What is hypnosis?
Hypnotherapy is a tool for reaching and dealing with problems of the mind and body using a state of mental relaxation in which the client is open to suggestion from the therapist. In the hypnotized state, emotional problems can be addressed and resolved, body functions can be improved to restore normal activity, and mental power can be improved to overcome obstacles, gain higher self esteem, improved memory, etc.
A Hypnotherapist uses a series of repeated instructions to bring you to a state of deep relaxation. While you are in this relaxed state, the conscious is less active and the subconscious is free to explore psychological or emotional problems and to take in suggestions effecting both mental and physical health.
Hypnosis can be described as a very deep state of relaxation. Hypnosis is not Sleep. Hypnosis can be described as a normal, natural, healthy state of mind. It is also a naturally occurring body defence mechanism. Hypnosis appears spontaneously as a protective mechanism in humans when they are frightened, disoriented, or in situations of severe violent stress – mental or physical.
The following are some examples:
- Have you ever been in a room full of people ostensibly taking part in the group yet mentally being far away from it?
Have you ever had the experience of driving home while thinking about an issue that preoccupied you and suddenly realised that, although you have arrived safely at your destination, you can’t recall having driven past familiar landmarks? You avoided collisions, stopped at red lights – it is as if you had somehow been travelling on automatic pilot.
- Have you ever been unsure whether you did something or just though about having to do it – for example, not knowing whether you either mailed a certain letter or just thought about mailing it?
- Have you ever been able to block out sounds from your mind so that they were no longer important to you? Or so that they seemed very far away? Or so that you no longer understood them? Or so that you did not hear them at all?
Have you ever been staring off into space, actually thinking of nothing and being unaware of the passage of time?
- Have you ever had the experience of recollecting a past experience in your life with such clarity and vitality that it was almost like living it again?
- Have you ever been able to shut out your surroundings from your mind by concentrating very hard on something else?
- Have you ever had the experience of reading a novel (or watching a movie) and, while doing so, actually forgotten yourself and your surroundings and lived the story with such reality and vividness that it became temporarily real to you?
- Have you ever been lulled into a dreamy state or put to sleep by a lecture or a concert, even though you were not fatigued or tired?
In the hypnotic state you increase:
- The ability to IMAGINE
- People in hypnosis respond extremely well to the use of imagery techniques, which have powerful benefits for change. Brain scans taken of people in hypnosis show increased activity during hypnosis, particularly in the motor and sensory area relating to heightened mental imagery. Under hypnosis the powerful benefits of imagery can be used to treat a wide range of conditions.
- The ability to REMEMBER
- People in hypnosis experienced a heightened sense of recall. For example, in some instances, hypnosis is used by the police to assist witnesses to recall car number plates or describe people at a crime or accident scene. The enhancement of the ability to remember in hypnosis enables the client and therapist to explore the origin or cause of symptoms that may be causing a client distress and take an appropriate course of action.
- The ability to be CREATIVE
- By having access to increased creativity in hypnosis, people are able to allow themselves to be much more creative in their thinking thus enabling them to more readily explore options and solutions to issues that are troubling them. People can also utilise the benefits of self-hypnosis in all areas of their lives that involve creativity, such as painting, writing, music, etc.
- The ability to response to POSITIVE suggestions
- Working as a team, the client and clinical hypnotherapist agree on what outcomes the client is wishing to achieve. Heightened responsiveness to positive suggestion in hypnosis means that the clinical Hypnotherapist can reinforce the changes the client wishes to make. This reinforcing under hypnosis is at the subconscious (or unconscious) level which is much more powerful than making the suggestions to the conscious mind.
Therefore, hypnosis is not an artificial condition imposed upon a "subject," but rather a skill to be learned by the client to correct an existing symptom or problem. It's not magic. However, when used by a competent and well-trained professional, it is an effective and dynamic therapy. Here I will stress that all hypnosis is self hypnosis. The Clinical Hypnotherapist facilitates the process using a range of techniques, which may differ from client to client.
Therefore all of us have experienced hypnosis. Several times a day, in fact, we enter a self-induced trance state. Over the last twenty-four hours, you have been hypnotized approximately 39 times.
