What is hypnotherapy?
I’m going to begin by explaining what hypnotherapy is not, because there are a lot of myths and misconceptions around hypnotherapy!
Hypnotherapy is not a magical power and is nothing like what you may see in the movies, or on the stage as entertainment. It is not possible to hypnotise someone against their will, or without them being aware of it. It is not possible to hypnotise a person to do anything they do not want to do, that is bad for them or that goes against their moral code. So for example, you cannot be hypnotised to rob a bank or hurt someone.
When I hypnotise someone, they are not under my power or in my control in any way. And it is not possible to plant a suggestion with a ‘trigger word’ that causes them to, for instance, start singing God Save the King when they see a red bus.
Hypnotherapy is in fact a form of psychotherapy, designed to help the client reach positive goals that they have set with their therapist. It works by utilising our natural ability to get into a trance state, which makes us much more open to suggestions and change.
What is a trance?
A trance state- which sounds a bit scary! - is actually a really normal state of being, and most of us drift in and out of trance on a regular basis. It is the state of mind you are in when you are engrossed in a good book or film or absorbed in a video game. Or when you are daydreaming during a meeting. You may have had the experience when you are driving that you suddenly realise you have no recollection of the previous few miles. This is known as 'highway hypnosis'. A trance can feel a little like that lovely, relaxed feeling you get when you are just drifting off to sleep, your mind is wandering freely, and you can barely feel your body on the bed.
And as you know, when you are in that state, and something catches your attention, someone says your name, or you come to a red traffic light, you can instantly bring yourself out of that daydreamy state, and be completely alert and back in the here and now. In the same way, you can bring yourself out of a hypnotic trance whenever you want to. You are in control the whole time.
How does it work?
When we are in this lovely relaxed, focussed mindset, the rational, cognitive part of our brain is dampened down, and our subconscious is much more active. Researchers have carried out brain scans which show this happening. Using hypnotherapy, we can directly access the subconscious, bypassing our rational thought processes. The subconscious is the part of the brain responsible for emotions and moods, habits and thinking patterns. It is where the fight/flight response is located, and it is where our pain response comes from.
And because we are working directly with the subconscious, hypnotherapy is incredibly effective in treating these sorts of issues. So we know that, for example, anxiety is a feature of our fight-flight response. And because it is driven by the subconscious, it is very difficult to rationalise your way out of feeling anxious. In fact, many of my clients say things to me like: ‘I know I shouldn’t be feeling anxious, and I keep telling myself not to be, but I am’. With hypnotherapy, we can re-train the brain to react differently to situations. We can dampen down the parasympathetic nervous system so that clients feel less anxious and are able to stay calm and in control.
The subconscious is also where we store all our negative beliefs about ourselves. You know that little voice that tells you aren’t good enough or that people don’t really like you? I could tell you now that you are a great person and everyone admires you, and you might even agree with me. But a part of you will be disagreeing, and fundamentally you will not be able to believe my words, because those sorts of negative self-beliefs are really deeply ingrained. However, while you are in a trance state, we can bypass that negative voice and tell the subconscious what a great person you are, and it will take those beliefs on board to become part of you.
We also know that habits are formed in the subconscious and triggered by an environmental cue. This has evolved as way to save time and energy thinking about routine things; really useful when you are driving and habitually press the right pedals etc so you can focus your attention on the road. But when the habit is unwanted, be it snacking when you watch tv, smoking, or biting your nails, it’s not so helpful. It’s really hard to stop because we are fighting our powerful subconscious.
Using visualisation, metaphor and direct suggestions, we can retrain the brain to change the way we react to situations and triggers, or the way we think, act or behave. We can reprocess memories to resolve trauma or phobias. And we can replace negative thinking styes with positive ones. And these changes remain with us long-term, when we are out and about in our daily lives.
How can hypnotherapy support wellbeing?
Hypnotherapy is a safe, holistic therapy which supports mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. It is particularly effective in helping to reduce and manage stress, a major factor in serious health conditions, and can be valuable in treating mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Hypnotherapy is great for increasing self-confidence, either generally promoting self-esteem, or targeting specific areas such as public speaking, a lack of confidence in driving, or social anxiety.
When we think about physical wellbeing, we can use hypnotherapy to support a healthy diet and increase motivation to exercise. And hypnotherapy is great in helping you get rid of unwanted habits such as smoking or drinking excessive alcohol. Hypnotherapy is also effective at promoting better sleep, and we all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep - and how awful you can feel when you are not sleeping well!
