Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
by Dorothea Read
August 6, 2018
What is Hypnotherapy and is it the same as Hypnosis?
Sometimes people contact us just because they are interested to find out what hypnotherapy actually is. Some people have heard that hypnotherapy is helpful with something that worries them but they’re not really sure what it means. This newsletter is just for you.
Hypnotherapy is a two part process; the first part is talking. This conversation is professionally guided by your therapist and has several different components. The atmosphere is relaxed and non judgmental. The second part is the trance part. Each session lasts around fifty minutes.
However the first time we meet is a little different. It is called The Initial Consultation and is a mixture of fact finding, you telling the hypnotherapist what you would like hypnotherapy to help with and us explaining the process. We also explain how our minds can construct a thought that can really be very unhelpful (‘I’m afraid of flying’ for example) and what we can do about it. Once you have an idea of how our minds ‘feed a thought’ then we will show you how to change that thought for something more positive. It is part of the hypnotherapist’s skill to help you move from telling us what your worry is to seeing a way forward. Anyone can get stuck in a ‘mind rut’ where they think that their thoughts (and the feelings those thoughts produce) are permanent, and that only a change in events will help. We will show you how to shift your focus to help you see that what makes the difference is not the event itself, but our reaction to it.
At North Cardiff Hypnotherapy we practice Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. This means that we show people how to focus their thoughts on the solution to their problem as we understand that thinking solely about the problem creates more stress. For example, if you have a social anxiety and are very shy when with a group of people, a problem focused thought pattern would be thoughts like
‘I can’t go to that party, I never know what to say to people.’
‘No one will talk to me if I get a job with other people, I’ll feel isolated and stressed so there is no point going for the interview.’
‘I can’t explain to my boss that my work load is too big, I’m no good at conversations like that, Ill just get upset’
Here the internal dialogue is rehearsing how bad something will be in the future and this creates anxiety.
A solution focused approach is to gently change this dialogue by focusing on things that are going well. What are the things in your life that are going well at the moment, things you don’t want to change?
The second part is the hypnosis bit. Hypnosis is the Greek word for “sleep”, but it is not a particularly accurate term for what we do. We sometimes call it a trance state or a ‘replicated REM state’and it describes a state of focused attention where you are able to reduce your attention to stimuli from the wider environment. This doesn’t mean that you are no longer able to hear other sounds around you, just that you are less interested in them. It’s a little similar to what happens when you meet a friend in a busy loud café. Soon your friend has your full attention and you find it easy to focus on the chat you’re having. Trance or hypnosis is a completely natural state. Have you ever found yourself staring out of a window completely lost in thought? Perhaps you can recall that feeling of being utterly absorbed in a novel and losing track of time. It is this type of daydream state that we aim to replicate in our therapy rooms.
We all experience a daydream state many times a day and if someone asked us what we we’re thinking about as we looked as if ‘we were miles away’, we would probably reply fairly vaguely ‘Oh anything really, nothing much, I was daydreaming’.
The hypnotherapist’s skill lies in getting their clients into this relaxed state of focused awareness. People cannot be hypnotised against their will. Our clients have to cooperate with the process. Imagine it being like someone relaxing on the sofa listening to a story on the radio. The listener has to focus on the story but this is not a difficult thing, quite the opposite. There is something very relaxing about reclining somewhere comfortable and listening to a story. The saying ‘radio has the best pictures’ is true because the images your mind conjures up are perfect for you, they exactly match what you think the story should ‘look’ like. We have always instinctively understood that listening to a story is relaxing. That’s why we read to children before bed.
So what will the hypnotherapist’s ‘story’ be about? This part is sometimes called Guided Imagery.
The first part will be about the physical process of relaxing. If someone says to you ‘just relax’ often we think ‘I would if I could!’ so the hypnotherapist uses a mixture of specific suggestions and images to describe what relaxation would feel like to you. We then move on to use language that will deepen this relaxed state. It’s not possible for me to tell you exactly what we would say to any one individual as our skill involves being in pace with your current experience and then guiding your imagination towards the imagery
that, in our professional opinion, will be the most useful for your particular goal.
Why does this work? Inside the prefrontal cortex of our brain there is a marvellous little thing, our imagination. It is a virtual reality simulator where we can try out an idea before committing to it. In his excellent TED Talk (do watch it, details below) Dan Gilbert says it gives people ‘experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life’. Many people will use their imagination to look at the worst possible outcomes and then spend time worrying about these possible future events. Using your imagination for this negative forecasting has a physical effect on the body; we feel queasy and have a racing heart, butterflies or sweaty palms at the thought of giving a speech in public just by imagining it. In hypnotherapy we use the imagination to help us plan a way forward that is positive. A future that focuses on solutions and not one that focuses on problems.
Our clients can remember what we’ve said and they are in full control. If a client didn’t want a trance to continue they would just open their eyes and stop listening. ‘The hypnotic state is an experience that belongs to the subject’, Milton Erickson said in 1980 (he is often called the father of modern hypnotherapy).
Ernest L. Rossi (Editor). The Nature of Hypnosis and Suggestion (Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson, Vol. 1). ISBN-10: 0829005420; ISBN-13: 978-0829005424. Publisher: Irvington Pub; Reprint edition (Aug. 1980).