Clinical Hypnosis – Explanation
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, where an individual’s focus of attention is narrowed and concentrated. Scientists believe that hypnosis tends to involve greater right brain activity. Each person experiences hypnosis in a unique way. The benefit of hypnosis is that it helps an individual relax in a secure environment, allowing that individual to use his or her subconscious mind to focus on more positive ideas and create motivation for making healthy personal changes. Through the use of hypnosis, an individual can access mental strengths, and utilize their innate capacity for greater mental control and self-mastery.
There are many myths about hypnosis, but there is nothing magical or mystical about it. Hypnosis is simply an inner state of focused attention, absorption, and concentration. This altered state of consciousness is like using a magnifying glass in the sun – when the rays of the sun are focused, they are more powerful. Similarly, when our mind is concentrated and focused, we are able to use more of our potential and more of the power of our mind. It is commonly believed that we use only five or ten percent of our mental potential. Hypnosis is simply a focused state of attention and concentration that allows you to use more of the potential and power of your own mind. In a very real sense, hypnosis is actually the ultimate in a self-control skill.
Everyone has already experienced a trance many times, but we don’t call it hypnosis. For example, the experience of driving without perceived awareness due to being absorbed in thought occurs because another level of consciousness that we refer to as our subconscious mind, has taken over. Other examples include becoming absorbed in a television show or movie, or enamored in reading a book with exclusive attention directed.
In hypnosis, we basically do two different things. First, we encourage the use of the imagination. Mental imagery is very powerful, especially in a focused state of attention. Rather than using will power, hypnosis uses the power of imagination. The mind seems capable of using imagery, even when it is only symbolic in nature, to assist us in bringing about the very things we are imagining. Second, we present ideas or positive suggestions to the mind. In a state of concentrated attention, ideas that are more compatible with the mind’s desires seem to have a more powerful impact on the mind.
Without realizing it, many people use spontaneous, informal trance states in a negative manner. For instance, we visualize negative outcomes or memories that stir up anxiety or depression. It is not uncommon for us to speak internally to ourselves in quite critical ways. As we criticize and put ourselves down, we are essentially in light trance state, preoccupied, and internally focused. It is thus important to realize that thoughts, imagination, and internal dialogue can be positive and helpful, or negative and counterproductive. Hypnosis is a method of focusing your mind and then using your imagination and thoughts to stir feelings and to alter your behavior and attitude. In a sense, in hypnosis you are altering your internal world. When you change how you think, and visualize and imagine things to be, your feelings and behavior will begin to change.
It is important to distinguish between the “conscious” and “subconscious” mind. For example, have you ever driven down the street, absorbed in thought, and then suddenly snapped out of it and realized that you haven’t seen anything for several blocks? What happens in this situation illustrates the two parts of our mind. Our conscious mind is so concentrated in thinking about what we need to do later, that we don’t even notice the things that we are driving past. But another level of consciousness that we refer to as our subconscious mind is on “automatic pilot,” using our memories of thousands of hours of driving to guide us along. Another example of the activity of the subconscious mind is when we are unable to remember someone’s name. Finally we give up in frustration and quit trying to remember. Several hours after we have given it any conscious thought, we suddenly remember the name. The subconscious mind has continued to inwardly search for it without our conscious awareness.
Hypnosis is most optimally effective when an individual is highly motivated to overcome a problem, and when the therapist is well trained in both hypnosis and in general considerations relating to the treatment of the particular problem. On the other hand, hypnosis can be less effective when the individual maintains unrealistic expectations about hypnosis, or has ambivalent motivation.
Regarding the ethical use of hypnosis, we strongly believe that it should always be used in an ethical manner. Professionals should have adequate training and qualified supervision in hypnosis in order to utilize it as a therapeutic method. It is important to remember that hypnosis is only one treatment method, and should not be taken as a “end-all,” “cure-all.” The real work in healing requires that one adopt a more holistic strategy involving positive lifestyle changes, improvement in diet, and changes in attitude, qualities beyond just therapy.
There are many misconceptions about hypnosis. One such myth includes a fear of loss of control, surrender of will, and of being dominated. First, hypnosis is not gullibility or weak-mindedness. You may be familiar with stage hypnotists. As an entertainer, the stage hypnotist carefully screens volunteers to select those with the possible exhibitionist tendencies who are willing to cooperate. Because many of us believe that it is probable under unusual circumstances that someone can be induced to act in an antisocial manner, we generally seek to calm the individual’s fears about being controlled.
It is important to understand that in hypnosis, the subject is not under the hypnotist’s control. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. That is, it is not something that is imposed on you, but something that you yourself do, and the therapist simply serves as a facilitator to guide you. I will never ask you to do anything that you yourself don’t want to do. In fact, if you believed that I was asking you to do something against your values, I would expect you to immediately re-alert yourself. Similarly, you will never have to reveal anything to me if you don’t want to. Thus, hypnosis is defined as a team effort & cooperative endeavor, not a mental tug-of-war.
Another myth about hypnosis is that you lose consciousness and have amnesia. A smaller proportion of subjects who go to very deep levels of trance will fit this stereotype and have spontaneous amnesia. The majority of people, however, remember everything that occurs in hypnosis. And this is acceptable, because the vast majority of what we want to accomplish in hypnosis may be done in medium depth trance, where one tends to remember everything.
Though infrequent, there are some risks to be aware of when using hypnosis, especially when using hypnotherapy to recover memories or to explore the origin or onset of symptoms and problems. First, memory is not always accurate, and recall may uncover memories that have been distorted over time or by perception. Second, it is possible to have an abreaction, which is a recall of a perceived unpleasant or traumatic memory. This could lead to some unpleasant feelings following the hypnosis exercise. Third, it is possible to have a symptom triggered while in a trance state, or to have unpleasant side effects. The occurrence of these phenomena are rare, and Dr. Ben Allen is fully trained and certified in using hypnosis, as well as dealing with any challenges that may occur. Most often, hypnosis can yield positive benefits and be very therapeutic. Please ask any questions, and inform Dr. Allen at any time if you have concerns or challenges.
As we perform the hypnotic sessions, it is most effective to use your imagination and simply imagine that things are happening to you. Don’t try to hard to make things happen, and don’t try to stop things from happening. Just allow things to happen the way they seem to want to. Following the session, I will ask you for feedback about how we might enhance the experience for you. Hypnosis is not something I am doing to you. It is something that you are doing, and I am just facilitating the process. Therefore, if you have a sense of how I can make it better for you, please give me feedback.
Return to Areas of Clinical Practice for Children and Adults