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Alchemical Hypnotherapy

by Abhita Helena Foss(more info)

listed in hypnosis, originally published in issue 69 - October 2001

What is Alchemical Hypnotherapy?

Alchemical Hypnotherapy is an interactive trance process that goes to the root of all kinds of emotional, physical and mental problems, and facilitates transformation by guiding clients to access their own positive inner resources. This school of hypnotherapy has been developed over the past 20 years by David Quigley, based in Santa Rosa, California. The techniques bring together many of the best elements of Gestalt sub-personality work, inner child recovery, Carl Jung's archetypes and emotional release work.

Hypnosis is used to bypass the conscious mind and to access the wisdom of the subconscious, where all our memories and core beliefs about ourselves are stored. The word 'alchemy' is used to describe the process of transforming the lead of emotional debris in the basement of our psyche, into the gold of self-realization.

Image of fish and icceberg

The Interactive Trance Process

Hypnosis is a word with many unwelcome connotations that do not apply to hypnotherapy, the most prevalent image today being of stage hypnotists. This kind of hypnosis, although very clever, bears no resemblance to the therapeutic kind.

We all experience some kind of hypnosis or trance state every day: watching TV, getting lost in a good movie or a book, or driving and suddenly realizing we cannot remember how we got from A to B. Alchemical Hypnotherapy uses 'interactive trance', a state of deep relaxation where the client is always conscious and, most importantly, in control of what happens. Clients are free to accept or reject any suggestion I make; I am simply the travel guide on this journey, and although I may get a sense of what is happening at certain points, I rely on their feedback so that we can work together to resolve whatever situations arise.

To induce trance I simply use my voice. The client is usually lying down with their eyes closed, while I guide them through a body relaxation, then maybe a guided visualization, such as a walk through the woods or along a beach, and from that point we journey back to the root cause of the issue.

The wonderful advantage of hypnotherapy is that for the client there is nothing to do to get to the root of their problem, other than to sink into relaxation in order to allow the subconscious to take them to the most relevant place. As well as being easy and extremely pleasant, this can bypass all the speculation, talking, analysing and working things out that the conscious mind is so fond of.

How the Subconscious Works

The power of the subconscious becomes apparent when we notice erratic or illogical behaviour in our own lives that we want to stop, but cannot, the most obvious examples being phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Many phobias are the result of a simple but, for a young child, very frightening incident that he or she was simply unable to resolve at the time. Yet, many of us hold debilitating and negative beliefs about ourselves that we carry at a deep cellular level, so much so that in some cases (not all by any means) it can be translated into physical disease.

As a young child our parents and carers are our world. Mummy or daddy may not have told us in so many words that we were worthless and undeserving of attention, but if we were repeatedly ignored and treated disrespectfully as young children, then we will have come to that conclusion by ourselves. That wounded part of us becomes hidden and frozen in time until it is re-triggered, often through being in a co-dependent relationship for example, when suddenly we have the ideal projection screen for all those unresolved feelings of hurt and rejection, and also our unrequited love.

Conscious and Unconscious mind

The conscious mind is the domain of the analyser and critical factor, logic, reason, survival, daily practicalities and functioning in the physical world.The subconscious holds memories of every experience and sensation from the womb, and perhaps even previous to that. It is said that we do actually have perfect memory, we just don't have perfect recall.The subconscious mind is also the seat of emotional complexes, instinct, habits, dreams, imagination, creativity and right brain activities.

The Inner Child

Inner child work is a key element of Alchemical Hypnotherapy. Giving the suggestion, "Lets go back to the first time you learned fear of performing in public", for example, is how we reach the inner child, or that wounded, frightened part of us who was never in the position to be able to resolve and clear those feelings.

It is at this point that the child is made safe, and old, unresolved feelings can be released. The incident or memory can then be replayed in a new way that is empowering to the client. Once the child is safe, she will need loving re-parenting and reassurance, which comes either from the adult self or from finding new inner parents or guides in her inner world, who she can also work with in her daily life.

The advantage of this work is that it replaces the powerlessness felt as a child that continues to hold the adult self back, with new loving inner resources. The client's child-self feels the presence of these loving inner guides very much as a physical body experience and from here new positive self-beliefs start forming very naturally. This healing experience is then linked to the problem situation in the client's life, so that whenever it reoccurs, the client automatically reconnects with this positive experience.

As we work with the subconscious, we start to meet images from the collective unconscious and the archetypal energies, which we can all tap into as they are part of our collective culture. Carl Jung, the originator of archetype theory, named the inner child as the homunculus and the inner mate, or the inner man/inner woman as the anima and animus. In Alchemical Hypnotherapy, working with the inner mother and inner father is very healing for the traumatized inner child. People find inner guides that correspond directly to their own frame of reference and spiritual beliefs. For example, Christians often experience the presence of Jesus or Mother Mary as strong healing forces and protectors. For other people the experience may be more mundane, but just as meaningful. Childhood fairytale heroes and even characters from Star Trek have been known to show up. The process can often be fun and quite delightful for the inner child.

Practical Applications

I have come to the conclusion that there is always a reason or a root cause behind every behaviour, no matter how bizarre it may seem to the logical mind, and if you give a specific enough suggestion to the subconscious mind, it will always take you to the relevant memory – as long as it is safe and appropriate to do so. (The subconscious is also very good at guarding certain places until the time is right.) Because of this, Alchemical Hypnotherapy can be effective for a whole range of issues.