I’ll bet you didn’t even know it. What, for example, do you think was happening when you last watched TV? There you were, surrounded by distractions of all sorts – phone ringing, dogs barking, children playing, stomach growling, yet because something good was on, you were spellbound, concentrating only on the drama unfolding on that relatively small fraction of your environment, the screen.
You are also effectively hypnotized when your on holidays sitting overlooking the peaceful scene, when you’re surfing the Internet, when you’re engrossed in a book, when you’re lost in thought, as you’re about to drift off to sleep, or even when a very attractive person walks by. Yes, going by the definition of hypnosis as being “an altered state of consciousness,” the average person is hypnotized about 39 times a day.
So what? Well, you probably didn’t know that when a person is in this altered state of consciousness, that person is highly suggestible.
This is a part of the natural activity-relaxation rhythm of the body known as the ultradian rhythm. We conventionally refer to this as "spacing out." It is also the state in which openness to learning is most likely to occur. Hypnosis is the focused use of the trance state in order to reprogram self-limiting unconscious patterns. The definition of hypnosis is slippery. I guess there are nearly as many perspectives on this issue as there are Hypnotherapists, and probably even some more. Some practitioners choose a narrow definition of trance and hypnosis, confining it to the hypnotic process of induction - changework - disengagement; others define it in a broader way. For me, hypnosis is communication with unconscious processes, and trance is the context from where this communication is done. Freud's free-association is trancework, and so are Gestalt, TA, psychodrama and numerous other approaches. Hypnotherapy as a separate realm dedicated to bring change through unconscious vehicles, is thus an approach practised not only by those who call themselves Hypnotherapists, but also by many other effective communicators and therapists.
However, we've learned that the unconscious cannot be commanded into a state of well being. The old stage hypnotist approach "Look into the mirror and feel confident" has been replaced by a more sophisticated method pioneered by Milton Erickson, M.D. Erickson reasoned that the unconscious is not an evil force trying to thwart our best intentions. Instead, each individual has all the resources necessary for change already residing within him or her. The Hypnotherapist helps the client awaken these latent potentials. They convey options to the client which were formerly unperceived. In order to do this, the Hypnotherapist uses a variety of techniques. They may enter into a dialogue with the unconscious, tell anecdotes and metaphors, stimulate memory recall, utilize age regression, help the client recall, reinterpret, or re-parent the original childhood trauma, or even assist in changing the original birth experience. Some esoteric hypnosis seeks to connect the client with past life events. Few good Hypnotherapists utilize only hypnosis in treatment. Many use insight-oriented and behavioural techniques as well.
Here's a story that illustrates that power: On the first day of the semester, a university professor came to class carrying an amber-coloured glass bottle containing a clear liquid. He announced to his 27 students that inside the bottle was a compound that, if inhaled, could make people feel “high,” exuberant, or even giggly. While he was talking, the bottle slipped “accidentally” from his hands and when it shattered, its contents spilled all over the floor.
Within a few minutes, most of the students sitting in the back rows started exhibiting inebriated-like behaviour; i.e., they were acting tipsy; several students reported being in high spirits; and a few from the front row fell into uncontrollable fits of laughter. The most curious thing about the incident was that the “mysterious” liquid was just plain water.
The experiment was just the professor’s dramatic way of demonstrating the placebo effect, but what this episode really reveals is the phenomenal power of hypnotic suggestion, how mere words have the ability to cast a virtual spell on people. Clearly, the class had been hypnotized by the professor’s words.
Through the use of hypnotically crafted words, phrases, suggestions or commands, most people could be made to behave in a predictable way; just like the students were when they were exposed to a substance which they were told was a potent chemical.
Emile Coué, the world’s most recognized expert on the phenomenon of suggestion, said: “A person’s free will always yields to the imagination.” This is an absolute rule to which there is no exception.
Your conscious mind is the part of the mind that makes decisions and judgments from an extremely limited point of view. In other words, the conscious mind governs limits, puts up resistance, and builds barriers, obstacles, hurdles and much more.
