Can hypnosis improve your love life? That’s what some experts claim

Eyes closed, on a reclining chair in a darkened room, I listen as Aaron Surtees tells me, in a slow, soothing voice, how not to bottle up my feelings. I’d passed my wife Ann on the way into the session — Aaron had been telling her how not to do the same thing.

This was our second session of hypnotherapy for couples through the company City Hypnosis. According to Aaron, the demand for this service has grown three-fold in just a year and 90 per cent of the couples who come to the clinic report complete success in resolving their differences. Though it is a well-established therapy for addictions — Ann and I sought help from a hypnotherapist to give up smoking 15 years ago — it is relatively new for couples seeking help with relationship issues.

The main appeal of couples hypnotherapy, apparently, is the speedy result. ‘A few days after traditional therapy, people are often tired of trying to change and lapse back into old habits,’ he says.

‘Hypnotherapy re-programmes your brain, so couples don’t have to work anywhere near as hard as if they went through more traditional talk- based counselling.’

Nick and Ann Curtis had a set of sessions  of hypnotherapy for couples through the company City Hypnosis

There is also the fact that the couple don’t even have to co-ordinate their diaries and visit Aaron together.

‘I’ll consult the couple first about issues in their relationship,’ he says. ‘But the actual hypnotherapy is done separately in order to tackle the individual issues of that person.

‘If they can be a better person first, then they can become a better person within their relationship.’

Ann and I have been together for 20 years and we get on extremely well. We are each other’s best friends, we spend a lot of time together and we laugh an inordinate amount.

In my early 20s, a male pal and I discussed who our ideal woman would be: I said it would be a girl with whom I could get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of any situation, just because she was there.

That’s exactly what my life with Ann has turned out to be.

But we are not always great at communicating with each other when we’re annoyed or upset, and can get snappish when those feelings eventually come out.

Added to this, we are at a stage in life where we tend to feel sad, often for good reason. We’ve been through serious illness together and loss.

Ann and Nick have been together for 20 years and they get on extremely well

Ann’s parents have died in the past two years. I lost my job at the newspaper where I worked for 21 years and, though I’m now re-employed, it was very tough at the time.

Meanwhile, while my parents are still alive and together, my father is suffering the agonising, slow decline of Alzheimer’s. Ann and I seem to take it in turns to feel sad or angry or just low.

I am powerless to help her in these states, and she feels the same about me, and this, too, sometimes makes us scratchy with each other.

So we thought we’d give the Surtees Method, as Aaron calls it, a go.

No one can hypnotise you to do anything you don’t want to do. Those people clucking like chickens for Paul McKenna? They’re covert show-offs who just needed an excuse

He’s been in practice for 15 years and his company, based in a grand former patent office near Chancery Lane in central London, does around 20 per cent of its work in the field of relationships.

‘It could be anything from a psychosexual thing, where the cause is mental rather than physical, like a woman suffering pain during intercourse or erectile dysfunction in a man,’ says Aaron.

‘I am helping out one guy who is furiously jealous of his girlfriend for no good reason.’

He’s assisted 20-year-olds and 60-year-olds in getting over an ex, and recently helped a twentysomething career girl to stop leaping from one disastrous love affair into another.

Long-term relationships bring their own problems: ‘You might be trying to keep the spark there or trying to forgive a partner for an affair.

‘One woman I deal with works with her husband and they are very close, but she pretty much wants to kill him because he snores.’

He can help women cope with the psychological and physical effects of the menopause, and assist men to cope with the changes it brings. Aaron stresses that hypnosis is ‘100 per cent safe’.

No one can hypnotise you to do anything you don’t want to do. Those people clucking like chickens for Paul McKenna? They’re covert show-offs who just needed an excuse.

The trance Aaron induces is a ‘naturally altered state, where the subconscious — which is the root of all the problems — becomes more receptive to suggestions that you want to hear in order to change your life. It’s the same state we go into several times a day when we zone out or find ourselves staring out of a window’.

Aaron, a 38-year-old father of four, studied sociology and psychology at Southampton University, and spent two years in the Metropolitan Police.

As a practice, hypnotherapy is unregulated — there are no centrally recognised qualifications or unified professional body — but he belongs to the General Hypnotherapy Register, one of two professional organisations recognised by insurance companies and the likes of Bupa.

