FAQs about Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
There are myths and misconceptions about hypnosis that may contribute towards apprehension for a person considering
hypnotherapy for the first time. Any level of discomfort can potentially interfere with ability to relax and achieve a successful therapeutic outcome. The aim here is to provide information about the process and importantly to clarify these 'mythconceptions' so that the potential hypnotherapy client will feel fully informed, with a sufficient level of understanding of the process to be able to feel comfortable and safe about lying back in the hypnotherapist's recliner with eyes closed,
confidently knowing he/she is in complete control at all times, and at no time is control relinquished to the hypnotherapist.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is described as an altered state of consciousness with narrowed focus of attention, similar to what people
experience naturally when drifting into a daydream for a moment; or reaching a destination and not being able to remember passing a particular landmark; or watching a movie, know it is not real, but still become drawn into the emotional experience.
What is hypnotherapy?
Therapy carried out while the client is in a state of hypnosis. The conscious mind is relaxed so it won't block acceptable access to the subconscious mind where problems need to be targeted to achieve complete and effective resolution. Actually, hypnotherapy is an umbrella term that covers a diverse range of treatment approaches all of which have in common that application involves the therapist communicating directly with the subconscious mind of the client.
Who can 'be hypnotised?'
No one can 'be hypnotised' -- but everyone can go into hypnosis. (See 'What is hypnosis?') The 'permissive' style
of hypnosis acknowledges that hypnosis is a natural ability everyone possesses – not something that is done to them by a hypnotist – the role played by the hypnotist in going into hypnosis is merely to be a facilitator.
Who is in control?
A person in hypnosis is always in control. You cannot be forced to reveal deep innermost secrets that you would prefer not to, and you can even tell lies, in hypnosis. That would not be very helpful for therapy, of
course, but the point is you are in control.
Misconceptions about relinquishing control have originated from the early 'authoritarian' style of hypnosis and been perpetuated by horror movies and stage hypnosis. There was a belief that the 'all-powerful' hypnotist took control over weak-minded individuals, and conversely, 'strong-minded' individuals could not 'be hypnotised'. The fact is that no one can 'be hypnotised' against their will, or be forced to do anything against their will as a result of hypnosis.
As for stage hypnosis, it is common knowledge that participants will behave outrageously or even make fools of themselves, so anyone who volunteers to participate in stage hypnosis has already consented to this and is not being made to do anything against their will. Conversely, anyone who genuinely doesn't want to be a public spectacle, quite simply will not volunteer! A couple of years ago, Kevin Powers conducted a hypnosis show on television and just out of curiosity I switched on to see who his stage volunteers were – no shrinking violets among them, all were 'celebrities' used to seeking the limelight: Sam Newman (ex-footballer 'personality', Melbourne football TV show host), Warwick Capper (ex-Swan player, famed for his tight red shorts), Mario Fenech (ex-footballer and Sydney TV Footy Show 'personality'), Imogene Bailey (has a talent for getting in front of cameras), former Idol contestants and ex-Big Brother housemates – not one of whom required hypnosis to behave outrageously on camera.
If the hypnotist handed a loaded revolver to a hypnotised subject and instructed him to 'shoot the person on his right', it isn't going to happen – unless that person in hypnosis co-incidentally wants to shoot the
person on his right.
In the example above (What is hypnosis?), of watching a movie, being drawn into the emotional experience
is not imposed on the observer, but is an integral part of the entertainment that is sought and expected ie the observer gives him/herself permission to respond to 'feeling' cues in the movie.
While it might appear that the hypnotherapist is the one in control in the clinical setting, the nature of the therapeutic relationship is a working partnership between therapist and client. The therapist explores the problem with the client and is responsible for choice and implementation of hypnoanalytic strategies employed, but is really only playing a facilitating role in achieving therapeutic change. The actual work is being carried out by the client in their subconscious mind – hence, the client is able to resist suggestions made by the therapist that are felt to not be correct or appropriate.
Self-hypnosis can be a useful tool for self-improvement, but for deeply entrenched problems, experience has taught me that professional assistance is needed to get to the depth required, with subsequent self-hypnosis being beneficial to reinforce therapeutic gains achieved in the clinical setting.
What does it feel like to be in hypnosis?
The experience is similar to meditation, with the 'permissive' style of hypnosis only requiring a light to medium state of relaxation. A person in hypnosis is not asleep or unconscious, but can hear, speak, move, and remember everything that took place during the session. The experience can vary from light relaxation through to deep relaxation and even dissociative states whereby the person in hypnosis may afterwards report sensations such as their 'hands floating out in front of their face'. Brain wave patterns change from beta (alert) to alpha or even into theta. Even people who claim to be unable to relax can do so sufficiently to engage in
hypnotherapy, and with practice, their ability to relax improves. Often, these people say they 'try' to relax but
can't – and therin lies the problem – 'trying' implies active involvement of the conscious mind (beta) in the
exercise, when what is required is 'switching off' or dampening down beta and allowing the emergence of alpha.
