‘Can you make me do things I don’t want to do, such as cluck like a chicken?’
‘Can you make me tell you things that I don’t really want to tell you?’
‘Can I get stuck in hypnosis?’
The answer to all of these questions is an emphatic ‘No’!
Despite anything you may have seen on TV or on a stage, a hypnotherapist cannot make you do anything you don’t want to do or say anything you don’t want to say and you are always most definitely in control and can bring yourself out of hypnosis any time you choose.
In this article I answer some of the key questions that I am often asked by those considering hypnosis or those who have recently signed up for some sessions of hypnotherapy with me. It is not surprising that these questions are asked, as there is a lot of misconception about hypnosis. Would you believe that, even among practicing hypnotherapists, there isn’t agreement about what hypnosis is, or exactly how it works. There is, however, a lot of agreement on the view that it is very effective for many issues, conditions, and disorders.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a natural state of awareness, which we enter into automatically many times each day, usually at times when we feel very relaxed. Any time we find ourselves daydreaming or being absorbed in our imagination or lost in our thoughts, we are in a state of hypnosis. We could say that we are in a ‘state of trance’.
A good example is when we are fully absorbed in a movie. We might find ourselves laughing out loud or crying uncontrollably, even though we know consciously that what we are looking at is acting and not real. In this relaxed and absorbed state, our subconscious mind is more open and can take on board new ideas more readily. This phenomenon can be used proactively by a hypnotherapist to give suggestions which are aligned to positive changes we want to make in our lives.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy uses a combination of hypnosis, talking therapy and other techniques to help a person to interrupt patterns at a subconscious level and to bring about and sustain positive changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Phew! That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Let’s break it down.
Firstly, hypnotherapy is a therapy. A therapy involves a therapeutic purpose or aim, which is connected with your wellbeing. Therapy is not aimless and a good hypnotherapist will always agree a therapeutic aim or goal with you from the outset.
Secondly, hypnotherapy involves using hypnosis, but a hypnotherapist will use a variety of other techniques too, including potentially counselling skills, mindfulness, cognitive and physical therapies, neuro-linguistic programming and coaching to name just a few, depending on their training and what is helpful in the circumstances.
Thirdly, the work aims to identify and break unhelpful patterns of behaviour which may have become ingrained and is preventing you from making changes on your own.
Fourthly, although some work takes place at a conscious level, for example discussing and agreeing alternative more helpful behaviours, there is always some work at a subconscious level, where there can be resistance to, or fear of, change, even if it is wanted at a conscious level.
Fifthly, positive change may happen at a mental, emotional or behavioural level and quite often a combination of all of these.
In summary, hypnotherapy involves the use of a hypnosis and other techniques to identify and break unhelpful patterns and to sustain positive change.
What can a hypnotherapist help with?
There is almost no limit to the range of psychological conditions and issues that a hypnotherapist can support you with, however these can be broadly grouped as follows:
- Addiction (smoking, vaping, alcohol, cocaine, gambling and anything else)
- Eating (weight management, eating disorders)
- Phobias (flying, driving, spiders, insects, heights, open spaces, closed spaces and just about anything you can think of)
- Anxiety-related (generalised anxiety, panic, compulsions, worrying, etc.)
- Difficulty managing thoughts and/or emotions
- Trauma (physical, emotional, mental)
- Management of chronic conditions (pain, IBS)
- Stuck, lost or unsure about direction of life
If you are not sure if your condition or issue can be helped with hypnotherapy, there is no harm in arranging an initial consultation as it may be something the hypnotherapist has experience with, or they may be able to refer you to another more suitable therapist.
What happens when you see a hypnotherapist?
When you see a hypnotherapist for the first time, they will spend some time getting to know you, and giving you a chance to get to know them. This rapport building is an important part of hypnotherapy, helping you build trust in the hypnotherapist and belief in the process.
The hypnotherapist will ask you questions about your medical history and ensure there are no risks. Hypnotherapy is very safe and there are very few circumstances where someone would not be able to benefit from experiencing it.
The hypnotherapist will also check your motivation for making the change you want and, where necessary, will help you establish stronger motivation, as this is another key ingredient for success.
Finally, you should expect the hypnotherapist to set out a suggested plan, including the specific techniques that they will use with you and give you a good estimate of the number of sessions required and the costs.
Many hypnotherapists offer an initial consultation without charge where all the above is covered.
What techniques might a hypnotherapist use?
The answer will depend on a number of factors, which include the issue you are presenting with, the ways you are likely to respond to different techniques and the knowledge and skills of the therapist. Let’s look at each of these in turn briefly.
The issue you are presenting with will have the most significant influence on the techniques the hypnotherapist will offer you alongside hypnosis. For example, if you present with a phobia of some kind, this will usually involve some kind of desensitisation work. If you present with anxiety, you can expect to learn some relaxation techniques. If you have experienced trauma in the past and this is preventing you from living happily today, you might be offered trauma-release therapy.
