I recently watched a horror movie whereby the murderers used “hypnosis” to help them commit their crimes. I was horrified at what I saw, and not because the movie was at all scary. It was yet another example of poor branding on hypnosis’s behalf. Another misleading pop culture moment exploiting a wonderful tool in the mental health space.
These over-the-top hypnosis scenes, whether in movies, tv, or on stage, rarely use hypnosis at all. And as entertaining as they are, they certainly don’t do justice to this gentle, well-studied, and legitimate form of therapy.
How does hypnotherapy work?
Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that can help with a variety of different mental health challenges, such as anxiety, addictions, and phobias. Especially when used with other forms of therapies, such as cognitive behavioural theory.
I like to describe hypnotherapy as meditation with a purpose.
When I say hypnosis, what I'm really referring to is trance, a state which we naturally go in and out of many times a day.
The trance state allows your mind to quieten from the millions of bits of information coming out at any given time. In this trance state, hypnotherapy aims to bring about changes in your life through the use of hypnotic suggestions tailored to your needs by your therapist.T
he hypnotherapy session begins with an induction
Hypnotherapy may feel similar to what you would experience in guided meditation or mindfulness practice. This is particularly true in an induction where I'll guide you through various suggestions that can relate to breathing, counting, muscular relaxation and visualisation helping you to relax and focus your attention on the present.
You might vision yourself sitting on the beach or in the forest and feeling the sand on your toes or the leaves rustling under your feet. When done right, you'll reach a state of non-judgemental experience where your actual surroundings fade away.
Like mindfulness, hypnotic induction allows you to heighten your awareness and sharpen your senses. You can also think of the induction as a flow state similar to what you experience when deeply immersed in an activity.
When we work together, I'm paying close attention to your breath. When I see it change, I know we're ready to start including positive suggestion. Other signs that you're in the right state include rapid eye movement, eye watering, muscle twitching, facial muscle relaxation, a loss of time, tunnel vision and even the fact that you stop swallowing. These are all the sorts of signs I'm looking for.
Once you're in a relaxed state, I'll give you specific suggestions aimed at altering challenging thought patterns or behaviours.
These suggestions are often about evoking mental images which allow you to reframe negative thoughts and beliefs by replacing them with positive, constructive assumptions. The goal is to help you develop new perspectives and behaviours that are more in line with how you want to show up in the world.
To give you a concrete example, here's how hypnotherapy can help treat a common phobia.
Hypnotherapy to overcome the fear of public speaking
Often, the fear of public speaking is based on our worries about what other people will think of us. Your mind might be telling you that you are not good at public speaking, or that you will make a fool of yourself.
Sometimes these thoughts are based on past experiences. More often than not, they are a product of some form of cognitive distortion.
For example, they may bring up other underlying fears, such as being judged. Public speaking may make you feel out of control or you might have an unrealistic expectation of being mocked or laughed at.
During the hypnosis, I can give you suggestions that help you see yourself as a confident and competent public speaker.
I’m likely to revert to some examples that you’ve provided me in our discussion. This could involve imagining yourself giving a talk or presentation and feeling calm, relaxed, and in control.
If you’re visually wired, I may support you to imagine the audience applauding you at the end of your talk and then anchor the feelings and sensations associated with that.
Hypnotherapy allows you to practise your public speaking without the fear of failure.
By repeatedly imagining yourself giving a speech in this positive light, you can rewire your brain to respond to public speaking more positively. This will help to reduce the anxiety and fear that you feel when faced with public speaking.
You are in full control throughout the hypnotherapy session
Of the many misconceptions around hypnosis, two that I hear regularly are that I can either;
a, control you, or;
b, read your mind
I can tell you categorically that nobody can ever do either of those things.
The hypnotherapist is there to guide you and create a safe space for change. But the power to change ultimately lies within you.
Unlike in the movies, you will not become the puppet of the hypnotherapist during the session.
You can choose to accept or reject any suggestions that you don't feel comfortable with. As with mindfulness or meditation, your senses are in a heightened state which allows you to be fully present in the moment.
Hypnotherapy works best when combined with other forms of therapies
Since hypnotherapy is about providing mental suggestions to overcome challenges, it works well with cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT
Hypnotherapy takes the process of CBT further by allowing you to rehearse positive thinking or behaviour in a deeply relaxed state. You can imagine going through challenging situations in a safe environment and processing the thoughts, feelings and behaviour as if they were real.
CBT exercises can also be used as tasking between sessions to help reinforce the work we do together through hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy is a powerful, evidence-based therapy
It can help you overcome challenging thought patterns and help you reframe situations so that you see them in a more positive light. If you're struggling with anxiety, addictions, phobias, or other mental challenges, I encourage you to try hypnotherapy.
It might just be the key to helping you unlock what’s holding you back from the life you want to live.
Have a winning day!