely corporate America. I’m definitely advertising and marketing. But I also have a metaphysical side. The client brings to me their philosophies, their spirituality, and I don’t impose my spirituality on them. If they’re interested in my crystals, great, but I want to focus on hypnotherapy.
What sort of crystals do you have?
Nooo! I am not Stevie Nicks in disguise! [laughs] I have some really unique, beautiful specimens. I like getting crystals in their raw form, too. I’m more of a geologist than a metaphysical crystal person. I really do appreciate their beauty and the life within them. And, it is possible that they have certain abilities, but I also feel they amplify our abilities.
How would someone learn to become a hypnotherapist?
They can come to my class! I have a private school licensed by the State of Minnesota, and I train people to become certified hypnotherapists. I’ve trained 48 people in the last two years and I have some classes coming up.
How would you describe the experience of a regular-old patient coming in for a hypnotherapy session? How do they feel when they first sit down in your leather chair?
Having been that person before, I can really understand because… well, my work starts with the first phone conversation. I typically tell people it takes 4-6 sessions to work on a particular issue. We really get to the root of the fear, misperception or limiting belief that is driving the behavior or their frame of mind. During that conversation, I tell them more about hypnosis—you’ll be in a semi-conscious state and you’ll be aware of everything. In fact, people don’t forget things in hypnosis; that’s just a myth. I also tell them how, with the advanced hypnosis I use, we’re actually going to de-program them vs. program them. People’s memories tend to get sharper after they work with me—they become more engaged. Although we might work on one specific issue, they feel benefits in all areas of their life.
Also, during this phone conversation, that’s when someone is asking themselves, “Do I feel confident with this person? Do I feel comfortable?” Each client I talk to on the phone, that can be considered their first session. It’s about 20 minutes long. By the time they actually physically meet me, they’ve already met me. That’s the reason, too, why I do so many expos. When people have a chance to meet the person they’ll work with, that level of comfort can be pretty huge. I think that’s also why I decided to have a picture with my ads.
Yeah, if you see there’s a real human face behind all of it, that can defeat some of the skepticism people might have. Because you look like a nice person. So who’s the ideal patient for hypnotherapy?
EVERRRYOONNE! Especially CEOs. And anyone who wants to become better at doing whatever they want to do. People focus on getting rid of negative habits, but others want to accentuate the positive in their lives—they want to become better at selling, to become more creative, or to improve their abilities to write or speak in public. We can help them dissolve the negative behaviors but help them add to their talents.
Essentially, people fall into two categories, roughly: those who have problematic coping mechanisms and those who have relatively strong coping mechanisms. The problematic ones are things like drinking too much, smoking too much. Those are symptoms of an emotion inside that we don’t like, so we distract ourselves through behaviors that will momentarily give us relief.
But that make things worse, ultimately.
Yeah. People with strong coping mechanisms, those may make them feel safe and secure, but they may also live unrewarding lives. I love working with people who have relationship issues. They’re choosing the same person over and over again. I’m writing a book, actually: I Dated My Dad and I Married My Mom. Seeing and recognizing the patterns of our past that are exploding in our lives today. I help people slow down time and get a perspective on, “What is my mom, what is me? And what do I really want to keep that really represents ME?”
Is there any personality type that’s particularly resistant to hypnotherapy?
There isn’t a person who cannot be hypnotized. Type-A people think they can’t be hypnotized, but really, it’s just about being able to hold a point of focus and follow instructions. Type-A people, even though they have a lot going on in their minds, can follow instructions well. Especially when they’re motivated, because they have something to gain. Basically, we work with normal, everyday people with normal, everyday issues.
We’ve talked about how people, particularly when they’re children, may have one negative experience and then build a tower on it. Can you explain that?
When we’re kids, we’re in a state of hypnosis. That’s a survival mechanism. It allows us to learn as quickly as possible. When you look at a kid and the lights are on but no one’s home, they’re memorizing you. And then we adopt the critical factors of those who surround us, the way they view and judge the world. That may work when we’re five or seven—so we don’t get killed. If we’re more like the people around us, we’re less likely to stand out from the herd. Plus, when we’re children—you probably remember the feeling of time seeming to last forever: “Are we there yet?” Or the first time you got to see a bunch of grown-ups and how big they were. It’s scale, and it’s relativity. Our subconscious continues to accumulate evidence based on what we felt or thought previously. It’s like those…what are those things underneath our bed?
Yeah, dust bunnies. When we have a perception, we will collect information that will substantiate that. If we can go back to the very beginning, you’re more receptive to change at that point. If we ping that out—not change what happened, but change how you feel about it—it can be resolved.
So a tower moment becomes a filter through which you see the world. And everything you see afterward confirms that filter. If you expect to see something, you’ll see it everywhere.
Totally. I have a couple of different clients who, when they were young, there was this myth about them being shy. They weren’t shy. All their senses were open. They were trying to figure out, trying to compute. Because the grown-ups didn’t know how to deal with that, they labeled them “shy.” And this perfectly wonderful, normal child gets placed on the “shy” path. At one point, I thought I was “shy”! Most of my friends would never consider me to be shy, and now, neither would I.
Do most people, if they get back in touch with you later on, report that the experience was beneficial?
