- WHAT IS HYPNOSIS?
- CAN EVERYBODY BE HYPNOTISED?
- ARE THERE ANY RISKS ATTACHED TO BEING HYPNOTISED?
- DOES A HYPNOTIST CONTROL YOUR MIND?
- WHAT IF A HYPNOTHERAPIST WAS TO DIE OR BE TAKEN ILL WHILE HIS CLIENT WAS IN TRANCE?
- WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU ARE IN A HYPNOTIC TRANCE?
- WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HYPNOTHERAPY AND STAGE HYPNOSIS?
- CAN CHILDREN BE HYPNOTISED?
- WHAT IS SELF-HYPNOSIS?
- WHAT DOES THE MEDICAL PROFESSION THINK OF HYPNOSIS?
- I HAVE HEARD OF THE TERM “TRANCE PHENOMENA”. WHAT ARE THEY?
- WHAT IS HYPNOANALYSIS?
- WHAT CAN HYPNOTHERAPY DO FOR ME?
- ARE THE BENEFITS OF HYPNOTHERAPY PERMANENT?
- HOW MANY SESSIONS WILL I NEED?
- WHAT IS PAST LIFE REGRESSION?
- DO HYPNOTHERAPISTS HAVE ANY CODES OF ETHICS?
- IS THERE ANY STATUTORY CONTROL OVER THE PRACTICE OF HYPNOTHERAPY?
WHAT IS HYPNOSIS?
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. The US Federal definition describes hypnosis as “bypassing the critical factor of the mind and the establishment of acceptable selected thinking”. Another definition might be “an intentional shift in attention in which the mind is more receptive”. Our unconscious minds are much larger and more powerful than we sometimes realise.
However, the conscious mind (which is where we do our rational thinking) can obstruct access to the unconscious mind. The purpose of hypnosis is to persuade the conscious mind to step aside for a while and so allow access to the unconscious mind.
There are many similar states to hypnosis, usually known as hypnoidal states or everyday trances. For example, just before going to sleep and while in the process of waking up (when we can often recall dreams, which otherwise fade within a few minutes), when daydreaming, if entranced by a film or theatrical performance, or when driving, may all be occasions when consciousness is more narrowly focused.
CAN EVERYBODY BE HYPNOTISED?
It used to be thought that some people could not be hypnotised. We now know that anybody who wants to be hypnotised can be hypnotised. It is sometimes said that “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis”, in other words it is the client who decides whether or not they are prepared to be hypnotised. Some people may go into a hypnotic trance quicker, or more deeply, than others. It is usually found that the speed of going into a hypnotic trance increases with practice, as does the depth which can be achieved.
ARE THERE ANY RISKS ATTACHED TO BEING HYPNOTISED?
The only risk is that, for whatever reason, the therapeutic goal may not be achieved. Clients usually find that a hypnotic trance is very relaxing, even euphoric, and they feel very good afterwards. A hypnotherapist is guided by ethical considerations, putting his client’s interests first.
DOES A HYPNOTIST CONTROL YOUR MIND?
You cannot be made to do anything which you consider to be legally or morally wrong as your mind would reject any such suggestion. The hypnotherapist and the client are working in cooperation to achieve a goal which has been agreed with the client. It is therefore a matter not of “control” but of help or guidance towards an agreed destination.
WHAT IF A HYPNOTHERAPIST WAS TO DIE OR BE TAKEN ILL WHILE HIS CLIENT WAS IN TRANCE?
A hypnotic trance is a very natural (and comfortable) state. If the hypnotherapist was to die (or, to choose a more cheerful example, fall asleep) the client would either, after a while, emerge spontaneously from the trance or possibly fall asleep.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU ARE IN A HYPNOTIC TRANCE?
The hypnotherapist will ensure that you are sitting or lying down in a comfortable position before inducing a trance. After you have been in trance for a little while you will probably feel a heaviness in your arms and legs, as though you do not wish to move them (although you know that you could move them if you needed to do so). You may also have a similar feeling in your eyelids.
