Hypnosis and its uses in the practice hypnotherapy is rapidly emerging as a highly effective science in solving the problems of people. It can be very beneficial in many cases as a therapy in itself. It is a valuable adjunct in psychotherapy and psychiatry. Yet it is probably the lowest risk procedure available from the standpoint of contraindications.
Yet few therapeutic procedures are less understood, or more plagued by misconceptions and misunderstandings. Before considering what hypnosis is, perhaps it would be appropriate to establish what it is not!
Most hypnotherapists, on interviewing a new client/patient, will ask such client what he or she thinks hypnosis is. Replies range from sleep, to unconsciousness, to surrender of mental powers and control, to magic, to voodoo. All are in error.
Hypnosis cannot be sleep. In most cases the subject is fully aware of communication and is able to respond on request either verbally or by signal. Neither is unconsciousness involved. A subject asked to make a specific movement will comply with the request unless it is objectionable, in which case there will be a refusal.
There is no surrender of mind or control. A person who does not want to be hypnotized cannot be hypnotized or be induced to do or say anything which violates personal standards of behavior or integrity. There is neither magic nor voodoo involved. Any hypnotherapist can explain the actions or behaviors seen in stage, film or television shows, where the subject seems to follow directions mindlessly.
Actually, hypnosis is better described than defined. It is often considered an altered state of consciousness featuring “selective perception,” a process in which the subject (who is in control) chooses to see only what is relevant to his task, blocking out everything else. Hypnosis involves guided concentration. The guidance, however, may be provided by a qualified practitioner or, in the case of self-hypnosis, by the individual subject. Self-hypnosis, which can be taught by a properly certified hypnotherapist and learned by virtually any client, can provide the recipient with a lifetime of benefit.
Where Did Hypnosis Originate?
The basics of hypnosis go back to ancient times. Those who have read Jean Auel’s memorable book, “Clan Of The Cave Bear”, will remember accounts of magic, healings, inherited memories and revelations performed or created by the “Mogurs” and “medicine women” of prehistoric clans. Hypnosis. In the early centuries of our own land, the medicine men of Indian tribes performed seeming miracles. Hypnosis. Wider, non-secret usage began in the 1700’s in several forms under different names.
There were periods of progress and periods of stagnation in the development of modem hypnosis. Medical interest and acceptance expanded following World War II when the use of hypnotherapy proved especially helpful to surviving battlefield casualties suffering from shock, injury, battle fatigue and various psychological disorders. As understanding increased, hypnosis began to be recognized as an important adjunct to counseling psychology, psychotherapy, psychiatry, and also medical fields including neurology, obstetrics, emergency medicine, burn therapy and others. Hypnosis is finding increasing usage in dentistry and other areas where pain control is important. All humans (and possibly several animals) have two distinct minds — the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is vastly larger and more powerful than the conscious mind, yet it is the least understood and used by mankind. Actually, the great “unconscious” mind has two functional elements, the subconscious and the superconscious, the former the storehouse of memory, the latter dealing with the spiritual.
How Does It Work?
The subconscious mind receives and retains, neither accepting nor rejecting, all the messages we receive from our backgrounds, whether genetic, social, religious or experiential, plus all the conflicts (little or big) that enter our lives daily. When for whatever reason the conscious mind (which deals with everyday living, logic, reason, etc.) becomes overloaded, the subconscious prepares us for what is considered appropriate action (usually fight or flight). However, the subconscious mind does not analyze, as does the conscious mind, but accepts all messages in the literal sense.
In essence, hypnosis is a means of communication between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Many human problems, habits, stresses, anxieties, attitudes or apparent deficiencies can be traced to interpretations by the subconscious mind which, when understood by the conscious mind, can reduce or resolve specific problems.
The subconscious is also the seat of all memory. Traumatic events can be buried or suppressed in the subconscious. A major benefit of hypnotherapy is its ability to uncover and bring into the light of understanding the buried information or experience which may be the cause of a troublesome disorder.
