Forget crystal balls and gypsies, hypnosis is a bone fide health tonic that can help you quit smoking, slim down and conquer your fears. Tamra Mercieca lifts the veil on what this age-old therapy is all about…
Forget what you know about hypnosis from movies or television programs. If you go to a stage hypnotist, sure, he’ll have you hopping around like a rabbit; it’s his job to give the audience a good time. A health professional, on the other hand, is there to help change a behaviour, leaving no room for embarrassment.
Many people question if they can actually be hypnotised. Well, if you’ve driven to work on auto-pilot, reaching your destination without any recollection of the drive there, or been completely enthralled in a romantic comedy or footy game on TV, then you’ve been in trance.
Deep absorption in the task at hand and losing track of the time are indications of hypnosis. We are hypnotised every day by the news we hear on the radio, the advertisements we see on billboards – even playing a musical instrument can be a hypnotic experience.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is often defined as an altered state of consciousness where people become more suggestible. According to Dr Gerard Sunnen of the New York University School of Medicine, “hypnosis is the most potent non-pharmacological relaxing agent known to science”. He will prescribe hypnosis before prescribing a tranquilliser.
Clinical hypnotist Dr Bruce Alexander agrees that hypnosis is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to results-based therapy.
“I am frequently told by clients that they have achieved more in a few sessions with me than months or sometimes years with a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist,” he says.
Hypnotic health benefits
There are many ways to use hypnosis to enhance your life, from conquering stage fright and losing weight, to quitting smoking or getting rid of annoying habits and phobias. Hypnosis can accompany you to work, to the playing field, even to the bedroom. Yes, hypnotic suggestions can even improve your sex life!
You can erase ugly habits with hypnosis or use it to stay calm during stressful situations at work. And when it comes to study, hypnosis can help you learn, retain and recall new information. Hypnosis makes it easy to change your behaviours so you are able to achieve your goals.
A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that the addition of hypnosis had a significant and substantial effect on weight reduction, which increased over time.
Dr Alexander says he now sees more people who want to reduce their alcohol intake than those who want to quit smoking, among a range of other health complaints.
“I see many people for anxiety, self-confidence, fear of public speaking, blushing, gambling addiction, insomnia, fear of flying and other phobias,” he says.
What to expect
While it’s a serious therapeutic technique, the experience of hypnosis is pleasant and calming. During a session, the health professional suggests that you experience particular changes in your ideas and future actions. These are called hypnotic suggestions.
Generally you will not be required to speak, so there is no need to be concerned about letting any dark secrets slip out into the public domain. The hypnotist introduces new ideas, which are absorbed by your unconscious mind and become part of your thinking. This state of trance is able to quieten the conscious mind, which likes to analyse and criticise, judge and reject.
The depth of the trance depends on your mind. About 15 to 20 per cent of the population could swap anaesthetic during surgery for the sound of a hypnotherapist’s voice. But at the other end of the spectrum, 15 to 20 per cent of people will only be able to use hypnosis for removing a bad habit.
A willingness to want to make changes in your life is necessary. If, for example, your partner thinks you should quit smoking, but you don’t want to give up the ciggies, chances are hypnotism won’t work.
“As a general rule, the more frequently a suggestion is repeated, the more likely it will be accepted,” Dr Alexander says. “The results vary widely, depending on how suggestible a person is.”
Some people can gain all they need from just one session, but Dr Alexander says about three sessions are necessary to get results.
“Hypnosis is a bit like advertising; you don’t just see one advertisement on TV and decide to purchase a product. Repetition helps a lot in hypnotherapy.”
The human mind
Have you ever noticed that what you pay attention to, you always find more of? That is why our beliefs become our reality. It’s like tunnel vision. Nothing in itself has meaning until the human brain gives it meaning. Therefore, our pre-existing beliefs shape our interpretation of a situation.
Hypnosis works by bypassing the beliefs, giving you permission to consider new and healthier alternative frames of mind. It allows you to replace a limiting belief that is holding you back with a new, more helpful belief. This, in turn, changes your thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
Giving new meaning to an old situation could be as simple as developing a strong desire to exercise or fall asleep easily. Hypnosis can help you believe that Brussels sprouts are delicious if you really want to!
Essentially, hypnosis helps take a negative past memory and reframes it into a learning experience, so you’re equipped with a new set of resources. Putting a positive spin on a painful memory takes the issues from the unconscious mind, bringing them to the conscious mind.
Getting to the root cause
Overcoming a concern often involves uncovering the underlying issue. Dr Alexander says addictions such as smoking, gambling, alcohol and drugs are usually just a mask for stress.
“Once you can eliminate the stress or help the client find a way to manage it, there is no longer a need for the unhealthy behaviour or addiction,” he says.
“Stress is often brought on by a fear of judgment, criticism or rejection. People who are sensitive to others’ opinions tend to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. I use hypnotherapy to help them become more resilient, and in doing so, reduce a lot of the stress they usually feel from social interactions.”
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to be relaxed during hypnosis. Hypnosis is not meditation, psychotherapy, relaxation or sleep. While hypnosis is the Greek word for ‘sleep’, it is quite different. In sleep, you drift off, whereas during hypnosis you are alert and interested in the mental adventure you’re having.
Hypnosis is completely safe. If a suggestion goes against your value system, then you will reject it. Your unconscious mind will not permit the acceptance of suggestions that are dangerous, so you will not rob a bank if you believe that to be morally wrong, no matter what the suggestions used during hypnosis.
Psychotherapist Dr Roberta Temes says you will not get stuck in a trance or embarrass yourself while under the spell of a cruel master.
“You are in complete control of opening your eyes and returning to your normal state at any time,” she says. “You’re not sleeping. You’re conscious of everything around you.”
All communication invites the receiver into a hypnotic trance. Any good storyteller can draw us out of the present and into a world constructed in our mind. Given that our thoughts create our reality, it makes sense to use our mind as a playground, in which we create our desired future.