When Racquel Knight was let go from her government job in early 2013 because of sequestration cuts, she did what every other person would do: feverishly applied for jobs.
After a few months with no success, the former Air Force linguist made a bold decision to become a hypnotist.
Earlier this month, Knight celebrated the one-year anniversary of her business, Hypnosis Columbia. She recently moved into an office at Sterrett Place in downtown Columbia, a move that demonstrates the strength of her business and the increasing acceptance of hypnotism as a viable form of alternative medicine locally.
"It's becoming more and more accepted, and it's one of those things that requires a lot of due diligence to educate the public about," she said.
Knight said it helps being in a progressive community like Columbia.
"When I decided to open the business, I considered that this would be a place I could serve the needs of my clients and my clients would be more apt to embrace this," she said.
Hypnosis is a medically recognized practice that has been around for centuries. The practice relies on placing the patient into a trance or state of relaxation where, according to hypnotists, they are more likely to accept and follow through on life-altering suggestions.
Some of the most commonly sought issues brought to hypnotists are smoking addictions, weight-loss, anxiety, alcohol addiction and phobias.
"Our services are primarily helping people with a mental attitude, and it is amazing how much mental attitudes affect your health," said Larry Elman, a hypnotist and CEO of the Dave Elman Hypnosis Institute.
The North Carolina institute is named after Larry's father, Dave, who his son said is "arguably the most important hypnotist of the 20th century."
Elman, who helped train Knight, said the perception of hypnosis in the medical community and among the general public has improved, but that there is still a stigma attached to it. He said people would be surprised to learn that the act of hypnosis is something that occurs regularly in the lives of ordinary people.
He recounted an oft-cited example involving a mother and a child to demonstrate his point.
"How many times have you seen a toddler say, 'Mommy, kiss the boo boo'? This is a form of hypnosis," he said. "Has she given him any medication? No. She has simply changed his mind."
Elman said it works regularly with toddlers and children because their developing brains are similar to being in hypnosis.
Sean Michael Andrews, a hypnotist from Glenelg who tours the world entertaining and educating people on the subject, agreed that people go into hypnotic trances naturally. He said that hypnotists are trained professionals that can get you into the state on demand and then use that time to suggest a change.
"When you are in that relaxed state, your mind just accepts ideas more readily," said Andrews, who also trained Knight. "It really is an amazingly quick therapy."
Elman, Knight and Andrews agreed that there are three common misconceptions about the profession: a hypnotist can make you do something you don't want to do, you will tell secrets in hypnosis and that you can get stuck in a permanent state of hypnosis.
All are impossible, the trio say, although Elman admits: "It feels so good when you are in hypnosis, you wish you could get stuck there."
Language is power
While on the surface Knight's decision to leave the world of government and military linguistics for hypnotism seems odd, she contends it's not as incongruous as it may seem.
She says language is very important to hypnotism, and that it has a lot to do with people's state of mind and outlook.
"I often draw my clients attention to their language; look at their language and how it affects them," she said. "If someone comes to me and says, 'Wow, this is so terrible.' If they are telling themselves it is terrible, it's like what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Are you making it terrible by using the language?"
She said she uses positive language to make changes. For example, if you want to quit smoking she will make you repeat, "I'm a non-smoker," multiple times.
The results have been good, she says, and her business is growing. Since opening her office in Sterrett Place in August, she said she sees between 10 to 15 clients a week. Each client comes for three to six sessions, which last about 90 minutes, she said. Her rates vary based on if you pay session-by-session or if you buy a package. The first session is $130 with subsequent sessions costing $100 each.
She attributes her success to a few factors, including the support of others in the profession, like Patti Sapp, who is a hypnotist that operates Quiet Time Hypnosis in Ellicott City.
"I am really proud of Racquel," said Sapp, who had Knight before she became a hypnotist herself. as a client prior to her becoming a hypnotist. "I have seen her grow in so many ways and I feel that she is going to be extremely successful."
Sapp said support for hypnotism is spreading beyond just the holistic community
"I feel really good about Howard County," she said. "I have doctors, lawyers and business owners who are my clients. The profession of hypnosis is being recognized."