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Look into my eyes: How hypnosis can improve your health

Irish Examiner

April 6th, 2019

By Clodagh Finn

Forget the stage-show cliché, hypnosis can improve health and change lives, writes Clodagh Finn

Mention the word ‘hypnosis’ and some people still imagine a Svengali figure urging a misfortunate volunteer to “Look into my eyes”. That, however, is starting to change as science proves that hypnosis can bring real health benefits.

The late surgeon Dr Jack Gibson used to say: “The rewards are a thousand-fold, for example, freeing ourselves from pain, unlearning negative thought patterns, withdrawal from drugs, etc.”

The former county surgeon at Naas General Hospital was so convinced of the power of the subconscious mind that he used hypnosis to perform over 4,000 procedures — operations, amputations, dislocations — without anaesthetic. He also treated more than 60,000 patients for various addictions, phobias and psychosomatic diseases.

Now, his work is going to reach a new audience as 35 of his treatments, developed as a series of audio recordings, are made available on a website launched by his son-in-law Andrew Gibb.

You’ll find an account of how, aged 94, he helped Fair City star Orlaith Rafter give up smoking. He might have found it heartening to know that another actress from the popular RTÉ soap, Fiona Brennan, went on to become a clinical hypnotherapist after quitting acting.

She had an epiphany on stage in 2007 while playing Alison, the long-suffering wife of a very angry man in Look Back in Anger and decided she had had enough of the “insecurity and humiliation”, as she puts it, that can come with a career in the arts.

The change to hypnotherapy was not as radical as it seems. She was drawn to her new career by the very same things that first led her to acting — a deep interest in people and in the power of the imagination.

Now, like Dr Gibson before her, Fiona Brennan is passionate about chipping away at any lingering misconceptions about hypnotherapy and her new book, The Positive Habit (Gill Books, €16.99), aims to bring its benefits to more people.

The mind, she tells Feelgood, is an incredibly powerful tool when you know how to use it. While she still hears the occasional stage-show joke, she says people are beginning to understand hypnotherapy’s benefits.

Science has shown hypnosis to be a genuine psychological phenomenon with several uses in clinical practice. A number of studies, quoted in various journals, quantify some of those benefits, proving hypnosis can help alleviate stress, ease pain, restore sleep, and help give up a number of substances.

Brennan has seen that first hand, in particular in her speciality area treating stress and anxiety. She says she was prone to anxiety herself and used to believe that the heaviness of angst was just a normal part of the experience of being alive.

However, she discovered during her own training that she was actually in control of the feelings and thoughts she believed were controlling her, a lesson she tries to bring to the people she helps every day.

“A lot of people are struggling with anxiety and stress and depression,” she says, adding that many opt for medication to feel better.

A member of the Clinical Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Association, Brennan says some of her clients have been amazed to find that their racing mind and anxious thoughts calm when they take simple steps, such as taking up to seven very deep breaths.


It is so empowering for them to discover that you can use the mind in a really careful way to steer the ship in the way that you want it to go. The person always remains in control and the process is entirely safe — in the right hands.




There was such a demand for her work that she launched an online self-hypnotherapy programme called the Positive Habit in 2016. It struck such a chord that she followed it up with a book of the same name.

She says this is not a Pollyanna type of positivity: “The most positive thing a person can do for their mental health is to have the courage to feel negative emotions. The real damage is done by suppressing those emotions. It’s OK to have anxiety. That is where it all starts.”

Awareness, however, is not enough. That is where the book comes in. The clinical hypnotherapist wanted to equip readers with the tools and strategies to turn negative thoughts into positive emotions.

She says there is no point in telling people to change their mindset without showing them how to do so. The book, she says, is designed as an accessible and affordable manual to help people do that.

Accessibility and affordability were also behind Andrew Gibb’s decision to post Dr Gibson’s audio treatments on a new website.

“His pioneering work deserves to be out there. People are still suffering from the same conditions and this is a lost resource that can help people in the peace and quiet of their own homes,” Dr Gibson’s son-in-law tells


Dr Gibson was introduced to the power of self-hypnosis when he operated on a Bedouin tribesman who refused an anaesthetic. The doctor asked him if he had suffered great pain while he removed a growth from his leg; the patient said he felt no pain as he had hypnotised himself.