Of course, everyone is different in personality, learning styles and specific experiences, so a good hypnotherapist will adapt the way things are delivered so that it is appropriate and impactful for you, and will often adjust what they do as you begin to respond and as they get to know you better.
Finally, an important factor is of course the training that the hypnotherapist has received. Hypnotherapy is a very large professional field, with a number of key approaches and an almost limitless number of techniques that can be learned. A hypnotherapist will cover quite a lot in their initial training, but good hypnotherapists are committed to ongoing continuing professional development.
What does hypnosis actually feel like?
If you talk to five different people, you might expect to get five different descriptions of what hypnosis feels like for them. However, there are a few things that seem to be common to most people.
Some people say that they feel fully conscious, aware of everything the hypnotherapist is saying and sometimes wondering whether anything is happening at all.
Many people describe a dream-like state, where they seem to drift away at times, into other thoughts, memories or imaginations. Others say that they felt close to sleep but still seemed to be partly present.
Many people report feeling that their body is heavy, whereas some report the very opposite, a feeling of lightness and ease.
So, if you are waiting for a ‘special state’ to arise, you might be disappointed, because there is no special state to achieve.
However, the state that you should expect is to feel comfortable, relaxed and at ease with the hypnotherapist. That can take a while to happen and a good hypnotherapist will spend enough preparation time with you to ensure you reach that state, because suggestions are more likely to be taken on board by the subconscious mind when you are relaxed.
By the end of a session with a hypnotherapist, you should feel more relaxed than when you arrived, and you should have an increased confidence in your ability to make the changes that you want to achieve.
Does hypnotherapy work?
The short answer is yes, it does work. To qualify that, we should add…for many people…much of the time (see below for ‘What can stop hypnotherapy from working?’.
Firstly, the subconscious mind is always present. Think about how your body reacts to danger or threat even when your conscious mind hasn’t caught up with what is going on. If you put your hand accidentally on a hot stove, you will immediately withdraw it without having to think consciously about it. The subconscious is monitoring all the time and it is taking impressions, ideas and suggestions on board and making sense of them.
Secondly, when we are in a relaxed state, our minds work better. Think about the times when you had important work tasks to do. If you were feeling stressed, it was hard to perform well. If you were feeling at ease, you were more likely to be creative, imaginative and productive. We tap into our creative subconscious mind when we are in a relaxed state. The solutions to the unhelpful patterns we are repeating are usually found there.
Thirdly, you and the hypnotherapist together will be able to assess what is helpful and what isn’t working so well. A skilled hypnotherapist will be able to adjust your therapy plan to help you get the best results possible. There are many techniques to choose from and some of them will be more impactful for you than others.
How quickly can I expect results from hypnotherapy?
Ahh, doesn’t everyone want things fast these days! Thankfully, hypnotherapy is a very rapid therapy in comparison to most other forms of therapy.
The exact timeframe depends on a number of factors, which include:
- What the causes of the issue are
- How recently the issue developed
- Whether childhood experiences are involved, as smaller things have a greater impact on our developing mind
- How integrated the behaviour pattern is with your identity, personality and relationships with others, which might take time to unravel
- How skilled the hypnotherapist is in delivering different techniques
- The extent to which the client puts change into practice between sessions
- How well the client responds to the specific techniques used
The most common timeframe for the majority of clients and issues is three or four sessions, usually one to two weeks apart. Where issues have existed for some time, five or six sessions may be more helpful. In exceptional circumstances, a couple of sessions may be enough or, at the other extreme, up to twelve sessions or more.
Issues that are rooted in childhood or in traumatic experiences may need to be revisited, either through talking therapy, regression therapy, trauma release therapy or a combination of these, to resolve the past, before being able to move on.
What can stop hypnotherapy from working?
Earlier I said that hypnotherapy does work…for many people…much of the time.
There are some things that can make it more challenging, including:
- Hidden traumas, which the client themselves might not be consciously aware of and which can block change.
- Fear of change, even though consciously we want something to happen, part of us may resist moving into unknown territory, e.g. ‘will I still be interesting if I don’t have a glass of wine at social events to help me loosen up?’
- Secondary gain, where we are getting some subconscious benefit or satisfaction from staying the way we are and this is overpowering our conscious desire to change, e.g. soothing of difficult emotions by eating chocolate, even though it doesn’t support my weight management goals.
All these challenges can be addressed and overcome with openness on the part of the client and the skills of an effective hypnotherapist.
Am I ready for hypnotherapy?
If you have read this entire article, then the chances are that you are already open to change, and that hypnotherapy may be very effective for you. By having an initial consultation, you have nothing to lose and potentially a great deal to gain. A consultation is a great way for you to meet the hypnotherapist, without any obligation, which should help you decide whether you want to proceed or not.
Tony offers a completely free online initial consultation, with no obligation. During this time, he will listen, ask helpful questions and work with you to agree an appropriate and effective plan for your issue. You can Book a Consultation Here.
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