By Kelly McLoughlin CMS, CHt
When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request.
This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Clients in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their “masters”, they have absolute free will. And they’re not really in a semi-sleep state, they’re actually hyper-attentive.
Hypnosis is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of “losing yourself” in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
Hypnosis is a way to access a person’s subconscious mind directly. Normally, you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind. You consciously think over the problems that are right in front of you, consciously choose words as you speak, consciously try to remember where you left your keys.
But in doing all these things, your conscious mind is working hand-in-hand with your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind accesses the vast reservoir of information that lets you solve problems, construct sentences or locate your keys. In short, your subconscious mind is the real brains behind the operation, it does most of your thinking, and it decides a lot of what you do.
The deep relaxation and focusing exercises of hypnosis work to calm and subdue the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process. In this state, you’re still aware of what’s going on, but your conscious mind takes a backseat to your subconscious mind. Effectively, this allows you and the hypnotherapist to work directly with the subconscious. It’s as if the hypnotism process pops open a control panel inside your brain.
In a therapy session, the hypnotherapist may hypnotize his or her client in order to work with deep, entrenched personal problems. The therapy may take the form of breaking negative patterns of behavior. This can be particularly effective in addressing phobias, unreasonable fears of particular objects or situations. Another form of hypnotherapy involves bringing underlying emotional problems up to the conscious level. Accessing fears, memories and repressed emotions can help to clarify difficult issues and bring resolution to persistent problems.
Another form of hypnotism is medical hypnotherapy. Doctors and spiritual leaders all over the world claim that hypnotic suggestion can ease pain and even cure illness in some patients. The underlying idea behind this is that the mind and body are inextricably intertwined. When you suggest to the subconscious that the body does not feel pain, or that the body is free of disease, the subconscious may actually bring about the change.
There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support this idea. Using only hypnotic suggestion as an anesthetic, thousands of women have made it through childbirth with minimal pain and discomfort. Countless cancer patients swear by hypnotherapy, claiming that it helps to manage the pain of chemotherapy, and some former patients credit their recovery to hypnotherapy.
But in the end, this explanation of hypnosis amounts to pretty much the same thing as the placebo effect. When someone is absolutely convinced that you’ve brought about a change in their subconscious, they register this information as a fact. Like any fact, this information will take root in the subconscious mind. So, even if the hypnotic state is nothing more than a figment of the clients’s imagination, hypnotic suggestions can still reform their deeply held beliefs. The end result is the same – hypnotherapy works!