Hypnotherapy is losing its mystique, but only because it is now better understood. This new perception has negated the need for qualifications in many countries and has increased its popularity as a mainstream instrument of rapid change.
For the last two hundred years, ever since Dr. Franz Mesmer first passed magnetised iron rods over his neurotic patients, the debate as to what actually constitutes hypnosis has raged on in academic circles and in countless psychology labs and symposiums world-wide.
Now, at long last, it seems the debate has been between the ‘state’ and the ‘non-state’ theorists has been settled.
The ‘state’ theorists have long held on to the view that hypnosis is a special stand-alone phenomenon that is completely removed from any other kind of state of mind. They have been almost obsessive in their insistence that subjects undergoing hypnosis enter into a trance-like state where their every thought and behaviour is controlled by the hypnotist, and that when they ‘wake up’ at the end, they have no recollection of what has occurred.
This is the popular image of hypnosis, a mythology perpetuated in part by stage hypnotists and old B-movies, both of which have been largely responsible for the public misunderstanding of hypnosis. [Stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy are in fact two very different things.]
However, after five years of intensive study and experiments carried out with more than three hundred real people and after-hypnosis investigation, supervised by some of the UK’s leading academics and psychologists, it appears that the non-state theorists have won the day.
Hypnosis is not a stand-alone state but has similar neurological correlates to any other kind of experience. For example, the same areas of the brain are activated when we actually see an object or experience an emotion as are activated when we merely imagine an object or feeling or emotion
In closely monitored test conditions, we found that volunteers in hypnosis do not forget what has happened or experience any form of spontaneous amnesia. The opposite is true – they remember every part of the process, including the process of relaxation [this ‘induction’ of hypnosis] and their various emotions and behaviours during hypnosis.
They do however, share one common experience – the awareness that their attention is finely focused on the suggestions given by the hypnotist creates an overwhelming compulsion to adhere to the suggestions. Still, no one falls asleep, no one loses consciousness, and no one goes in to any kind of trance.
Hypnosis is definitely a peak experience, but one which results in an effect or consequence, particularly for those undergoing hypnotherapy.
An example of a peak experience would be say, being attacked by a dog. It’s a peak experience not only because it’s memorable and your full attention is focused on the event, but because it changes your future behaviour. That experience may well cause you to avoid dogs in the future or even to develop a phobia about them.
Most phobias are created as a result of a bad experience (think fear of flying) and are easily dealt with in the therapy room.
So… hypnosis is just another peak experience. The combination of relaxation, in tandem with the repetition and reinforcement of ideas creates a greater openness to suggestion. Together, they conspire to change even deeply held attitudes and as a result can modify behaviours, such as smoking or over-eating. It’s also of great value in reducing stress and anxiety, managing pain, and dealing with all sorts of emotional problems – even deep trauma.
For the first time, hypnotherapy is being used to treat depression, an area only a short time ago considered out of bounds to hypnotherapists. Hypnotherapy can trigger rapid change, enabling clients to turn their backs on learned helplessness by encouraging them to end their social isolation.
In all the cases in the above paragraph, hypnosis offers a short cut that other forms of talking therapy do not. In any event, all the client ever really wants is to feel better!
Hypnotherapy also has other advantages. Unlike it’s nearest neighbour, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) hypnotherapy doesn’t use big words to impress (or confuse) the client. Hypnotherapy is successful because it is charged with great dollops of common sense.
True, as with any other of the talking therapies, the therapist must never suggest solutions to the client – the client will come to their own understanding and discovery of the truth soon enough – the hypnotherapist is really just a sounding board for the client to bounce ideas off. Eventually, what deep down the client always knew to be the truth will come to the surface. Clients will find their own solutions and those solutions can then be worked into a script which will help them move forward and retake ownership of their lives.
The advantage the hypnotherapist has is that he or she stands outside the goldfish bowl looking in, whereas the client is trapped inside, trying to find a way out. In other words, the client has only the subjective view while the therapist takes the objective view and can help the client to do the same.
I once knew a hypnotherapist who had a sign over his door that every client who walked into his therapy room would have seen as they walked in. It simply said, “The Worst is Over.”
This sort of easy therapy depends on the client being able to perform a series of mental gymnastics, but these are very simple and straightforward and also well understood, and all take place purely in the imagination.
Hypnotherapy isn’t rocket science, but neither is it a cure-all – it does have limits and it’s important that any hypnotherapist understands that. Hypnotherapists are not miracle workers and never can be, but in many cases they are the next best thing.
One final word…
The very word Hypnosis has for decades, been misleading. The word itself comes from the Greek Hypnos, meaning sleep, but as we have discovered, hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep. Neither has it anything to do with any radically altered state of mind or consciousness.
So if hypnosis doesn’t actually exist, what is it really?
Apart from the antics of stage hypnotists, most of whom do not have a thorough enough understanding of the subject, Hypnotherapy can be summed up in a few words: Hypnotherapy is two people coming together in search of a solution.
In fact, it’s possible to ditch the hypnosis altogether and get the client to engage in some Creative Relaxation. It’s the same thing, yet different… No trance, no hypnosis, just a matter of sitting back, relaxing, and using your imagination.
And with that in mind dear reader, anyone can do it. You don’t need to be a psychologist or a degree in psychiatry to use you common sense and experience of life. You can achieve the sort of magic which hypnotherapists around the world do on a daily basis – just a few well-chosen words, a healthy dollop of common sense, and a nice comfortable chair.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2015. All rights reserved.
Andrew Newton is one of the world’s foremost experts in hypnosis, as well as being the UK’s foremost speaker on the subject. He is senior lecturer in Hypnosis at the Hypnoseakademiet in Norway, Europe’s premier Hypnosis and EFT training school and lectures on hypnosis at psychology conferences in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and India.
Published In Natural Medicine magazine – March 2016.