Hypnosis has come a long way in the last two hundred years. Today’s therapists are more likely to be casually dressed and relaxed in manner; the swinging pocket watch has been banned and the words ‘you are feeling very sleepy’ are a very definite no-no!
Mention hypnosis to the average person and they are likely to picture a host of unwitting volunteers running round a theatre, clucking like chickens. But there’s much more to hypnosis than the traditional image of the side-show entertainer. Hypnosis is now taken dead seriously by the medical profession and its use is increasing all over the world.
Why..? Because after over two centuries of lurking in the dark ages, hypnotism has finally come of age and is now widely respected as a safe, fast, and effective form of treatment. No pills… no potions… just an easy and relaxed way of dealing with problems as diverse as smoking cessation and pain management. In short, hypnosis and hypnotherapy has moved into the mainstream.
Advances in the understanding of hypnosis, and therefore in the application of this often misunderstood art, have developed in parallel to greater understanding of the psychology that lies behind hypnosis. Who, for instance, would have thought that hypnosis is so closely linked to memory that the two are almost inseparable?
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of hypnotised subjects show that virtually the same areas of the brain are active as when non-hypnotised volunteers are asked to remember events in their lives. After a session of hypnosis, these memories can be radically changed. This sort of experiment means that psychologists and hypnotherapists are now able to devise suggestions that can change the deeply ingrained habits of years. Very useful indeed if your client wants to stop eating so much chocolate and stick to a sensible diet – this becomes effortless with hypnosis.
Hypnosis is even more useful for treating clients with debilitating fears and phobias. For instance, a phobia is really only a fear of a fear. Psychologists have found that people who are terrified of flying produce the same fear hormones as people who suddenly find themselves in real threatening situations. These fear hormones have been measured by scientists and have been found to disappear altogether after just one session of hypnosis. Such is the effectiveness of the treatment that some major airlines are now using hypnotherapy to calm passengers before taking them on a first flight.
There’s more good news for therapists using hypnosis and their clients. Ten years ago, the average session to banish something as mundane as a fear of spiders could last up to an hour. Thanks to the collective imaginations of some leading hypnotists, it’s possible to reduce this time by two thirds, and in some cases, it can take as little as five minutes.
The same is true of pain management. It is estimated that in the UK, ordinary aches and pains costs almost £3 billion every year in time of work. Most aches and pains are back, shoulder or neck related; often they are due to illnesses such as arthritis or even multiple sclerosis. Andrew Newton runs a pain clinic once a month in the UK, dealing with up to forty patients in an evening. “People who suffer from ceaseless and unremitting pain will try anything, do anything, and pay anything if it would just stop, just for some respite.”
In his pain clinics, Newton hypnotises his clients with remarkable speed, and with a few well-chosen suggestions teaches them how to literally ‘imagine’ the pain away. The technique is, again, relatively simple and straightforward. Asking a patient how much it hurts at any given time on a scale of one to ten, Newton paints a mental picture in his subjects’ imagination of the pain turning from say, an angry red to a cold pale blue, counting down all the time towards zero. Accessing the creative imagination is, Newton says, paramount in achieving a cure. The next step is to teach them how to help themselves when Newton isn’t around to direct them. “After they have done the exercises a few times, the whole process becomes second nature – the more they practice the technique, which takes only a minute or so, the better able they are to get themselves into a position where they are in control, not the pain.”
The process is used in conjunction with a rapid induction technique invented by Newton himself. “For nearly thirty years I’ve been getting faster as I’ve got more experienced, but about ten years ago, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t really added anything new or of note to the existing, tried and tested techniques that had been used by hypnotherapists for donkey’s years. The Holy Grail of Hypnotism was to find a technique which was not only fast, but reliable. It came to me in one of those ‘eureka’ moments I suppose. It changed everything. All of a sudden, I was getting invited to talk at psychology conferences and at seminars for established and experienced professional therapists. It also meant that I stopped seeing people on a one to one basis and was able to work the same kind of magic on a much bigger scale. For me, it was a natural progression. Now, I spend half my time teaching other therapists how to break out of the office and try other environments.”
The main reason however, for the increasing popularity of hypnotherapy, has not come about as a result of better acceptance by the medical fraternity (some dentists are now using hypnosis instead of more traditional anaesthetics!) but for reasons that are more mundane.
In most Western countries, governments have banned smoking in public places. Fed up with having to stand outside the pub in sub-zero temperatures, punters have been presented with a stark choice. Either stop smoking, or freeze to death. More and more have opted for the former and business has increased markedly, with many hypnotherapists having healthy waiting lists.
So, just as the number of people seeking help has multiplied, so has the number of satisfied customers who now tell their friends. ‘Word of mouth’ publicity is the best publicity there is, and even better, an endorsement from one’s best friend is an advertisement you can trust. Most hypnotherapists find their business grows at an exponential rate; the more clients they can help, the more new clients pick up the phone to make an appointment.
All this traffic means greater demand. In Norway, where hypnosis as a therapy was virtually unknown as recently as three years ago, there are now nearly a hundred practicing hypnotherapists, most of them trained by Newton, who flies there twice a year to run two day crash courses with his Norwegian counterpart, Ronny Hansen. Despite the language difficulties (there is an interpreter on standby for those difficult words!) Hypnotherapy is rapidly becoming the new fashionable thing.
Another reason for the growing reputation of hypnotherapy is its versatility. Hypnosis can be applied to any psychosomatic illness with great effect. Hypnosis can also reduce and eliminate stress on a permanent basis. Often it can just help people feel better about themselves. In today’s stressed-out world, the profound feelings of relaxation that constitute the hypnotic state can be more potent than Prozac. In a recent study carried out by Dr. Irving Kirsch at the University of Hull in the UK, the percentage of people who claimed they felt better after a course of Prozac (a mere 70%) was exactly the same as for those who were administered a placebo (sugar pill). The percentage of people who report improvements in overall mental wellbeing after just one visit to a good hypnotherapist is even higher – about 85%.
In today’s ever more competitive world, hypnosis can work wonders for self-confidence and self esteem. The psychology behind these minor miracles is well understood, yet seldom applied.
The really great thing about hypnosis is that it requires no special equipment or physical tools of any kind, just a basic understanding of the psychology that underlies it. An understanding of the human condition is useful too, because the therapy session provides an appropriate environment, a kind of comfort zone, for clients to talk freely about issues that they might find difficult to talk about to even their best friend. Clients with real personal problems tend to view those problems subjectively; problems are always clearer when viewed from outside the bubble.
The great hero of psychology, Carl Rogers, said that, inevitably, it has to be the client that decides what is wrong and what must be done to put things right. The therapist serves merely as a sounding board for ideas. Eventually, the client decides upon the course of action to be taken. When these decisions are made, hypnosis makes the solutions so much more powerful.
Learning about hypnosis is like a voyage of discovery – the purpose of which is to be able to help others. And one of the first things one learns is that there is nothing supernatural or mysterious about hypnosis, and yet the results are sometimes magical!
Copyright Andrew Newton 2008. All rights reserved.