Amber Cunningham ponders hypnosis and the art of the possible with psychologist Kalí Alfaro.

Listening to Kalí Alfaro speak about how she practices hypnotherapy is like listening to a really organised person speak about how easy it is to be… really organised. It's as though a couple of hours spent labelling and rearranging, say, a chaotic pantry, is as easy as showing up with a bucket and a pair of rubber gloves and getting stuck in. While my chaotic pantry does indeed cause me grief (only when I open the doors), so does a bunch of other murkier stuff. To stick with the kitchen metaphor, it’s like the turmeric exploded and got all over everything else. If the pantry isn’t your turf, think shed, think exploded bag of sawdust.

 What if we could take it all out (pain, misery, suffering), give it a bit of a wipe, and put it all back where it might remain ordered and well behaved and not stained yellow, smelling of things that are way past their use-by date? What if…

“It’s beautiful to see people shedding that old skin and really stepping into the light and into their potential,” says Kalí Alfaro.

Hold on while I put these rubber gloves on. 

But this isn’t about me (or Indian spices), this is about people dealing with chronic pain, children dealing with the crippling fear of facing a bully in the playground each day, the person recovering from an injury. We break in myriad ways, easily, in the space of seconds, it’s the mending that takes time. 

But is it all as easy as saying: "It's all in your head"?. Certainly not.  Blame your nociceptors - they’re the neurons that respond to potentially damaging stimuli by sending signals to your spinal cord and your brain. The keyword in that sentence is “potentially” – I look at ladders and my hips hurt. I stopped climbing ladders. (And stairs and hills).  Hello nociceptors, goodbye fitness.

“There's a snowball effect that occurs with pain. We have an injury, we have all of these limitations and then there's this snowballing that starts to occur where the person starts associating certain activities with excruciating amount of pain and there's all of this suffering associated. Then we start getting into avoidance. We avoid those activities. By avoiding certain activities we start limiting our flexibility, we start limiting our movements. The body really starts to very slowly change to the point where people become afraid of re-injury. When we're looking at pain management there are so many layers associated to the psychological component of fear, re-injury, suffering, the limitations, that whole sense of self.”

Reframed in terms of an emotional injury, those words remain true. 

Kalí Alfaro’s entry into the field of hypnosis was personal.

“I've been doing hypnosis for over ten years now. I stumbled upon the very effective technique when I was going through quite a challenging time in my life and I had beautiful, amazing results and they were quick. It allowed me to tap into a part of myself that when you're going through a very challenging period seems to be quite tucked away underneath all of those layers of suffering and negative self belief. I was fascinated by the ability and the potential that we have inside ourselves. The potential that we can constantly improve ourselves by letting go of fears, negative patterns, negative belief systems that we absorb from society, that we absorb from our families, from … traumatic events.”

Hear that? Beautiful, amazing results, quick. During the course of our conversation Alfaro tells me she could put herself out of a job.

“People might come in for three or six sessions and the level of discomfort has diminished quite significantly, that I no longer need to see them on a regular basis. They might come for maintenance, maybe for a couple of months. They might come once a month here or there, but the beauty of hypnosis is that you're really dealing with the root of the problem, so this doesn't mean that it won't resurface again but the likelihood of them needing ongoing care for a prolonged period of time is much less than comparatively with other therapies.”

People who love what they do are invariably good at what they do; Kalí Alfaro explains her feelings about getting results.

“When you see people letting go of all of those layers of suffering, that negative programming, letting go of the moodiness, the emotional suffering and they can start to allow themselves to just be and face a lot of their issues in life in quite an empowered way. It's an honour for me to be part of that process with these people and it's beautiful to see people shedding that old skin and really stepping into the light and into their potential. When you're working with children that have been bullied in school, or that have gone through weight issues and have struggled for such a long period of time with a negative self concept, and slowly through narratives, and through stories, and a completely different way where we're tapping into visualisation and the imagination, can begin to blossom.”

“I find it empowering to show people that they have so many internal resources that they can tap into. With adults it's the same. So many of us have been conditioned for such a long period of time to be either afraid of things, or to immediately think negatively. When you tap into that, "Let's just for a moment allow ourselves to think differently about a situation or to just toy with the idea that maybe we can look at life in a completely different way or let's begin to use our imagination. Let's get a little bit creative about how we deal with some of the baggage we all carry."

Baggage. Turmeric. Comme ci comme ça.

I wonder if it’s like this? I’m not sporty. My natural instinct when a projectile is aimed at me (netball, football, any ball) is to go into a full body cringe. Arms and hands protecting head/face, one knee up protecting abdomen.  This pretty much guarantees the ball will hit me and that it will hurt. 

Is that what my nociceptors are like? My terrified, lily-livered nociceptors. What if I could retrain them, so that I might stand in readiness, smoothly catch that ball and pass it off in one fluid movement?  Perceive the arrival of potentially damaging stimuli. Understand there are two options available at this point (panic, not panic), choose the right one and in so doing short circuit that message to my brain which is telling me to tense up, freeze in terror and brace for pain. 

Kalí Alfaro says yes.

“It’s fascinating to go into the depths of the mind and begin to really release the root of the problems, not just a band-aid effect.

“We are dealing with the sub-conscious mind. The part of the iceberg that you can’t see.”

Which has always been the problem with icebergs. And pain, and fear, and suffering.  If we can’t see them, how can we find them? If we can’t find them, how can we fix them? Kali Alfaro knows where to look.

Kalí Alfaro consults at Chelsea Psychology in Nedlands, WA. Call 93866020 to make an appointment and try hypnotherapy for yourself.