Does hypnotherapy really work?
For many of us, when we think of hypnosis, we think of a pocket watch being swung in front of someone's face or being made to cluck like a chicken on stage for entertainment by the likes of Paul McKenna. It is through these fears of what might happen, that many of us avoid discovering the benefits that this alternative therapy can have for a range of different habits and conditions.
Hypnotherapy has been used to treat patients for a variety of medical reasons including as an aesthetic and for pain management, dating right back to the 18th century. However, it has only just started to be recognised by the NHS and medical professionals for the value it can provide. Therefore, it stands to reason that people would have reservations about booking a session, especially when they think that this means entrusting someone else with control over their mind. After all, what would you be made to do under hypnosis at the click of their fingers?
Well, the truth is there are many misconceptions around hypnotherapy that this article aims to address if you read on; as well as raising awareness of the huge benefits it can offer.
Hypnotherapy is the process of relaxing you to a point where your conscious mind simply quietens. You’re not giving away your control. You’re taking it back!
Let's start by looking at how our brains work. There are two parts to our brains that work together to keep us functioning. The first is our conscious mind. This manages all of our active thoughts and learning. So as children, when we are discovering how to walk for the first time, it is our conscious mind that facilitates this. It is a process of observing what other people are doing around us: finding resources, such as sofas and chairs to pull ourselves up and to start to gain strength in our legs, taking a few wobbly steps while holding on to the edge of different pieces of furniture, or our parents' hands, until we are finally ready to take that first step by ourselves.
With each new movement, we would have needed to have thought about what we were doing. At every fall, we would have needed to learn the lessons of what we did wrong and adapt until we master the technique. While we may not remember that process as toddlers, the same applies to everything we learn. Whether that's driving a car, learning a new language, cooking, and in fact, every other skill we have mastered within our lifetimes.
But when was the last time you thought about how to prepare your favourite dinner, for example? Or to use mirror, signal, manoeuvre when you are driving? The truth is, we go on autopilot. Our conscious mind could not possibly deal with all of the things we do in life if we had to think about every step in every process.
While we might recognise that some people are better at multi-tasking than others, the truth is we are all multi-tasking every day. Such as, we don't pause walking to talk to someone. This is because, when we do something over and over again, it is that repetition that creates a new pathway in our brains. The more we do something, the stronger the pathway gets. This is where our subconscious mind takes over; storing all of learned behaviours and habits, freeing our conscious mind up to think about other things or learn new skills.
The subconscious mind
In principle, this process works really well. However, we don’t have a filter that sorts through our behaviours and determines which ones are healthy habits and which ones are destructive. So when we reach for a cigarette when we are stressed, or head to the fridge when we are upset, this is just our natural learned response to that trigger. Even our thoughts are controlled in this way. Feelings of not being good enough, for example, have stemmed from specific events that have happened to us, often from childhood, and then we spend a lifetime collecting evidence that supports this; disregarding anything that goes to the contrary.
It is true that our conscious mind will 'kick back in' every now and again. Such as, if we are suddenly in a car crash. This event takes us away from the ‘norm’ that we have learned and so we need our conscious mind to inform us on how to react to the situation as it unfolds.
Outside of situations like that which demand the quick response of our conscious thoughts, any negative habits that we want to break, require us to actively pull them back into our conscious mind and then choose an alternative approach. And when we have so much going on in our lives, this is so hard to do, especially when the alternative is so much easier.
Hypnotherapy can form new, healthier pathways in our minds, but only if we choose to allow it.
This is where hypnotherapy comes in. It is not a case of brainwashing or mind control. Instead, it is very similar to meditation practice. For those that meditate regularly, you will know how to quieten your mind. You will have learned how to push away any thoughts that come into your head. You will know how to give your brain some peace.
And for those of us that have tried to meditate and struggled, this is often at the heart of our frustrations. We find it hard to stop our mind wandering off in a hundred different directions of thoughts, from "Did I leave the straighteners on?" to "I wonder if my boss will like my proposal?". We just can't find a way to 'switch off'.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is the process of relaxing you to a point where your conscious mind simply quietens. And without all of these other thoughts flying around your head, the hypnotherapist will be able to speak directly to your subconscious mind. It is through suggestion, that they will be able to create a new pathway in your brain. An alternative, healthier behaviour. Bypassing the time it takes to reinforce that pathway through repetition and active thought. You're not giving away your control. You're taking it back!
You take control when you recognise that a habit or thought is not helping you. You take control when you look for ways in which you can address this. If you seek the help of hypnotherapy, it is you that tells the therapist what you want to change. And it is you that makes that choice under hypnosis to make that change. The therapist can’t decide this for you. This is why so many people who try to give up smoking because their partner wants them to, or they have been pressured into doing so by their family, fail to make that change even under hypnosis. Hypnotherapy can form new, healthier pathways in our minds, but only if we choose to allow it.
Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool that can help you to change bad habits, negative thoughts, or even manage pain for chronic illnesses. It can even help you to process past traumas by providing your mind with a safe place to process the events.
So, now it is time for you to decide. Is hypnotherapy for you?
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