What is Hypnosis?
What is hypnosis? Hypnosis is a natural state of mind. Hypnosis is safe, powerful and effective. It is a form of dissociation. Your mind is so focused on one thing that it ignores everything else.
If you have ever driven home and don't remember anything about the journey, or if you have been so absorbed in a book or a film that you lost track of time, or you suddenly realize you have no idea what someone just said to you, then you have been in hypnosis. Going into trance is normal and natural and happens all the time.
All that the hypnotist does is to call up this natural state when required instead of waiting for it to happen at random. When you are in trance your mind is more open to suggestion.
In everyday terms, hypnosis is the deliberate invocation of a normally automatic and unconscious physiological response. Hypnosis can also refer to the set of induction techniques used in the science of influencing the perceptions and behaviour of others by means of suggestion either with or without a hypnotic trance.
There is still much disagreement and misunderstanding about the term, even amongst practitioners. Many theories and models have been developed to define or explain hypnosis, and while each is useful in itself, none is universally accepted. One prominent hypnotherapist collated eleven separate and conflicting views of hypnosis but concluded: 'To date, there is no commonly accepted definition of hypnosis, nor does one seem forthcoming' (Yapko, 1995 p7).
The standard definition of hypnosis is an interaction in which “...one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought, or behavior” (Green et al., 2005, p. 262) cited in Jensen & Patterson (2006).
'Hypnosis is essentially a communication of ideas and understandings to an individual in such a fashion the he will be most receptive to the presented ideas and thereby be motivated to explore his body potentials for the control of his psychological and physiological responses and behavior'. (Milton Erickson, cited in Haley, 1973, p47).
The British Medical Association (BMA) definition is:
A temporary condition of altered attention in the subject which may be induced by another person and in which a variety of phenomena may appear spontaneously or in response to verbal or other stimuli. These phenomena include alterations in consciousness and memory, increased susceptibility to suggestion, and the production in the subject of responses and ideas unfamiliar to him in his usual state of mind. Further, phenomena such as an aesthesia, paralysis and rigidity of muscles, and vasomotor changes can be produced and removed in the hypnotic state. (BMA, 1955).
What happens in a hypnosis session?
Hypnosis is a safe and effective therapy used with many types of psychological and behavioral problems. The hypnotist will sit you in a comfortable chair and after checking that you are ready will then begin the hypnotic induction. The hypnotic induction is a form of words designed to lead you into a relaxing and comfortable trance. Although you are deeply relaxed you are actively involved in the process. In hypnotherapy you are not a passive observer. You are always aware of what is going on and following what the hypnotist is saying.
Once in trance the hypnotist will guide you in making the changes you want. At all times you are aware of what is going on and you can talk, move and even come out of trance if you want to. You are pleasantly relaxed. You will be able to hear a telephone ring or traffic outside, but in the trance state your mind will dismiss these things as of no importance. You will normally remember everything and you will not lose control.
At the end of the session the hypnotist will bring you out of trance again, usually including suggestions that you are feeling great. You will come out of trance feeling refreshed and alert. After hypnosis you might feel a bit 'spacey' for a while but you are safe to drive.
What does hypnosis feel like?
Most people find the experience very enjoyable. Hypnotic trance is like a state of deep relaxation, your mind becomes detached from everyday cares and concerns. In trance, nothing seems to matter, you feel you don't have anything to do, anything to worry about. You are aware of the hypnotist's voice, of things around you, but it is too much effort to attend to them.
There is no right or wrong way to experience trance. Some people go into trance and report feeling deeply relaxed and sinking into the chair, others report a light airy feeling of drifting or flying. For most people, once you are deep in trance you feel a lovely luxurious ease. You will forget about everything, detach completely from your surroundings, disconnect from your body. Your mind is in a timeless formless state until called back. Most people's first words after a hypno session is "Wow! That was amazing."
How does hypnosis work?