The other part of the mind is the subconscious mind. This is the part that you are usually not aware of, yet it determines much, sometimes most, of what you do. In contrast to your conscious mind, your subconscious mind lacks reasoning power. For one thing, it does not know the difference between reality and fantasy. It processes products of our imagination as reality. Therefore, a good suggestion repeated often enough and long enough will be accepted by the subconscious mind as true, even when it is not true. Your subconscious mind is programmed to run on automatic.
Brief History of Hypnosis.
Hypnosis is not a new modality of treatment. Under a variety of names, hypnosis has been known and utilised for millennia as a means of influencing human behaviour. Therapeutic suggestion and concentration has been practised throughout the history of human endeavour, as we have sought to recognise and treat discomfort, disorder and disease. The Celts and Druids practiced hypnosis. The Egyptians founded "sleep temples" some 4,000 years ago dedicated to therapeutic trance states in which curative suggestions were given. The Bible has many sections which allude to hypnotic phenomena (Genesis 2:21, 1 Samuel 26:12, Job 4:13, 33:15, Acts 10:10). Primitive tribes had Shamans who practised ritual, sleep cures and healing suggestions to remove the influences responsible for illness. Undoubtedly, the chants of the earliest medicine men helped many patients into such a restorative state, just as the crooning and rocking of a mother helps her fitful child into a peaceful state of quietness and sleep.
The "modern" era of hypnosis is usually dated in Vienna in the 1700s with a young physician named Mesmer. The method Mesmer used became known as Mesmerism. Mesmer guided his patients into using the powerful effects of their imagination. Unwittingly, Mesmer laid the corner stone for many present day therapies so that now imagery techniques are being used with many health care sciences, cancer patients and in the areas of sports and business motivation.
In 1855, James Esdaile, and English surgeon, used hypnotic skills in India. He operated on three thousand patients in
which three hundred were major procedures. He discovered the mortality rate dropped from 50% to 5% and that many of his patients recovered more quickly, had increased resistance to infection, and had greater comfort. He presented his findings to the Royal Academy of Physicians in London. His work was denounced as blasphemous because "God intended for people to suffer".
Then during the 1st and 2nd world wars, interest in hypnosis was heightened because hypnosis was found to be very effective in combating war neurosis. The success of hypnosis in the dismissal of symptoms through a reliving of the events of a traumatic experience, created a wave of enthusiasm for hypnotic methods.
In the 1950s both the British and American Medical Associations acknowledged the value of hypnosis as a tool for healing. Despite this, only a minority of doctors practised hypnotherapy. The new respectability of hypnosis in scientific and medical circles was matched by exciting developments in therapy offices.
Spurred on by the example of geniuses such as Milton Erickson more and more psychologists and other professionals endorsed hypnotherapy and created innovative techniques for its use with troubled clients. Because psychoanalytic therapy can drag on and on for years, and rarely, if ever, results in a cure and is very expensive, it has waned in popularity. The 21st century thirst by clients, insurance companies and psychotherapists for short-term, cost-effective methods makes hypnotherapy an attractive alternative.
It is probably true to say that hypnosis is clouded with more myths and misconceptions than any other form of psychological practice - even though these misconceptions have their roots in long-distant history and have no foundation in fact.
What is Clinical Hypnotherapy?
Clinical Hypnotherapy is the use of Hypnosis and Hypnotic phenomena, by trained practitioners, to alter the debilitating effects of a disorder. A Clinical Hypnotherapist is really a specialist in hypnosis, using the healing state of hypnosis to work with problems or conditions that the client wishes to change.
There is, however, an intimate connection between hypnosis and psychoanalysis:
- Hypnosis theory and practice anticipated much of psychoanalysis.
- Hypnotic procedures were adopted by the founder of psychoanalysis.
- And the practice of psychoanalysis often induces hypnosis.
Freud sought to escape the hypnotism label for his work; he began to use free association with no apparent awareness of that technique's basic similarity, with its couch, relaxation, closed eyes, occasional touch on the client's forehead, to the formal hypnosis he had renounced.
