There are a lot of myths, misconceptions and fears around hypnosis. I will do my best to correct them and give you a more accurate view of hypnotherapy. I will also explain to you how hypnotherapy can help you tap that big reservoir of resources that is your unconscious mind !
Myths and misconceptions
Many people get their ideas about hypnosis from shows, books or movies. Although hypnosis shows can be highly entertaining, they give misleading impressions about hypnosis, and differ widely from the type of work that we do in hypnotherapy. In the same way, although hypnosis can add a interesting twist to the plot of a movie or a book, what it shows or tells about hypnosis is often inaccurate.
One of these inaccuracies is the frequent use of the word “sleep”. Hypnosis is not sleep ! Also the deep relaxation often attained in hypnosis may appear like sleep from the outside, the person who is in a hypnotic state is perfectly awake, acutely conscious and can think clearly.
In the same line of thought, some believe that, to experience hypnosis, they must become unconscious. In hypnosis, on the contrary, you are aware and can hear clearly. In fact, hypnosis is even a state of increased awareness, with acuter senses, and stronger memory and imagination.
Another inaccuracy is the idea that you could become stuck in the hypnotic state (or trance, as we call it). This is totally impossible. You will be able to come out of the hypnotic state whenever you want to. You will only have to decide it and open your eyes.
To get an idea about how comfortable hypnosis can be, just imagine that you have laid down for a nap. After a while, you are not really asleep, but just very comfortable. Your mind is awake but your body is so relaxed that you don't even want to move a finger...
What's more, while you are in hypnosis, you won't do anything against your will. You can totally accept or reject suggestions. Your moral and ethical barriers are still fully functional and no one can make you do anything you don't want to do. During hypnosis, you will also have control over what you choose to say. Hypnosis is no truth serum, and it is totally possible to lie, or to keep things secret, while in hypnosis.
Naturally occurring hypnosis
Hypnosis is a natural state. Everyone experiences it several times every day. We pass through hypnosis on our way to sleep and when we wake up spontaneously in the morning. In fact, studies of our daily bio-rhythms show that every 90 to 120 minutes, we go through a state physiologically identical to hypnosis. During the night, this is when we dream. During the day, this is a moment when our mind drifts away and it becomes harder to concentrate.
What's more, becoming extremely engaged in something and allowing your mind to focus means that you are experiencing hypnosis, like becoming absorbed in a good book or a movie, or being highly concentrated on your work.
Allowing your mind to drift away also is hypnosis. Driving on long trips on “automatic pilot” is called highway hypnosis. And because of the rhythmic sounds and swaying, riding on a train is often a very hypnotic experience.
So, hypnosis is a state in which you can think clearly and your imagination is active. It's a state where you could move if you wanted to or if there was an emergency but you would rather just remain delightfully relaxed. It's a state in which beneficial ideas can more quickly and easily gain access to the inner mind. And because we all experience hypnosis each day, we can understand just how safe it is.
So, when we start the hypnosis session, the only thing that you have to do is let that natural state occur. It doesn't have to feel like relaxation. Some people will feel very relaxed, but others, on the contrary, will feel very focused, and even tense or distracted. What matters is the modification of the conscious state. Sometimes it brings relaxation along, sometimes not. So, you just follow the voice of the therapist and let things happen...
What is hypnotherapy ?
We all have a conscious mind, and what some people call either a subconscious or an unconscious mind. Your conscious mind is the one that takes care of logical, analytical thinking. Your inner, unconscious mind is the one that takes care of all the rest : emotions, perceptions, habits (or automatic behaviors), beliefs and automatic bodily functions like breathing, heart beating, digestion, immunity, and so on...
Although our beliefs take roots in our inner mind, the conscious mind is responsible for guarding them. So, if we want to get new, beneficial ideas to be accepted by the inner mind, we must distract, relax the conscious mind and communicate directly with the inner mind. If the idea is accepted by the inner mind, then the whole mind will be focused into making that idea true. Since the inner mind runs our body, our perceptions, our emotions and our habits, it can line up all those resources to make things happen. Deep in your mind, changes can take place that allows you to feel different emotions, have different habits, learn things quickly and respond a more resourceful physiology.
So, in hypnotherapy, we temporarily relax the conscious mind and gain access to the powerful inner mind. In this beneficial relaxed state, we can more easily get positive ideas across to the most powerful parts of our minds. So, hypnosis allows a temporarily relaxing of the conscious mind allowing positive and beneficial ideas to become accepted by the inner mind.
And, indeed, EEGs from subjects under hypnosis showed a boost in the lower frequency brain waves associated with dreaming and sleep and a drop in the higher frequency waves, associated with full wakefulness. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the conscious mind backs off during hypnosis and the subconscious mind takes a more active role.
Also, our brain makes little or no difference between a hypnotic imaginary experience and a real life experience. Thus, what is experienced in the hypnotic state has the same value and effect as reality, is an “corrective emotional experience” that allows a lot of “internal repairs” !
What is hypnosis like ?
Hypnosis is usually a very comfortable and enjoyable experience. Most of the time, you will also come out of hypnosis feeling nicely rested. Actually, a 5 or 20 minutes auto-hypnosis can be used to replace a nap, with the same recovery benefits, and with the bonus of a good dose of relaxation. Learning auto-hypnosis is actually an important part of our work in hypnotherapy, as a way to empower you, to allow you to take charge of more aspects of your life. This includes teaching auto-hypnotic relaxation techniques.
During hypnosis, you might feel any number of sensations. Most people's muscles grow loose and relaxed. Many report pleasant feelings. Often the breathing grows deeper and slower with the relaxation. Feelings of warmth and tingling are common. People often report an increased ability to visualize, like daydreaming. The perception of time is often altered, and the hypnotic state may seem much longer or shorter in duration than it actually is.
Some continue to listen to the words and voice of the hypnotherapist, while others report that their mind drifted away to some pleasant memory or imagined scene. Because the conscious mind may drift away, some report only a general sense of what was said during hypnosis, just like seeing a movie but not perfectly remembering every scene. Each experience of hypnosis is unique and personal.
What is hypnotherapy useful for ?
Hypnotherapy has a very large scope. It is used by many physicians, dentists and psychotherapists, to help their patients within their designated area of expertise.
In the physical health area, hypnosis is used in the medical area to anesthetize, relieve pain, accelerate healing, and relieve anxiety due to medical conditions or medical acts. It can also help in numerous medical disorders such as allergies, asthma, migraines, chronic pain, etc... Dentists also utilize hypnosis to deal with pain and anxiety.
In the mental health area, hypnotherapy is a great tool to help with any disorder related to stress, anxiety, addictions and traumas. It is also a great help to explore one's past and help overcome roadblocks linked to past experiences and grief. It is also a powerful tool to help you set and reach goals, improve your self image and your self confidence.
In every situation, you can benefit from having your powerful inner mind on your side...
So, I hope that these explanations helped you better understand what hypnosis is about and how it can help you improve your life, helping you reaching out to the huge resources of your powerful inner mind. Perhaps you are now more comfortable about experiencing hypnotherapy. If you have any other question, I will be happy to answer them !
Clinical Psychologist and hypnotherapist