Hypnosis - a leap of faith?
During the American civil war many soldiers went through surgery with hypnosis as the only pain management. Can you imagine that for a second? Try to picture your leg being removed with a bone saw with no anesthetic. None. Just a doctor, a saw and your leg. Anecdotal evidence from patients treated like this as well as papers written by the medical profession at the time both seem to suggest that this was a genuinely effective way of diminishing or eliminating completely patient pain but also keeping those patients calm and minimising distress.
Many US Soldiers returning from the Vietnam war were treated for PTSD using hypnosis and once again their stories along with the opinions of the medical professionals suggest these soldiers were able to better handle the trauma of what they had been through and re-adjust to civilian life far more successfully than those not treated with hypnosis.
Childbirth using Hypnosis as the only pain relief is increasingly more common – I spoke to a midwife in a busy London hospital who told me that in her experience the calm and often completely pain-free births she had been present at constantly astonished her and her colleagues compared to other ‘natural’ births – they did not really understand how it worked but believe emphatically that it does work.
Since the late 1400’s science and medicine have had an interesting relationship with hypnotherapy/hypnosis. Most major studies and research seem to reach a similar conclusion to that of the midwife I spoke to. In a nutshell, 'not sure how but it works'.
When I first qualified as hypnotherapist I had similar thoughts. I and my fellow students would discuss the power of the placebo effect, the power of suggestion, neural pathways in the brain etc, yet ultimately would reach the same conclusion, 'not sure how but it works'.
Indeed one of the most common responses I get when seeing again a client that I have previously treated is ‘I didn’t think it would work but something happened.’
So what is going on? Well sadly, answering this question is very difficult, so instead it may be more useful to go over the facts that we do know.
Clinical hypnotherapy (the posh name we use to try to distance ourselves from stage hypnosis) starts with a conversation. The therapist and client decide together what the outcome of the session is going to be. This brings us to the first important fact: for meaningful positive change to happen the client must have a genuine desire to change.
Once that outcome is known the therapist uses the rest of the conversation to plan out the best strategy to help the client and then the work can begin.
The hypnotic state is often misunderstood and part of this stems from the difficulty in describing it. A day dream, a trance, here but not here, on a different plane (indeed those familiar with meditation say it is a familiar feeling) etc. You experience yourself as the same, you are not unconscious, and you can hear everything. Whats more you still think as yourself, your own inner voice will still accompany you as you relax and enter the trance-like state.
But with artful application of proven hypnotherapy strategies the therapist guides you into a relaxing mental state. A state where the real work can start.
So on to the next fact – hypnotherapy feels amazing! People spend fortunes and many hours trying to get to this same state of mind through other means – it is a calm, peaceful state of mind that often lasts after you exit the trance-state and irrespective of the issue being dealt with most clients report enjoying the whole experience very much.
Perhaps this is the key to the success of Hypnosis, or at least an important factor to it. Our mind enjoys the experience: Identifying it as something positive for ourselves and allowing us to drop our guard and welcome the positive changes that we seek and that the therapist will work to make happen.
So whilst you are in this state, the hypnotherapist will talk to you and try to start that change. I will not bore you with the technical or theoretical techniques and methods used by the therapist but sometimes this change is very direct and has an instant effect, stopping smoking can be a good example of this, and in other cases the therapist lays the ground work for the client to further work on in their day-to-day life. Stage fright/anxiety can be examples here where the problem is not ‘removed’ as such but instead a strategy to deal with and manage the issue is embedded and then the impact of the issue is diminished over time as the suggested skills or techniques are worked on by the client.
Once the work has been done the therapist will terminate the trance, and ensure that you feel good and are ready to go about your day. And that’s it.
Often the client is unsure even if the process has worked as the issue has not arisen yet (such as with stage fright, again, where the client has not actually gone on stage yet) but time and time again the positive change occurs more often than not.
Research is constantly emerging as to how hypnosis works and the greater acceptance of hypnosis by the established medical profession, such as NHS doctors being able to refer to hypnotherapists, would suggest that increasingly the benefits are understood if not the actual process.
Many hypotherapists have found it to be an incredibly powerful tool which has helped clients dramatically with issues as diverse as cocaine addiction, stage fright, anxiety and self-esteem, and phobias to name a few.
Ultimately the only way to truly understand hypnosis is to experience it at the hands of a skilled practitioner. Be it to sleep better, eat less, be able to get on that flight or that stage, deal with traumas or deal with pain.
I can leave you with two final observations...
You will not understand how it works.
It will work!
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