Just the mention of hypnotherapy is enough to bring to mind visions of pocket watches being swung in front of your eyes and thoughts of Paul McKenna and Derren Brown coercing unsuspecting members of the public into behaving in outrageous and wacky ways.
The reality, though, is far less glamorous than that. Whilst McKenna and Brown have popularised the field and brought it to a wider, mainstream television audience, the actual practice of hypnotherapy is considerably more conservative than their shows would have you believe. Still effective but definitely more conservative.
I recently had my first-ever first-hand experience of hypnosis when I visited Mark Warwick in London, pictured right. Mark had emailed bunkered HQ to say he could improve my golf game in just one session, which, as you might imagine, piqued my interest. As a natural born skeptic, I had my doubts about his bold claim. One sitting? Better golf? Hypnosis? It all seemed much too simple, much too matter-of-fact.
Even so, my will to be a better golfer is far greater than my cynical streak, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and hopped on a plane to the 'Big Smoke'.
I must admit, part of me felt a little pang of embarrassment at the prospect of being hypnotised, perhaps because I was guilty of believing the stigma that goes with the subject. On the one hand, there is a perception that it is almost a black art, like magic or illusionism. On the other, there is the fact that it has been used as a vehicle for entertainment at other people's expense down the years.
I guess what I'm saying is that very few people think of hypnosis as 'cool'.
Still, I tried to approach it with as open a mind as I could - which was to prove crucial in the overall success of the experiment.
I met Mark at one of the clinics he works out of in North London. An advanced hypnotherapist, complementary health therapist and government registered chiropodist and podiatrist, he has been practicing hypnotherapy for over 14 years, with some impressive results. He claims to be able to make you give up smoking in an hour - so much so that he offers a free back-up session within three months of your initial session if required.
"I've worked with all sorts of people down the years," he says. "I helped one guy overcome his agoraphobia in one sitting, with the result that he left his house the next day to go for a walk after having been indoors for 19-plus years. I even had a London gangster come to me for help dealing with his conscience!"
Clearly, then, if hypnosis was going to make me a better golfer then Mark was going to be the man to administer it.
Now, I'd love to tell you what happened in the 45 minutes that my session lasted. The truth, though, is that I have little-to-no recollection of it. I remember being reclined on a chair, similar to the kind you get in a dentist's surgery, and going through some breathing exercises with my eyes closed before Mark started counting down from ten. I remember him getting to 'two' and then, the next thing I know, three-quarters of an hour have passed and Mark is saying: "And, on five, open your eyes."
At which point I sit up and wearily try to figure out what's just happened.
It is hard to accurately describe what I experienced during the 45 minutes I was 'under'. I can vaguely recall the sound of Mark's voice but all my senses seemed dull or distant. I'm not unconscious, nor am I asleep. I'm just in some other state of consciousness, I guess. Most of all, I am deeply relaxed. In fact, I've not felt as chilled out as that since my honeymoon on a beach in Mauritius a year earlier.
As it turns out, whilst I have been under, Mark has been planting positive golf thoughts and suggestions into the deepest recesses of my subconscious, 'anchors' designed to be engaged by various different triggers.
"For example," he says. "Next time you're standing over a ball at address, press your tongue behind your teeth. Not only will this help you relax, it'll also engage some of the things we talked about."
I put that to the test two days later when I played in the medal at my home club. Standing on the first tee, I went through my usual pre-shot routine and as I set myself up to the ball, I did as he suggested.
To say I felt an instant surge of positive energy would be a lie. To be honest, I don't know if I did or not. What I do know is that I hit my best drive of the year and went on to post a decent score. A week later, doing the same things, I clipped another seven shots off my round. Coincidence? Placebo effect? Who knows? More to the point, who cares? I'm playing better golf, which Mark promised I'd do. You can't argue with that.
Find out more...
Mark Warwick's 'Play Better Golf' hypnotherapy session is priced at £100. The session is recorded and a copy sent to you to enable you to top up your suggestions whenever you feel you need to.
Call 07963 640224 for more information or log-on to www.stopsmokinginanhour.co.uk