Not that Freud underestimated the power of therapeutic hypnosis. He used it for years. He translated books written by the leading practitioners of his day. But Freud met with some discouragement, such as difficulty in hypnotizing many patients, and lack of long-lasting changes in those he did hypnotize.
Perhaps another of the reasons for Freud's failure was his bleak view of the subconscious. He claimed it is a cesspool of aggressive and sexual impulses. Today's therapists are more likely to view the subconscious as a neutral well of memory. Many even take the opposite view to Freud: for them the subconscious is a potent source of good. Like his contemporaries, Freud failed to realize that the client, not the therapist, is in control of his or her use and "depth" of hypnosis. Freud grossly misunderstood the nature of hypnosis. And he held a warped view of love. He claimed: "From being in love to hypnosis is evidently only a short step . . . There is the same humble subjection, the same compliance, the same absence of criticism toward the hypnotist just as toward the love object." Freud's error, shared by most people of that era, was to place the client (usually a woman!) in a weak, dependent role. As psychoanalysis grew in popularity, hypnosis fell out of favour for decades.
Today, so light is the therapeutic trance in psychoanalysis "that many traditional psychoanalysts respond with indignation when it is suggested that their patients are in continually varying states of trance as they free associate on the couch.
Indignation is hardly called for because, in or out of therapy, people frequently lapse naturally into a hypnotic state. According to Rossi, hypnosis is triggered anytime a person is remembering a sequence of events. Such a recall process is a crucial part of many current therapeutic methods. Thus many therapists who claim no expertise with hypnosis unwittingly use it in their work.
Can anyone be hypnotised?
Virtually anyone can be hypnotised, some more easily than others. The depth that people reach in hypnosis varies between individuals. It is not necessary to achieve a very deep level of hypnosis to bring about change to habits or conditions that are having a negative impact either mentally or physically.
You were born with a particular talent for hypnosis. Perhaps you are among the small percentage [estimated 3% - 10%] of people who have a terrific talent for hypnosis. Or you may be among the small percentage [estimated 3%] of people who have little talent for hypnosis.
Most likely, you are among the majority of us who fit somewhere in between the two extremes. Your skill can be enhanced with guidance by a Hypnotherapist and with practice.
A common myth about hypnotisability is when a person says, "No one could hypnotise me, I'm too strong minded". A person goes into hypnosis because they choose to. So strong-minded individuals are really good candidates for hypnosis provided they are committed to wanting it to work for them.
Is hynosis the same as meditation?
Firstly, let’s look at a general explanation on Meditation. Meditation and Relaxation aims to bring calm to the mind, to allow our thoughts to settle, to allow us to focus and to simply 'be'. At its simplest Meditation can simply be allowing the mind to become more peaceful, calm and focused. Meditation is a process of letting go, of simply allowing your mind and body to be still. There are many methods of meditation including focusing the mind on an object, such as a flower, a candle, a sound or word, or the breath. This focus on an object brings the mind to the stage where other thoughts and feelings are stilled.
Scans of people in hypnosis show that the brain activation seen in hypnosis is quite different from that seen in normal waking or sleeping or in meditation.
Our mind regulates its activities by means of electric waves which are registered in the brain, emitting tiny electrochemical impulses of varied frequencies, which can be registered by an electroencephalogram. These brain waves are known as:
- Beta emitted when we are consciously alert, or we feel agitated, tense, afraid, with frequencies ranging from 13 to 60 pulses per second in the Hertz scale.
- Alpha when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, although aware of what is happening around us, its frequency are around 7 to 13 pulses per second.
- Theta more or less 4 to 7 pulses, it is a state of somnolence with reduced consciousness.
- Delta when there is unconsciousness, deep sleep or catalepsy, emitting between 0.1 and 4 cycles per second.
