How hypnotherapy could have helped Miss Muffett!
When I first became a Hypnotherapist I discovered that hypnosis is a topic that everyone has a view on, but not many people know much about. Thanks to the stage and TV, lots of people have an idea that hypnosis is about clucking like a chicken, or dancing like Elvis. Not something that would inspire you to look at it as a way of dealing with your personal problems unless perhaps you are an Elvis impersonator with stage fright!
So how does it work?
Like most areas of psychology that deal with our thinking and emotional reactions, we have what's called a 'hypothetical model' which basically means we have an idea of how we think it works based on what we observe. For hypnotherapy, that means breaking down people's thinking into two different parts - essentially what you know and what you feel.
What you know is based on logic, and sensible rational decisions and information. Your logical (or 'conscious') mind is the bit that decides whether your socks match or when it's safe to cross a road and what to have for tea.
The other part of your thinking is your emotional or 'unconscious' mind. This broadly does the kind of thinking that doesn't require a logical or rational input, so it's in charge of things like memory, emotion, imagination, dreaming, automatic functions like breathing and repetitive behaviour like habits, which we do without really deciding to do them.
The conscious (logical) and unconscious (emotional) parts of your mind have to get along together. And like two people riding a tandem, as long as they are going in the same direction everything is great. Problems come when they try to go in different directions. And when that happens, the emotional mind tends to win.
When your mind creates a memory it doesn't just remember facts about what happened. It remembers how you felt about what happened as well. Whenever anything else comes along that reminds you of that memory it can trigger off a kind of emotional feedback loop.
Miss Muffett and that spider
And here's where Miss Muffett comes in. There she was, sitting quietly on her tuffet, minding her own business and eating her curds and whey. Suddenly a spider came along and made her jump. The spider was probably just out for a walk and didn't mean to do this, but from now on, every time Miss M is reminded of that event her mind will be on 'red alert' just waiting for something scary to happen. That's most likely to be when she sees a spider, but it might also happen when she sits on her tuffet or eats her favourite curds and whey. She might find she can't even think about doing those things without feeling really anxious.
Her logical conscious mind tells her this isn't reasonable, and that it's unlikely to happen again. But that doesn't matter. Unless she persuades her emotional unconscious mind that the anxiety isn't required every time she sits on the tuffet or eats curds and whey, she'll continue to feel anxious when she does these things.
Most of the problems hypnotherapists deal with can be looked at in this way. You might know lots of logical reasons to stop smoking or lose weight, but if your unconscious mind is on an emotional feedback loop that tells you to overeat or smoke, you'll tend to do it.
When you're in hypnosis, your therapist can work directly with your unconscious mind to help you change that feedback loop for something more positive.
In Miss Muffet's case, perhaps associating the tuffet or the meal with pleasant feelings instead of scary ones might do the trick. Or perhaps we'll need to take the sting out of that time when she was two and her bratty little brother dropped a spider in her crib which has also become entangled (in her mind) with the current problems. In either case, a well-trained hypnotherapist can help so she can enjoy her favourite meal out in the garden again.
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.