Joan Krueger remembers the stress she experienced more than 15 years ago when the company she worked for was sold and moved its offices to another city. “The job was extremely stressful to begin with, and when the company moved, I decided not to move with it, so then I was unemployed and even more stressed out,” she says.

At the suggestion of a friend, Krueger visited a hypnotist in the hope that she would learn how to manage her stress through subconscious suggestion. “I walked out of the hypnotist’s office a different person,” she says. “I felt really good, so I went back for a follow-up just to reinforce the initial effects.” At the end of that second session, Krueger started asking questions.

She wanted to know where the hypnotist was trained, how he learned the techniques involved and what he could achieve for clients. Intrigued, Krueger signed up for a hypnosis training program and gained certification with the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH). The guild requires hypnotists to study under certified instructors, pass a written exam, commit to 15 hours of continuing education per year, and follow a professional code of ethics.

“Hypnosis was such a miracle for me, I wanted to do it for my family and friends,” Krueger says. As more and more of her friends and acquaintances sought the benefits of hypnosis in the comfort of Krueger’s home, word spread and friends of friends began calling for appointments. “I never planned to do this for a living, but I ended up getting an office in Kirkwood and now this is my full-time occupation,” Krueger says. The most common treatments sought by Krueger’s clients include smoking cessation and weight loss. However, hypnotists can work with clients to change many habits and behaviors, such as teeth grinding, nail biting and athletic performance. Hypnosis is also a very effective tool to help control chronic pain, she says.

Krueger explains the hypnotic state as a natural condition in which the subconscious mind is especially open to suggestion. She compares the mind to a filing cabinet where files for all our actions, beliefs and attitudes are stored. The hypnotist’s job is to identify the files that may need to be adjusted in order to achieve specific behavioral results and then make the appropriate suggestions while the client is under hypnosis.

Many misconceptions exist about hypnosis, chief among them the idea that a hypnotized person can be forced to do something he or she does not want to do, says Wanda Lutker, an NGH-certified hypnotist who practices at the Christman Family Wellness Center. “People are very aware during hypnosis—it’s not a zombie state,” she says. “In fact, hypnosis gives you control. You won’t do anything that you don’t want to do or that goes against your morals or values. Instead, you can choose to change your habits, like smoking, without the aid of drugs, using the power of your own mind.”

About 10 percent of the population can’t be hypnotized, and Lutker says most of these individuals are either fundamentally resistant because they are afraid of losing control or they have cognitive disabilities that prevent them from concentrating at the level needed to follow the hypnotist’s suggestions.

Lutker emphasizes that hypnosis is not a substitute for medical treatment. While many people can use hypnosis to aid and enhance the effects of treatment for specific conditions or chronic pain, Lutker requests a physician referral when working with these clients. “Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right, and a doctor should assess that,” she says. “But pain can be made worse when you become very tense, and hypnosis allows someone to turn down the pain by relaxing and releasing areas of particular tension.”

Many people can achieve significant results through a single session, although some require one or more follow-up sessions. Costs range widely, from $60 per session to more than $100. Yet for many people, it’s a small price to pay for a big improvement.