What actually happens when I’m in a trance?

So, you’ve decided to take action and seek help from a hypnotherapist. You’re excited and hopeful about the change that may be ahead of you. A friend has reassured you that it’s an easy and relaxing process, and you’ve been told hypnotherapists aren’t like those performing hypnotists you see on TV. But what actually happens when you’re in a trance? Can the therapist make you cluck like a chicken if they really wanted to? Are they going to somehow control you with their mysterious skills?

The reassuring fact is that you are in control throughout. No hypnotherapist can make you do anything you are not OK with. They cannot sneak in hidden agendas or trick you into doing things you do not wish to. You have to be on board with all aspects of the process. Without your willingness and agreement, the therapy would not work.

For instance, a therapist could not make you do something that your brain and ethical code had not already agreed to. If someone were to suggest you robbed a bank while in a trance, this notion would be rejected unless you were already considering it – unless you had already pondered it as a viable option to your problems. For most of us, this wouldn’t ever cross our mind. And so, the suggestion would be dismissed and there is a strong chance you would force yourself out of the trance, as your subconscious alerts you to something that was posing a threat. Thus, enabling you to take back full conscious control.

So, for the most part, you have already mapped out your course of therapy. You may have considered it, pondered it, but need help achieving it. This is the role of the hypnotherapist: to facilitate the process and enable change to be made.

In order for the therapist to make suggestions that will lead to long-term change, they need to access your subconscious – the powerful level of thinking that is constantly in process, working in the background. Shaping us, our thoughts and feelings. Managing our aspirations, perceptions and beliefs. Our subconscious is the control centre that helps to make us, us!

For a therapist to access this, we must put aside our conscious brain and, to aid that, we must go into a trance or deep state of relaxation. But how does that work?

Being in a trance state

Being in a trance is not some magic that can only be accessed in hypnotherapy. You yourself are likely to have found yourself in this state of mind from time to time – staring off into space, with no concept of time, or making a car journey and having no recollection of the last mile or two you drove. Did you stop at the traffic lights when you needed to? And did you really navigate that roundabout without being fully aware of it? Well, now you’re at work, so you must have done! 

While this style of driving is obviously not ideal, it is an example of the brain waves functioning at Theta level. This state of consciousness is the one we need to be in for our subconscious to be accessed. This is a level of deep relaxation with little awareness of the world around us. A hypnotherapist seeks to create that state of relaxation in their sessions with you, hence why so many people enjoy the process. It has to be deeply relaxing so as to achieve its purpose.

No hypnotherapist can make you do anything you are not OK with… Without your willingness and agreement, the therapy would not work.

I’ve mentioned one level of consciousness that exists when our brain activity is using Theta Waves, but let’s take a step back for a moment and break down the other levels.

Theta, Beta and Alpha waves

Beta Waves occur when our brain activity is increasing and creates the most intense level of consciousness. We are in this alert state when we are learning something new or are focused on doing something challenging. Our brain waves function at a higher state and generate an alert awareness of the world around us.

The step down from that is when our brain is functioning with Alpha Waves (yes, in this order Beta comes before Alpha – I’m not entirely sure why). We function most commonly at this level, when we are comfortable in our environment: chatting with friends, making dinner, watching TV. If these things don’t cause us stress and are familiar, then this is when we exist in this calmer conscious state. We are aware of what is happening around us, but not placing too much importance on it and feeling settled.

Brainwaves in hypnotherapy

Now we revisit the Theta Waves within our brain. The state of consciousness that we need for hypnotherapy – for our brain to still be engaged, but at such a deeply relaxed level that the conscious brain has moved aside and the subconscious is ticking over. In this state, we can access the subconscious brain which is often concealed by our conscious self. 

Our subconscious is always whirring away – as we sleep, as we process emotions, as we tackle new projects or just go about our daily lives. It is constantly digesting information and feeding back its interpretation of it. How we understand the world around us will depend on our unique ethical code, beliefs and perceptions. This is why we react one way when others may react differently. 

Other than the brain activity being slowed and rested, there is little concrete science that can help us understand the process we go through when we are in hypnosis. There are lots of theories and some brilliant research that supports these ideas, but the science is hard to come by as we are dealing with individuals and the way they think – something that is entirely unique to them. 

So, once we are deeply relaxed and our brain waves are working at such a calm pace, what actually happens?

Well, some find they have life-changing epiphanies in hypnosis, while others may simply enjoy a peaceful relaxation. Some can remember every word that is uttered by the therapist, whereas others have little recollection of the content of their sessions.

I, for one, fell deeply into hypnosis the first time I had it and when I came out of my trance I apologised to the therapist as I thought I’d dozed off. She assured me it was OK but I was convinced I’d just paid to have a nap! I’d gone to give up smoking and, when three days had passed without having had a single cigarette, I was amazed at what must have occurred in my therapy session.

As you fall into a trance, some feel warm and tingly, while others feel a slight chill and their limbs growing heavy, sinking comfortably into the chair they are in. In my experience, I didn’t feel anything particularly new or exciting, I just relaxed and, without realising, gave access to my subconscious and new seeds of thought were planted. New concepts for growth and improvement rooted themselves, and the power of hypnosis was able to make a positive long-lasting change still to this very day.

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Written by Jessica Chapman
Jessica Chapman is a therapist and teacher with a passion for the outdoors and being creative. She enjoys assisting others in making positive changes to their lives alongside working on her own aspirations.
Written by Jessica Chapman
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