1. Are you going to make me cluck like a chicken? Hypnotherapy has been a tool for professionals working with human behaviors for many years, yet many equate it with traditional hypnosis. Due to the deep trance and active role of the hypnotist, hypnotherapy is often associated with entertainment, magic or at its worst, malevolent control of subjects. The attraction of watching someone being taken to an altered state and “making” people do things they neither remember nor can be held accountable for, has created stage careers for many hypnotists. Whether it’s hypnosis or hypnotherapy, whether for therapeutic or for entertainment, you can only be hypnotized if you want to be. But hypnotherapy requires that you actively engage in the therapeutic process while being in an altered state of consciousness. And, if you understand that your mind regularly transitions in and out of trances daily, you will see that most everyone can use it to manage stress, change negative thinking, and heal past emotional wounds.
2. Can anybody be hypnotized? Go back to the last time you pulled your car up to your home and realized that during most of the drive home you were on auto pilot. You were in trance. What about the time you zoned out in front of the TV or computer screen, read pages of your book without remembering any of it, or simply lost track of time? You were in trance. Instead of focusing on the road, the show, or the book, your subconscious moved into the driver’s seat and your conscious mind moved to the passenger seat, thankfully keeping you safe.
3. How do I get into a trance? It all starts with the process of eye fixation (focusing intently on something specific) while willingly relaxing and putting aside other stimuli. Many people worry that they will feel out of control when they reach this state, or perhaps not “wake up.” Just like you get yourself back on track in your everyday trance states, you can do so in hypnotherapy as well. If you are particularly anxious and have a very hard time staying relaxed, you may need relaxation training to let trance happen. This is because the ability to relax is important to the brain’s ability to shift to an altered state of consciousness. That’s a good thing since we wouldn’t protect ourselves if our bodies didn’t respond to anxiety by being super alert.
4. Who are good candidates for hypnotherapy? Children may be the easiest candidates since they transition in and out of their subconscious most of the hours they’re awake. In play and play therapy, a child’s vivid imagery and ease with metaphors is evident. When they are empowered to play out problems, they can come up with effective solutions to real life problems. In trance, children can create make-believe suggestions that correct past traumatic experiences in ways that adult reasoning and comfort cannot. Unlike most adults who have their eyes closed, sit or lay down, children can move around and play as usual while therapy takes place. Adolescents and adults with depression, post-traumatic stress, physical pain, behavior and motivation problems, as well as chronic stress can benefit from hypnotherapy. People with psychosis and dissociative disorders are not good candidates for this type of therapy.
5. How is Hypnotherapy different from other forms of therapy? We are familiar with therapy that sometimes focuses on past events, and hypnotherapy is no different. The goal is to help the client regress to several places in time where he/she had experiences that contributed to the current malaise. Similar to opening a file in your computer hard drive to make edits or corrections, the hypnotized client “opens” up past experiences to be understood and corrected, and downloads healing messages created by a person’s adult self, all with the help of a therapist. In trance, you bypass the critical factor of your conscious mind and become acutely susceptible to suggestions that, if you choose to accept them, can have a positive effect on your behaviors.
6. Can I erase old memories? When we activate memories stored in our subconscious and find new ways to experience them, you can replace the "old tapes" with more effective ones. Our “old tapes” may originate from people giving us seemingly benign suggestions during our childhood. An example might be a mild reprimand like “you ask too many questions.” When this coincides with a very negative feeling state, like shame or the fear that our siblings will laugh at or taunt us, a similar emotion may be experienced when we later want attention or knowledge. If we subconsciously conclude we are wrong to want such attention, we are likely to engage in behavioral patterns as a way to avoid this kind of experience. Direct suggestions to accept our curiosity may be healing in this case. Such positive suggestions are much more readily accepted in trance, and thus speed up healing.
7. Can I discover things for which I have no memory? This has been a controversial issue for a long time. Some claim that you can retrieve repressed memories and many believe that you can implant or create false memories when a person is in trance. Because of this, hypnosis is rarely used to collect forensic evidence. The courts do not view it as appropriate evidence. In any therapeutic situation, when you feel safe, you can choose to be ready to cope with difficulties in your past. In hypnotherapy, many people are able to connect a current problem to a past experience, gaining insight to a causality of present behavior patterns.
8. How does it feel to be hypnotized? The experience of hypnotherapy is different from traditional talk therapy. You’ll initially have the awareness that you are deeply relaxed and conscious, but detached as though you are observing what is happening. However, there is more of a feeling that you’re reliving a situation rather than thinking or remembering it. This can be accompanied by a change of voice, vocabulary, and mannerisms. Your usual judgments of yourself are temporarily on “mute” and experiences can surface, leading to insights and decisions you weren’t ready to acknowledge before.
9. What is hypnotic suggestion? It’s a directive to act, view or a way to experience things a certain mode that’s suggested and accepted by the client while in trance. We receive suggestion through media, advertising, and our environment every day. But few are accepted as easily as those we receive while in trance. Since you can create your own positive suggestions, you can “download” these into your mind any time you want. A positive suggestion is a statement of what you will do, not what you shouldn’t do. For example,” I will not eat ice cream because I have to watch my cholesterol” is not a positive suggestion. Why? Because what you brain hears is “eat ice cream!” Here are better suggestions: “I will eat fruits and oats to reduce my cholesterol” or “I will only feed my wonderful body healthy food.” As with any conversation, there are certain times we have an audience and times we don’t. So, choose a time to “download” your positive suggestions when your mind is the most open to them. This could be early in the morning when your mind is still fresh, during meditation, prayer, chanting, or deep relaxation. Suggestions will not take away the need or your responsibility for making conscious, everyday choices. But to benefit from the suggestions, you’ll have to reinforce positive behaviors to make it a new practice. Any therapist will tell you that if you replace hidden beliefs that contaminate your practicing, you’ll find it easier to move it along.
10. Do I need a therapist to do hypnosis? Most people can enter a light trance by doing self-hypnosis. There is information about self-hypnosis techniques at your library, on the Internet, or through DVDs with recorded guided imagery. These are beneficial when your goal is to learn to reduce stress and find new ways of relaxing. The easiest way to do self- hypnosis is by what is called Mindfulness Meditation. This involves focusing on your breathing. By sitting in a comfortable position and noticing all the qualities and experiences of your breathing, you can become peacefully relaxed and aware of internal experiences like feelings, thoughts, and tension in your body. By gently and repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breathing when your mind wants to wander off, you will increase your ability to quiet your mind. This can be helpful if you are anxious, can’t sleep, or have to focus under stress. As with anything, you’ll want to do this regularly to receive the most benefits.
Trude Holli, M.S., Clinical Hypnotherapist sees clients in the St. Charles office.