A strange man with a swinging gold pocket watch tells someone, "You're getting very sleepy." Moments later he commands that person, now in a zombie-like trance to take off their clothes and bark like a dog. The hypnotized person then says, "Yes master," strips down to his undies and crawls around the stage like Fido. That's how the movies and TV, and most people, portray hypnosis. But in reality, hypnotherapy is nothing like that.
In clinical hypnosis, there are no masters. And no one loses their free will. A hypnotized person is not in a tired, half-asleep state at all. Hypnosis instead puts people into a hyperattentive state. And therapists use it to help people better cope with anxiety and pain or to help people gain control over undesirable behavior and habits. A person in a hypnotized state is more susceptible to suggestion, but they never lose control of their behavior.
What is Hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion is an adjunct form of treatment where a person goes into a trance-like state of extreme focus and concentration. You can achieve this state with the help of a trained hypnotherapist. The hypnotic state is similar to being thoroughly engrossed in a book or movie to the point that you lose track of time or don't hear someone calling your name. When a person is in this state, they can completely turn their attention inward. That allows the person to use their natural resources to help them regain control or make changes to specific areas of their life.
The Society of Psychological Hypnosis, which is a division of the American Psychological Association, defines hypnosis as a state of focused attention with reduced peripheral awareness. When a person is in this state of consciousness, they are particularly susceptible to suggestion.
Research has proven that hypnosis works for most people. And MRIs show that different parts of the brain are active during the hypnotic state. But there are some differing opinions within the clinical and research communities about how it works exactly. Some researchers believe that people are born with certain hypnotic traits which determine the degree to which a person can reach a hypnotic state. Other hypnotherapy professionals think that hypnotic ability can be learned and enhanced with practice. But experts agree that hypnosis and the power of suggestion can change a person's neurological and physiological function.
How Does it Work?
Therapists use clinical hypnosis to help people make both psychological and physiological changes in several ways. First, they use the client's imagination through mental imagery. Another fundamental method in hypnotherapy is to introduce suggestions or ideas to the client. Suggestions and ideas that are introduced when a person is in a deep state of concentration have a more powerful effect on the mind.
They also use hypnosis for unconscious exploration. Underlying motivations are more easily understood using this method. It can also help to identify past experiences which could connect to ongoing problems. Hypnotic suggestion works by bypassing the conscious mind's critical observation and interference. This bypass allows the person's desire for change to take effect.
When is Hypnotherapy Used?
Therapists use hypnosis as an augmenting form of therapy that usually goes along with other types of medical or psychological treatment. And it has proven effective in many problematic areas. It can be used to treat phobias, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and sexual dysfunction. Other things helped by hypnotherapy include digestive disorders, bad habits, and undesirable spontaneous behavior.
Hypnosis is also helpful for sleeping problems, learning disorders, and relationship issues. Pain management is another excellent use of hypnotherapy. Some dentists even use it to help people control their fear and oral problems like teeth grinding. Psychotherapist and hypnotherapist Fayina Cohen explains that disorders like anxiety work as a negative form of self-hypnosis. But when you practice hypnotherapy with a trained professional, you reprogram the mind with different beliefs.
Hypnosis and depression
When used along with other forms of treatment, hypnotherapy can be extremely useful in reducing depression. Many of the things that a therapist introduces during hypnotherapy are the same things that they talk about during regular therapy without hypnosis. But when you hypnotize a person, they can absorb the message considerably faster and with more intensity. Hypnosis on its own will not treat depression or other severe personality disorders. It is not meant to be a substitute for other forms of therapy or medicine. Instead, it should work in conjunction with other treatments.
But when used with other forms of therapy, there are several ways that hypnotherapy can help with depression. First, it helps you to access the unconscious mind. It also enables you to identify what some therapists call "unfinished business." Hypnosis allows people to finish their unfinished business which releases the stored emotions and experiences. It also helps you to replace trauma with positivity. And the power of hypnotic suggestion also enables you to create long-term improvement.
Hypnosis and pain management
According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis can be very useful for most people who suffer from various forms of pain. It is not useful, however, in a small minority of patients who are resistant to hypnotic suggestion. Hypno-analgesia is hypnosis for pain. Extensive research shows that there is a link between hypno-analgesia and significant reductions in pain ratings, need for analgesics, and need for sedation. It also reduces nausea and length of hospital stays.
Highly hypnotizable people have the most significant and longest lasting pain relief from this type of treatment. But even people with moderate suggestibility, which is most people, will find improvement. Motivation and compliance with treatment are also factors that affect the responsiveness of hypnotic suggestion. And chronic pain requires a more complicated procedure than acute pain.