The surgeon went on to be a tireless advocate of hypnosis and used it extensively — and successfully — during his work as a surgeon abroad and later at home in Naas General Hospital.

There are many testimonies from patients who explained how it worked for them. One of them, Michael Cronley, who lost an arm in a turf-cutting accident, said: “I was in unbearable pain. It was like a red-hot poker, it was so severe. [Dr Gibson] told me he would hypnotise me and the pain would go away. Then, under hypnosis, he explained that the nerves would carry all of these impulses to the brain because the mind was unaware that there was no arm or hand.


The subconscious mind would now be reached and would comprehend that the arm and hand were not present, therefore pain sensations were completely useless and would stop immediately. When he said ‘waken up’, I was aware that my arm was gone but I was completely free from pain.




However, in his lifetime Dr Gibson, who died in 2005 aged 95, was disappointed that hypnosis was not more widely used in general medicine: “Hypnosis is simply reaching the subconscious mind and then reconditioning it. It saves admission, it is pain free, it is natural. There are many uses for it and when learnt it can make all aspects of our lives better.”

He might be pleased to see that is now slowly starting to change.

Fair City Robin quits fags and it's thanks to hypnotist, 94

The News of the World
Sunday January 04, 2004

After 14 years of non-stop smoking, soap star Orlaith Rafter gave up the weed...within minutes of a date with a 94-year-old man.

Fair city beauty Orlaith had planned a New Year's resolution to pack up the fags once the Christmas fun was over. She was sick of the cigs and was banking on the nationwide smoking ban for super support. But the January deadline for the ban was put off till spring because of legal challenges, so in a remarkable turnaround Orlaith, who plays Robin in the TV serial, bit the bullet and stopped the ciggies BEFORE Christmas.

She explained: "I called up to make an appointment with a man who had been recommended to me, hypnotherapist Dr Jack Gibson in Naas, Co. Kildare.

I had phoned to make an appointment for January 2 or 3, but they said 'Why don't you come in now?' I explained that I was really worried that it would ruin my Christmas, what with all the parties." But she went anyway.

Yesterday she told the Irish News of the World: "I'm off the cigarettes more than two weeks now. On December 15 I went and got hypnotised and I've never felt better. It's great to be off them and it really suits me. If I was 18 again I don't think I would have been able to have done it, but it suits me at this point in my life now because I feel it is right to protect my health. I started smoking at 14 just because I thought it was cool, but it's so addictive." Orlaith added: " Dr Gibson is 94. All it took was one session. The treatment was fantastic. It cost me €200, but it was money well spent. I would have spent more than that on fags by now.

"Now I can enjoy myself in pubs, the smell of smoke doesn't bother me and people smoking in my face doesn't bother me either. I've never had so much fun and I highly recommend it. It's given me a new lease of life. Things like patches and gum are a waste of time."

"I know I never want nicotine in my body ever again. People sometimes don't even realise they are still smoking after so long. I just kept struggling. I'd be off them for nine months and back on them for two and that kind of thing."

But what about the smoking ban?

Orlaith said: "I still think the smoking ban is a great idea, particularly if it helps others to quit like I have."

© The News of the World

The Irish Times

Monday May 05, 2003

Look into my eyes . . . Hypnosis is more than a stage show, as Dr Jack Gibson can testify after more than 50 years of helping patients, writes Iva Pocock.

The term hypnosis was coined in 1842 by a British surgeon, James Braid, but the altered state of awareness it describes was not an invention of the 19th century. Many historians of hypnotherapy consider ancient ceremonial and religious rituals in which rhythmic chanting and monotonous drum beats put their participants into trances to be precursors of modern-day hypnotherapy. But it took time for the medical profession to accept it as a tool: the British Medical Association refused Braid an opportunity to present a paper under the title of his newly coined phrase and approved the use of clinical hypnotherapy only a century later.

