What is Hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is a form of therapy based on skilled communication. It is aimed at directing a person’s imagination in a way that helps to elicit changes in perceptions, sensations, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. A hypnotherapist works with a client to explore the therapeutic goals desired, discussing previous medical history, general health and lifestyle in order to decide on the best approach for the individual.
Contrary to some beliefs, hypnotherapy is not a “magic wand”, “mind control” nor is it “stage hypnosis” – you cannot, under any circumstances (including hypnosis for so-called entertainment, despite appearances), be made to do something that you do not want to do.
A hypnotherapist, therefore, works in alignment with a client’s motivation and commitment to elicit changes and develop the skills and inner-resources needed to overcome personal challenges, improve wellbeing and achieve goals. In this way, hypnotherapy facilitates and expedites the processes of change.
What Can Hypnotherapy Help With?
Hypnotherapy can help with many issues, especially when combined with other psychotherapy modalities such as CBT or with NLP techniques. Specifically, when aligned with a person’s goals, willpower and motivation, hypnotherapy itself can be used to help relieve anxiety, problems with sleep, address attitudes to weight, improve self-esteem and achieve behavioural change (e.g. habits, including smoking). It can also help with some skin conditions, especially if stress or confidence related, and may also be used to enhance confidence in performance (e.g. sport or public speaking).
In addition, hypnotherapy has been shown to be beneficial in managing the pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that the NHS should consider referring patients for hypnotherapy if their IBS is persistent and has failed to respond to prescribed medicine.
With such a broad application, it is worthwhile speaking to a hypnotherapist to see if they can help with any particular issue you may be experiencing.
The Conscious and the Subconscious Mind
Hypnotherapy principally works with a client’s subconscious processes, the aspects of “mind” that we are largely unaware of on a day to day basis.
Many people are aware that the brain can be considered as consisting of two hemispheres – the left brain, often associated with logic, sequences, analysis, facts, details, strategy, etc. and the right brain, which might be considered more random, intuitive, emotional, artistic and imaginative. Both are required to work in harmony for a balanced approach to life.
Contrary to some beliefs, hypnotherapy is not a “magic wand”, “mind control” nor is it “stage hypnosis” – you cannot, under any circumstances be made to do something that you do not want to do.
In a similar fashion, the mind may be considered as consisting of two parts – the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is considered to be a little bit like the left brain – analytical, judging, logical and process-oriented. It is the seat of awareness, the part of mind of which we are aware – the constant mental chatter we hear. The conscious mind can also be a creature of habit that likes to maintain the status quo and, thus, can be resistant to change – which may present an obvious challenge for change work.
The subconscious mind
The subconscious mind is the rest of mind of which we are largely unaware on a day-to-day basis – it is believed to make up the vast majority of mind. The subconscious mind might be thought of as being like all the little background programs that keep our home computers running – we may not know what they are called or where they are located, but we know that without them our computer would cease to function properly.
Thus, the subconscious mind is responsible for keeping us alive and many other processes that we consider to be automatic – for example, thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours. It is also the repository for long term memory which is compared to new incoming data from the senses in order to formulate a response. The subconscious mind is highly imaginative, often communicating visually or metaphorically, and it is open to suggestions for change.
The subconscious mind is also concerned with our safety and wellbeing. Whilst it mostly does a good job in this respect, it may not always choose the best or most appropriate way to do this for us. Similarly, solutions that may have been appropriate and useful many years ago are now no longer so and the result today can sometimes cause problems for us.
So, if we want to bring about positive change in our minds and in our lives, one way to achieve this might be to bypass the analytical, judging and resistant conscious mind and communicate directly with the imaginative, caring, well-intentioned subconscious mind that is responsible for many of the processes we consider to be “automatic”. And this is exactly what we set out to achieve with hypnotherapy.
One way to deliberately access the subconscious mind and it’s processes is to use a relaxed state of internal focus and concentration – a state of trance or hypnosis.
What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a form of trance and is a perfectly natural phenomenon. We can enter trance states voluntarily (e.g. meditation, self-hypnosis, or focussing exclusively on a single task), and often subconsciously, and do so regularly on a daily basis. In fact, the advertising industry relies on this process occurring much of the time so that we are open to their suggestions!
Other examples of natural trances are commonplace. Have you ever been driving to somewhere familiar and, when you arrive, you can’t quite remember how you got there? Have you ever been so absorbed in a film that you can’t believe that two hours have passed when the credits start to roll? Have you ever had an emotional response when listening to a piece of music? These are all examples of trance and often feature internal absorption, relaxation and, to a certain extent, withdrawal from the outside world whilst still being aware of it. Much like a daydream, for example.
In the hypnotic trance state, the critical, analysing and judging conscious mind is temporarily calmed or distracted allowing the more suggestible and imaginative subconscious mind to come to the fore. This is the aspect of mind that is responsible for the processes such as thoughts, feelings and behaviours that many of us consider to be automatic, although many people are surprised at just how much fine control they can have over these factors.
How is This Relevant to Therapy?
Any process that requires internal reflection (e.g. being asked to recall a favourite moment from a recent holiday) require us to enter a brief and light trance whilst we access the required information from our long term memory which is part of our subconscious mind. Thus, trance may be experienced many times in any modality of therapy.
In hypnotherapy specifically, a hypnotic state of trance may also be induced formally – often through physical relaxation although other methods are available. If we consider, for a moment, that the mind and the body are not separate entities but are inextricably linked then it follows that what affects one affects the other. We experience this when our mind is agitated or anxious and our breathing or heart rate alters to reflect this. Conversely, if we relax our body physically, then the mind (especially the conscious mind) relaxes too.
With the conscious mind relaxed, the more imaginative subconscious mind becomes more available and the therapist can offer suggestions aligned to the client’s goals, often using metaphors and visualisations (the language of the subconscious mind) to help a client to make the changes that they desire (e.g. to change how they feel, think or act in certain situations).
And Finally … What’s in a Name?
Hypnotherapy may have an unfortunate name-relationship with stage hypnosis. In fact, the very word “hypnosis” derives from ancient Greek mythology where Hypnos was the personification of sleep. As you are hopefully now aware, hypnosis is not sleep – it is a state of relaxed, focussed awareness – and you cannot be made to do anything against your wishes. The name, however, is a legacy of the history of the development over many years of what has become today’s modern hypnotherapy.
Many people find the experience of hypnosis deeply relaxing, rewarding and revitalising on a number of levels. This in itself can be enormously beneficial in a modern world where doing/more/better/faster is valued and the true art of relaxation and reflection has largely been devalued and forgotten.
Add to this the artful communication of a compassionate and skilled hypnotherapist, aligned with a client’s goals, and you have a process by which people can tap into their own vast inner-resources and go on to achieve significant, beneficial change in their lives.
By any name, that is surely worthwhile.
Read the book: Hypnotherapy For Dummies (Affiliate link)