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What is Hypnosis and How Does It Help?

Hypnosis is a set of procedures geared to helping a person enter a hypnotic trance. Hypnotic trance is a special state of mind that is common in everyday life. It is not the same as being awake, and it is not the same as being asleep. It is another state of mind, with its own characteristic brainwave patterns, that involves intense concentration and absorption.

  • Musicians who are “in their groove” are likely in a hypnotic trance state.
  • When you are absorbed in a good book or movie and lose track of time, you are likely in a hypnotic trance state.
  • When you are driving on the highway and haven’t noticed how you got from exit 1 to exit 21, but you have been driving safely anyway, you are likely in a hypnotic trance state, called “highway hypnosis”.

Hypnotic states are peculiar in that they admit to certain trance phenomena.

  • Time distortion – e.g. time can feel shorter or longer than it really is.
  • Trance logic – e.g. the patient tolerates ideas or images that are normally contradictory or unrealistic (like learning from wizards or floating on a cloud)
  • Suspension of some defense mechanisms
  • Increased ability to make use of metaphors
  • Increased ability to use the senses, especially visualization
  • Acceptance of hypnotic suggestion

I use hypnosis to help my patients to be in control of their thinking and feeling and to

  • Create a state of relaxation
  • Reduce the experience of physical pain
  • Explore internal experiences and understand themselves better
  • Help them improve their performance of certain tasks
  • Help them make good use of their own internal motivations, e.g. to stop smoking or to eat healthfully

Unfortunately, people have used hypnosis for entertainment. They have gotten unsuspecting people to do silly things, for example getting someone to count to ten, skipping the number six. The person will say “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10.” This is not an appropriate use of hypnosis.

People who wish to use hypnosis may worry about what they will encounter while in trance. One worry is that the hypnotherapist will take away their control of their thoughts. This is not what happens, because, even in trance, people will not do what they don’t want to do. When something is said that is contrary to their convictions, they will pop out of trance.

Working with hypnosis involves three stages:

  • Trance induction – getting a person into trance
  • Trance work
  • Coming out of trance

Trance work can involve suggestions that are direct or indirect. An example of a direct suggestion for going to sleep is: “When your head rests on the pillow, you will begin to feel relaxed and very sleepy, and you will drift off into a peaceful sleep”. An example of indirect suggestion for the same thing is: “You feel yourself floating on a cloud, feeling very comfortable. The fluffy, white cloud caresses you with its softness. Its rocking movement, to and fro, makes you feel relaxed and peaceful, as if you were a baby being softly and lovingly rocked in your mother’s arms, drifting off into a peaceful sleep”. Sometimes the hypnotherapist uses parables to induce certain feelings or to encourage certain thoughts.

For some people, direct suggestions work the best, for others, indirect suggestions work the best, and for still others the parables will work the best. The hypnotherapist makes choices based on his/her understanding of the patient and checks back with the patient to see what was useful and what was not useful in helping the patient move towards his/her goals.

Sometimes, when the patient has become very experienced in going into trance, doing some work, and coming out of trance, the hypnotherapist will teach him/her how to do hypnosis for him/herself. That way, the patient can use a hypnotic trance at any time. For example, if a patient is about to speak in public and is very nervous about it, he/she can subtly use self-hypnosis to calm down. And if someone is about to do a difficult athletic feat, he/she can use self-hypnosis to imagine how to do that feat successfully.