Feature Articles

Mardi Dunbar

Healing, deep in the realm of the subconscious

Josh McMahon


Suspended in nothingness, the world no longer exists. I am embraced by the calm darkness, in a state of relaxed clarity.

A low-pitched, soothing voice fills my mind, suggesting this wonderful place is one that I can return to at any time. My subconscious smiles – it likes that idea.

It’s then time to return to the real world.

Guided by the voice in my mind, I climb back up the levels of consciousness. My eyes open. I’m once again reclining in a lounge in a small warmly lit room. I feel calm, confident, relaxed.

Being hypnotised was nothing like what I had expected. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure what I expected. To quack like a duck every time I heard a clock chime? To chow down on an onion, thinking it was an apple? Or to have an uncontrollable urge to tell strangers I love them?

Like so many others, my ideas on hypnosis were shaped by its hilarious use in on-stage entertainment. They’re preconceptions that clinical hypnotherapists like Mardi Dunbar are constantly up against, in their ongoing battle for their work to be understood and accepted.

As a clinical hypnotherapist, hypnosis is just one tool in the box for Mardi. She also has degrees in psychology and counselling, combining the different skills she has trained in to help her clients over the past 12 years. For example, hypnotherapy can be used to complement and enhance cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The most common reason for patients seeking hypnotherapy is to give up smoking or to lose weight, according to Mardi, but it can also be used to help motivate sportspeople, reduce exam and study anxiety, improve confidence, or help someone progress on a problem or issue that they seem ‘stuck’ on.

Mardi said she was particularly excited about a new therapy known as ‘virtual gastric banding’ to help people lose weight. Using hypnosis, a new neural pathway is created in the client’s subconscious mind, telling them that they have undergone physical gastric banding to reduce the size of their stomach and their capacity for food.

As a result, the person then thinks and acts as if the physical surgery has been carried out, eating less and getting full sooner, without a single cut of a surgeon’s knife.

Mardi has recently completed training in using virtual gastric banding in Brisbane, with the English pioneer of the technique, Sheila Granger. She now has begun a treatment trial with six patients at her clinic at the Grafton Wellbeing Centre, and is hoping to expand the number of people involved.

She said trials in England have touted a 95 per cent success rate.

“I think it’s absolutely brilliant. I’m very enthusiastic because of the success rates and the trials have been clinically supervised, so we know it’s legitimate,” Mardi said.

“It’s offering something that is really needed – obesity is a huge problem.”

Changing a person’s way of thinking and their behaviour is far more complicated than the one-off tricks displayed in stage hypnosis.

Mardi said that it was difficult to establish new neural pathways in the brain, and ensure the old ones are no longer active. She said following an initial set of four sessions, follow-up hypnotherapy could be required. It’s also important for Mardi to have a thorough understanding of the patient’s background and difficulties, so there is much discussion and exploration before embarking on any hypnosis.

Some patients, such as Kerry Bergan, of Kremnos (south of Grafton) do experience significant results in one session.

Kerry, now 42, had smoked since she was 14. She’d tried everything to give up – patches, tablets, cold turkey – but she just couldn’t kick the habit. It was socialising that she found particularly hard, without the crutch of having a drink and a smoke.

Then on March 29 this year, she went to see Mardi. Kerry had one one-hour session, and she hasn’t had a cigarette since.

“It’s really hard to describe – it’s a real breakthrough for me,” Kerry said.

She has since returned for another hypnotherapy session – to lose weight – and lost nine kilograms in seven weeks. The much-love lollies are no longer a problem, and Kerry says she has a much more active and energetic lifestyle now.

Mardi said she believed Kerry was exceptionally receptive to hypnotherapy, and was also highly motivated.

“We did the hour session and she was just completely convinced that it had worked – completely convinced,” she said.

To gain a personal experience of how hypnotherapy works, I asked Mardi to ‘put me under’. Mardi and I discussed for some time what challenges I faced in my life. Anxiety – especially around work – was the most obvious one that I could bring to light. I mentioned to her also that I was concerned I would have difficulty relaxing during hypnosis as I would be focusing on remembering what was happening so I could write about it later. We continued nevertheless.

I laid back in the comfy recliner; I noted how warm the ambient lighting and feel of the room was. Mardi sat close by, and began speaking in a calm, low voice.

I was instructed to pick an item in the room in front of me to focus on. I chose the painting of a boat. As I stared at the boat, Mardi’s voice suggested that, as I continued to look, the image would begin the move. To my amazement, I began to see the boat shimmer, the vibration increasing until it was moving.

The voice continued to guide my focus, to the sensations of my body in the chair. As the voice continued, I became more and more relaxed. It also suggested that my conscious mind could feel safe to relax – that my subconscious would remember everything it needed to and later inform the conscious mind.

More and more relaxed and retreating into my internal world, I am guided to the top of a staircase, circling downward into darkness. I can see it so clearly in front of me, as if in a vivid dream. Calmly, confidently, I descend the staircase, one step at a time. The golden voice continues to guide me, telling me that as I descend each step, I am throwing off a worry of the world. I throw them off like dark unwanted capes draped from my shoulders, feeling emotionally lighter with every step.

I reach the bottom of the staircase. There are no more stairs – just warm, inviting darkness. I am guided to jump from this step into the nothingness. I am weightless, safe, happy, and free of the outside world and its concerns.

The voice tells me to lightly touch my finger and thumb, and focus on the sensation. I do. It’s surreal. I am told that by doing this, I can return here whenever I wish.

It’s then time to head back to the real world. Back up the stairs and into the chair in Mardi’s room. My eyes open slowly. I smile.

Looking back, it’s hard to quantify the ongoing effect and benefit of the one-off hypnotherapy session. The experience itself was greatly enjoyable, and the rest of the day I was happy and relaxed. At various times since I have been both calm and stressed, so it’s not like my brief session was a silver bullet to anxiety.

One thing about it though – hypnotherapy isn’t recognised by Medicare. What that means is you need to dig out the money to cover it, from your own pocket.

This article was originally published in Clarence Scene in 2012