Each person is different, and some may feel a sensation of floating. Your mind will become quite focused on what the hypnotherapist is saying, although you may find that your attention drifts and you cannot recall everything that has been said to you. Do not be concerned by this because it is your unconscious mind which needs to receive the message. Sometimes you may feel slightly irritated when you are emerged from the trance, because it was such a relaxing state to be in that you wanted to remain there.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HYPNOTHERAPY AND STAGE HYPNOSIS?
The most obvious difference is the purpose of the event. A hypnotherapy session is intended to be therapeutic and beneficial for the client. Stage hypnosis is intended to be entertainment for the benefit of the audience. The people who go up on stage are willing accessories to the performance, and they know that their behaviour will cause laughter and entertainment for others. They are usually selected as being particularly compliant and good subjects for hypnosis.
CAN CHILDREN BE HYPNOTISED?
Yes, children are usually very good subjects for hypnosis. Because they have active imaginations they respond well to imaginary games and stories which will help them with behavioural change.
WHAT IS SELF-HYPNOSIS?
Hypnotherapists often teach their clients how to do self-hypnosis. This is a simple process which allows a person to go into a light hypnotic trance on their own. This is extremely useful for repeating suggestions which the client has been given in therapy in order to reinforce their effect, and also for motivating a person to achieve their goals. The individual can emerge from the trance instantly should there be a need to do so.
WHAT DOES THE MEDICAL PROFESSION THINK OF HYPNOSIS?
There are a number of doctors, dentists and psychiatrists who use hypnosis in their practice. This is perhaps more the case in the United States than in the UK. The most famous hypnotherapist of the 20th century, Milton Erickson, was a doctor and psychiatrist practising in the United States. The British Medical Association confirmed 50 years ago that hypnosis was not only valid but the treatment of choice for certain conditions.
Unfortunately, most doctors have received little training in the use of hypnosis. Also, GPs would find it difficult to employ hypnosis due to the short time which they are able to allocate to each patient. However, there appears to be growing acceptance of complementary medicine and some GPs will suggest that a patient should see a hypnotherapist if they feel that is the most helpful treatment. It is still unusual for the NHS to pay for such treatment. The Royal Society of Medicine has a Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine Section, the meetings of which I attend.
I HAVE HEARD OF THE TERM “TRANCE PHENOMENA”. WHAT ARE THEY?
a) Analgesia and anaesthesia can be caused by appropriate suggestions in trance. The therapist can enable the client to have analgesia (a reduction or elimination of pain, but without loss of other sensation) or anaesthesia (a complete loss of feeling) in either a part of, or the whole, body. This was used by Dr James Esdaile in India in the 19th century to carry out surgical operations. Some form of hypnotic trance is probably used by fire walkers or religious devotees with nails or iron spikes through their body, in order to eliminate the pain.
b) Amnesia can occur naturally in a trance, and is a test used for the somnambulist level of trance. The suggestion of amnesia can be used to protect posthypnotic suggestions from interference by the conscious mind. In the case of trauma revealed in the unconscious mind (possibly through age regression) it may be helpful to use amnesia suggestions to prevent an unwanted abreaction.
c) Catalepsy occurs when the eyes and the limbs develop a feeling of heaviness due to automatic muscle contraction. The client does not wish to move his limbs or open his eyes, although he may know that he could do so if he really needed to.
d) Automatic writing and drawing are ideomotor responses where the hand holding the pencil is under the direction of the unconscious mind. The writing is likely to be slow and jerky at first. This is not much used in practice due to the need for client training.
e) Dissociation occurs when part of the mind or body is out of conscious awareness, for example when the conscious and unconscious minds appear to be functioning independently of each other. This is a useful technique for pain management.
f) Hallucinations may be positive or negative. A positive hallucination is perceiving (with any of the senses) something which does not exist. Negative hallucination is denying the existence of something which does exist. An example of the former is an anorexic who imagines that they have rolls of fat on their body.
g) Hypermnesia is an increased memory ability, when something (perhaps previously forgotten) can be remembered vividly.