I find that it is particularly helpful for medically diagnosed depression. In such cases there is often a long history of disempowering experiences that have led the client to give up on life. Corresponding to that is usually a lot of 'pressed down' feelings that the client simply has not had the resources to deal with. Although medication is useful – and can be life-saving – in these situations as a stopgap measure, it does not lead to long-term resolution. People often relapse when medication is stopped, but with hypnotherapy long-term emotional change is possible.

[Editor's Note: Hypnotherapy can indeed be useful for treating depression if it raises the self-esteem and provides a new perspective; however, if hypnosis resurrects negative feelings it can deepen depression.]

Habits and Phobias

Alchemical Hypnotherapy is effective for habits and phobias, which are usually very straightforward to deal with. Eating disorders, body image and issues around food always, in my experience, have a subconscious root. There are many complex reasons for overeating, but the prime ones are stuffing down painful feelings (comfort eating), and lack of primary nurturing. Often there is an unmet craving for love, or a need for control in one's life. Similarly, with addictions, there is usually a need or gaping hole in the person's life that they are trying to fill (which is why when people give up smoking they often eat more to compensate). Alcohol in particular is used to self-medicate and escape from, or placate, angry or painful feelings.

One of the more fascinating aspects is discovering emotional root causes of disease. One man I worked with had had his thyroid removed during cancer treatment. When we went to visit this part of his body we found a precocious, highly expressive, irrepressible, attention-seeking little boy, whom the client found rather shocking! Especially so as his adult self experienced phobic reactions around eating in public and performing on stage as a musician. We found that for his own survival as a child he had repressed many of his needs and ways of expressing himself, and it is interesting to note that the illness happened to be in his throat, the centre of expression.

Completing Communication

Another important element of Alchemical Hypnotherapy is that it enables us to complete communication with significant others on a 'soul level', to clear out and express feelings to the appropriate person, without their having to know anything about it on the physical plane of day-to-day reality. I recently worked with a man whose lover had left him and also left the country without explanation, leaving him in shock, turmoil and distress. The meeting between them in trance was extremely touching and brought him a completely new understanding and acceptance of the situation. It also seemed to me that the love between them strengthened considerably, even if it was not possible for them to be together physically at that time. Completing communication in this way is also very effective for resolving childhood issues with abusive parents or carers.

Past Lives

Some of the deepest work I have experienced goes back beyond the womb into past lives. People sometimes move spontaneously into a past life regression after all the experiences regarding a certain issue have been processed. If people ask me whether I believe in past lives or not, my reply is that I think they may be true, but to be quite honest, I do not know. It may be a metaphorical experience of the subconscious costuming an issue in order finally to reach resolution.

Whichever angle we choose to believe, my view is that if it works, then, quite frankly, who cares? From personal experience, I have found past life sessions, and also resolving issues from the time in the womb, to be the most powerful sessions of all.

One woman I worked with had a terror of 'being got rid of', which was being triggered by her current relationship. In trance she returned to her embryonic stage in the womb where her mother had tried to abort her and it was here that she learned very clearly that she was 'not welcome'. During the session a new mother appeared, a person very meaningful to the client, and offered to give her the nurturing and welcoming start in life that she needed. The client then relived the experience of being carried in a loving mother's womb, being born and being welcomed into the world. This brought her a whole new experience of being at home and knowing she has a place in the world.


The final application that is worthy of mention here is working with the sub-personalities. This is especially useful for split decisions and inner conflict. 'Conference Room' is a technique for accessing all those inner voices and bringing them into alignment. I might suggest that we go down to meet all those parts of the client that have an opinion on the particular issue and suggest a circular meeting place such as a conference table or campfire. It is quite fascinating to notice how similar the constellation of sub-personalities is around the table.

Almost always there is some kind of judge or authoritative figure sitting at the 12 o'clock position, with the adult self and inner child or children sitting opposite. Most of us have some kind of rebel personality, a victim, a rescuer, a 'Mr or Ms Together', to name but a few, in our inner world. Sometimes the arguments can be very animated! All the sub-personalities are parts of the person's psyche being communicated to us by the subconscious, and in Conference Room it is possible to meet each part, ensure that their needs are met and bring the table to agreement or resolution of an issue.

In Conclusion

So, even though we may logically think we are in the driving seat of our lives, it is the core beliefs of the subconscious that are truly driving us, almost always without our even being aware of it. Our unresolved emotional baggage has a nasty habit of seeping out in inappropriate ways (road rage is a prime example of this) until we face, express and resolve it. Meanwhile, many of us have become adept at beating ourselves up for irrational behaviour, or not having enough 'willpower' to kick certain habits. Yet, once the root causes of the presenting issues are resolved, they let go of you, without any effort on your part whatsoever, like a dead leaf falling from a tree.

Change then happens so naturally and smoothly that often clients report to me how, months later, they think back to their original problem with statements like, "I can't believe that used to bother me."

The core message I have learned from this work, both being on the giving and receiving ends, is summed up very neatly by the Zen teacher Cherie Huber: "There is nothing wrong with you. But there may be a great deal wrong with what you have learned to believe about yourself."


  1. Michael T Merkel LISW said..

    Brilliant and enlightening!

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About Abhita Helena Foss

Abhita Helena Foss is certified as a Clinical Hypnotherapist under the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners, having completed her training with the Alchemy Institute for Healing Arts in California. She is also trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming. She has a private hypnotherapy practice in Bristol. She can be contacted via the Relaxation Centre, Tel: 0117 970 6616;

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