So this is not stage quackery, much less sinister brainwashing. The only negative suggestions Aaron can implant are ‘aversion techniques —telling you that you’ll feel sick if you eat chocolate, for instance’.

Sometimes a buried trauma may be unearthed in a trance, but he says that most people are aware of the root of their problems, having self-analysed for years, and turned to hypnotherapy as a last resort.

So, Ann and I took the plunge. Aaron had said we should discuss together in advance what we wanted to talk about separately with him. It is, it must be said, weird to be scheduling a conversation about ‘feelings’ or ‘problems’ with someone you share your life with and with whom you are pretty much in tune emotionally.

But we agreed that when one of us was irritated — with work, with life — we tended to shut the other one out, which could then generate further tensions.

Could Aaron help with that? And could he relieve the sense of grief that still hijacks Ann unexpectedly since her parents’ death, and the feelings of professional inadequacy, bordering on worthlessness, that seem to descend on me every Sunday in advance of the working week?

Once in the recliner at City Hypnosis, Aaron sets a recording of rushing water going and starts to talk at a slow, measured pace.

There are no flickering lights. He gets you to focus on your breathing, on a sense of heaviness in your arms and legs.

Then he asks you to imagine descending in a lift, where each floor you pass represents a deeper level of relaxation. He asks you to envisage a safe space where you have happy memories (this made Ann cry because at first she couldn’t think of one — which almost made me cry when she told me).

Other techniques deepen the trance further. Aaron says some people are more susceptible to hypnotism than others (stage hypnotists have techniques to test this and thus single out the extroverts in the audience), but that the depth of the trance has no discernible impact on the success of the treatment.

On my first session, once I was under, Aaron told me I could take the negative thoughts that sometimes crowd into my head and channel them down my arm into my fist, where I could just let them go, or even literally blow them away.

He told me repeatedly that I was in charge of my emotions, rather than the other way round, and could choose not to give in to feelings that are harmful.

And then gradually, he counted me back to full consciousness, which felt a bit like rising through water in a bubble of air.

I’d been under for half an hour: it felt like ten minutes. I’d been conscious and aware the whole time, but I felt refreshed on emerging from the trance, like waking after sleep.

Since hypnotherapy is about empowering you to make your own decisions, there is no intrusive questioning or confrontation — no probing inquiries into our sex life or whether our parents loved us as children, for instance, no requirement to confront each other in the presence of the therapist.

We decided what we wanted to discuss, told Aaron what these areas were and he tried to reinforce our ability to overcome problems of anger or sadness while we were in a trance.

In the week between our first and second sessions, it did seem to me that Ann and I were more solicitous of each other and more affectionate than usual — bordering on downright soppy — over the weekend.

This may have been down to discussing the problems we wanted to talk to Aaron about in the first place, as much as the therapy itself.

In fact, getting over our initial awkwardness about having ‘a talk’ together made me think it might be easy for us to deal with problems that might arise in the future, without resorting to therapy, hypnotic or otherwise.

When everyday irritations arose that week — such as my obsessive need to repack the dishwasher after Ann has done it, or my borderline psychotic insistence that we wait until the very last moment to put a wash on — we possibly dealt with them better.

Most of the time, I think I felt slightly calmer, even when work became suddenly pressured.

The second session involved a more detailed preliminary chat, a longer but — I think — slightly less deep trance state and more suggestions as to how I could combat the lack of self-esteem that brings on feelings of anger, frustration or sadness.

For most couples, Aaron suggests three sessions (at £190 each), but even after our two visits Ann and I detected a marked improvement.

I was surprised by how much of a relief it was to have 45 minutes of quiet and calm in the middle of a busy week, to think about things that were troubling us while listening to a soothing voice.

Personally, I don’t think hypnotherapy is a miracle cure for all my psychological problems or the difficulties that Ann and I occasionally have in communicating our feelings.

But I now believe I’ve got a few more weapons to fight the negative feelings that sometimes arise in me.

Maybe I’ll be among the 10 per cent of patients for whom City Hypnosis’s treatments don’t work. And maybe that’s my fault.

Remember the old joke? How many hypnotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

Clinical hypnotherapist Aaron Surtees specialises in couples therapy and is director at City Hypnosis. More information at