- What is hypnosis?
- How does it work?
- How is hypnosis used for therapy?
- Is hypnosis safe?
- Can I become stuck in a state of hypnosis?
- Will I be asleep or unconscious?
- Will I remember everything during a session?
- Will I lose control? Can I be forced to do things against my will?
- Can I be made to reveal my secrets?
- Okay, but I saw a stage hypnotist show where the hypnotist made people do a bunch of ridiculously embarrassing things. What’s up with that?
- Can anyone be hypnotized?
- How can hypnosis help me?
- Is hypnotherapy effective?
- My friend went to a hypnotherapist for ‘X’ and it totally didn’t work. How do you explain that?
- If hypnotherapy is so amazing why is it so under utilized and poorly understood?
- Is the practice of hypnotherapy regulated?
1. What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis can be defined in many different ways, some more technical than others. To keep it simple, it can be defined as an altered state of mind (a “trance” state) that bypasses the conscious mind and allows direct access to the sub-conscious mind. Or perhaps you prefer the common Wikipedia definition – “a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination”.
The word ‘hypnosis’ is actually derived from the ancient Greek word ‘Hypnos’, meaning ‘sleep’. This is a misleading origin, however, and illustrates how poorly this trance state was understood when first named in the 1800s, because when in a state of hypnosis you are definitely not asleep. On the contrary, you are enjoying a very focused state of concentration.
Hypnosis is a natural occurring state. In fact, you are in and out of a state of trance throughout your day. For example, when you are absorbed in a good book or movie, or ‘lost in thought’ while driving home – these are all moments when you are in state of hypnosis. You are ‘zoned out’. The most common hypnotist on the planet is, in fact, the television.
2. How does it work?
Your mind is comprised of two parts – the conscious and the sub-conscious. A helpful metaphor for illustrating the two parts is an iceberg, with the conscious mind being what is seen on the surface, and the sub-conscious being what lies hidden below.
The conscious mind is what you are aware of on a moment-to-moment basis throughout your day. It is logical, factual, analytical, and is responsible for your critical thinking. It is also the gate-keeper of the sub-conscious mind below. It decides what information to let through to the sub-conscious, and what to reject. So, if someone were to tell you the sky is pink, your conscious mind would analyze this statement using logic and experience and reject this idea.
The sub-conscious mind stores all of your beliefs, values, memories and emotions, including fears and traumas. Many of these were created and stored in your sub-conscious at a very young age, while others were embedded later on. The content of your sub-conscious is essentially your ‘programming’ – it is what makes you who you are.
In order to change your programming, the sub-conscious must be accessed. But this cannot be done if the conscious mind – the gate-keeper – stands in the way. Fortunately, the conscious mind is not always on guard. By inducing a state of hypnosis, we can get the conscious mind to recede into the background and allow direct communication with the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious then becomes open to whatever suggestions it is given.
3. How is hypnosis used for therapy?
Once you are in a state of trance and the sub-conscious is accessed then your hypnotherapist can help you make the changes you’re looking for. The hypnotherapist will serve as a navigator, guiding you towards the feelings, memories and emotions that are underlying your issue. You will then work with the hypnotherapist to breakthrough any barriers that you find in the way. Not only is hypnotherapy effective, but it is easy, quick and enjoyable.
4. Is hypnosis safe?
Absolutely. Hypnosis is a perfectly naturally occurring state, and is not only safe, but a very positive experience. Most people find a hypnotherapy session to be relaxing, enlightening, entertaining, cathartic, and empowering – or some combination thereof.
5. Can I become stuck in a state of hypnosis?
No. This is impossible. If you were to be left alone once hypnotized you would eventually either fall asleep or simply naturally emerge from your trance.
6. Will I be asleep or unconscious?
No. Not even close. You will be very focused, and very aware.
7. Will I remember everything during a session?
In general, yes.
