Why do people worry about hypnosis?
Most people's understanding of hypnosis is based on what goes on during a stage show. They may have seen a show, been told about it, or just picked up impressions from jokes they've heard in the pub. These impressions usually involve volunteers clucking like chickens, dancing with brooms or singing like Tina Turner – and probably none of this would inspire you to look at hypnosis as a way of dealing with personal problems!
The fictional version of the hypnotist is just as bad. From Kaa the snake ('Jungle Book') onwards I have never yet seen a film or read a book in which the hypnotist was the good guy.
In fact, although I help people go into a hypnotic trance on a regular basis, I don't have revolving or multi-coloured eyes, and I'm not bent on world domination (although getting the kids to clean their rooms would be nice).
Contrary to popular myth hypnosis is not the same as being asleep. If you are asleep, you don't know what's going on around you: anything obvious enough for you to notice wakes you up. In a hypnotic trance, you generally stay aware of your surroundings, but background noises do not cause you to come out of trance. Your body may feel heavier or lighter than usual and, in either case, you will probably feel wonderfully relaxed.
Once you're under hypnosis, most therapists work with the idea of a conscious and unconscious mind (though a few use different terms for them). Your conscious mind is the rational one that you're aware of when you're thinking. Your unconscious mind is behind it and acts a bit like an attic. Everything you have ever known or experienced is stored in there somewhere - but it's not always easy to find what you need!
Experiences or beliefs that are stored in the unconscious can be negative or positive. Hypnosis allows you to use identify and release any unrealistic negative beliefs, and use your positive knowledge and resources to resolve problems. In very broad terms, it is a way of bypassing the part of your mind says "I'd like to ... but I can't".
Hypnotherapy excels in resolving problems where this type of internal conflict is involved: smoking, phobias, stress reduction, motivation and weight control. It's a fairly rapid therapy (though rarely instant) and most people need only a few sessions to see a result.
Hypnosis is not mind-control. If it was, all hypnotherapists would have a 100% success rate in one session! All I'd need to do is click my fingers and say 'don't' and that would be it. But life isn't like that. If I suggested you should rob a bank and send me the proceeds, for example, you're unlikely to do it! If I suggest that you see yourself as a permanent non-smoker, it works because it's what you want.
Going right back to where we started, this point about mind control is also true of stage hypnotism. Volunteers who are not open to the idea of going along with a few daft suggestions do not agree to go on stage in the first place. The same goes for hypnotherapy. If you do not believe it can help you, it probably won't. You'll resist going into trance or reject the suggestions just to prove
But if you do approach it with an open mind and a willingness to give it your best, it can perform the odd minor miracle.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.