Thanks for taking some time out of your day to relax while you read this. And as you relax while you read this, I’d like to ask you to think about something you really like doing. It could be something that you like doing so much that you find yourself getting absorbed in it. And getting absorbed in the memory of doing it. And it’s interesting how relaxing it can be as you get absorbed in the memory of how much you like doing that. And as you relax even more while remembering how much you like to do that you may find that you’ve managed to block out the sounds and distractions around you, as you focus on how enjoyable and relaxing the thing you like to do really is. Isn’t that right? So allow yourself to focus only on the words you’re reading. While you’re relaxing even more. And you might find that as you focus on remembering this thing you like doing, that you have slipped into a state that you might call daydreaming, or introspection, or zoning out. And as you relax even more, let’s consider that if you’ve managed to do all this, just by reading these words on a page, that you’ve discovered the ability to enter into a state of what some may call hypnosis.
What is hypnosis?
While a clinical definition of hypnosis is still being developed, I like to describe hypnosis as a focused state of absorption, where you and the hypnotherapist work together to discover new ways of thinking, developing new skills that help you overcome something that is troubling your mind.
One of the common myths about the hypnotic state, or trance, is that it can only be entered into under the control of a hypnotist. If we agree that hypnosis is a focused state of absorption, we can see many examples of the trance state in everyday life.
- Daydreaming – where you find yourself staring out a window, lost in the reveries of a favourite memory
- Reading a book – where you become so engrossed in a book that you don’t hear someone walking into the room, or become so attached to the story that you care deeply about the impact of plotlines on fictional characters
- Watching a movie – where you jump in fright to avoid an on-screen danger, even though there is no real-world danger to you from what is happening on screen
- Driving – where you arrive at the destination on a route you regularly travel, only to realise you can’t remember any details of what happened during the trip
- Using the internet – click, click, click ……….. and suddenly hours have gone by.
These examples illustrate our incredible ability to be able to transport our mind to different states, when we are open to the possibility, and have sufficient motivation.
Who’s in control?
Popularised by stage hypnotists, a common myth is that the hypnotist is in control of the person being hypnotised. The stage hypnotist relies on you believing that they have some magical power of control, that can cause you to behave in ways that you may normally be prevented from doing.
In reality, stage hypnotists use a combination of stagecraft and peer pressure to encourage willing participants to play along with the suggestions they are given in the hypnotic state. Successful stage hypnotists spend considerable effort to pre-screen their audience before inviting volunteers up on stage, picking out the people they have already identified as motivated and willing to comply with their instructions. Even then, stage hypnotists have to be on alert for the occasional “willing” subject who volunteers with the sole intention of proving that they can’t be hypnotised. Which just goes to prove that even the most “powerful hypnotist” can’t make you do something against your will.
Clinical hypnosis, unlike stage hypnosis, relies on a level of trust and understanding between the hypnotist and the client, and the open acceptance that whatever is said or experienced during the session is agreeable and beneficial to the client. A hypnotherapist will only begin the process of hypnosis after explaining to you what to expect, what not to expect, and ensuring that you understand the level of participation is always under your control.
Can you be hypnotised?
Yes, if you want to. Given the examples above of everyday trance states, the answer is you’ve probably already been hypnotised, in one form or another. The question of whether someone else can hypnotise you, comes down to you.
At all times during a hypnotherapy session, the power to go into trance, to accept (or reject) suggestions, and to remain in the hypnotic state of trance, is up to you. It’s not like you’ve seen on stage or in the movies. If something arose during the session that required you to come out of the trance state by yourself, you would react in the same way as you would during normal states of consciousness.
What is modern hypnosis?
While some trace the beginning of hypnosis back to the work of Franz Mesmer, the term was first coined in the 19th century by the English physician James Braid, who named it after the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, due to the perception at the time that a person was asleep when they entered a hypnotic state. In actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth, as when you enter a trance state, you are more alert to and focused on the words of the hypnotist than you would be during normal conversation.
Hypnosis started to establish itself as a treatment method after World War 1, when it was used to successfully treat soldiers suffering from shell shock. From there, interest developed in using hypnosis to treat post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and other traumas.
Early hypnosis was based around the use of scripts, which assumed that the best way to get repeatable results was to use the same script to treat every person that presented with the type of issue that matched the script. Unfortunately, this left little room for adapting the delivery to suit the patient, and could lead the practitioner to blame the patient if a state of hypnosis or clinical progress was not achieved.
In the mid 20th Century, the American psychiatrist and psychologist Milton H. Erickson developed what came to be known as Ericksonian Hypnosis, a more adaptive and permissive form of hypnosis, based on the belief that every person has the ability to heal themselves, if they can be shown how to unlock or learn those skills. With this method, the hypnotherapist invites, rather than instructs, you to enter the state of trance, and to work with them to achieve positive change. It is a collaborative, rather than instructive or authoritarian approach, and depends on a level of trust being established between yourself and the therapist. The work conducted by Erickson has seen a major increase in general interest of hypnotherapy as a treatment method, and is continued today by authorities in the field such as Dr. Michael D. Yapko, and by organisations such as the Milton H. Erickson foundation.
Today hypnotherapy can be used to treat a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, addictions and phobias. In 2019, Monash University published the results of a clinical study into the effectiveness of hypnotherapy as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The results of this study were particularly impressive, as the university found hypnotherapy to be equally as effective as the FODMAP diet, an established IBS treatment methodology established by Monash. This study and the results point to the increasing interest and acceptance of hypnotherapy as a treatment approach in medical circles.
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