What is Hypnosis?

The hypnotic state is a day-dreamy like state of mind induced by the person themselves either on their own (self or auto-hypnosis) or under the direction of a therapist.

A Useful Model

A model is not the ‘truth’ but a possible explanation based on what we know so far, which helps us to know what might be happening.

The brain has two halves which tend to function fairly independently.

The left hand side of the brain, which may be seen as responsible for our verbal and arithmetical skills, and is the source of our critical, evaluative and logical thought process, is that part of our mind or consciousness that we are generally most aware of in our day to day activities.

The right hand side of the brain, which becomes more active as we relax, may be seen as responsible for our visual and creative imagination, our intuitive and instinctive part of ourselves. This is where we process our feelings and emotions. This part of us works in the background and controls all our bodily processes such as breathing and how fast our heart beats.

Using another model, right and left brain activity is analogous to the conscious and unconscious mind.

Relaxation Techniques and Self Hypnosis

There is little communication between these two halves in our day to day conscious working state.

When in our normal working state our brain functions predominantly in ‘left brain’ mode. As we begin to relax the brain begins to shift over to ‘right brain’. The evaluative thought processes (predominantly a left brain or conscious operation) start to lessen and suggestions are easily more accepted.

This shift in brain activity occurs quite naturally throughout our day anyway. Whenever we find ourselves gazing out of the window in a daydream, driving in ‘auto pilot’, with no conscious recollection of the past few miles; whenever we become totally focused on an activity and start to lose awareness of our surroundings, we are predominantly in a ‘right brain’ state.

Have you ever wondered why, knowing that there really is no need to worry about something, and telling yourself so, never seems to help stop the worrying thoughts? We may learn to challenge our thoughts but simply telling ourselves not to worry doesn’t often stop us. Logical reasoning doesn’t get through very well in the normal waking state to that part to our consciousness where we process our feelings. But by giving suggestions when in a right brained state, in trance, we are much more able to affect both our feelings and our behaviour.

It is also worth remembering that when we are in shock or very anxious, or when coming around from general anaesthetic we are in a spontaneous hypnotic like state and thought less remarks can act as post hypnotic suggestions and exert a long lasting effect.

The right/left brain model also explains why visualisation helps people to enter the hypnotic state; It increases hand brain activity. The right brain ‘thinks’ in pictures, words are a conscious, left brain construct.

Many people use hypnosis without even realising it; for instance, midwives when they teach psychoprophylaxis in childbirth, and keep-fit instructors when they use progressive muscular relaxation at the end of a lesson.

People have varying degrees of ability when it comes to entering a hypnotic state just as some people are more musically gifted than others. But, continuing the analogy, most people can, with practice, play a simple tune. About 10% of the population exhibit a very high hypnotic ability and it is this group of people who are most at risk from stage hypnosis or unethical therapists. People who have good imaginations or who have artistic tendencies usually find it easier to go into trance.

Hypnosis is not like being asleep; you can hear surrounding noises but unless important, they can be relegated into the background and become unintrusive. If something untoward occurs however, you can ‘wake’ immediately, although usually it is more comfortable to come back to the present more gradually, usually by counting e.g. from five to one.

The hypnotic state is usually associated with profound relaxation and so is very useful in helping to treat anxiety and stress. By giving suggestions of continuing calmness and increasing confidence the benefit effects can be continued.

‘Alert’ hypnosis however is often used by athletes when they are far from having muscular relaxation. Relaxation is therefore not a prerequisite of the hypnotic state.

Hypnosis can also be useful in the treatment of many other conditions such as phobias, post traumatic stress disorder, and irritable bowel syndrome. Pain relief, control of bleeding, reduction of the inflammatory response in burns and eczema are among other useful applications.

Some people think of hypnosis as a magic wand and although simple direct suggestion for system removal may sometimes work, it is more usual that varying amounts of work need to be done by the client, and motivation and commitment to change is of greatest importance.

People often think of hypnosis as a truth drug and mistakenly think that any memories under hypnosis are the actual, historic truth. This is not so, they may be true, but may be as inaccurate as any other memory, or may indeed be sheer fantasy, just as in a dream. The fact that a ‘memory’ has come up in therapy means that it needs to be dealt with in the therapeutic situation but both client and therapist should be aware that it may not be historic truth. There is easier communication between the conscious and unconscious mind in the hypnotic state so that often the root cause of a problem can be accessed and dealt with and this may happen at a symbolic or metaphorical level.

People often fear hypnosis, seeing it as a loss of control, but a person would not enter trance unless they wanted to and in fact it gives the person more control, not less. The therapist may be the music teacher but cannot do the playing for you.

Hypnosis utilises a naturally occurring state of mind and by teaching someone to enter the state consciously, they can use its benefits. It is a way of teaching much greater control and independence for that person in that they can continue therapy in their own time and help themselves to reduce their own anxiety levels. It is your brain and you can learn to use it more effectively.

Stage Hypnotists are expert in fast assessment of good hypnotic subjects. Anyone who volunteers is expecting to comply with stupid suggestions either to give their friends a laugh or for some other reason. Once on stage the pressure to comply is very great, even without hypnosis being used. Unfortunately, stage hypnotists do not screen for medical or psychological contraindications to hypnosis and are not always careful in removing post hypnotic suggestions from their subjects or from susceptible members of the audience.

Hypnosis is not therapy of itself but acts to facilitate therapy of various kinds. There has been a huge increase in the number of people offering hypnotherapy but no one should attempt to treat conditions using hypnosis unless they have the expertise to treat such conditions without hypnosis.

Hypnosis can be a key but you need to have the expertise to deal with whatever lies behind the door.