However, it is possible under certain circumstances to descend into such a deep state of trance that you don’t consciously recall details of what the hypnotherapist is saying – although your subconscious is still listening. This is typically not helpful for your session, particularly if your hypnotherapist needs you to be responsive. In the very unlikely event that you should you ever reach such a depth, your hypnotherapist would be obliged to ‘bring you up’ to a point where you would again be more aware and receptive.
8. Will I lose control? Can I be forced to do things against my will?
Absolutely not. This is impossible. When you are hypnotized, you are always in the driver’s seat – the hypnotherapist is just the navigator. All hypnosis is, in fact, self-hypnosis. You are always in control. Should a hypnotherapist ever give you a suggestion to do something you do not want to do, you will either reject it, or emerge from your trance.
9. Can I be made to reveal my secrets?
Absolutely not. You cannot be made to do anything. What you say and do is completely under your control.
10. Okay, but I saw a stage hypnotist show where the hypnotist made people do a bunch of ridiculously embarrassing things. What’s up with that?
A stage hypnotism show is designed to be entertaining, and those who volunteer to participate in such a show understand this expectation. They are genuinely hypnotized and are provided with very entertaining suggestions which they will follow to the extent that they are comfortable. They are very aware of what they are doing and are ready and willing to entertain the crowd.
11. Can anyone be hypnotized?
Yes. As long as a person has the mental capacity to understand and follow suggestions, they can be hypnotized. It is true, however, that some people are more easily hypnotized than others – we refer to this as suggestibility. Suggestibility is largely linked to a person’s creativity and imagination. Note that the extent to which you are suggestible is neither good nor bad – it just is. To be hypnotized is easy – you simply have to listen and follow along. The less ‘effort’ you put in, the better.
12. How can hypnosis help me?
The array of potential areas in your life that hypnotherapy can help improve is extremely broad. Hypnosis can help you discover and deal with the root cause of undesirable symptoms in your life, thereby helping to eliminate the symptoms. These symptoms include over-eating, anxiety, sleeplessness, addictive behaviors and so on. The list is long, and the power of hypnosis to eliminate these symptoms is fantastic. A list of indicative services is here.
This is not to say that hypnotherapy is a magical, all-encompassing solution to all problems. It is not intended as a replacement for appropriate treatment provided by health care professionals, including mental health care practitioners. As such, if a new client is suffering from an undiagnosed mental/physical illness they will first be referred to their physician. In cases where a client is already under the care of a medical doctor, a medical referral will be required in advance of any sessions. Hypnotherapy may then serve as an effective adjunct to whatever treatment a client is already receiving from their physician/psychiatrist.
While many people see a hypnotherapist to eliminate a symptom, others use hypnotherapy to get MORE of something in their life – more success, sharper focus, greater performance, better results, more confidence and so on. Many peak performance athletes, for example, use hypnosis to get the mental edge they need to tap into their full potential. Hypnosis is just as effective at helping boost performance as it is at eliminating unwanted symptoms.
13. Is hypnotherapy effective?
Yes, very much so. If it weren’t effective, the many hypnotherapists who have offices around the world would have had to close up shop long ago. But clients continue to see results, and the results speak for themselves.
Unfortunately, much of the data highlighting success rates is anecdotal, largely consisting of client testimonials. And while many hypnotherapists keep track of their own client ‘success’ rates for their own information, this data is not usually made public, nor is it necessarily academically sound.
There is a scarcity of comprehensive, robust and reliable studies that focus on measuring the effectiveness of hypnotherapy, though some do exist. Why this is the case is not entirely clear, though it may speak to the general challenge hypnotherapy has faced in becoming more widely accepted within our western approach to health and wellness.
The most commonly cited comparative study of hypnotherapy effectiveness – often found on hypnotherapists’ websites – is from 1970. While it is certainly dated, the data is impressive; hence it’s continued popularity. The study compared the effectiveness of psychotherapy, behavior therapy and hypnotherapy by looking at patients’ recovery rates using the different approaches. The study concluded the following:
AVERAGE EXPECTED RECOVERY RATES
Psychotherapy: 38% recovery after 600 sessions
Behavior Therapy (Wolpian): 72% recovery after 22 sessions
Hypnotherapy: 93% recovery after 6 sessions
source: Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, v7 n1 (1970): 2-7
While the above study is impressive, the research is most certainly open to scrutiny, and an updated version would be most welcome. Furthermore, it is not presented in an effort to devalue or undermine the practice of psychotherapy and its derivatives. There are many excellent therapeutic techniques around, and each brings its own strengths to the table.