Now there are international associations of hypnotherapists, including medical and dental groups. In Ireland, the Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy was founded in 1990 by Dr Joseph Keaney, who qualified in America. The institute runs foundation, diploma and advanced diploma training courses, which comprise home-study modules and practical training. It has about 250 graduates.

"The majority of students come from a non-medical background, with approximately a quarter being nurses, doctors and psychiatrists who want to incorporate hypnotherapy into their own therapy," says Dr Keaney. One doctor who has complemented his medical training with his expertise in hypnotherapy is Dr Jack Gibson. Indeed, he has used hypnosis so skilfully for more than 50 years that he is now, at the age of 93, almost a living legend.

He first encountered the benefits of the controlled use of the subconscious mind when practising in the Middle East as a young graduate of surgery - at 25 he was the youngest person to be made a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons - with additional expertise in tropical medicine and hygiene. A Bedouin tribesman refused anaesthetic but nevertheless allowed Dr Gibson to remove a growth on his leg, a procedure the doctor was certain caused his patient great pain. Not so. But it was only later he realised the tribesman had been under self-hypnosis and had suffered no pain.

The first time Dr Gibson used hypnosis was not to perform surgery but to help a patient in South Africa give up smoking. He was convinced the chances of his patient's house catching fire were high, as the house was wooden and the man's bed was covered with cigarette burns. "I had never in my life hypnotised a person, but I felt that this was the way I could get this man to stop smoking," writes Dr Gibson in his self-published memoirs. "I knew the techniques and now, I think, I must have had an absolute belief in its success." His patient stopped smoking, and so began Dr Gibson's career as a hypnotist. After training with a psychiatrist who used hypnosis in a mental hospital in Pretoria, he started to use hypnosis for treating asthma and for aiding in painless childbirth.

But it was as county surgeon at Naas General Hospital, in Co Kildare, that he consolidated his reputation as an outstanding hypnotist, becoming the first and only surgeon to systematically use hypnosis as an anaesthetic. During his tenure there, he performed more than 4,000 procedures - he amputated limbs, set bones and treated first-degree burns - without using conventional anaesthetics.

His record of successful operations is remarkable. Both his memoirs and website include testimonials from satisfied patients, including one woman who had both legs amputated, one under anaesthetic and one under hypnosis. She suffered no post-operative "ghost pains" after the latter operation.

Another patient, a barber from Naas called Mr O'Callaghan, was sent home to die, explains Dr Gibson, because he was too ill to be anaesthetised, to have his gangrenous leg removed. "He came into hospital to see me, but the anaesthetist said as soon as I gave him an anaesthetic he'd be dead," says Dr Gibson. "I asked him if he'd like to have it off under hypnosis, and to my surprise he said he'd be delighted." Afterwards, Mr O'Callaghan commented that as his leg was being sawn off it was the first time in two years he had not been in pain. Despite such a serious operation, he ordered himself a "good meal" on leaving the theatre, remembers Dr Gibson, who says he has endless similar stories.

As county surgeon, Dr Gibson continued to promote hypnosis as an effective tool for quitting smoking - in 1969 his How To Stop Smoking record went straight to number one in the charts, ousting The Beatles from the top slot for six weeks.

Now, 34 years later, Dr Gibson is still helping people give up cigarettes, through individual treatment sessions and his stop-smoking tapes. Indeed, since retiring as a surgeon, at the age of 70, Dr Gibson has been using hypnosis to treat "ordinary illnesses" such as asthma, acne and phobias. He is still practising, with people coming from all over the country to his home in St David's Castle, just off the main street in Naas, to seek relief.

"I practise all day, seven days a week, and I love the work," says Dr Gibson. "I have an awful lot of things wrong with me, but they don't hold me back."

He puts his remarkable energy down to the fact that he looks after himself very well: he takes exercise (more than many people 50 years younger than him) and he doesn't smoke or drink.

Self-hypnosis helped him get over a cancerous lump that appeared on his forehead in 1991, and he says he also used the technique to remove his varicose veins. After wearing stockings up to his knees for 30 years, he decided to cure the troublesome veins during self-hypnosis. Those on his lower leg were cured after three months; those on his thigh took another three months.

