Dear Dr. Poussaint:

I am interested in the efforts of hytpnotism on the depressed and anxious. I have been thinking about trying hypnotism for some time. I have been seeing a therapist for the past year.

My mother died two years ago after a two-year bout with cancer, and I have very few memories of conversations and other experiences with her.

Would hypnotism help me regain some of my memory? A. M.

Dear A. M.:

Hypnosis is not widely used as a treatment for depression and anxiety. Many physicians claim that hypnosis is generally ineffective, while a few claim good results with a variety of disorders.

Usually hypnosis will not accomplish what can be achieved in the normal therapeutic process. The main advantage of hypnosis (when it works) over therapy is that is speeds up and enhances the impact of the thereapy.

I assure you that if hypnosis were a quick cure for depression and anxiety it would be much more widely used in hospitals throughout the country.

Many individuals believe that through hypnosis, one can "talk" a person out of his or her symptoms. This is usually not the case. On occasion, the release of repressed material can be explosive and can cause more disorganization of the personality, which demands therapeutic caution and protection.

Hypnosis is not a form of sleep but rather a trancelike state that requires the patient to be cooperative and willing in most instances. The patient must have a modicum of suggestibility. Thus, despite the wide variety of techniques, all people are not hypontizable.

It is crucial that any hypnotist be well trained and scrupulously honest. Beware of the many quacks and charlatans who are after a quick buck. I am not recommending hypnosis for your condition. However, if you must explore this possibility, consult with your therapist, then go for an evaluation at a medical center.

You need a thorough evaluation if you are truly experiencing a memory loss. Usually a memory loss is associated with structural changes in the brain and is not merely a result of emotional strain. Often people who feel depressed and slowed down complain of memory loss when in fact they are having trouble collecting their thoughts secondary to deep depression or grief.

Since your symptoms occurred following your mother's death, it is likely that you are experiencing a depression as a result of the loss. Is your memory loss only with regard to your mother? If it is, then there is even more reason to believe that you are still experiencing deep grief and repressing material that is too painful to recall.

Explore this possibility with your counselor. Also, check out your memory on both recent and past events to determine whether your loss of memory goes beyond your experiences with your mother. Do other people feel you are losing your memory? Are you forgetting dates and misplacing things? If so, my suggestion is a complete physical and mental evaluation by a physician.