What is hypnosis ?
Hypnosis is a trance-like state of consciousness that can be induced through a heightening of attention or concentration. It is a natural state when we are, for example, totally absorbed in a really interesting book or watching a fascinating movie, or even daydreaming. We become so engrossed in the activity that the environment around us seems to fade.
In fact, as soon as we direct our attention and mind beyond immediate time and place, we become naturally dissociated from present experience. This is no different from what happens during visualizations, guided imagery and deep relaxation. Everyone is thus ‘hypnotizable’ to a degree (although some people are more susceptible to ‘letting go’ than others). Hence, neither the patient nor the therapist needs to have a ‘gift’ for hypnotic trance.
Moreover, hypnosis is also a learning experience meaning that the more you practice, the easier and more interesting it becomes – volitional self-hypnosis can even become an acquired skill to be practiced at any time.
How can this state be accessed in therapy ?
There are different ways of accessing a state of ‘trance’. Together, therapist and patient build a therapeutic alliance based on mutual trust and positive regard, essential to promote change. The therapist can then use verbal repetition, mental images, breathing or a narrowing of attention on a particular point or specific parts of the body. This is called ‘hypnotic induction’ and the therapist is a sort of guide or facilitator of the experience. The amount of guidance needed by the patient varies by individual and by session.
Then, a wide range of therapeutic techniques can be used from story-telling, metaphors or symbolism (judged to be meaningful to the individual client) to the use of direct suggestions for beneficial change. When hypnotized, people are generally more open to suggestion – although there is no loss of control over behavior. A hypnotic trance usually induces feelings of calm and relaxation and can be light or deep, or anywhere in the middle - research has shown that this doesn’t have an effect on the outcome.
How does it work ?
Hypnotherapy aims to address the patient’s unconscious (or subconscious) mind. The subconscious mind could be defined as everything within your experience and capabilities that you are not consciously aware of (Mark Tyrrell). So autonomic (automatic) processes such as blood pressure, healing or physical sensations are controlled by the unconscious mind. It's also where our thoughts, memories and accumulated experience reside and it is home to our emotions, our habits and our responses to the world. The unconscious mind processes millions of bits of sensory information every single second and very few are brought to conscious attention, which has a much more limited capacity. The conscious mind is more logical, critical and analytical - it's constantly making value judgments and is home to the continuous ‘inner chatter’. However, it’s the unconscious mind that is basically in charge. Unfortunately, most unwanted behaviors are also learned at the subconscious level.
Hypnosis works by updating the unconscious mind with new and more helpful information, sort of like reprogramming a computer. It can be used to change associations, so for instance excessive alcohol intake is not viewed as a ‘crutch’ or ‘aid’ anymore but as a toxic and a potential killer. Physical change can also be achieved through hypnosis. Research has shown that autonomic bodily processes can be influenced or altered just by using the power of your own imagination! Pain management is a very good example of this.
Hypnosis works, then, by shaping our perception of reality and dealing directly with the unconscious mind: the seat of most of our problems, and most of our solutions too!
What are the indications of hypnosis in therapy ?
Hypnosis can be a powerful, effective therapeutic tool for a wide range of disorders, including anxiety and stress conditions (phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or even assertiveness and confidence issues) and mood disorders (depression, bereavement). It can help gain control over weight or unwanted, addictive behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Hypnotherapy is also used to enhance performance in areas such as sports and public speaking. Other applications are more psychosomatic: pain management (hypnosis can even be used as an anesthetic during major surgery), dermatological issues (e.g. psoriasis, warts) and gastroenterological disorders (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome). It has also been found to increase the chances of embryo implantation during IVF treatments. Research has even found benefits of hypnosis in increasing the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients. Today, there is a huge body of evidence for its effectiveness (for a few examples, see below).
What types of hypnosis are used at the practice ?
My approach is integrative and tailored to meet each person’s needs, using techniques derived from Ericksonian hypnotherapy and cognitive hypnotherapy. Milton Erickson is considered the father of modern hypnotherapy. For him, the unconscious mind is a benevolent power that can call up inner resources and strengths that can potentially lead to the desired changes. Cognitive hypnotherapy derives its influence from a number of areas such as positive psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. The idea here is to get into the mindset of the client and to work through present issues, using methods and language based on the client’s unique model of the world. Regression in the past may be used to clear away unwanted aspects, but then techniques that ‘retrain’ the brain in the present (again the idea of shifting perspectives) ensure that windows of opportunity for change are fully seized. This is combined more often than not with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Further reading and some examples of research links
Generalized anxiety disorder :
Smoking cessation: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229913002100
Inflammatory bowel diseases:
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