Mind games

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Bob Pargament is used to the mix of skepticism and misinformation.

After all, his profession is not one most encounter every day.

“People don’t know too many hypnotists,” he said. “We’re a rare breed.”

A certified hypnotist and founder of the Westchester Hypnosis Center in Harrison, Pargament knows countless people associate hypnosis with the most visible element of the field, stage hypnosis.

“I’m always getting asked that, ‘Can you make me cluck like a chicken?’” he said with a wry smile.

But that’s not what he’s been doing in his decade in the field.

“I don’t believe in playing tricks on people. I want them to be able to get something good out of it.”

After a career in television production, Pargament tapped into his long-held interests in meditation and hypnosis to create a most-fulfilling second act. The native New Yorker trained with Gerald Kein of Omni Hypnosis Training Center in DeLand, Fla., where he formalized his skills.

And ever since, Pargament has applied his training working successfully with hundreds of clients.

Someone who has smoked for decades is suddenly free of the habit. Someone who has been afraid to step into an elevator can now travel from floor to floor. Someone who can’t pass up a piece (or three) of chocolate cake is suddenly losing weight.

It’s all the result of hypnosis.

“You get a feeling of empowerment,” he said of what happens to his clients.
And for every person Pargament has helped get over a fear of spiders or every actor conquer stage fright, he’s also helped a stadium’s worth of athletes.

It’s all in your head

On a recent afternoon, Pargament shared that his most recent client was a golfer.

“A lot of golfers come in,” he said. “It helps them tremendously.”

Pargament, though, has worked with athletes of all sports, levels and ages. It might be the high-school lacrosse player with an eye on a scholarship but a tendency to choke or a young woman participating in competitive gymnastics whose nerves kill her poise.

It can also be adult pool players, who’ve suddenly lost their concentration. Following hypnosis, Pargament said, the pool players are suddenly playing better.

“They really do, and they’re less likely to break their cue over their knee if they miss a shot.”

Across the board, he said, hypnosis draws on strengths buried in the subconscious.

“It opens up new possibilities in a lot of people’s mind, what they can do,” he said.

He again turns to a sports example, talking of marathon runners who lose their mental stamina in the final miles of a race.

“They would have this mental block, and they will start to believe this block.”

Through guided suggestions, he can help runners see themselves overcoming those obstacles, completing the course and savoring the success. It’s the same way a weightlifter might push beyond what he feels is his limit or how a competitive horseback rider will find a heightened awareness.

“The body will supply that energy, and the brain will supply that,” he said. “It’s taking out the dam from the river.”

The mind-body connection

Pargament is fond of calling the brain “arguably the most sophisticated computer ever made.”

Delving into its workings fascinates Pargament, who can talk about the science as well as the art of hypnosis.

“I think hypnotists all have the same curiosity I have,” he said.

As do many of his clients, Pargament shared.

“Everybody experiences hypnosis organically,” he said, using what he calls “highway hypnosis” as an example – when you’re driving home and realize you’ve come to your exit with no recollection of the past few miles.

“In hypnosis we take that state a little bit more deeply,” he said of his work that can range from single to multiple sessions. “You can insert suggestions.”

Pargament might work with each client individually – though he does offer group sessions on topics such as smoking cessation – starting out with a phone conversation to “demystify” the process. The client then comes in for a session that always begins with detailed intake. Pargament might ask things ranging from favorite colors to places you feel most comfortable to moments of greatest achievement.

“I try to find the things with the individual that resonate with them,” he said.

Then, in simplest terms, Pargament will guide a client into a most relaxed state. In that state, the clients are receptive to suggestions and positive reinforcement with cues given that they can then call up when they find themselves in the same situation. He might “take” them to their favorite place and have them envision what they had previously found stressful playing out with a different, positive outcome.

“You’re really painting pictures with words,” he said, adding that it’s all about tapping into the “power of the mind-body connection.”

“It’s a different model than, say, a therapist’s model,” he said.

Defragging the hard drive

Pargament stresses his role is not to judge. He’s tasked with finding a solution to help with a problem.

He realizes people are dealing with much these days and his role is to help them cope.

“This is an anxious age in which we live in,” he said. “All the different technology out there really pulls people in different directions.”

No matter who he’s working with, Pargament is committed to getting to the heart of the issue.

“I call it defragging the hard drive,” he said. “It’s really learning about this built-in mechanism we all have.”

In that state, suggestions make an impression.

“You feel clearer, more relaxed, much less anxious,” he said. “The subject is aware. They’re actually in a state of heightened awareness but relaxed at the same time.”

Take the golfer, for example. Pargament will talk to him, before the hypnosis starts, about successful times in his or her life. He wants to know about a time when he truly felt recognized, having achieved something.

“I will take that feeling and insert it into their golf game,” he said.

Pargament said that the “skill set” required to be a good hypnotist ranges from empathy to intuition – and acknowledges, somewhat humbly, that having a soothing voice such as his doesn’t hurt.

Pargament, a member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, said he’s fueled by “just a love, a love of people and human beings and what makes us tick.”

The subject of television and radio profiles along with many magazine features, Pargament has worked with clients ranging from PepsiCo to Morgan Stanley to the American Dental Association.

Throughout the year, he can be found traveling to speak at and attend conferences, continuing his own studies.

“I do a lot of lectures about hypnosis, because it is so misunderstood,” he said.

With what Pargament sees as a growing acceptance of hypnosis – he readily points to its being employed in medical procedures – he’s confident its popularity can only rise.

In the end, he said, it’s all about drawing out something that is – on the playing field or in life, in general – already there.

“Everyone wants to perform better,” he said. “This is working with people’s belief systems, what they want for themselves and helping them to get there.”

For more, visit westchesterhypnosis.com.

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