If You Hypnotize A Freshman in 1987



Loraleigh VanZant’s office looked exactly like I pictured cosmetic maven Mary Kay’s office to look.  Everything was pastel and dustless and aggressively cheerful.   I felt like I ruined the soothing vibe in there when I showed up in my tartan plaid skirt, bad attitude and blotchy skin.

I didn’t know anything about counselors, other than what I gleaned from the Bob Newhart show.  I had no clue what a kid like me was supposed to do in there, so I spent a lot of time looking at Loraleigh VanZant’s hair– could it possibly taste like cotton candy when it looked so much like it?  I wasn’t smart or sassy or precocious that fall.  It was freshman year, and I was depressed and slept a lot and had a hard time concentrating on algebra.

Sign, cosign, tangent, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. 

I tried to look the part of a full-of-life high school freshman, but the Wet-And-Wild blue eye liner I caked on my eye lids wasn’t fooling anyone.

I figured I was supposed to talk to her about the accident, but I’d already told her everything in the first session.  In the second, third and fourth session she asked me follow-up questions.  In the fifth session, she announced that I was “afraid of death.” In my head, I announced that she was dumb as shit, because (1) who wasn’t afraid of death? and (2) I’d just had a bad brush with it that I suspected had changed me forever.

So she was dumb; I didn’t care. She was nice enough to me and it was somewhere to go.  I liked her peach-colored flower arrangements.

On the seventh session, though, she went New Agey on me, which I didn’t see coming.  It was the late 1980s in suburban Dallas, not fucking Woodstock.  “We are going to try hypnosis.”

In a burst of uncharacteristic verbosity, I said, “Why?”  I’m pretty sure I was making the are-you-fucking-kidding-me face.

“I think it will help you to relax when you think of the ocean. You will no longer fear death.”

All I was thinking was “will it help me pass my algebra mid-term?”  But I was an equal mix of compliant and lethargic so I reclined on her sea-foam green couch and let her take me back to the scene.  She promised me that instead of horror and death, she would insert memories of rolling waves and gentle Hawaiian breezes.

I’m pretty sure I just fell asleep, but the look on her face convinced me she thought I’d reached an alternative consciousness where deep healing was just as easy as fifteen minutes on a couch.  Sure.  Whatever.

I think I saw her a few more times.  After the “hypnosis,” I couldn’t take her seriously.  I felt rage bubbling up as I stared at her confectionary hair, wondering how she could possibly think she had healed the deep sorrow and terror inside of me.   I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was more afraid of death than ever and I probably always would be.

When she asked me if I wanted to keep seeing her, I chose my words carefully.  “I’m afraid not.”


69 thoughts on “If You Hypnotize A Freshman in 1987

  1. sign cosign tangent brought me back… i think it’s hard to sell hypnosis on a teenager… i read many lives many masters in early 20’s and was blown away by the whole hypnosis concept. who knows if hypnosis would have helped back then or not but clearly, she wasn’t…

  2. This is good for me to read, my daughter is a freshman in high school and seeing a counselor now, has been 4 times and there’s no ‘click’. This is all new terrain for me, so wasn’t sure what to do about it. I need to hear her and help her find someone who gets her. Seriously, needed to see this today.

    • Glad it’s useful. My parents were really supportive. She was my second. I think I just wasn’t ready yet. How wonderful that you’re paying attention to what she needs.

      • I wasn’t actually questioning the story, it was more an expression of incredulity to hear the reference to your brush with death. It was more a “whoa, tell me more” than a “are you making this up?” I’m not sure that came through 100%. I hope that makes more sense since I can’t seem to leave it alone.

      • I can see how you meant that. So hard to tell on comments. This story references my experience in Hawaii where my friend’s father drowned on the beach where we were swimming alone with him.

  3. You were a freshman in high school in 1987? Wow. Only one year before I was the same. (Incidentally, my wife was a senior that year.)

