What is Hypnosis and How Does It Work?
Hypnosis refers to a state of focused attention in which the person hypnotized responds easily to suggestion. During this state, the subject is much less aware of things going on around him or her. Those activities occurring in the vicinity of the subject are either blocked out of the subject’s consciousness or are ignored because the focus is so intense. When it is used for therapeutic purposes, it is called hypnotherapy.
To put a person into a hypnotic state, the hypnotherapist uses mental imagery. For instance, the therapist may ask the patient to visualize a serene place with the scent of flowers, birds chirping, and to imagine feeling the warmth of the sun to get the senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch all focused on the same thing. The goal is to coax the subject into a relaxed state of both mind and body. Some hypnotherapists may add soothing music.
The hypnotherapist further guides the patient into hypnosis with repetition of calming words or phrases. Once the patient is relaxed enough and in this trance-like state, it becomes easy for the mind to concentrate fully on any message the hypnotherapist suggests to help the client achieve their goal. The mind is then in a state to be able to absorb these messages like a sponge.
History of Hypnosis
Hypnos is a Greek word, meaning to sleep. Although hypnosis does not involve sleep, the ancient Greeks often went to dream-healers who would induce sleep with hypnotic suggestions for what the person was to dream about so the dreams could be interpreted and analyzed to help people with what problems they might be facing.
The Hindus of ancient India would take those who were ill to be healed at their temples where hypnotic suggestion was called “temple sleep.” Some form of hypnotic practice goes back to 1500 BC where hypnosis has reference in their holy books, the Vedas.
Modern-day hypnotism started in the 19th century when the term was first used by a Scottish surgeon, James Braid. Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician, is credited as being the Father of Hypnosis because of his hypnotic techniques for hysterical patients, though his practices are quite different from those of today. The trance-like state of being “mesmerized” comes from his name.
Milton Erickson, M.D. was a psychiatrist and psychologist who specialized in medical hypnosis. He theorized that individuals have within themselves unique abilities to heal themselves and solve their problems, and it is the hypnotherapist who catalyzes the process. Present day theory and hypnotic techniques are based on his vast contributions to the field.
What to Expect in a Session
If this is a first session, this involves a meeting to get to know the client and what the person wants and expects from hypnotherapy. In this way, the client directs the hypnotherapist as to how to best facilitate the process of self-healing or problem-solving that is unique to that person’s identity and situation. It is also at this time that some hypnotherapists may ask whether or not the client would like to receive a post-hypnotic suggestion during the trance-state to trigger a feeling or action as a tool to reach the desired outcome of the therapy.
The first part of hypnotherapy involves induction or getting the person into the relaxed and focused state that was discussed above. The ease of slipping into the trance depends on the ability of the hypnotherapist, but it is even more profoundly related to the patient’s willingness and ability to relax.
The type of mental imagery and language the hypnotherapist will employ is dependent on what each individual client has told the therapist in the consultation. During this time, the therapist may ask the client to pay attention to controlling and slowing breathing, a common relaxation technique.
When hypnotherapists detect that the trance has progressed to a deeper state, one in which the client will be able to focus intensely on hypnotic suggestions, this is when these suggestions will be stated. Some therapists may record hypnotic material for the patient to use a gain later as reinforcement of what was suggested in the session.
Before the next phase of transitioning to the fully conscious state, post-hypnotic suggestions will be included, if applicable. When the session is ended, the hypnotherapist will gradually and gently bring the client forth from the trance. There is no startling effect like snapping out of it, as one might see in movies.
Excluding the introductory phase of getting to know the client, the time from trance-induction to leaving the trance-induction state can be anywhere from 20-25 minutes. The initial consultation time will vary, usually a half-hour to an hour. Any subsequent meetings to discuss progress will be the same. Treatment plans with hypnosis can vary ranging from 1 session visit to 10+ depending on what issue is being addressed.
What is Hypnosis Used For?
The therapy is used to treat so many things, it may be far more succinct to list the things it cannot be used for, however, some of the most common uses can be listed here:
- Smoking Cessation
- Weight loss
- Treatment of anxiety
- Overcoming phobias
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Improving sleep
- Adjusting blood pressure
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Overcoming bad habits
- Treating learning disorders
- Improve communication
- Enhanced sports performance
- Induce good study habits
- Stress management
- Treating effects of chemotherapy and radiation
- Pain management
- Treatment of menopausal symptoms
- Asthma and other breathing problems
- Many other medical-related issues such as surgery prep
Common Hypnosis Questions
Is Hypnotherapy Really Effective?
The long and short answers are both, “yes.” If it were not effective, a renowned institution such as the Mayo Clinic would not employ hypnosis. The Mayo Clinic integrates it into their other physical and psychological treatments of many of their patients, recognizing its effectiveness for promoting “physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.”
Can Hypnosis Be Dangerous?
Hypnosis is no more dangerous than being totally engrossed in reading a book or article, daydreaming, or so intent on the road when driving a car that one does not notice scenery or things like billboard advertising. These are only a few examples of trance-like states that are no different from the state one is in when hypnotized. Each trance-like state may be of shorter duration, but the effect is the same. People spend nearly half of their waking hours in a trance, daydreaming.
Hypnosis is far less dangerous than the above examples when a person is startled from those common, daily trances. Even a light tap on the shoulder of one in such deep concentration can result in momentary fright, having negative consequences. Dr. Wittstein gives an example of this same type of startling effect in with an older woman who, though not in a trance state, was utterly surprised for her birthday party. Being so unexpectedly startled caused her heart to beat irregularly. This is not an issue with hypnotherapy because the subject is slowly and calmly brought forth from the trance state.
Being so locked into a state of focused attention on one thing can cause adverse consequences if it distracts the person from something dangerous happening around the individual. For instance, not immediately recognizing the smell of smoke, indicating there may be a fire, because one is so engrossed in reading can have injurious consequences. This kind of thing is obviously not going to happen in hypnotherapy because the subject is with the hypnotherapist who is very aware of all the things that may be going on around the therapist and patient in the session.
Can One Get Stuck in Hypnosis?
As with the examples above and many others not mentioned, people go in and out of trance states very regularly, every day. They are all temporary detachments from consciousness of other present stimuli. There is no one who has ever been stuck in the hypnotic trance state. As Stephen Wolinsky, PhD, says, “Trance states are transient.”
What Are the Side Effects of Hypnosis?
Physical side effects in rare cases report some people feeling light-headed or dizzy after a session. Colonel Elman, a Certified Instructor & Certified Master Trainer in Hypnosis, claims this does not happen if under the direction of those properly trained.
False memories in a hypnotic session can be a side effect. People sometimes have memories of things that did not actually happen to them but that may have been talked about so much, they remember them as being a part of their own experiences. When in the trance-state, a person may recollect those memories in such a way. A competent hypnotherapist will uncover possibilities for how this might happen when analyzing a patient’s history from the consultation. They will then be careful not to suggest things in the hypnotic session that may induce these falsities in a patient’s recollections. The Mayo Clinic contends that all adverse effects of hypnosis are rare but, as stated above, it is of most importance to carefully choose a hypnotherapist who is certified to greatly reduce the risks of side effects.
If a person is experiencing any problematic issue and grappling with a way to solve the problem or ameliorate it, hypnotherapy is a viable option. Once the myths associated with it from Hollywood renditions in movies are separated from the realities of its gravity in effectively treating millions of people, it is a consideration that should most certainly not be overlooked.
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