The word Hypnosis is relatively new, having been in use less than 200 years, but the process under other names, is thousands of years old. It appeared in Egypt as early as 3,000 BC and in many other ancient civilisations. The early uses of Hypnosis were often connected with spiritual practices, but around the 18th Century, it came to the attention of doctors and scientists, and began to be seen more as a scientific, psychological process.
The most famous of these early pioneers was possibly Anton Mesmer. For a while the process was known as Mesmerism, and we still sometimes speak of mesmerising someone. Another name that will be familiar is Sigmund Freud. Freud initially employed Hypnosis to develop his ideas about free association and psychoanalysis, although he later discontinued its use. A variety of reasons are given for this by different sources, but one of the most entertaining is that his wooden false teeth clattered as he spoke and made it difficult for him to get his patients into trance!
Whatever the reason, once Freud had stopped using Hypnosis, it was also abandoned by many other doctors and therapists. The use of Hypnosis as a 'Therapeutic Tool' almost died out until the First and Second World Wars, when it began to be used again to treat shell shock and trauma. In prisoner of war camps, where medical supplies were limited or completely absent, it was believed to be used as emergency Anaesthesia. These experiences inspired renewed interest in Hypnosis and now, some sixty years later, it is being used therapeutically by many different groups of people. These may be Dentists, GPs, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Midwives, Speech Therapists and (of course) Hypnotherapists.
Despite this, many people's impressions of Hypnosis are still based on what they've seen or heard about the stage shows. Mental images of volunteers clucking like chickens, or performing Elvis impressions are unlikely to inspire you to use Hypnosis to deal with your personal problems.
However, Clinical or Therapeutic Hypnosis is quite different. It's a peaceful and enjoyable experience and can be very effective in helping you improve your life. It' is to be said faster than many other therapies and without the side-effects.
So What is it, and How Does it Work?
Although 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 it brings you out of the sleep state (i.e. it wakes you up).
In Hypnosis, you generally stay aware of your surroundings. You may even feel your hearing is better than usual, but background noises will not cause you to come out of trance. Your body may feel unusually heavy or light, and either way you will feel wonderfully relaxed.
Hypnosis is not mind-control. Whenever I say this, someone brings up the subject of stage shows. However, there is always some extrovert willing to do a few daft things in front of a crowd, with or without being in trance. Also, in a therapeutic situation there is no alcohol or audience to encourage you to shed your inhibitions.
During a therapy session, you retain free will and could bring yourself out of trance, or censor suggestions made to you if they seemed incompatible with your sense of morality or self. For instance, if I suggest you rob a bank, you're not likely to act on the suggestion. On the other hand, if I suggest effective ways to work through your problems, or that you feel confident in situations that used to make you anxious, you will act on those suggestions because it's what you want to achieve.
If you do book a session, it's difficult for me to say exactly what will happen because every Therapist has their own way of working. One approach, and one I use, is paperwork first. A history of your health, circumstances and problem helps to check you are suitable for Hypnosis and identifies the best therapeutic approach for you. Once this is done, I go on to help you experience hypnosis itself. There are different ways of doing this (though I've never used a swinging watch) and I'll choose a method that I think will suit you.
Like most therapists, I work with the idea of a conscious and unconscious mind.
The conscious mind is the part you're aware of - the voice in your head when you read silently, the rational part of you that makes every day decisions. The unconscious is the back of your mind. It's a memory storage but also affects your day to day actions and feelings because it can be triggered by circumstances to feed-back emotions. Unconscious experiences or beliefs can be negative or positive, but problems happen when the two parts of your mind 'disagree' or when the emotions arising from the unconscious seem to be inappropriate.
So, for example, even if you consciously know that you are ready to be a non smoker, if you unconsciously feel that you still need a cigarette you won't be able to stop.
Hypnotherapy excels in resolving problems where this type of emotional conflict is involved. This can include Weight control, Phobias, Stress, Anger, Guilt, Low self esteem, and Lack of confidence or motivation.
It allows you to communicate with your unconscious mind, to identify and release unrealistic negative beliefs, and to use your positive knowledge with resources to resolve your problems. In very broad terms, it bypasses that mental see-saw that says "I'd like to … but I can't".
As mentioned elsewhere it's a fairly rapid therapy, and most people need only a few sessions to see a result. If you are interested, you can get in touch with local therapists through professional associations such as the General Hypnotherapy Register (www.general-hypnotherapy-register.com).