While you are in trance your unconscious mind takes over. You react to stimuli but do not consciously evaluate them. Much of your daily behavior is unconscious. When you are driving and you see a traffic sign you do not start to consider who designed it, or how it got there - you just see it and act on it. You can easily obey the traffic sign while thinking about something else.
In the unconscious state the mind becomes responsive to suggestion. Under the guidance of a professional hypnotist, you can do things you cannot do in normal circumstances. For example, hypnotism can alter your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, make one hand warmer than the other. You can recall long forgotten events, ignore pain, and perform many other body functions that are normally not within conscious control.
The theory is that it works because your mind automatically and unconsciously processes the suggestions and the normal process of critical evaluation is absent. Hypnosis works because it seems to your mind as if the suggestions come from inside your own subconscious mind, not coming from outside. Your mind will therefore accept the suggestions as rightfully belonging there and will act on it.
However, your unconscious mind will not accept just any suggestion. The primary function of the subconscious mind is to keep you safe. Your mind will ignore anything which goes against your basic values or which might harm you. If hypnotists could get people to do anything they wanted then I would just go to the nearest bank and get the manager to give me money. Sadly, it doesn't happen.
Your subconscious regulates all your bodily functions like taste and smell, and your emotions. In hypnosis the subconscious is highly responsive to suggestion and so the hypnotist can suggest that you can taste lemon juice, or smell oranges and the subconscious will generate the appropriate responses. You really do taste the lemons, or smell the oranges. Your mind cannot tell the difference between something vividly imagined and the real thing.
This is why the hypnotist can suggest that events in the past mean something different, or are no longer important or are fading away. Your subconscious mind will use these suggestions to create a new way of reacting to these things. Similarly, the hypnotist can guide you to imagining a future where you can do whatever it is you find hard to do right now.
Hypnosis increases your powers of imagination. All the vivid images you create in your subconscious mind seem real and true. When you imagine yourself doing something or experiencing something, your mind cannot tell the difference between that and what really happened. This means that if you imagine yourself speaking confidently to an audience then your mind will believe that you have done it. The feelings of confidence generated by that imagined event will replace any old feelings of fear and inadequacy.
Can I be hypnotized?
Everyone can be hypnotized. If you can imagine someone's face, or recall a tune in your mind, or recreate the feel of stroking fur, then you can be hypnotized. The more a person tends to daydream the more likely they are to be easily hypnotized. Strong minded people are excellent candidates. If you have ever been lost in a daydream, or if you have been so absorbed in a book or a video game that you lost track of the time, then you have been hypnotized. In fact, you have already been in hypnosis several times today. Everyone has, and the more intelligent the person is, the easier they are to hypnotize.
Will I reveal my secrets? You will not say anything you would not divulge normally. You won't talk in your sleep or anything like that. If the hypnotist touches on anything that you do not want to deal with then your subconscious mind will just ignore the suggestion. You won't tell the hypnotist any secrets, but you might tell yourself some. It often happens that in trance you become aware of the hidden beliefs that have been holding you back, or identify the source of self sabotage that prevents you succeeding.
The secret of hypnosis using generalized non-specific suggestions. These can apply to many situations. Your subconscious mind will pick up the hidden hypnotic meaning and apply it to your particular problem. Once you become aware of that hidden problem you can deal with it.
What if I don't waken up?
That cannot happen. No one has ever got 'stuck' in hypnosis. It just isn't possible. There is no danger in hypnosis. Hypnosis is a natural state that you go into every day, your mind knows how to deal with it. Even if the hypnotist somehow went away and left you alone, your subconscious is still working to protect you. If there was any sudden alarm you would waken to full alertness instantly. For as long your mind is busy with whatever the hypnotist suggested, you will remain in trance. When it finishes you would gradually become aware of your surroundings and you would waken naturally, as if from a gentle snooze. When you leave the session you will be bright and alert and totally out of trance. You can drive, you can do everything you would normally do.