14. My friend went to a hypnotherapist for ‘X’ and it totally didn’t work. How do you explain that?
Every client is unique, and so is every hypnotherapist. There is a host of reasons why a hypnotherapy session may prove to be ineffective, such as a lack of rapport or trust between the client and therapist, misinformation or confusion surrounding expectations, a shortage of training/experience of the therapist, and a firm resistance from the client.
In general, if your hypnotherapist has been trained, you seem to get along with him/her and you get clear answers to any of your questions, then your sessions should run smoothly. Of course, there are no guarantees. Every session is unique – each one posing its own challenges, and leading to its own potential breakthroughs. A little patience, trust and open-mindedness goes a long way.
15. If hypnotherapy is so amazing why is it so under utilized and poorly understood?
Brilliant question. While the use of hypnosis and hypnotherapy has arguably become progressively more common over the last 170 years, there is a long way to go before it becomes fully embraced and utilized as the valuable tool it is. Your average person has never seen a hypnotherapist, and has a complete misunderstanding of what hypnosis is all about.
Even health care providers, such as dentists, who have a natural and easy entry-point for incorporating hypnosis into their daily practice, are typically in the dark when it comes to hypnosis. Some are informed and on board, but most are not. Most physicians and psychiatrists are no different.
Hypnotherapy, of course, is not alone in being somewhat sidelined over the years. Other therapeutic techniques – ranging from acupuncture to reflexology to osteopathy – have fought similar battles for recognition, with some finding more success than others. It has even taken decades for ancient practices such as meditation and yoga to enter into our cultural mainstream in the West.
Much of this is simply due to the general direction in which our Western approach to health and wellness has taken in the last century. While new technological and pharmacological advancements have revolutionized our medical system, these strides have arguably been made at the expense of more traditional and natural therapeutic techniques. Consequently, we now live in a society where we champion the use of drugs and surgery over any other natural alternative. For example, latest stats show that 11% of the (American) population aged 12 and over is now on anti-depressants, 10% of kids are now diagnosed and treated for AD/HD, and the rate of Caesarian births now tops 30% and is rising steadily (up from less than 5% 50 years ago). Are these the right approaches for maximizing health and wellness? The debate is open. Note that the suggestion here is certainly not that hypnotherapy is the answer to all of these issues, rather that the current trend of the Western medical approach is not necessarily taking us in the right direction.
What is clear is that as more and more people are seeking to reclaim their health and wellness, they are reaching out for more natural alternatives. This is good news for the hypnotherapy industry and other traditional health practitioners.
16. Is the practice of hypnotherapy regulated?
Due to the fact that hypnotherapy has always been considered to be an ‘alternative’ therapeutic technique, governments around the globe have been faced with the challenge of how to appropriately regulate practitioners. There is no full agreement between national governments – or even provincial/state governments – on how this should be done. In Canada and the U.S., for example, in certain states or provinces a practitioner can adopt the title Clinical Hypnotherapist (e.g. B.C.), whereas elsewhere only the title of Hypnotherapist or Hypnotist is acceptable – irrespective of the training received.
There is no singular international (or national) regulating body for hypnotists/hypnotherapists either. Rather, there are a variety of accrediting bodies that have arisen over the years in an attempt to bring some cohesion and standards to the industry. Three of the principal players are (un-coincidentally) those that we are members of (the IMDHA, NGH and ACHE). There are other, smaller bodies as well, which may be just as determined and well intentioned in their efforts to ensure their members are operating at a high standard.
As a client, do not hesitate to ask your hypnotherapist about their training and credentials. They should be open and willing to discuss details of their course work as well as their accreditation. If you’re unsatisfied, keep shopping.