Aléna Guest, CHt runs a private hypnotherapy practice in Mendocino. She sees about 20% of her clients as a result of also being on staff as a medical support hypnotherapist at the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH). Guest is part of an innovative wellness initiative whose purpose is creating a “culture of health” throughout the entire community. MCDH is on the leading edge and served as a pilot institution for implementing this Healing Hospital program.
The program was created by Harmony Healing House, whose founder, Kelly Mather, is currently the CEO of Sonoma Valley Hospital. Mather developed the program between 1996 and 2008, with MCDH putting it in effect the next year and Mather’s current post allowing her to run it in Sonoma now too.
Mather says “The ‘Healing Hospital Model’ workbook will be published in June, 2014. It shows how hospitals can use the 4 levels of Healing: Physical Care, Mental Relaxation, Emotional Support and Spiritual Inspiration to create a place of healing and lead community health.”
A key piece of the program is developing an “integrative health network.” At MCDH this includes acupuncture, massage, healing touch, and hypnotherapy with Guest, a founding member of the team. Mather says the point is to allow “complementary providers to work with our allopathic physicians to help patients lead healing and offer non-invasive healing options.”
Donna Schuler is an Occupational Therapy Assistant and the Wellness Program Coordinator for MCDH. Schuler says “pain, insomnia, nausea, and skin issues are often effectively treated with hypnotherapy. It is to the benefit of our patients to have this as an option. Surely, doctors can order medications, but they are not always effective. So here we have another tool.”
The financial hardships of hospitals have been widely reported in the past few years. Schuler says this has affected the ability to raise community awareness about the Healing Hospital program. Still, she notes, care providers recognize it, though not all believe in it. “Some doctors are hesitant to write orders for it while other doctors are fully on board.”
One believer is Ray Hino, MPA, FACHE. He is the former CEO of MCDH and his testimonial to Guest’s hypnotherapy appears on her website:
“Intrigued by the idea of being hypnotized for a better surgical outcome, I made an appointment to see Aléna Guest who I had met and knew had an excellent reputation. I immediately made Aléna aware of my desire for a short recovery period and for minimal reliance on pain medications. I would say that my experience in being hypnotized was very pleasurable and enjoyable. Following my appointment with Aléna, I was given a CD to play for 1 week before my surgery. I dutifully complied and listened to the CD twice each day. When my Wednesday surgery day came, I felt that I was ready for it. I would have to say that the outcome of my hernia surgery exceeded my expectations. By Saturday, I was ready to stop taking the pain pills. I returned to work Wednesday, full time. Following my surgery and my experience with hypnotherapy, I have told everyone how pleased I was with the entire experience.”
Schuler emphasizes that hypnotherapy and the other complementary modalities can contribute to a decrease in the length of hospitalizations and the rates of re-admission. This is beneficial from many vantage points, not least of which is the perspective of insurance companies.
For her part, Guest is a passionate ambassador for hypnosis. She presents lectures to the public and hospital staff, and recently contributed an article to the Fort Bragg Advocate News. Like many in her field, Guest came to hypnosis first as a client for self-love, acceptance and confidence.
In her capacity as a medical support hypnotherapist, Guest is called upon in a wide range of challenging and often urgent situations. For example, a tourist once needed an emergency appendectomy and then couldn’t be released to travel home until his constipation resolved. Guest was able to assist in under an hour. Another time she helped a claustrophobic patient become comfortable receiving a brain scan in the MRI machine. Then there was the nauseous pregnant women becoming dangerously dehydrated until Guest taught her to reduce the discomfort and become able to take in fluids again.
“Over time,” says Guest, “physicians have come around and recognized that I can be their partner, as part of the team. I can assist what they do and not take their place.” This perfectly exemplifies why hypnosis is better thought of as complementary, adjunct or integrative rather than as an alternative modality.
As a 25-year resident of the small Mendocino community, Guest is keenly sensitive to earning and maintaining trust. Unlike anonymously living in a major city, which she’s also done, Guest says being known in her community is comforting and makes her happy.
“One of the most gratifying things of my life,” says Guest, “was opening my practice and having person after person saying ‘I called you, and I decided to come and see you, because I believe you are a trustworthy person.’ To be known that way, as a trustworthy person, feels like one of the highest compliments you can get in a small place. In fact, I’ve heard that trust is the most expensive thing in the world — it takes years to earn it and a matter of seconds to lose.”
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Unlimited Human, the quarterly magazine published by the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association.