Therapists are successfully using hypno-analgesia in this country in many clinics, hospitals, burn centers, and dental offices. It has been proven effective for acute pain in surgical procedures, severe burn treatment, childbirth labor pain, and pain related to dental procedures. Therapists also successfully use hypnosis for chronic pain conditions like headaches, backaches, fibromyalgia, pain related to carcinoma, and other mixed chronic pain. Therapists who practice hypno-analgesia should be up to date on other pain treatments and consult with other specialists. And they should also integrate different strategies to provide the most effective treatment for enduring pain relief.
Hypnotherapy and Himalayan salt lamps
Some therapists also use Himalayan salt lamps during hypnotherapy sessions. The salt lamps work like an air purifier during hypnosis. When you turn them on, they heat ancient salts found in the Himalayans which releases purifying nutrients into the air. According to the theory, the salt lamps work by emitting a stream of negative ions into the room. The negative ions then attach to positively charged particles like dust and pull them down to the ground, leaving the air clean and fresh. Therapists say that the lamps purify the air, get rid of negative energy, and increase the health and healing of their patients. Some hypnotherapists believe that salt lamps also aid in reducing stress and depression. And they help people to breathe easier.
Busting the Myths
One of the most common myths about hypnotherapy is that it acts as a truth serum. Another is that it causes people to lose their free will. There is also a well-known myth that hypnosis erases a person's memory of the session. None of those things are true. People in a hypnotic state are not asleep or unconscious. The exact opposite is true in fact.
People under hypnosis are actually in a hyper-attentive and hyper-responsive mental state. Under clinical hypnotherapy, a person's subconscious mind is highly susceptible to suggestion. But as Penn State psychology professor William Ray explains, "While it's true that the subconscious mind is more open to suggestion during hypnosis, that doesn't mean that the subject's free will or moral judgment is turned off."
Are There Any Drawbacks to Hypnotherapy?
One of the drawbacks of hypnotherapy is that it's not useful for everyone. This form of therapy is for use on functioning adults. It's not appropriate for use on people who have a severe mental illness, especially if they have psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or delusions. It's also not useful for people who are using drugs or alcohol.
Another problem with hypnosis is that it can pose a risk for creating false memories. Some therapists use it to recover repressed memories tied to a person's mental disorder. But in some people, false memories can be planted by a therapist's unintentional suggestion. Because of this, hypnotherapy for mental disorders like dissociative disorder is highly controversial.
Does Hypnosis Work on Everyone?
Actually, no. Scientists do not fully understand why, but it is easier to hypnotize some people than others. They estimate that around five percent of people are unhypnotizable. Research from the Stanford University School of Medicine used MRIs to show that people easily hypnotized have very different brains than people who aren't. Researchers at Penn State say that there is no direct correlation between personality traits and the susceptibility of hypnosis. But they do believe that people who can become very engrossed in daily activities like reading or listening to music are more easily hypnotizable.
Is Hypnotherapy Safe?
Yes, hypnotherapy done by a trained professional is a very safe procedure. Keep in mind that it is not brainwashing or mind control. And contrary to popular myths, a therapist can't force a person to do something embarrassing or something that they don't want to do while under hypnosis.
Side Effects of Hypnosis
According to the Mayo Clinic, adverse side effects from hypnotherapy are rare, but they do occur in some people. Some of those side effects include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, anxiety or distress, and the creation of false memories. Another risk of hypnosis, especially when used to work through highly stressful events from earlier in a person's life, is that it can cause powerful emotions to bubble to the surface.
How to Find A Good Hypnotherapist
If you're interested in hypnosis, you should be sure to find a qualified hypnotherapist. It's best if you can find one who is a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. To be a member of these organizations, a therapist must either have a doctorate in psychology, medicine, or dentistry or have a master's degree in psychology, social work, nursing, or family therapy. Hypnotherapists also have to do a specific number of hours of approved training in hypnotherapy. In addition to checking qualifications, it's also important to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with.
If you are looking for a local referral for a qualified hypnotherapist an excellent place to start is the website for the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis at www.asch.net. You can also get a list of certified professionals from your local medical or psychological associations.
What Can I Expect?
Your therapist will begin by discussing your treatment goals with you and explaining the process of hypnosis. Then they will work with you to create an atmosphere of relaxation and well-being. Usually, they will start by describing images while speaking in a gentle, calming tone. Once you're in a receptive state, your therapist will suggest ways for you to reach your goals. They also may help you to visualize yourself accomplishing those goals.
Most sessions last 20 to 30 minutes. When it's over your therapist will help you to come out of your state of relaxation. Not only will you be aware of everything during the session, but you will also remember it afterward. Some people are eventually even able to do self-hypnosis so that they can practice on their own whenever needed.
It's important to remember that while hypnosis can be very useful in helping with many different disorders, it is not meant to replace therapy. Instead, it should work in conjunction with other forms of treatment. Hypnotherapy is not effective in people who are unable to reach a hypnotic state. Most therapists believe that the more likely you are to achieve a hypnotic state, the more likely you are to benefit from this type of therapy.