Updated 16 March 2015

Surprising sweet-tooth cure

When Carine Visagie was invited to do a course in psychophonetics, she grabbed the chance to drill down into her sugar addiction – and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.


Other people have nervous tics, sensitive stomachs and other irritating problems. I incessantly crave chocolate cake and apple pie.

That is, until I discovered psychophonetics.

But let me backtrack a bit: lately it's been bothering me that I just can't resist a sweet treat when it's offered. I'm not tempted when preparing and choosing my own meals, but if a helping of steaming ginger pudding is dished up at a dinner party, all resistance crumbles. Being the social being I am, this has become a sticky issue, especially as I'm trying hard to control my weight.

So when I was invited to do a three-session course in psychophonetics, I leaped at the chance to drill down deeper into my sugar addiction – and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

What it is
Psychophonetics was developed in Australia by Yehuda Tagar, who is now a permanent resident in South Africa.

According to practitioners at the Persephone Institute in Hout Bay (the brain child of Yehuda), psychophonetics helps a person to "go beyond the limitations of what you already know about yourself, and to take effective action where it matters most for your healing and growth".

It's a holistic approach, which involves the entire human being. That is, the physical being, the emotional being and the soul (sometimes referred to as the "life body" or "chi"). At its most basic level, psychophonetics is aimed at empowering the human spirit, especially in areas where you don't feel in charge.

It involves individual or group counselling, coaching and psychotherapy – with a twist. With its origin in drama (as in the theatrical kind), sessions with a practitioner are centred on role play. But instead of incorporating different characters in the form of different people, the "actors" are different emotions, characteristics of yourself, and even memories of real people. These elements are key to the origins of the problem being addressed, and are also instrumental to the healing process.

The sounds of human speech are also incorporated as a way of deepening the experience (hence the term "psycho-phonetics"), as it's believed that sounds and emotions are deeply connected.

"We don’t think of psychophonetics as a 'treatment'," says Jens Eggers from the Institute. "It's a way of interacting in a spirit of teamwork where the practitioner does have expertise about the process, but where there is a constant striving for equality."

What it felt like
Psychophonetics is really best explained through an individual experience such as mine: the aim being to cure me of my sweet tooth.

My first psychophonetics session was by far the most memorable. I cried and cried, and was exhausted afterwards, but it made me look deep into emotions and memories I've been ignoring for most of my life – and ones I never realised had a connection to my eating habits.

Jens, who facilitated the session, asked me to close my eyes and feel what it felt like to crave something sweet. Immediately I visualised the sticky toffee pudding I had the weekend before – I could smell it, taste it and feel the texture in my mouth. I could also feel warmth spreading to my tummy.

Next, he helped me to focus on the emotions that coincided with these sensations. I identified a sense of belonging, of companionship, of being among loved ones – all in all, a very positive, happy feeling. He then asked me where in my life I sometimes felt the opposite. This I immediately traced back to a specific time during my childhood.

At this point, characters were introduced. I was a little girl once more and I had a chance to go back in time and interact with real people. Suffice to say that, once the scene that played itself off in my mind came full circle, I was left incredibly calm. A weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Jens directed my thoughts back to the dinner party with the sticky toffee pudding. This time, remarkably, eating the dessert wasn't associated with a sense of belonging anymore. I had found nurturing feelings somewhere else within me, and I could just enjoy the pudding for what it was. It was no longer an emotional crutch.

The follow-up sessions
I could definitely feel a difference during the week that followed, but I still had a few weak points: I found it incredibly difficult to say no when offered dessert at a house party, feeling that I'd offend and disappoint my host, which may ultimately lead to rejection. Another problem was that I felt incredibly guilty whenever I did indulge in a sweet treat.

Jens and I zoomed in on these emotions, and looked at the different characters at play in my mind. The urge to eat sweet things became a specific character and my feelings of guilt another. I realised that somewhere in between, I was stuck – feeling quite helpless in making my own decisions with regards to eating.

Once again, we worked with the characters and played out a scenario where I eventually stepped out as the champ – the feelings of guilt and fear of rejection lost the battle, so to speak. At this point, Jens also asked me to use sound to aid the healing process. By mimicking the sound of water and using my hands to demonstrate the action, I "washed" myself clean of the negative emotions.

My third visit was what Jens calls a "champagne session", where we looked back and analysed everything I experienced.

The verdict
To be quite honest, I still can't always resist the temptation of eating sweet things. But I sure am a whole lot better at it.

Psychophonetics has really helped me to understand the emotions that are at play when I crave certain foods. Just being aware of these, and knowing that I can control it, has made a vast difference.

I've also learnt fascinating things about myself (some more pleasant than others, mind you), and the whole experience was extremely powerful and useful. I'd most definitely recommend it.

For a single one-on-one session, expect to pay R350.

For more information, contact:
The Persephone Institute
25 Riverside Terrace
Hout Bay
Tel: 021 790 1760


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