Psychologist praises power and effectiveness of subliminal therapy

By Arthur Lightbourn


These days, at 85, soon to be 86, local psychologist Edwin Yager, is making it his personal mission to spread the word about the effectiveness of what he considers to be “the treatment of the future” — subliminal therapy.

Subliminal therapy, Yager posits, is a technique that permits the patient guided by a therapist to tap into mental abilities that the patient probably doesn’t even know that he or she has [the ‘unconscious’ or ‘higher self’] and then use those abilities to halt the problems that the patient is experiencing as symptoms.

“You can get down to the root cause of the problem so you can actually resolve the problem,” he said, “not just wrestle with the symptoms.”

Not everyone agrees.

Although the theory of the unconscious mind as a repository of forgotten memories has been around for centuries, some professionals still question its scientific validity and even whether the unconscious mind exits at all.

Yager, however, says he has employed subliminal therapy in his private practice successfully for the past three decades to treat a wide range of disorders, some strictly mental, such as phobias and compulsions; and others psychogenic, with physical symptoms, such as migraine headaches, insomnia, pain, gastro-intestinal and sexual problems, even asthma.

“These often seem to be the consequences of earlier life experiences,” he said. “When you can uncover those experiences and ‘re-frame them’ and understand them in a different way, the effect changes and the symptom ceases to be there.

“The key, the focus element that’s involved here, is teaching people to use abilities they don’t know they have,” he said.

In addition to his private practice, Yager, a former engineer-turned-psychologist, is a clinical professor at UCSD School of Medicine, where, since 1975, he has taught an elective course in clinical hypnosis. He holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the Professional School for Psychological Studies, San Diego

We interviewed Yager in his office off Balboa Avenue in San Diego’s Mission Bay area.

Yager is a tall Texan, who attributes his good health and longevity to three things: “The woman I married, stopping smoking and going to the gym.”

Yager was “born in a little town called El Paso, Texas.” His father was a welder. “But I never knew him very well, he died when I was a little kid.” He was raised by his widowed mom, a school teacher. “That was during the Depression, a time when a lot of people were doing a lot of hurting,” he said.

Growing up, Yager discovered he had knack for things technical and mechanical. When he was 12, he landed a job repairing radios.

During World War II, when he turned 18, he joined the Navy (1943-45), and served as an electronics technician aboard the light cruiser USS Detroit.

“The Navy never sent me to school,” he said. “I learned mostly by osmosis, from other people and just by doing it.”

After the war, he studied electrical engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, began working as an engineer, earned a bachelor’s degree in current technology at Texas State Technical Institute, subsequently moved to San Diego where he worked as a group engineer with Convair for 20 years, retiring in 1973.

A pastor at a church that Yager attended in Pacific Beach learned of Yager’s interest in clinical hypnosis and asked him if he would serve as a pastoral counselor to some of the church members — which he did and discovered “This is for me. This is what I wanted to do.”

In preparation for his retirement and transitioning eventually to a second career as a psychologist, he earned a master’s degree in counseling in 1972 from United States International University, and another master’s in technical education in 1973 from National University.

In 1975, he began teaching an elective course in the clinical applications of hypnosis at the UCSD School of Medicine, initially as an instructor, then as a clinical assistant professor, and, since 2005, as a clinical professor.

His work as a clinical hypnotist subsequently led him to become a leading practitioner of subliminal therapy.

In 1982, he earned his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the Professional School for Psychological Studies, San Diego.

His mission these days, he said, is to teach therapists from around the globe the subliminal therapy technique.

He recently conducted a two-day workshop on “Transcending Traditional Therapy” at the 16th International Conference for the Association of Psychology and Psychiatry in Athens, Greece; and is scheduled to conduct workshops in New Orleans, Phoenix and Canada.

“Subliminal therapy is clearly and distinctly different in many ways from hypnosis. The classical understanding of hypnosis doesn’t apply. Hypnosis is an element of subliminal therapy, but only an element.

“It’s a technique that makes it possible — and this is why it’s so effective and so efficient time wise — to identify the cause of problems and resolve the problem at that level. Then the symptom, which is the presenting problem, ceases to exist.

“The patient has to be intelligent enough to understand these concepts, intelligent enough to recognize that he or she has a problem and has to be open to new ways of thinking about things maybe.

“I give credit to my engineering training, my engineering way of thinking, to the totally rational, logical, step-by-step process that subliminal therapy is. Every step is determined by the outcome of the previous step.”

How long does a therapy generally take?

“It’s the briefest of brief therapies that I know of,” he said. “A patient typically comes in with multiple problems.

To solve any one of those problems, is probably not going to take more than an hour maybe two after an hour of introduction and training.”

However, some disorders take longer.

He has one patient with multiple personalities — dissociative identity disorder — whom he has been treating for 27 years. With treatment, the patient has led a relatively normal life and has maintained employment.

“The dissociative disorders are classically long term in resolution,” he conceded.

He has had a high success rate, he said, in treating addictive and sexual disorders.

Of all the disorders, he said, the toughest to treat successfully is obesity.

Asked if he has used some of these techniques, including self-hypnosis, to overcome any of his personal issues, he said: “Absolutely.”

Such as?

