Demystifying hypnotherapy or deconstructing misconceptions
Hypnotherapy is still shrouded in so many myths. There's no magic, no swinging pendulums nor swaying watches either. No one is counting backwards as they slump into unconsciousness. What I intend to talk about here is medical rather than stage or movie hypnotism.
As life in general becomes increasingly demanding and stressful, our opportunities for 'de-stressing' also seem to be diminishing. More and more people are suffering the types of conditions hypnotherapy can successfully help to resolve: anxiety/stress, depression, IBS, phobias, trauma, sleep problems, addictions, eating disorders, to name just a few. Yet many suffering from these conditions do not seek the help of a hypnotherapist, often preferring to turn to medication whether the results are what they were hoping for or not.
One of the main reasons for hypnotherapy not being sought is that it still remains a mystery for many. A very common perception is that this type of therapy is quite mysterious, even magical and that the hypnotherapist can somehow take over your mind and make you do things against your will. Unfortunately, these misconceptions – magic, swinging pendulums, mind-control, etc. – are often shared by the media who love nothing more than a juicy hypnosis story that appears to uphold these incorrect beliefs.
The very first step to demystifying hypnotherapy is to understand that hypnosis is a completely natural state. We actually go in and out of this hypnotic state (or altered state of consciousness) several times a day. In fact, there is enough scientific evidence (for instance, MRI scan evidence on how hypnosis works) to suggest we spend large parts of our day in this natural state of mind.
How many times have you got to work in your car and had no recollection of driving there? (Of course, you would have been immediately aware had another car suddenly pulled out on you). How many times have you been preparing a meal, listening to the radio, thinking about your day, with only half an ear on the story, your child coming into the kitchen to tell you about what happened at school that day? (If your child had suddenly announced little 'Johnny' had punched him/her in the tummy you would, immediately, have become fully aware of the story). And also, as I am keen to introduce a bit of humor into the subject, how many times does your mind wander to what you would do if you became the winner of the enormous Euro Millions jackpot?
In all these instances, you were in a hypnotic trance, in a pleasant, relaxed, altered state of consciousness, gently drifting off - or daydreaming - whilst maintaining your conscious mind switched on. The only difference between what happened to you in these instances and the state you enter when you actually receive hypnotherapy is possibly the depth of trance and the content. Even though hypnotherapy induces a very pleasant and deep state of relaxation, rest assured you are always aware of what is going on. Your conscious mind stays switched on and you actually are in control at all times.
Generally, the general public believe that for hypnosis to work, the subject must be in a near sleep state. It would therefore surprise the majority to learn that the University of Liège in Belgium have carried out many operations using hypnosis instead of using general anesthetics. During the operations, the patients are fully aware, not only of their surroundings, but also of the people around them at all times! Surgeons are increasingly using this technique as it has no side effects such as, for instance, drowsiness.
When visiting a solution focused hypnotherapist, a typical session is usually made up of half talk, half hypnosis. The talking part explores what you would like to achieve, how you would like to achieve it, what skills/knowledge/abilities you already have awareness of that will help you achieve your goals. Hypnosis is then used to make sure your subconscious is working to the same agenda that your conscious mind is.
In day-to-day life, the subconscious and conscious parts of the mind work independently from each other and are not always focused on the same goal, the same intent. What actually happens during hypnotherapy is that we can bring them into alignment through trance (as we have discussed, a very gentle, natural process). Trance is the moment when the two minds (the intellectual, cognitive mind and the primitive mind) can come together and focus on the same thing at the same time with the same intent.
Putting the subconscious and the conscious mind on the same task (metaphorically speaking, “building a bridge” in between) allows for an exchange of thoughts, ideas and information in both directions. They can both “speak” to each other. The conscious mind “speaks” to the subconscious mind, so that we can help modify perceptions to a more educated level; and from the subconscious to the conscious, so that we might be able to more easily recall things which are relevant to us and part of the healing process. These two parts of the brain are thus made to work together without conflict.
Let us stress that, once again, there’s no magic here. When our conscious and subconscious minds are concentrated and focused, we are able to use them much more powerfully.
About the author
In my practice, I often find myself explaining what hypnotherapy actually is. What I would like to do here is to look at the cloud of mystery that keeps surrounding it and help you to "see" more clearly into it. What hypnotherapy doesn't do is put people to sleep, or make them lose control, or do things against their will.
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