Hypnotherapy can be very effective to help you manage pain, whether that is muscular-skeletal: backache, neck problems etc; or recurrent or long-term issues such as migraine or chronic pain conditions. It is important to note that hypnotherapy cannot cure disease or change the structure of your body. For example, although it could help you manage the pain of arthritis, hypnotherapy cannot reverse or halt the damage caused by inflammation.
I have recently been doing a lot of research into how hypnotherapy can support symptoms of menopause. Scientific studies have shown hypnotherapy to be highly effective in reducing hot flushes and night sweats, and promoting sleep, as well as reducing anxiety and increasing self-confidence.
Hypnotherapy can even be used to improve your prowess in sporting events!
What are the main benefits of Hypnotherapy?
One of the great things about hypnotherapy is that it is extremely relaxing – my clients always tell me how much they love the sessions and feel really refreshed afterwards. This deep relaxation is really good at calming the parasympathetic nervous system, stimulating the vagus nerve and helping the body cope with stress. A side effect of hypnotherapy is that people often find they sleep better too.
Compared to other types of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy can work in a very short time. For example, most people whom I treat for anxiety will notice a significant improvement in symptoms within 4-5 weeks, and a phobia can be lifted in one session.
Hypnotherapy enables people to gain better control of their thoughts and emotions; to feel self-confident; able to cope with any situation in a calm way; and to feel in control. We can’t stop life happening: there will always be stressors and difficult situations. But hypnotherapy gives you the tools to deal with whatever happens. And if you feel in control, and confident that you can deal with whatever might get thrown at you, that reduces a great deal of stress, anxiety and depression.
Can I be hypnotised?
In my experience, almost everyone can be hypnotised if they want to be. Like any therapy, hypnotherapy is a collaboration between the client and the therapist. If you feel comfortable with your therapist and are willing to relax, you can. Furthermore, if you want to make positive changes to your mindset, belief system or behaviours, hypnotherapy can be incredibly effective. However, as I said at the start, no-one can be hypnotised against their will, or be hypnotised to do anything they do not want to do.
It is also important to note that everyone responds differently to therapy, and there are variations in how suggestable a person is, meaning that the benefits may take more or less time to take effect for different people. And for some people, hypnotherapy is not the right type of therapy for the issue they want to resolve.
What happens during a session?
In the first instance you will be invited to an assessment meeting, where you can explain to the therapist what you are having difficulties with and, most importantly, what you want to accomplish. I work in a solution focussed way, which means the client sets outcome goals, and then we work out a treatment plan aimed at achieving them.
From there, you will have a course of treatment sessions, which usually take place weekly. Despite popular images, in a clinical session there is no swinging watch. Instead, you will sit or lie down comfortably, and the therapist will talk you through relaxing each of your muscles. Then follows a guided visualisation, usually imagining a lovely, peaceful place, which is designed to induce a deep state of relaxation. Once you are really relaxed, the therapist will give you lots of positive suggestions, using more visualisations, metaphors, and stories. At the end of the session, you will gently be brought back to a state of normal awareness.
How will I feel during the session and how do I know I have been hypnotised?
You will feel comfortable and relaxed. You may feel that your body is incredibly heavy, or so light you could just float away. Or even as though your body is not there at all. You may be aware of every word the therapist says. Or you may slip in and out of awareness. Or you might drift off into your own world and not hear a word that is said. There is no right or wrong way to experience hypnosis, and the treatment is not affected by whether you hear it or don’t. Many people are very surprised at the end of the session at how much time has passed.
If you have been able to relax and focus for the session, then you have been hypnotised into trance.
Most of my clients report finding the experience incredibly pleasant, and they feel relaxed and refreshed when they ‘wake up’.
Does it work online?
Hypnotherapy can be very effective online and works eqally well as being in-person. Ensure you have a quiet comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed for the session, check you have reliable wi-fi and that you can hear your therapist clearly.
You could also try self-hypnosis, by listening to a pre-recorded audio. Research has shown that this can be equally as effective as face-to-face therapy for some issues. This can be a good option if you don’t feel ready for 1:1 therapy, or if cost is an issue.
How can I find a reputable hypnotherapist?
I would recommend you choose someone who is properly qualified, preferably with a counselling or psychotherapy background, and who has a good amount of experience. Many therapist specialise in a particular area of treatment, so find someone who meets your particular needs. Look out for membership of regulatory organisations such as the National Hypnotherapy Society or the National Council for Hypnotherapy. They will only register hypnotherapist if they are appropriately qualified, insured and follow ethical guidelines.
It is a good idea to talk to a couple of different therapists to make sure you feel comfortable with them; most will offer a free initial call.