- Complementary Health Practices
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, is the practice of using an altered state of consciousness for therapeutic purposes. Although there is considerable controversy around exactly what happens during hypnosis and why it works, research shows that hypnosis can relieve many different conditions, including anxiety, addiction, pain management and headaches.
Hypnotists believe that hypnosis quiets the conscious, rational part of the mind, allowing the unconscious mind, which plays a large role in the mental and physical processes of our daily lives, to become open to suggestion and change. By tapping into the unconscious forces that shape behavior, hypnosis can help change habits, reduce anxiety and alleviate pain.
What is the history of hypnosis?
Many different cultures, from the Egyptians and the Greeks to tribal cultures in Africa and South America, are said to have used hypnotic trances as part of their cultural traditions. However, it wasn’t until the late 1700s that hypnosis was recognized for its therapeutic benefits. An Austrian doctor by the name of Franz Anton Mesmer (from whom we get the word mesmerize) began using hypnosis as a form of psychotherapy. Although his theories were originally discredited due to a lack of scientific proof, Mesmer’s work was later rediscovered by a number of psychologists and doctors, including Sigmund Freud. Today, while still not completely understood, hypnosis is widely recognized as a beneficial therapeutic tool.
What happens during a hypnotherapy session?
The therapist will first try to determine whether or not the client is a good candidate for hypnosis through a number of different techniques. Once the therapist has established that hypnosis is right for the client, they will discuss any issues that the client wants addressed.
For hypnotherapy to be effective, it is important to quiet the conscious mind, allowing the unconscious mind to become more receptive to suggestion. The hypnotherapist will guide the client through several stages of relaxation using techniques that shift attention from the outside environment toward issues that the client wishes to address. Once the client is under hypnosis, the therapist will make suggestions to target these issues.
After the session is complete, the therapist will bring the client out of hypnosis and discuss any feelings or thoughts that may have come up during the session.
Sessions usually last 60-90 minutes, and most therapists recommend six to twelve weekly sessions for the best results.
Is it safe?
Hypnosis is a safe and effective practice in the hands of a qualified practitioner. However, it is also a very powerful tool that can lead to harmful effects. The World Health Organization states that hypnosis should not be used on clients with psychosis, organic psychiatric conditions, or anti-social personality disorders.
What conditions benefit from hypnosis?
- Anxiety - Studies have shown that hypnosis helps to reduce anxiety and stress. It can also help with test anxiety and general stress relief.
- Behavior change - Hypnosis can be used to change behavior, such as to quit smoking, to control eating habits, to treat insomnia, bed-wetting and to manage some phobias.
- Pain management - Hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for pain relief, especially pain associated with cancer, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Can I practice hypnosis on my own?
Yes. Self-hypnosis is an effective tool for relieving pain, promoting self-confidence and easing asthma and bronchitis. Techniques can be learned from books, multimedia items or by consulting a hypnotherapist.
Steps for self-hypnosis:
- It is recommended to spend at least 20-30 minutes in a comfortable and quiet area where you can relax completely.
- Imagine yourself walking down a long path, or descending a staircase, counting from ten or zero.
- Repeat positive statements to yourself, or listen to a tape or pre-recorded messages.
- When you want to come out of hypnosis, reverse the image that you used to bring yourself into hypnosis. For example, walk back up the stairs or path, counting from zero to ten.
Myths about hypnosis:
You relinquish control while being hypnotized
You do not lose your personality or your free will while under hypnosis. Hypnosis cannot take place if the client is unwilling, and the hypnotherapist is there only to guide the client through the process.
Under hypnosis, you lose consciousness and don't remember what
happened during the session.
A very small number of people may experience amnesia for the time period over which they were hypnotized, but most people are able to recall everything that happens during a session.
Hypnosis can occur without your permission.
Hypnosis can only occur if the client is willing to be hypnotized, and even then, some people aren't able to go into a hypnotic state.
Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine ed. Brent Bauer. Mayo Clinic 2007.
Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies by Anne Woodham and Dr. David Peters. Dorling Kindersley, 1997.
Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine. Time, Inc.
Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies by Anne Woodham and Dr. David Peters.
Alternative Healing: The Complete A-Z Guide to more than 150 AlternativeTherapies by Mark Kastner, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., and Hugh Burroughs. Henry Holt and Company: 1996.
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