When I first became a Hypnotherapist I discovered that hypnosis is a topic that everyone has a view on, but not many people know much about. Most people's understanding of hypnosis is based on what goes on during a stage show or TV programme. They may have seen this for themselves, been told about it, or just picked up impressions of what it's like from jokes they've heard in the pub.
These impressions usually involve volunteers clucking like chickens, dancing with brooms or singing like Tina Turner – and probably none of this would inspire you to look at hypnosis as a way of dealing with personal problems!
The fictional version of the hypnotist is just as bad. From Kaa the snake ('Jungle Book') onwards I have never yet seen a film or read a book in which the hypnotist was the good guy. (This is a challenge by the way – let me know if you find one!) Even 'Neighbours' and 'My Hero' got in on the act recently as the dastardly Doctor Darcy and the nasty Mrs Raven misused hypnosis for their own personal gain.
In fact, although I help people go into a hypnotic trance on a regular basis, I don't have revolving or multi-coloured eyes, and I'm not bent on world domination (although getting the kids to clean their rooms would be nice). Clinical or therapeutic hypnosis is in fact a relaxing and enjoyable experience and can be very effective in helping you improve your life. It's faster than many other therapies and without the side-effects sometimes connected with drugs. So if you are thinking of booking a session, what would you be letting yourself in for?
Well, every therapist probably has their own approach but I start with paperwork. Although all hypnotherapists use hypnosis, there are many different ways of approaching any particular problem once you're in trance. It's important that I get a full history of your health, your personal circumstances and your problem to identify the best approach for you. Once the background stuff is out of the way, I go on to help you experience hypnosis itself. (Hypnosis is not something I do to you, by the way – it's something you do to yourself with my guidance.)
Some people are quite nervous about going into trance for the first time, but this isn't a problem. Most people, quite understandably, ask me what it will be like. Unfortunately for me, as everyone experiences hypnosis differently, it's a difficult question to answer.
Contrary to popular myth (and despite the fact that the name comes from hypnos – the Greek word for sleep) hypnosis is not the same as being asleep. If you are asleep, you don't know what's going on around you: anything obvious enough for you to notice wakes you up. In a hypnotic trance, you generally stay aware of your surroundings, but background noises do not cause you to come out of trance. Your body may feel heavier or lighter than usual, and in either case you will probably feel wonderfully relaxed.
Once you're under hypnosis, most therapists work with the idea of a conscious and unconscious mind (though a few use different terms for them). Your conscious mind is the rational one that decides what's for dinner today and whether your socks match your tie. It's the part you're aware of when you're thinking. Your unconscious mind is behind it and acts a bit like an attic.
Everything you have ever known or experienced is in there somewhere - but it's not always easy to find what you need!
Experiences or beliefs that are stored in the unconscious can be negative or positive. Hypnosis allows you to use identify and release any unrealistic negative beliefs, and use your positive knowledge and resources to resolve problems. In very broad terms, it is a way of bypassing the part of your mind that limits your abilities or undermines your confidence by saying "I'd like to … but I can't".
Hypnotherapy excels in resolving problems where this type of internal conflict is involved: smoking, phobias, stress reduction, motivation and weight control. As mentioned elsewhere it's a fairly rapid therapy (though rarely instant) and most people need only a few sessions to see a result.
Hypnosis is not mind-control. If it was, all hypnotherapists would have a 100% success rate in one session! Even in trance, you will not do or say anything you do not wish to do or say. You are capable of bringing yourself out of trance or rejecting any suggestions made to you. If I suggested you should rob a bank and send me the proceeds, for example, you're unlikely to do it! If I suggest that you see yourself as a permanent non-smoker, it will work because it's what you want.
Going right back to where we started, this point about mind control is also true of stage hypnotism. Volunteers who are not open to the idea of going along with a few daft suggestions do not agree to go on stage in the first place.
The same goes for hypnotherapy. If you do not believe it can help you, it probably won't. You'll resist going into trance or reject the suggestions just to prove yourself right.
But if you do believe it will help, or can approach it with an open mind and a willingness to give it your best, it can perform the odd minor miracle.
By Debbie Waller BA (Hons). GQHP. GHR Reg. R Hyp. PNLP.
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