"Now I have a leg that's absolutely perfect," he says, lifting his trouser leg to demonstrate. He's not exaggerating. Many people decades younger would be delighted to have such a healthy-looking limb. He exudes enthusiasm, not just for what has been but for the present and all that life still has to offer; as our conversation ends, he says he is hoping to attend a hypnotherapy conference in Singapore and might fly on to China and possibly India, as he'll be in Asia anyway. Testimony to the power of hypnosis?

How hypnosis really happens

Being under hypnosis means being induced by suggestion into "a state of relaxation and concentration at one with a heightened state of awareness", according to Dr Joseph Keaney.

Like anaesthesia, however, hypnosis is only a state. "It's what you do in the state that's important," says Dr Keaney, founder of the Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy.

He divides hypnotherapy into two types: suggestive and analytical. The former involves the hypnotist suggesting, for example, that phobias or addictions will cease; analytical hypnotherapy is about going into the subconscious to find the roots of a problem, as psychotherapy would. Indeed, he says psychotherapy was born from experiments into hypnosis.

"Patricia" went to a hypnotist because she wanted to stop biting her nails.

Having seen a stage- hypnosis performance - clinical hypnotists' code of ethics bans them from such acts - she was nervous that she wouldn't be able to remember what she'd said or done during the session. "But if he said, 'Take off all your clothes and jump out of the window,' you'd wouldn't do it, because you still have your own will." She says she was always aware of what she was doing and remembered all the hypnotist said.

Although she stopped biting her nails only for a while, she says that hypnosis was a good experience and that she might have quit her habit if she'd had more than one treatment. Her overriding memory of the session was of being "deeply, deeply relaxed. It's like a big long massage, but it's mental".

This isn't surprising, as hypnotists induce hypnosis by telling their clients, calmly but assertively, to sit back and relax. Dr Jack Gibson, for example, then continues: "Let every muscle in your body relax as far as you can. Start with the right arm, the right shoulder, the biceps, the right elbow, the forearm . . ."

And so the relaxation continues until hypnosis is induced and the suggestive or analytical session can begin. Dr Gibson says people vary in their response to hypnosis but if the hypnotist speaks with authority, as he does, it will work on even the fiercest sceptics.

Dr Keaney says anyone who sleeps can be hypnotised, other than those with a "mental derangement". Ultimately, says Dr Gibson, the subconscious mind is a source of enormous energy - hypnosis is about tapping into that energy and using it positively.

The website of the Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy is at

© The Irish Times

Sunday People


THIS is the only doctor in the world who can claim to have beaten cancer - and The Beatles. And 94-year-old Jack Gibson vows that he didn't use any pills to help him kill the disease. The gentleman medic still works flat out today at his Naas, Co Kildare surgery. But he's had a rollercoaster life as a result of using his unique style of treating illness. And he's had an unconventional ride on the wheel of pop success too.

Today Dr Gibson does not believe in pills whatsoever. And since 1950 he has pioneered the use of hypnosis as a legitimate and powerful medical treatment. It's a treatment so good, he claims, that it has helped him to beat cancer. Credited with being the first doctor to introduce hypnosis to Ireland Dr Gibson has performed more than 4,000 operations without anaesthetic on hypnotised patients in Naas General Hospital. Incredibly he has set broken bones, performed complicated skin grafts and plastic surgery and treated first degree burns and a myriad of other medical routines on wide-awake patients who never felt a thing.

Dr Gibson has never lost a patient using his unconventional talk-induced anaesthesia. Although it is not widely known, it can take the body up to six months to recover from the effects of a general anaesthetic because of the chemicals used - and they are what makes the risk of complications the greatest. Said Dr Gibson: "Hypnosis is a very powerful medicine. "When I retired from active surgery in 1972 I decided to devote my energies to treating psychosomatic disorders and a range of other complaints. "Epilepsy responds very well to hypnosis - so doerasthma, which is prevalent in the country. "The veterafi surgeon believes that Stress is the biggest single medical problem in Ireland and is the route cause of many ailments. The doctor derives most satisfaction though from treating ordinary, everyday ailments such as snoring, weight loss and smoking "I treat a lot of people for smoking and weight loss and of course snorers - but they don't tend to come and put themselves forward for treatment because it's their husbands or wives who have the problem, not them."