h) Ideomotor response is when an idea takes possession of a motor response in the body, causing movement without any conscious intent. Examples include Chevreul’s Pendulum, a ouija board, and finger signaling to give yes or no answers to questions when in trance.
i) Post-hypnotic suggestions are used in virtually every hypnotherapy session. These are suggestions given in trance with the intention of being acted on after the client emerges from the trance. Because the conscious mind has been stilled or diverted there is no critical factor preventing the unconscious mind from accepting the suggestion.
j) Pseudo-orientation in time is age progression, or projecting a person into the future, so that they can experience future realities in the present. This enables the client to express his reasonable and achievable fantasies while also seeing how he could overcome anything seen as a present problem or obstacle to the desired future.
k) Age regression is taking an individual back in time, using their own memory, in order to recall events at a particular date or age. This might be helpful with a phobia, since phobias are nearly always acquired, often when young. If the client appears to act as they would have done at that age it is known as revivification. With either procedure it is important to beware of false memory syndrome.
l) Time distortion may occur naturally to an individual in trance, with the trance appearing much shorter than it was in reality. Time distortion may also be used as a post-hypnotic suggestion, for example in pain control when it is used to compress the time of a period of pain and expand the time of a period of relief. In an obesity case time distortion might be used to expand the apparent elapsed time for a meal, so that the client feels as though they have been eating forever and so feel satisfied with what they have eaten.
WHAT IS HYPNOANALYSIS?
Traditional psychoanalysis encourages the client to talk about their past and their feelings. This can be a lengthy process. Hypnotherapy uses age regression to take the client back to an earlier time in their life when possibly there was a traumatic event or some influence on them, which has resulted in their maladaptive behaviour continuing into the present.
The client may or may not be consciously aware of this event (sometimes described as an ” initial sensitising event”). While the past cannot be changed, our view of the past and its influence on the present can be altered. The hypnotherapist would then work with the client to achieve an improvement in behaviour or outlook in the “here and now”.
ARE THE BENEFITS OF HYPNOTHERAPY PERMANENT?
Neither the therapist nor the client can know what events or influences there will be in the client’s future life. However, the intention is certainly that any desired change should be permanent. For example, smokers who wish to stop smoking will want to do so permanently. Because the hypnotherapist wants to help the client to achieve a permanent change for the better some work will often be done on ego strengthening, goalsetting and motivation in order that the client can reinforce the change themselves after the treatment has finished. The hypnotherapist wants the client to have a happy, independent life and not remain dependent on further sessions.
HOW MANY SESSIONS WILL I NEED?
Until the problem has been defined and the goals of therapy set it is impossible to say how many sessions will be needed. It is sometimes the case that a client comes to talk about one issue and other problems emerge which are related and which require separate treatment. For example, a client might come to talk about overeating but discussion may reveal that the overeating is related to excessive stress at work, or to emotional issues, which need to be addressed before the task of changing eating habits can be tackled.
However, where hypnotherapy can help it can usually do so relatively quickly and treatment would usually need less than 10 sessions, in fact in most cases less than five sessions. Some simple matters can be resolved in a single session.
WHAT IS PAST LIFE REGRESSION?
Past life regression involves taking a client back to a previous life while in a hypnotic trance. The client may or may not accept the truth of reincarnation. The life story which emerges comes from the client’s unconscious mind and may provide therapeutic benefits by revealing issues which the client may have difficulty discussing consciously. Because the client needs to know how to access their inner world the process of regression improves with practice. It is possible to carry out past life regression without the need for any particular therapeutic goal.
IS THERE ANY STATUTORY CONTROL OVER THE PRACTICE OF HYPNOTHERAPY?
There is no single body at present with statutory control over the practice of hypnotherapy in the UK. There are a number of registers to which practising hypnotherapists may belong and each register sets standards for training, requires the maintenance of adequate public liability and professional indemnity insurance, and compliance with a code of ethics.
Practitioners would generally agree that it is desirable to move towards having a single body controlling the profession but so far this has not been achieved. The nearest we have come is for hypnotherapists to join the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which was set up with encouragement from the Department of Health, and which is intended to provide a measure of consumer protection.