How long does hypnosis last?
Hypnosis not only works faster than most other therapies, it is permanent. Once you change your thinking with hypnosis, that change is forever - hypnosis does last. For example, once you realise that there is no Santa Claus, it is simply impossible to go back to believing in him. It is the same with hypnosis, the instant your mind accepts the hypnotic suggestion, you don't have to do that behavior anymore, and you are free for life. Even after the session is over, your hypnosis goes on working. A good hypnotherapist will leave suggestions that will last long into the future. Even after you have left the appointment the hypnosis will still be making changes. It is a bit like showing you to cook instead of selling you a sandwich. Your hypnotherapy session will last a lifetime.
Does hypnosis work?
Hypnosis does work, but hypnosis can not cure everything. Hypnosis will not make you taller, or increase your bust size, or put hair back on a bald head. It will not make you irresistibly sexy and it won't give you secret hypnotic powers to make other people do what you want. Sorry.
What hypnosis will do is remove negative beliefs about yourself and get rid of feelings of anxiety. Hypnosis will help you end bad habits to stop smoking and stop nail biting, turn off the bad feelings inside that make you overeat, give you the confidence to deal with jealousy, allow you to have a normal sex life, give you the confidence to do public speaking.
All of these problems are caused or maintained by bad thinking, by words put into your mind by other people. Beliefs like you are 'no good', 'should never have have been born', 'don't deserve to succeed', 'I will never be good enough', 'people will laugh at me' - these bad thoughts and others like them are what cause most of the misery people have. Hypnosis can clear these out. Letting go of the past with hypnotism will let you get a life the way it should have been all along.
Is hypnosis safe?
Hypnosis is natural and safe. There are no secret hypnosis dangers. In fact hypnosis is the only therapy with absolutely no side effects. No one has ever been harmed by going into a hypnotic trance. While you are in trance you are aware of everything that is going on, you are not unconscious. Hypnosis is gentle and enjoyable, and many people do self hypnosis every single day.
From time to time you hear stories about the dangers of hypnosis. Supposed hypnosis dangers include getting stuck in hypnosis, having sex and not remembering it, giving away all your money. These 'hypnosis dangers' stories are all nonsense. There are no dangers of hypnosis. The most common stories are about how some person somewhere was up on stage and then died afterwards.
The fact is that millions of people go up on stage each year and none of them die from it. The dangers of hypnosis are the same as the dangers of eating grapes. Each year thousands of people die in hospital after eating grapes that visitors bring. Nobody seriously believes that it is the grapes that causes people to die.
Hypnotherapists are trained to deal with a range of issues in the same way that physiotherapists are: they specialize in certain areas and are highly skilled in those areas.
The fun demonstrations seen on stage or TV are real but specially set up. The people you see really are hypnotized, they are not pretending. But the people who volunteer to go on stage are natural exhibitionists. They are also carefully screened to make sure only the highly hypnotizable are selected. The things people do on stage are things that they would do in normal life, given enough encouragement. The volunteers are aware of what they are doing and can stop at any time. People usually report that on stage they felt as if part of them was watching someone else do the antics. They were happy to go along with the suggestions. But they were aware of what was going on at all times, and could have stopped if they wanted to. There are no hypnosis dangers.
No one can be made to do anything that conflicts with their own safety or their own moral values. If you are asked to do something you are not comfortable with you will instantly come out of trance and back to normal awareness. It happens all the time on stage shows, but they don't televise that bit.
There is nothing in your own mind that can harm you, and modern hypnotherapy does not go back to old hurts and open them up again. All mainstream religions accept hypnosis as beneficial in certain cases.
The effects of hypnosis have been investigated thoroughly and there are hundreds of scientific studies to show its effectiveness. It is regularly used in hospitals to aid recovery times and to relieve pain.
All major medical associations accept hypnosis as a valid adjunct to standard medical practice and doctors are authorized to use it.