What You Will Experience
Your first visit with your hypnotherapist will, primarily, be exploratory. You will learn about hypnotism and become comfortable with it. Your hypnotherapist will discuss your interests and your desires to determine if hypnotherapy can accomplish what you want to achieve. If you both feel that it will be worthwhile to proceed, your hypnotherapist may give you some small tests to determine your type of suggestibility, your ability to relax, your skills at visualization — procedures which help your therapist adapt to you as an individual so as to design programming personalized for you which will be acceptable to your subconscious, retained and acted upon in a manner leading to full achievement of your goals.
“Let me explain our weight-reduction program,” the hypnotherapist said to the inquiring prospective client. “We don’t, in most cases, use diet procedures. We find that a problem with diets is that there is a major change of eating habit patterns and that all the time the client is looking forward to achievement of the weight goal, at which time the client can resume eating “normal” food.
“Once the weight loss is achieved, the client celebrates by enjoying a reward meal of favorite tastes. At this point there often begins an upward weight trend which can recover all of the lost weight and even add a few pounds more.
“Therefore, our approach is that the client, if such is a personal enjoyment, may eat steak and potatoes, or perhaps spaghetti and meat balls — whatever is most desired. The only difference is that, through the effects of hypnosis, a much lesser amount of food will be desired and consumed.
“The advantage is that since no enjoyable foods are denied, nothing is given up; there is no need or desire to return to foods that have been forbidden. The client simply continues to eat what has been enjoyed all along, except that quantities are vastly reduced and through hypnosis the appetite is fully satisfied with modest portions of food.”
The above scenario and weight-reduction program is just one of the many that utilize the powers and benefits of hypnotherapy to enable a client to take off unwanted pounds and keep them off. In this program, the client need not give up enjoying cocktails or hors d’oeuvres at a party. The client will enjoy one of whatever is served, but on completion of such “taste” will be completely satisfied, neither desiring nor accepting further offerings. The hostess is satisfied that her efforts have been appreciated. Everybody wins!
The above procedure is particularly effective with people whose excess weight is from overeating, especially where the habit involves taking of multiple helpings at meals. There are those whose excess weight is due to physiological causes. Such cases may require medical intervention.
However, where undesirable weight is due to overeating, metabolism is likely much less involved than the mind. Changing thoughts and attitudes of the mind can lead to major changes in life. It can be very helpful, therefore, to determine what may be the causes of a tendency to overeat.
Sometimes this information is evident or well-known. Other times it may be suppressed, buried in some incident or event of the past for which overeating provides a sense of compensation or relief from pressures or anxieties, lacks in life, grief, anger or other emotions, sometimes dating back to childhood. Regression under hypnosis is often effective in ferreting out causes, and sometimes even the simple understanding of causes can result in elimination of the problem.
Why People Overeat
Overeating usually fills a need — or at least is viewed as doing so. The possible needs, real or imaginary, are many. Some people overeat to compensate for an unpleasant experience. Others eat excessively to reward themselves, or possibly for self-entertainment. Some want to be noticed, and may use a large body to offset a small ego. Eating is used to compensate for the lack of love, to offset fear, to overcome frustration, to deal with boredom, or sometimes to avoid sex.
Helpful to the therapist are lists answering such questions as WHEN overeating usually takes place, what psychological or emotional activity is associated with excess eating, and at what usual time of day or night. WHERE the overeating is done is important — home, at parties, in restaurants, while watching television, etc. And WHY (for what purpose or to satisfy what need) is also a factor in understanding the problem.
The consideration of the abovementioned matters leads to the establishment of three goals: To achieve the desired weight loss; To maintain the desired weight once it is achieved; To adopt permanently the new habit patterns that make the first two goals possible.
Programming for Success
A hynotherapy program for weight reduction will involve several specific elements which are essential to the achievement of established objectives:
The client’s self-esteem and confidence will be evaluated and fortified as necessary to achieve a positive outlook and the ability to visualize mentally the perfect, desired body structure, at the appropriate weight and with the physical modifications important to the client.