“I had hay fever, to a devastating degree, as a child. No longer a problem” Also sea sickness, smoking and nail-biting, no longer problems.

Any others?

“Public speaking. That was a biggie. I didn’t solve that until I was in my 40s.”

Asked if it’s necessary for a subliminal therapy patient to undergo hypnosis, Yager said: “No. There is no formal trance induction or anything of that nature implied, but, it is also true that during the course of employing subliminal therapy very commonly a patient will slip into what I identify as hypnotic trance, but it’s spontaneous.”

Asked what has surprised him most in his years as a psychologist, he replied: “The key thing, if I wanted to isolate one thing, would be the malleability of the human psyche…We learn limitations, we learn values. We are conditioned creatures…and most of that conditioning comes from life experiences.

“That’s the way problems come in; that’s the way all the good things that we enjoy come in; and even though we may have problems now, we are still malleable and knowing how to do some reconditioning, we can change.

We can eliminate that limitation. We can alter almost any aspect of our experience.”

Demonstrating how he would work with a patient, he said he would be using the word “Centrum” to speak directly to the patient’s unconscious. (He thought up that name Centrum before it was adopted by a brand of multivitamins.)

Speaking in a slow monotone, he said, “I’m going to pretend for the moment that you’re my patient. Okay?”


“And I’m teaching you the skill and I’m going to guide you to use the skill to make the changes you want to make. My role in subliminal therapy is strictly as a guide. A source of information sometimes, but I don’t have to be involved in the content of the problems that you address. I can even do this work, a therapist can, not just ‘I’, any clinician trained in this, can even do this work without even knowing what the patient’s problem is.

“So, you’re my patient and you came in with some problem…. And I have to be able to communicate with your ‘centrum.’”

He asks the patients to create in his conscious mind’s eye, the image of a chalkboard or computer screen, upon which Centrum can write.

“So I ask that you create that imaginary chalkboard right now. Got it?”


“I ask your Centrum to indicate willingness to communicate this way by writing the word “Yes” on the chalkboard.

“Tell me when the word “Yes” is there.”

It’s there.

“Now you might reasonably at this point ask, how do I know that came from Centrum? A reasonable question.

And at least part of the answer to that question is that if, in fact, Centrum writes on the chalkboard, in all probability, you will not be able to erase it consciously.”

“Is the word ‘Yes’ still on?”


“I invite you to try to erase it. Still there?”


“Centrum, please erase the word ‘yes’ and replace it with a different word. I ask, Centrum, that you select a word and write it on the chalkboard.

Write a word, Centrum, that will surprise you, consciously…Centrum, please write the surprise word now on that chalkboard. Got a word?”

Not yet.

“Okay. Be patient. Got it?”


“Are you consciously satisfied that you didn’t think that word up and put it there?”

I don’t know.

“You question that you did. Okay. Centrum, erase that word and please reach out somewhere and select a different word that truly will be unexpected and truly will surprise you consciously. Got that word?


“Are you satisfied consciously that you didn’t think that word up and put it there?”


“At this point, if you were my patient, I would start interacting with Centrum….You’re job now, as we work together, would be to tell me what Centrum writes on the chalkboard….The moment you tell me your conscious opinion in lieu of what Centrum writes, at that moment, we start spinning wheels. So here’s a little guiding rule, anytime I preface a question with the name ‘Centrum’, the next words I hear from you, I hope, will be the words on the chalkboard.

“You may get answers that don’t make sense. And you may get answers you don’t agree with. You may strongly disagree. And that’s all okay as long as you’ll tell me what those answers are as opposed to what you think they should be…. No other psychotherapy I know approaches it this way.”

We just went through a little hypnosis, didn’t we?

“You did,” he said. “It was not a deliberate induction on my part. Not everybody goes into trance, but most people do.”

Quick Facts

Name: Edwin K. Yager, Ph.D.

Distinction: UCSD School of Medicine clinical professor Edwin Yager is a leading practitioner in the use of clinical hypnosis and subliminal therapy to treat a wide range of disorders, addictions and illnesses.

Born: El Paso, Texas, 85 years ago

Education: Ph.D. in counseling psychology, Professional School of Psychological Studies, San Diego, 1982; M.T.E. (Masters in Technical Education), National University, San Diego, 1973; M.A. in counseling, United States International University, San Diego, 1972; B.T. (Bachelor of Technology), Texas State Technical Institute, Waco, Texas, 1969; studied electrical engineering, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, 1946-49.

Family: He and his wife, Gwen, have been married 35 years. “I had one practice marriage before this one and raised seven children, including four stepchildren, between the two marriages.”

Military service: U.S. Navy, electronics technician, 1943-45.

Interests: Family, woodworking, river cruises

Writing: He is the author of “Foundations of Clinical Hypnosis: From Theory to Practice,” considered a “must read” by fellow psychologists. He is currently working on a book on subliminal therapy.

Recent reading: “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America,” by Robert Whitaker

Favorite TV: Every summer, he and his wife, re-watch all the episodes of their favorite TV series, “The West Wing.”

Favorite film: “The American President,” 1995 comedy, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening.

Philosophy: “People. I’m not tired at the end of the day. I’m energized by the people I work with.”