So Just What Is Hypnosis?
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Sometimes when I say that I do hypnosis, people seem a little uneasy or apprehensive. They think that it is some form of mind control or a way to gain power over them. Other people are excited at the idea that someone else could help them achieve something without their having to do much. However, like Milton Erickson, MD once told a hypnotic subject, "do you realize that you will be doing all of the work?"
It doesn't seem that way because the unconscious or subconscious mind is working on the goal, and the conscious mind may not even be aware of how much it is doing. Nonetheless, I thought I'd take the time to explain some of the concepts that are in operation with hypnosis. That way you have a better idea of what you might be experiencing if you decide to receive hypnotherapy.
What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis can be defined as a “focused state of awareness” (according to Dr. Brent Geary) that is attainable and naturalistic. Sometimes it occurs easily and without our even knowing it. How many times have you driven in a car and found yourself at your destination without even remembering how you got there? Did you go into “trance” in the process of driving? Hypnosis is a state of mind that is altered. It is influenced by the role that is expected of the person being hypnotized, as well as the hypnotist.
Stages of Hypnosis
There are five basic stages of hypnosis: pre-hypnosis; induction; utilization; termination; and post-hypnosis. I will briefly describe these stages so you have an idea of what happens during hypnosis.
In the pre-hypnotic stage, the hypnotist educates the client and dispels myths and misconceptions. The hypnotist also assesses the purpose of hypnosis and whether it is appropriate for this particular client.
Induction of Hypnosis
In the induction phase, the hypnotist encourages the client’s attention to become absorbed in something that directs the client’s attention inward. This way, the client goes into a trance and manifests alterations in responsiveness, perception, attention, sensation, and movement.
For instance, sometimes hypnotists bring clients back to a younger state or an earlier time before they experienced their presenting problem. This is called age regression. There are many other experiences a person can have while going into trance. The experiences are safe and facilitate the therapeutic process.
Once in a trance state, the intervention can begin. This phase uses what the hypnotist knows and senses about the client to “gift wrap” (Dr. Jeffrey Zeig’s phrase) the therapeutic message that the hypnotist believes will be helpful. This is often the longest phase, but not always. It can be a direct suggestion. More commonly it is a story, metaphor, or something that orients a client to helpful resources from his/her unconscious mind. Basically, the induction phase is a way to set aside the client’s usual, conscious thinking patterns so that the unconscious mind can get down to business in the utilization phase.
Once the desired resources are activated, the hypnotist makes suggestions to generalize the new learning or emotional state to other aspects of the client’s life. This way, their learning is transferable to their everyday life, which is the goal of any good psychotherapy.
Reorientation and Post-Hypnosis
After this, the hypnotist re-orients the person to be in a regular, alert state of consciousness. After this, the hypnosis can have “targeted and lasting effects” (Dr. Brent Geary, 2016). I often record the session so that my clients can listen to it afterward when they are in a safe place like at home while sitting or lying down. This helps strengthen the associations and learning that were activated during the hypnosis.
Applications and Uses of Hypnosis
Hypnosis can be useful in a variety of situations. Doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals can use it in medical offices for relaxation, analgesia, or anesthesia. Counselors and psychotherapists can use it in psychotherapy (as I use it). It is an excellent way to address anxiety, depression, negative behavior patterns like smoking and overeating, and grief. Some life coaches and NLP practitioners also use it or aspects of hypnosis.
What Is and Is NOT Hypnosis
WHAT IT IS AND IS NOT
Clinical hypnosis is not a way to make people do things against their will, as is often portrayed in movies and television. We as hypnotists cannot make people do things that go against their values or morals. Yet we must be careful and ethical in our practice of hypnosis. There has been controversy about “false memories” of childhood abuse, and so hypnotists should be careful about this from a legal and ethical standpoint.
However, it seems as though exercising caution about “recalling” memories through the use of hypnosis can help prevent this. I believe that this is an argument for being careful in how one interprets hypnotic experiences. Probably, hypnotists should only generally orient people towards their memories rather than pretending to know what the clients are actually experiencing and asserting that child abuse exists.