Four years ago the pioneering Naas doctor was presented with his most deadly challenge to date when he was diagnosed with basil cell carcinoma - a skin cancer - which showed up on his forehead. Concerned cancer specialists attached to St Luke's Cancer Hospital in Dublin told him that he would have to attend a five-week. intensive radiotherapy programme of treatment if he was to have any hope of being cured. Amazingly for an eminent surgeon, Dr Gibson refused the medical treatment and decided to try and cure himself using only the power of his subconscious mind. His doctors were sceptical but to their amazement it worked and now he is totally cured. During his self-treatment programme Dr Gibson travelled over to India twice and learned about a breathing technique which' he believes ultimately helped to cure him. He described the unorthodox cure as totally relaxing the mind and imagining the blood supply being cut off from the cancer growth and the body's immune cells, killing the cancer. He was recently given the all clear by startled cancer specialists."The cancer has been gone for over a month now and there are no signs of it returning," he said. Famous for other cures,' Dr Gibson suffered from varicose veins for over 25 years, an ailment which necessitated him having to wear uncomfortable surgical stockings. Using relaxation and visualisation techniques he claimed he was able to cure the condition. He later set about curing his snoring by carrying out a deep relaxation technique for a few minutes every night before he went to bed: "I haven't snored now in 18 years," he said.

Highly respected in the medical world, Dr Gibson also occupies a special place in Irish record industry history. In 1969 he launched a record called How to Stop Smoking which went straight to number one for six whole weeks. The hit single which deprived The Beatles of the No 1 spot later went on to become the biggest selling Irish single of all time. The music-free record is now a collectors item with original 45rpm vinyls changing hands for over £100 each.

Ireland's Own


According to Dr. Jack Gibson, the whole world needs to relax and almost everybody feels the need. However as he points out in his book 'Relax and Live', it is one thing to be told to relax and another thing to be able to do so. 'My aim', he says 'is to make you aware of the principles of relaxation and to show you how you can relax as deeply as a person who allows himself to be operated on under hypnosis'. Dr. Gibson claims that we can get rid of pain by relaxation and he goes on to explain how this can be achieved. There are sections in the book outlining how Dr. Gibson's relaxation techniques can be used in controlling pain, for painless childbirth, overcoming asthma, tackling weight problems, giving up smoking, releiving dermatitis, fighting phobias, dealing with learning problems and passing examinations, tackling alcoholism, controlling drinking, overcoming perfectionism, curing isomnia, getting rid of warts and making love last. The author of this fascinating book, Jack Gibson, FRCSI, DTM&H (Lond.) graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, in 1933, having won almost every available medal. He gained the fellowship in 1934 (the youngest ever to be awarded this distinction, at the age of 25) and the Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from London in 1935. He has worked in a number of different countries, and back in Ireland he took up the post of County Surgeon in Naas , Co. Kildare, and continued to develop his method of deep relaxation as an alternative to anaesthetics and drugs.

He is a member of the Irish and British Societies of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis and the International Society of Hypnosis. He has worked in hypnotherapy over the past 37 years and in his book he tells the story of patients who have greatly enriched and enlightened his life as a medical practitioner and surgeon. Using hypnosos alone, he has performed over 4,000 operations, including setting broken bones, treating first degree burns and plastic surgery. But he says he has derived the most satisfaction from helping people with 'ordinary' illnesses - curing asthma and acne, dispelling phobias about flying or creepy crawlies, helping people to control their weight or give up cigarettes.

By teaching self hypnosis through relaxation, he has helped many people to rid themselves of pain, post operative trauma and the habits of a lifetime, such as smoking or overeating. He is careful to stress that self-hypnosis is to do with mind strengthening, not mind bending as in manipulative stage entertainment. 

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