In general, we are accustomed to using the beta brain rhythm. When we diminish the brain rhythm to alpha, we put ourselves in the ideal condition to learn new information, keep fact, data, perform elaborate tasks, learn languages, analyse complex situations. Meditation, relaxation exercises, and activities that enable the sense of calm, also enable this alpha state. According to neuroscientists, analysing electroencephalograms of people submitted to tests in order to research the effect of decreasing the brain rhythm, the attentive relaxation or the deep relaxation, produce significant increases in the levels of beta-endorphin, norepinephrine and dopamine, linked to feelings of enlarged mental clarity and formation of remembrances, and that this effect lasts for hours and even days. It is an ideal state for synthetic thought and creativity, the proper functions of the right hemisphere. As it is easy for the hemisphere to create images, to visualise, to make associations, to deal with drawings, diagrams and emotions, as well as the use of good-humour and pleasure, learning is better absorbed if these elements are added to the study methods.
You must abandon the idea that hypnosis is some kind of zombie like trance state. It is very much like meditation except you have a purpose beyond just relaxation and finding peace.
Can people be made to do things against their will?
This is one of the common misunderstandings associated with hypnosis. This is probably tied in with the misconception that the Hypnotherapist has control over the client. This is not the case. People will not do or say anything under hypnosis that they would not do when not in hypnosis. Basically all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, you cannot be hypnotised against your will. This fear probably comes from the TV shows and performances by stage hypnotists. The stage hypnotists know how to select the most hypnotisable of their volunteers.
Research conducted at the University of NSW by Dr Amanda Barnier and reported in The Sydney Morning Herald on February 2, 1998, states that "Hypnotised people do not act like robots, nor are they powerless pawns of post-hypnotic suggestions planted in their subconscious". The report goes on to state that "some people genuinely experience their new persona; others talk themselves into the whole thing, while a small proportion simply fake it".
If a client has these fears I often just say something like, “Could anybody talk you into robbing a bank, taking your clothes off in public or anything else that was against your normal moral or ethical values?”
Conversely “Have you ever seen anybody do anything that was different to your moral or ethical values? I.e. take drugs, steal, cheat or whatever – did they need a Hypnotherapist to do it?”
In what areas can hypnotherapy used?
Any person suffering from any degree of emotional or physical "dis-ease” can benefit from Clinical Hypnotherapy. The problems treatable through hypnosis are equally diversified. Although hypnosis is commonly associated with habit cessation (losing weight, quitting smoking, etc.), almost any area treatable by conventional means can be enhanced through the use of hypnosis. The well-trained clinician, using hypnotherapy can help clients suffering from the following:
Alcoholism, Anger, Anxieties, Asthma, Bed Wetting, Blood Pressure, Blushing, Breathing Disorders, Bulimia, Burns, Chronic and Acute Compulsions, Confidence, Dentistry, Depression, Eczema, Exam Nerves, Exam performance, Gambling, Gastro - intestinal Disorders, Goal Setting, Grief, Guilt, Habit Control, Headaches, Hostility, Insomnia, Memory Enhancement, Mood Swings, Nail Biting, Obsessive / Compulsive Behaviours, Obstetrics (hypnobirthing), Over Eating, Pain Control, Assertiveness, Communication, Pain management, Panic Attacks, Personal Growth, Phobias, Psoriasis, Public Speaking, Relationships, Relaxation, Releasing the Past, Resentments, Sexual Dysfunction, Skin Problems, Sleep Disorders, Smoking Cessation, Sports Motivation, Stress relief, Study Recall, Stuttering, Warts and Worry, even some forms of schizophrenia and multiple personality(DID) have been treated with hypnotherapy.
Hypnosis can be utilised in the treatment of most disorders, whether mental or otherwise, where the relaxation response promotes the person's attitude. For example, with a physical injury, the person's mental resources can be enlisted to aid in managing the subsequent discomfort, allow for some rest and lessen the associated emotional trauma. It must be noted that Hypnotherapy is not a replacement for medical treatment from a doctor. The most important determinant of the eventual success of the therapy is the true desire to get well.
What happens in hypnosis?
A Clinical Hypnotherapist uses hypnosis to enable the client to achieve a state of mental, physical and emotional relaxation. When in hypnosis, the conscious mind (that busy, critical, analytical part of the mind) takes a rest. Hypnosis allows people to tap into the storehouse of information that lies in the subconscious, sometimes referred to as the unconscious, mind and make positive changes to thought patterns, habits or the effects of traumatic incidents that are having a negative impact either mentally or physically.
