South Hadley pediatrician helps some patients with hypnosis

  • David N. Gottsegen, a certified consultant in clinical hypnosis, in his office in South Hadley. He works with patients ages 6 to 17. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • David N. Gottsegen, a South Hadley pediatrician who also practices clinical hypnosis, says successful hypnosis “is not mind control.” Patients can’t be tricked into doing something they don’t want to do, he notes. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Artwork from some of the child patients Gottsegen sees in his South Hadley office. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gottsegen asks his young patients to draw and label their brain, bladder, kidneys, and nerves during hypnotherapy sessions to treat bedwetting.  Image courtesy of Dr. David Gottsegen

  • Gottsegen asks patients to draw illustrations during hypnotherapy sessions to treat a number of conditions, including reoccurring headaches, as pictured here.  Image courtesy of Dr. David Gottsegen

Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2019 11:15:18 AM

You won’t find a swinging pocket watch in Dr. David Gottsegen’s office. He might, however, find a way to use clinical hypnosis to help children and teens with chronic pain, sleep problems or habit disorders.

But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you lose control of your body, a typical misconception about hypnosis used in the medical field.

“It’s not mind control,” said Gottsegen. “No one can be tricked or made to do anything in hypnosis that they wouldn’t want to do anyway. Motivation is really important.”

Gottsegen is a certified consultant in clinical hypnosis by the American Board of Pediatrics; he sees patients ages six to 17. He is also a member of the American Board of Medical Hypnosis, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and enjoys cycling, jazz and mindful meditation, which he says is very similar to hypnosis.

A hypnotherapy session is typically between 30 to 45 minutes, Gottsegen said, and a person “sits comfortably, goes into a trance, and is given suggestions on what to do.”

Like meditation, he said, “a person uses their imagination to achieve mental and spiritual health.”

Gottsegen’s background is largely in medicine. He studied English and biology at Brown University, went to the State University of New York Buffalo for medical school and spent his residency at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics in St. Paul.

Without his experience in the medical field, his hypnosis techniques simply would not be as effective or informed, he said.

“Therapists, psychotherapists, social workers and psychologists might also be trained in hypnosis, and they really get a lot of the psychological training” before attempting to use hypnosis techniques as part of their practice, he said. “We believe that people who use hypnosis, which is a psychological procedure, should have the background in medicine.”

Other pediatricians will refer patients to him for hypnosis treatment, and he will see his own patients for issues such as bedwetting, with a better or similar success rate as medicines.

A common prescription for bedwetting is a pill called desmopressin acetate, or DDAVP, that has a success rate of about 12 to 40 percent, according to the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Gottsegen said he has a success rate of about 75 percent with hypnotherapy treatment, with complete dryness within a month or two, and sometimes after just one session.

“I teach a young person they can learn to use the alarm inside their own head,” he said.

The pill for bedwetting is accompanied by an alarm that attaches to pajamas and alerts children when they have an accident, an alarm loud enough to wake up the whole house. Doctors say that the alarm helps children move the “locus of control” from the alarm to the young person.

“What I say is, let’s start with the locus of control within yourself right away,” Gottsegen said.

After first asking patients to draw and label their body organs such as their brain, bladder, kidneys and nerves, he then asks them to go through their bathroom routine.

“It’s not just a guided meditation,” he said. “I’m looking for feedback.”

He will ask them questions such as, what happens when your bladder gets full? At night, is your brain there? Is your bladder there?

Patients will respond in turn, walking through the process of using the bathroom, and looking at what happens at night when they sleep so heavily their brains do not receive the signals loud enough to wake them for the bathroom.

He will suggest to patients to find the volume switch in their brain and turn it up. Sometimes he will have patients draw a picture of a television or a dog barking to amplify the signal sent to their brain so that it can wake them up.

“I’m working with their unconscious, which works very concretely,” he said. “They are training their brain as it is at night.”

South Hadley resident Michael Pratt, 19, visited Gottsegen two years ago for reoccurring headaches that left other doctors stumped. He had headaches for nearly five months before undergoing hypnotherapy, and after one session, they went away.

“I had never heard of (hypnotherapy), and in five or ten minutes, they were just gone,” Pratt said of the headaches.

During his session, Pratt said he felt so relaxed that it brought immediate relief. Sitting in the doctor’s chair, Gottsegen asked him to focus on his breathing and picture his “happy place.” Within minutes the headaches were gone.

“I am always in a better mood,” said Pratt, who continues to practice the mindfulness techniques he learned from Gottsegen.

When dealing with patients’ conditions, such as headaches, stomachaches and anxiety, Gottsegen said developing trust is the first step before putting patients in a trance to treat those ailments.

“I want to build on their own imagination,” Gottsegen said. “I might make suggestions, but it is their imagination.”

Kent Higgins, a clinical psychologist at Baystate Medical Center, said a hypnotherapist acts as a guide to change a patient’s habits and routines.

“Most hypnosis in the United States and Europe today is what is known as permissive, not authoritarian,” Higgins said. “It’s a matter of guiding and suggesting and not forcing anything.”

It is up to patients to concentrate and use the hypnosis techniques for their own benefit, he said, adding that it works for some and not others.

In the case of hypnotherapy for chronic pain, Higgins explains, “while a person is in a trance, they can discover something that reduces the pain that they didn’t expect. That’s called trance logic, but that’s not predictable.”

Gottsegen sees patients three days a week in South Hadley at 84 Willimansett Street, and in Holyoke at 150 Lower Westfield Road. He practices with Holyoke Pediatric Associates.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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