'You are standing in front of a blackboard, with chalk in one hand and an eraser in the other,' instructs the disembodied voice of Ruth Roosevelt, former stockbroker, futures trader and now full-time 'neuro-lingustic programmer'. 'You draw a circle, and then a big letter A. Then with the other hand, you erase it. And then you draw the letter B . . .' Your conscious mind distracted, your unconscious mind bored in submission, you are now 'open to suggestion'.
Since opening last April, the Wall Street Hypnosis Center has treated victims of all manner of 'trading disorders' from compulsive gamblers to forex dealers spooked out of leaving their positions on overnight, to salesmen who have lost the nerve to pick up the phone, to trading-floor gluttons of the kind made famous by Liar's Poker. The sort of binge eating that took place on Salomon Brothers' mortgage-securities desk a decade ago is not limited to Wall Street, says Ms Roosevelt.
'But I do know that while I was trading futures at Prudential Bache, I couldn't order a hot pastrami sandwich without the market going against me.' Ms Roosevelt, who spent 12 years on Wall Street, first as a stockbroker with Drexel Burnham Lambert and later as a financial futures trader, never had problems with her own weight and with other trading pit vices like chain smoking, but she did find her mesmerising talents could help her colleagues. Today food, smoking and problems with sleeping - insomnia, as well as trouble getting out of bed in the morning - account for a good half of the two-dozen clients she sees in any week.
Using hypnotism to treat smoking, alcoholism and obesity is now fairly common, having gained a certain respectability in self-help circles. But applying it to the stresses of the market is relatively new and still controversial. Hypnotism seems to work when it is employed to help people overcome emotional problems, simplifying challenges that they have complicated unnecessarily. But misconceptions abound about hypnotism's powers, and while Ms Roosevelt is clear enough about its limitations when pressed - 'Hypnotism is just high-quality suggestion' - she does tend to mystify things in casual conversation.
With hypnotism, for example, she claims one can go back to the root of one's complexes and 'change history'. She believes that every individual 'has all the resources they need to do whatever it is they want to do', including 'making more money'. Her philosophy also holds that everyone is responsible for the result of his or her own communication; a salesman who fails to sell is therefore 'doing something very wrong'.
Hypnotism will not turn you into a clairvoyant investor nor make people want to buy things from you. But she does claim it can help an investor with a complex 'assimilate a greater state of risk', and learn to live with the uncertainty of the market place. While in a trance, traders are instructed that they can tap into a well of self-confidence whenever they need it by simply pressing their thumb and index finger together.
But is there not a danger that a post-hypnotic suggestion could be a very bad one - that an over-confident trader could in fact make some very serious mistakes? 'The solution devised for a problem must be ecological for the human being,' Ms Roosevelt explains. A successful trader 'can afford to risk what it takes to find out if their system works, and knows how to limit their risks'.
Of course some futures traders are in fact gamblers, thrill-seekers who take hopeless risks on margin, says Ms Roosevelt, handily dismissing any potential professional liability claims. 'With the wrong motivation, they will just continue to lose.'
Today, however, she is treating a financial journalist with a deadline problem. 'You can easily get your column in by 5pm,' Ms Roosevelt intones, as his conscious mind strolls through fields of blowing wheat. 'Imagine how pleased your editors will be when you get your work done on time.
'You will get your column in on time . . . You will get your column in on time.'
It is commonly accepted that hypnotists cannot induce people to do things they don't really want to do. The inverse is even more true, Ms Roosevelt says: for hypnotism to work, a patient must really want to change his or her behaviour.
Unsuccessful traders, for example, 'blame the market, blame the floor, the Street, anything but themselves', she explains at the end of the hour-long session. 'But you'll never get better at what you do until you take full responsibility for your actions, be you a president or a mother.'
A surprising number of people, she says, 'just want to be my robot. They're perfectly willing to leave me totally responsible'.
So what sort of results can the Wall Street Hypnosis Center claim? A short list of happy customers provided by Ms Roosevelt offers enthusiastic testimonials, comparing hypnosis favourably with more traditional resorts like psychotherapy, Gamblers Anonymous, fad diets and bankruptcy court. Ms Roosevelt, who charges dollars 100 a session, claims a 90 per cent success rate, and laments that as a result she gets few return customers.
But the real proof, of course, will be in when you read this article.
This feature was originally scheduled to run at Christmas, 1991.
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