I use a method I learnt call BRIMS, which stands for Breathing, Relaxation, Imagination, Message and Sign.
Firstly, slow deep breathing and soothing words. Music, rhythmic sounds, gestures, visual props, even videos, can also lull you into hypnotic state. Secondly, a form of progressive relaxation. Thirdly, a guided visualization (imagery) to help the client gain access to that part of the mind. And lastly the sign, which can be an anchor in the form of a posthypnotic suggestion, to make the next session easier and quicker.
Each client may experience hypnosis differently relative to the technique being used and the psychology of the client. For some, it is a heightened awareness; for others, a profound relaxation. Sometimes the client hears every word the hypnotist says, and other times the voice fades in and out or becomes completely inaudible. In Ericksonian work, the client is never put under the "control" of the hypnotist. The client is always free to alter the hypnotic experience or awaken at will.
How safe is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a normal, naturally occurring, healthy state of mind. It is totally DRUG FREE. There has never been a single documented case of harm resulting from the use of hypnosis that I know of.
Leslie Le Crone, psychologist and authority on hypnosis, states: "As to self-induction, many thousands have learned it and I have yet to hear a report of any bad results of its use".
In his book Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Dr William S Kroger states: "Platonof, an associate of Pavlov, who used hypnosis for over fifty years in over fifty-thousand cases, reports as follows: 'We have never observed any harmful influences on the patient which could be ascribed to the method of hypnosuggestion therapy, or any tendency toward the development of unstable personality, weakening of the will, or pathological urge for hypnosis".
Dr David Cheek, MD, who has vast experience in the field, writes, "We can do more harm with ignorance of hypnotism than we can ever do by intelligently using hypnosis and suggestion constructively".
Psychologist, Rafael Rhodes, in his book "Therapy through Hypnosis", writes: "Hypnotism is absolutely safe. There is no known case on record of harmful results from its therapeutic use".
Clinical Hypnotherapist, Gil Boyne, who I have had the pleasure of training with, states, "In almost forty years of practice and more than 40,000 hours of hypnotherapy, I have never seen or heard of any harm resulting from hypnosis".
Understanding the way the emotions progress is important. It is important that we develop appropriate coping strategies when we are first hurt. An example can be:
- HURT: A man goes to work and his boss tells him that he may be losing his job.
- PAIN: He gets a headache.
- FEAR: He starts to worry about his bills, can he get another job.
- ANGER: He is driving home and yells at an old lady who is driving too slowly.
- DEPRESSION/SAD: He gets home and just sits and feels very sad – life is not worth living, why does this always happen etc.
- DISASSOCIATION: He feels numb, sleeps all day, watches TV or drinks excess alcohol, plays poker machines etc.
Examples of good coping strategies – going for a walk, calling a friend, doing breathing exercises, seeing the funny side or other person’s side etc.
Just take note of a poker machine room, it is perfect for trance. Very rarely do they have window, and only just recently did a law come in to say a clock had to be in clear view. The hypnotic sound of the machines, how now you only have to slide money in to the shoot, no breaking state to get more change etc. The hypnotic pattern of the left right eye movement. Remember the watch. Very good place to get away from pain, except when the money runs out and you have to come back to reality.
What hypnotherapy does is to help bring out the best in you. This means that you will change by leaving behind any habits or baggage you no longer need or want and thereby become a stronger and happier person. Hypnosis will not put something into you that was not there in the first place. It just helps you to uncover your strong and good qualities, which you may not even have known you have.
What does hypnosis feel like
The feeling when in hypnosis is of being physically and mentally relaxed. It has been likened to the feelings we experience just before waking completely from sleep or just as we drift off to sleep. Some people say it feels like daydreaming. When in hypnosis, people experience a state of complete mental, physical and emotional relaxation. In itself, this is a very healing state. Dr Milton Erickson, a leading American Hypnotherapist, described the process of clinical hypnosis as "a free period in which individuality can flourish. Emile Coué, the 19th century French professor and Master Hypnotist, was known to have said the words. “We possess within us a marvellous force of incalculable power, which gives us mastery over ourselves and others.”