Hypnosis is, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood methods of psychological treatment. The myths and misconceptions that surround hypnotherapy mostly stem from people’s ideas about stage hypnotism. The truth is that stage hypnotism is essentially a theatrical performance and has about as much in common with bona fide clinical hypnosis as most Hollywood movies have with real life.
The fact is, however, that hypnosis is a genuine psychological phenomenon that has valid uses in clinical practice.
One of the most common misconceptions is that a hypnotist can take control of a subject’s mind and programme it at will. This, of course, is a complete fallacy and only happens in films. No one can be hypnotised against their will and no one can be made to do anything in hypnosis that contravenes their personal ethics and morals.
Another misconception often heard is that hypnosis leads to a loss of consciousness or resembles deep sleep. Only very few clients become so absorbed during a hypnosis session that they spontaneously experience amnesia regarding their trance experience. The great majority of clients remembers everything that happened during the session.
As a matter of fact hypnosis is not something that is done to a person. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The hypnotist only facilitates a completely natural state of consciousness everyone experiences multiple times during the day without calling it ‘hypnosis’. You may know the situation… you are driving along a familiar route, deep in thought, and suddenly you arrive at your destination without quite remembering how you got there. This situation is caused by the conscious mind being deeply absorbed in thought while the subconscious mind is driving, utilising the many hours of driving practice stored in your mind as a guide.
Simply put, hypnosis is a state of focused concentration where the conscious element of the mind recedes whilst the subconscious part of the mind comes to the fore. Beneficial suggestions made in this trance like state can, if they are accepted by the client, move directly into their subconscious without being subjected to the critical vetting of the conscious mind. For this reason, hypnosis is particularly effective in facilitating desired changes in behaviour, feelings, thoughts and emotions. The desired changes can take root without being undermined by a critical, often self-defeating, conscious thought process.
Why does it work? The truth is that whilst hypnosis is one of the oldest healing methods we know, it has in the past been somewhat neglected in terms of ongoing scientific research. Funding for large scale studies tends to come from the pharmaceutical industry who have very little interest in something that does not result in a commercially viable product to sell.
But times are changing, and as interest in alternative and complementary medicine becomes more wide spread and technology advances, research into what makes hypnosis so successful is becoming increasingly more attractive. For a recent study at Stanford University School of Medicine brain scans were used to show that distinct sections of the brain display altered levels of activity and connectivity when in hypnosis. According to the study’s senior author, David Spiegel, MD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioural sciences “Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes. In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.” (Stanford Medicine News Centre, Press Release 28 July 2016).