Muscles can relax to the extent that limbs feel heavy and leaden, or even paralysed, as if unable to move. However, the experience is similar to the half-awake-half-asleep state when eg you might hear something knocking against a bedroom window and you think, “ I should get up and fix that – but I can't
move - can't be bothered” and go back to sleep. Yet, if that were a burglar coming through the window, you would be able to leap out of bed wide awake and ready for instant action. Similarly, in hypnosis, even if you feel that you are unable to move, if someone ran into the room and yelled out, “Fire”, you would instantly become fully alert and leap out of the chair.
What happens if the hypnotherapist drops dead while you are in hypnosis? An odd question to ask? Not
really. If you are relaxing nicely and suddenly remember an old horror movie where the hypnotist was murdered and his hypnotised subject spent the rest of her life wandering around in a zombie-like state, then a slight apprehension might creep in and interfere with relaxation. The truth is that the natural tendency in hypnosis is to come out, and all that keeps a person in that state is 'suggestions' and the hypnotherapist's voice droning on and on. If the hypnotherapist were to walk away and leave someone in hypnosis, then they would either come back to normal conscious awareness, or, if very tired and deeply relaxed, drift off into a normal sleep. Clients do sometimes go to sleep during therapy and since this is only a light stage of sleep, therapy can still be conducted successfully. However, if the client is required to speak during therapy, then their level of awareness will need to be raised to a relaxed awake state.
It is important that a client undergoing hypnotherapy understands in advance what to expect so they can feel comfortable, knowing that whatever altered state of consciousness they experience, it is natural, normal and safe, and can vary from one session to the next. If the expectation is that hypnosis will be a strange experience and all they feel is lightly relaxed, they might lie in the chair thinking, “This isn't working, this isn't working, I can't be hypnotised”, and this might just interfere with the therapy process. On the other hand, if simple relaxation is the expectation and instead, they have a bizarre dissociative experience, they might freak out and be frightened off from making any further attempts. It is not necessary to experience any particular one of the states described for therapy to take place – hypnotherapy can be carried out successfully in any one of them.
What if I am not very 'hypnotisable'?
Much is made of the quality of hypnotisability, but it is not relevant to successful outcome of hypnotherapy.
While it is true that some individuals are able to relax more easily than others, are more creative or imaginative, or have greater capacity for concentration and visualisation (all regarded as features of hypnotisability),
the key to successful outcome for any form of psychotherapy is motivation for therapeutic change. If a candidate for hypnotherapy is ambivalent about change or is not participating in therapy voluntarily (eg not really wanting change, but attending therapy because a partner or parent wants them to do so), then regardless of how 'hypnotisable' they may be, successful therapeutic outcome is unlikely. The client is in control and no one can be forced to do anything against their will in hypnosis – and the same applies to therapy. Therapeutic change cannot be forced on a client in hypnosis, but even if not regarded as highly 'hypnotisable', if they are motivated to achieve change, chance of successful outcome is high.
Who will hypnotherapy work for?
Anyone who genuinely wants to make positive psychological and emotional change. Anyone who takes personal responsibility for their problem and its resolution. Anyone who decides it is time to 'deal with their stuff'. Anyone who is into self-help – hypnotherapy is the ultimate in self-help tools.
Why doesn't will power always work?
People berate themselves for lack of will power when they fail to stick to their resolutions or achieve goals. However, the real problem is not lack of will power, but in effect, the 'will power' of their subconscious mind being stronger than the will power of their conscious mind. Hypnotherapy helps them enlist the power of their subconscious mind to work FOR them, instead of AGAINST them.
Why use hypnotherapy?
Psychological problems, learned emotional reactions, habits etc, are locked away in the subconscious mind. Therefore, any psychological therapy will be successful to the degree that it accesses the subconscious mind.
The conscious mind likes to stay in control, but in doing so, it can hinder therapeutic change by preventing access to the subconscious mind. In effect, it can actually protect the problem that the client would like resolved. A simple explanation of how hypnotherapy works is that with the conscious mind relaxing it's control, in effect, it steps back as an observer and 'allows' access to the subconscious mind where therapy can target the problem directly at its source. Because change comes from within, occurring at the subconscious level, new feelings, behaviour and attitudes seem 'natural, normal and automatic'. Consequently, in addition to the specific
change sought, a common outcome of hypnotherapy is an improved sense of empowerment. Conversely, just as the conscious mind can 'allow' access to the subconscious mind, it can also block suggestions from the hypnotherapist that it does not want to respond to.