    Loraleigh VanZant? That sounds too close to David Van Driessen (of the “Beavis and Butthead” animated series). I had a high school counselor that was supposedly an old hippie, down to the Birkenstock sandals and white socks, but… nothing so oddly psychedelic as you describe. And I think hypnosis can be helpful when it’s utilized properly, but ugh… not weirdy-creepy like that.

      • He’s a nice guy. Last time I saw him was at a gym I had membership at, at the time. He poked his head out when I was talking to another teacher that finished his years at my high school, most particularly when I said “I survived the years.”

        I don’t think anyone liked that crazy psycho band teacher… but those horrific tales are another story entirely.

  4. This is probably completely unrelated, but your description of the counsellor immediately sparked an image of the lady I sometimes see wording the cosmetics counter at Wal-mart. She’s WAY over applied, (like drywall trawl thick!) and is always wearing a 70’s bouffant hair style. I can’t figure out if that’s her everyday look, or if she’s just doing that to draw people to her counter. And if it is the later, how do you take cosmetics advice from someone like that?

    Also, if she happens to read this blog, the one time I talked to her, she was very pleasant.

    Anyways, sorry to take this sideways.

  5. I must have been sick the day they had the “Aggressively Cheerful” class in my counseling program. I’ve never trusted super happy counselors.

    I got hypnotized by a therapist once, and it didn’t do much for me either. If you are ever inclined to traverse the world of cotton candy hair, dream catchers and people who are nothing like Bob Newhart again, you might want to check out EMDR. It’s extremely helpful for people who have experienced trauma.

  6. So interesting, I didn’t know this–I got hypnotized after a death as well in my 20’s and hadn’t expected it either. It was sooo crazy and I too felt like I spent a few hundred bucks to sleep on someone’s couch for an hour. I was in San Francisco, so I guess it should have been expected but it was totally creepy that I was “out of it” with some stranger. I must say it worked b/c I didn’t spiral every time I thought of the death of someone after my session, so I’m confident it can work but likely hard to get the right therapist in there to connect with a teenager! I’m so glad your parents had you see someone.

  7. It is such a shame to see someone who is supposed to be a professional and assist you with the healing process go far afield of her duties and expertise. Hypnosis? No. Not unless that’s what you were looking for and not until much more in depth therapy to assess whether hypnosis was even right for you. I kind of want to go slap her cotton candy head right now! Sounds like you eventually found what you needed once you were ready through a more professional source, so I’m glad for that. Great post.

  8. Hypnosis…a definite eye-rolling proposition for a teenager. I think my parents might have sent me to Ms. Van Zant, as well, or someone as equally “aggressively cheerful”…ha! I didn’t last long.

  9. It’s a wonder where all the good counselors were in the Big “Duh” back then, huh? From the first ding bat who wanted to quote time frames to “get over it” to hypnosis…frightening. I wish I remembered his name so I could report him to the board, but surely he’s long dead and gone. Oh Christie, there’s not enough ways for me to apologize…so so sorry.

  10. Reality is often stranger than fiction. Open or not to her techniques, this was pyscho screwball! Fourteen was weird for me. Always come here for a great read!

  11. I saw a counselor my freshman year too – isn’t it a rite of passage? I saw her only once because both her eyes wandered and her hair was all crazy cat lady and well, I was all judge-y.

  12. Did u know we had a grief group at school since 4 of us freshmen lost a parent or sibling that summer/fall of 1987….?? ( and 3 of those deaths were freak accidents!)We called it the rainbow connection. (Not sure where the name came from). It was helpful especially at that awkard transitional time of freshman year. Also I went to a Jewish hypnotherapist about 19 yrs ago and it worked!! It was kinda scaey at first but I had a good recommendation from a great friend.

  13. The ocean? What if that conjured a fear of sharks? I at least got to look at Rorschach ink blots so I felt like I was a genius, knowing what they were obviously supposed to be (or being insanely creative with my answers). Love how you described her, but wish it had gone better!

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