What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a therapeutic modality (or therapeutic tool so to speak) which is used in therapy to help improve the therapeutic outcomes.  It is used to help client develop powerful personal resources that can be purposefully directed towards achieving their therapeutic goals.  In other words, hypnosis is usually used in conjunction with other treatment modalities.

What can I expect to experience when I am hypnotized?

Hypnosis is described as an altered state of consciousness in which sensory input is processed in a different way at that time, and is usually accompanied by relaxation and a state of focused attention.  It means that, when a person is being hypnotized (also referred to as being in a trance), the person will still be aware of what is going on around him/her, but will be focused on what needs to be focused, to the extent that the background noises and time awareness will be less important. Can you recall the last time you were so engrossed in a book or a movie that you almost forgot about what is going on around you?  Or driving home without remembering exactly how you managed to do it, because you were so deep in thought?  These are examples of trance – you will still be able to react if something needs your full attention during the movie or when you are driving, but for that few moments, you experienced an altered state of consciousness. The reality is, we are all born with the ability to go into hypnotic trance, our minds just need to be trained to do so willfully.

What kind of problems can hypnosis help for?

There are an abundant number of research studies on the effectiveness of hypnosis and what type of problems it can be used for.  Here is a list of some of the problems/scenarios for which hypnosis is very helpful:

  • Pain management
  • Depression/Bi-polar disorder
  • Trauma (any type of trauma)
  • Performance anxiety
  • Sleeping problems
  • Stress management
  • Academic performance
  • Sexual performance
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Phobias
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Addiction and behaviour change (e.g. stop smoking / weight loss)
  • Sport performance
  • Self-confidence and self-image

Myths about hypnosis

Stage hypnosis is really hypnosis: WRONG!

Stage hypnosis is an (unfortunate) form of entertainment that creates a wrong impression about hypnosis. When you are in trance, the therapist will not be able to make you do things against your will (e.g. cluck like a chicken) or make you divulge your secrets that you don’t want to share.

Hypnosis is sleep: WRONG!

As mentioned before, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness with heightened awareness and sensory function.  The client in trance is AWARE of himself and his environment. The client does NOT lose consciousness for a single moment, but in a deep trance, his environment – noises, disturbances and so on will seem so remote from him that they will not bother him – they will not interest him as long as they are not threatening to him. Furthermore, it is a “sleep” from which he will always wake up from – he cannot remain in a permanent trance:  all he needs to decide on is to wake up and he will.

“Weak” people are good hypnotic subjects: WRONG!

This tends the faulty idea that people can easily be manipulated in trance.  Strong-willed and intelligent people are in fact good subjects – better than “weak-willed” people.  While will power is important in hypnosis, it is the CLIENT’S will power that plays a significant role.  Hence their own motivation and acceptance is what determines how good a subject they are and indeed has a positive bearing on the results of therapy.

The hypnotized person will lose control: WRONG!

There is a FAULTY belief that a therapist has unlimited control over the client.  The TRUTH is that the only control exerted in trance is that of the CLIENT.  He decides whether to allow it or not, he decides even how deep in trance he will go – though these may be subconscious choices.

The subconscious has ultimately only one function: SURVIVAL and it will do anything deemed necessary to maintain the integrity of the person at all levels:  physical, emotional and spiritual.

As the person retains alertness and awareness, any suggestion given to him is processed and will NOT be acted upon if considered to be threatening.  So in an extreme example, a person is asked to undress, run around the block and then return.  If the person’s normal moral restraints tell him this is unacceptable, he will not act on the suggestion – more likely he will come out of trance and go directly to his attorney, and quite rightly so.  This situation is one of the fundamental reasons for limiting the use of hypnosis to a controlled professional body, answerable to the SA Medical and Dental Council (HPCSA OR SACSSP).

The conscious mind is responsible for logic, reasoning, understanding and decision-making.  The subconscious mind is responsible for memory, creativity, emotion, survival instincts, monitoring and maintaining body function, etc.  In the state of trance the conscious mind does NOT switch off – it is in a neutral state of AWARENESS, while the subconscious mind takes control, not the therapist.

As the conscious mind is aware and can accept or reject any suggestion; it follows that a person may also choose at any time to “come out” of trance.  There is no surrender of will – a person CANNOT be made to do in trance anything he would not do OUT of trance.  It is a faulty belief that one can become stuck in trance.