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Cures for work stress offer big savings: Hypnosis is being used to reduce the pressure that can lead to sickness. Roger Trapp reports

REMEMBER the pictures of City dealers screaming into two telephones at once, corporate advisers working through nights and weekends as companies plunged down the acquisition trail? That was the stressful Eighties.

Experts now predict that stress will be a bigger and more expensive problem in the Nineties. Estimates put the cost of psycho-neurotic disorders at 30 million work days a year, or pounds 4bn, lost. Businesses can ill afford that in today's highly competitive environment. High staff turnover, accidents and inefficiency exacerbate the problem.

Over the past few years the threat of redundancy, merger and reorganisation all contributed to job insecurity, and therefore stress. The coming of the single European market looks like keeping these levels high, with fiercer competition, mergers, new regulations and culture clash all taking a toll.

Corporate stress was recognised long ago in the United States, where many enlightened companies now provide specialised counselling. In Britain the National Association for Mental Health has now launched a publicity campaign to make companies aware of the effects of stress in the workplace - and on company performance.

A Post Office study funded by the Health and Safety Executive has suggested that stress management can reduce absence through sickness by two-thirds - saving pounds 100,000 for every 175 treated.

Earlier this year, PSI Services, a division of the Association of Stress Management, established a corporate stress management programme that claims it can provide an on-the-spot service to companies throughout the UK via its network of 150 consultants.

Dr Paul Fox, the company's secretary and medical adviser, said PSI differs from others in the field because it provides practical one-to-one help rather than pure theory at seminars. By providing individuals with the means, through self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques, the company is giving them 'the tools that will be useful for the rest of their lives'.

Sheryn Crarer, a consultant based in north London, believes that self-help is the key to the success of the treatment. 'They think we have the power to change them, but they do it themselves,' she said. In this way results were 'virtually guaranteed'.

Robert Farago, an American, went to a hypnotherapist five years ago for help with confidence. In his words, 'I liked it so much I bought the company.'

He gave up being a freelance writer and became a therapist, first working from home and then from a clinic in Hampstead.

In the past two years, he has had 340 clients. In common with other hypnotherapists, he treats a range of afflictions, but the demand from businesses has become so great that he now runs group sessions on company premises.

Like Ms Crarer, he says the technique works because it is goal-oriented. 'This clinic is like a petrol station. Some people get repairs, some people get gas. It's a service business.'

The consultants treat symptoms such as depression, alcoholism, headaches, obesity or ulcers through hypnosis. By getting the client to respond to commands, the therapist provides the means for them to alter their behaviour.

Ms Crarer accepts that 'stage hypnotists' have made people wary. But she and Mr Farago claim that greater interest in complementary medicine is helping to break down this suspicion.

(Photograph omitted)