Are you sitting comfortably? MAXINE GORDON reports York's high-tech hypnotherapist who conducts her sessions via Skype
HEADPHONES on, the calm, soothing voice of Rachael Armstrong floods my brain and the outside world is shut firmly out.
I am sitting in my dining room, facing the garden, a cup of coffee at my side and looking at my iPad where Rachael is looming large on the screen.
Welcome to the world of Skypenosis - hypnotherapy via the free, internet, video-chat service, Skype.
Rachael, from South Bank, York, is one of a growing band of therapists harnessing new technology in their work.
Hypnotherapy, she says, is well suited to Skype, which allows both parties to see each other on a computer screen as they conduct a conversation.
It's the closest thing to being with someone while physically apart.
Seeing the client, as opposed to just listening to them on a telephone, is helpful for the therapist, says Rachael, because it is important to pick up on visual clues as they go "under".
"I am looking for signs the body is relaxing," says Rachael. "The face physically softens, the shoulders drop, they become more like a rag doll. I see them physically let go."
Distance therapy, she adds, pre-dates the internet. "Sigmund Freud communicated with his clients via letter," says Rachael.
Skypenosis has clear benefits too, she adds, allowing people to undergo therapy from the comfort of their own homes. It's perfect for people with mobility problems or anyone suffering from agoraphobia; also for people who find it difficult to accommodate visiting a therapist into their busy lives, such as shift workers, parents and full-time carers.
The main provisos are that you need a fast internet connection and a computer with a webcam. If you are new to Skype, Rachael advises practising with a friend first of all. Like many good practitioners, Rachael offers an initial consultation for free.
Clients come to her with an array of problems, from physical ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - which is often associated with stress - to fears and phobias.
She is having success in helping people lose weight through the "virtual gastric band" programme, which aims to make people believe they have had gastric band surgery and so reduce the amount of food they can eat . In tandem with this, she tackles their cravings and unhealthy eating habits, getting them to "switch" away from snacks and a couch potato lifestyle to a healthier one.
Hypnosis works, she says, by reprogramming the brain and making us make new connections between thoughts and actions.
Rachael says: "We use techniques such as relaxation, visualisation, guided imagery and mind management; these have been researched and are scientifically based to show that we can reprogramme thoughts."
Rachael says this goes against once-held beliefs that the brain was "hard-wired" into a set way of thinking.
She said: "The mind is like a muscle and every time you use it, it gets stronger. Every time you imagine something good, it's like flexing that muscle in your mind."
This helps explain how, using hypnotherapy techniques, we can exchange one pattern of negative thinking with a different, more positive one, she says. "It's like a software update for your mind."
She adds: "We can make life really difficult for ourselves. Thoughts simply happen all the time. We have 2,000 unique thoughts every day, that get cycled round. If negative thoughts get into that cycle they get reinforced every day and can stop us from enjoying life."
Although I didn't undergo hypnosis during my hour-long interview with Rachael, the experience of chatting via Skype was intense, intimate, and focussed. I can understand how Skype could be useful for people undergoing a talking therapy such as hypnosis.
And best of all, it's all done from the comfort of your own home.
A one-hour session of Skypenosis with Rachael Armstrong costs £75. Virtual Gastric Band Therapy costs £300 and includes four sessions. Find out more at progressthroughhypnosis.co.uk