Eric Willmarth, Mind Body Medicine

Photograph of Eric Willmarth

Eric Willmarth

Mind-Body Medicine Faculty

"In 300 years we've yet to come up with an agreed upon definition of hypnosis," says Dr. Eric Willmarth, "but we know how useful it can be."

A pain management specialist with his own practice in Michigan, and an instructor at Saybrook, Eric is a life long student of hypnosis and its clinical applications.

"The issue isn't using hypnosis on people, like they do on TV where someone's putting you asleep and ‘controlling your mind,' – the most exciting work is in teaching people to use hypnosis on themselves, to improve their own lives," he says. "It's about helping them increase self-control."

Eric was a musician growing up, and even majored in music as an undergrad – but he also took psychology courses.

"I realized that I could read case studies all day long," he remembers. "I was drawn to the human quality of flexibility – that people can be in crisis, but you see how they adjust, and you see how they get through it, and you see how well they did. That's what's best in psychology, and that's what I decided I wanted to do: help people to be more resilient and get unstuck from where they are."

He got into hypnosis because, as a psychologist working for an HMO, he was working with several patients who were suffering from chronic pain. He didn't want to just toss patients drugs and let them drift away: he wanted to help them thrive again. That meant giving them new skills – and teaching himself first.

"In chronic pain we have a 50/50 law – about 50 percent of your healing is going to come from the field of medicine, and the other 50 percent is going to come from changes you make yourself," he says. "The 50/50 law says you can't just go to the doctor and expect to be fixed: especially for the chronic conditions, you need to be making an effort, and your doctor needs to be supporting it."

That was 25 years ago, and since that time medical hypnosis has become widely accepted, "but there's still a huge shortage" of psychologists who are strong practitioners, he says. Practical, behavior based, treatments like hypnosis and biofeedback are in demand, and Eric says Saybrook offers one of the few programs that prepares students to use them in practice, right out of the gate.

"Saybrook is one of the only programs that I've ever seen that has been offering the hypnosis track and the biofeedback track so that when students are finished they've completed most of the training to be certified," he says. "Most of us had to get our degrees and then do our training. Saybrook students will be much further ahead by the time they graduate because they'll have had most of the courses and training." Saybrook's humanistic philosophy is also uniquely suited to the new treatment models emerging out of a health care system that everyone knows needs to be fixed.

"For too long we've gone with the physician as god model: if you get better he's a good doctor, if you don't you're a bad patient," he says. "Having the patient integrated as part of the process is very much a part of the humanistic philosophy, and I think more doctors are increasingly appreciating that. Saybrook is a perfect fit."