I’m amazed by how people stay in touch. Sometimes they’re a little hard on themselves, because they can’t keep on doing the self-hypnosis, but I always believe that, when we get this work done, it’s completely necessary at the time, and that everything that comes after would not have happened unless you’d chosen to do these sessions. Everyone needs these sessions. Everyone needs hypnotherapy. The people we were in our teens and 20s…we change, but our subconscious mind is not able to release that information.
I don’t wanna get too personal here, but you’ve mentioned you practice hypnotherapy on yourself. What are you trying to deal with?
I find I have pet peeves or habits that don’t serve me, that take my emotions into areas that don’t represent who I want to be. I’ll use techniques that I would use in a session on myself. Or, with the self-hypnosis, I’ll find those points in the past when I first acquired this situation, or where I began to amplify it. I start to neutralize or reframe those tendencies. Anger was an operative emotion for me. The root of anger is fear. So I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?” and then I coach myself. Essentially, anger is a coping mechanism, and because I’m more versatile at knowing what I feel and what I think, I don’t need to get angry as readily.
How do you respond to skepticism? When people think of hypnotism, they often think of the guy with the watch. “You are getting very sleepy.”
If someone gives me a chance to explain, they usually get it pretty quickly. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, the Bible says hypnosis is bad.” One lady, at a recent expo said that and I shared that there’s nothing in the Bible against hypnosis, and if it were a sin, we’d all be guilty, because we go into hypnosis all the time. I was able to stay calm and not feel threatened by what she said. And she was so cool with it.. I get to be a goodwill ambassador for hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Even more than that, I feel I’m a goodwill ambassador for recognizing all the good things within people, and especially what is great and wonderful within my clients.
One of the greatest benefits. from our hypnotherapy sessions, was that—when we were through, and I’d be taking the bus into work—the world around me would seem more accessible, and that feeling would continue throughout the day. Something had been revealed to me. I still feel this way.
When I help people with hypnosis, I actually de-hypnotize them. When the locus of control is back within us, we can feel centered and grounded, and so much more is possible. The world seems more inviting and we are able to move through it more easily.
What, anyway, is the difference between the clock hypnotist and hypnotherapy? What’s the scientific basis for hypnotherapy?
With the watch, the hypnotist is trying to induce eye fatigue. With that eye fatigue, you’re supposed to get woozy and drop into an altered state. I find watching the watch is only good for inducing headaches, and I would never use that. I don’t know any hypnotist who would use that method. There’s a classical kind of hypnosis called direct suggestion, where you give people positive or negative suggestions to influence them. That can be useful, but it can also serve as a band-aid, because the compulsive energy can still be there. With the more advanced form I use—we add additional techniques that can help people figure out the self-sabotages and why they do what they do. Sometimes, people have a good sense of why they’re doing what they’re doing, but they don’t know how to get it to stop. That’s where I come in.
How does hypnotherapy fit in in the wider context of medicine? How does it compare to—how is it better than—traditional talking therapy?
It fits in completely. I would love to have more hypnotherapists on staff at hospitals, because we work on self-sabotages from the past, and really, hypnosis is a tool. More career paths could use hypnosis—to work with their clients, to work with people who need help. With my school, I’d like to be training more doctors. I’ve trained one doctor so far and a couple of psychologists, massage therapists, energy healers, life coaches. Every person should have hypnotherapy done every five years. Anyone in management. It’ll make life easier. That’s why I teach people self-hypnosis. It’s an active tool to keep creating change. For myself, I’ve been doing a systematic inventory of every event, every thought from my past, and I’ve been asking myself, “How do I use this? Does it serve me? Is it useful, how does it attract good things, how does it detract from my life?”
How has being a hypnotherapist changed your life?
Wow. Um. It’s changed it tremendously. I used to not like humans all that much, especially in my 20s. That was just fear. But I have clients who want to change. They want to be better. I feel like every one of my clients is a hero or a heroine (not the drug). I get really inspired by my clients; they [make me wonder] what I can do to improve my perspective on the world, to improve my relationship with myself. I’m happier today than I’ve ever been. My life is definitely more challenging—probably 100% more challenging—but I’m able to enjoy myself much more thoroughly.
Do you sometimes feel life is a continual process of self-improvement—or a continual attempt to sustain who you really are?
Life should be a process of self-improvement and growth and learning. Although I tend to believe in past lives and I’m an expert on it, my goal is to have many lives in this lifetime. So every time I get a chance to learn something new or meet someone new or disabuse myself of a pet peeve or change my perspective on something…it’s a good thing. I consider myself a work in progress, so I will continue to learn and grow, and I’m not gonna calcify.
What has studying your past lives taught you?
I’m learning to love—to love myself and a broader community. Feeling that sense of trust and confidence and safety and security. I recently gave a talk on giving love, taking love and receiving love. Right now, I’m teaching myself how to receive love. The more we teach ourselves to receive love, the less we’ll have to take it.
That seems like a good note to end on. So, final question, what’s your favorite cultural hotspot in the Twin Cities?
My favorite cultural hotspot. The expos. I was just at the Body-Mind-Life Expo, which happens in the first weekend in March. The Healthy Life Expo is the first weekend of January. The Edge Life Expos happen in the first weekend of November. There’s another one, Restore, that will be happening in September. There’s so many different health modalities. Plus, these events give me the opportunity to meet so many great clients. That’s a real high Minneapolis and the Twin Cities have.