The client’s attitude toward food, overeating and related satisfactions will be altered to reduce the conceived importance of food as it relates to feelings of well-being.
The client’s food interests and tastes will be modified to increase the desire for healthy foods with appropriate nutrition, and reduce the desire for foods high in fats and other harmful elements. Emphasis will be placed on such matters as quantity consumption, special tastes (sweet-tooth enjoyment) and negative calorie foods wherein digestion requires more calorie burn-up than the total calories in the food consumed.
Finally, programming will deal with such behavioral matters as establishing times, places and patterns for future eating, elimination of harmful habits, and positive reinforcement for relief of stress or anxiety factors or other casual elements which may require hypnotic desensitization.
It must be kept in mind that very slow reduction in weight is the safest procedure. Weight will and should come off very slowly — perhaps two pounds per week on average. Much reinforcement of the programming can be accomplished by tapes specifically created to save time and money for the client.
For most people, the absolute worst way to attempt to deal with a smoking habit is through the use of willpower. Like moods and emotions, willpower fluctuates. One day it is strong. The next day may be a down day, willpower fades. It is usually neither consistent nor effective.
Among stop-smoking procedures there are countless methods, programs, substitute products, pills, chewing gums, self-help tapes and books, etc. Many are designed to help build up the personal power to resist or overcome the addiction. Hypnotherapy does not work at achieving the strength to resist. It is designed eliminate the desire. Instead of giving up something that a person enjoys (a sacrifice), the individual’s goal is to be rid of something that isn’t wanted — a much more agreeable position psychologically.
Reasons for Smoking
There are two principle reasons for smoking: Identification, and Replacement. Identification is the situation in which the smoker indulges in the habit because others whom he admires do so — parents, peers, entertainment or sports figures etc. Identification smoking is the most common and the easiest to eliminate.
Replacement smoking occurs when smoking is used to replace some deficit in life — lack of companionship, love, acceptance, self-esteem, security, independence, etc. — or to replace some preexisting habit such as overeating, reaction to anxiety or boredom, etc. Replacement smokers often derive sensual gratification from smoking — they enjoy touching or feeling the cigarettes, tapping the pack, seeing the flame of a lighter or the curling of rising smoke, or the smell of the burning tobacco. Often the lighting of the cigarette (or cigar or pipe) in itself becomes a ritual. Replacement smoking is quite often a true and severe addiction.
The Nature of Smoking
Since smoking is both physical and mental, success in a stop-smoking effort must change not only the mental attitude, but the physical reaction. Through hypnosis it is possible to change the taste of a cigarette from pleasurable to unpleasant. When this is accomplished problems often related to the cessation of smoking tend to be avoided. Castor oil (or other bad tasting medicine) may serve as an example. When a person gives up the ingestion of castor oil there are no withdrawal symptoms; and there are no needs to compensate for the lack of the medicine through overeating, sucking hard candies, etc.
In some cases a gradual reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked proves successful. Of many procedures available the hypnotherapist will select that which is most appropriate for the individual client. In some cases, effective cessation of smoking can be achieved in a single session. In other cases three, four or five sessions may be required. Individual sessions have the advantage of being adjustable to deal with the causes of the habit, the gratifications provided, the characteristics of the clients and similar matters not fitting group work.
It is important to determine just what personal need is satisfied by smoking. Some smokers seek to fill a need to nurture themselves — lessen loneliness or get a “pick-up” at the start of or during the day. Others feel smoking will relieve stress or provide moments of relaxation. Still more feel cigarette smoking makes social contacts more comfortable. The problem is that a habit adopted to meet a special need often proves destructive, eliminating the need by destroying the smoker.
The risks entailed in smoking have been stressed and analyzed for years. The aversion techniques of psychotherapy when utilized in hypnotherapeutic applications can produce dramatic results. Data on why, when and where smoking is indulged can reveal information helpful in planning stop-smoking therapy.
One of the most powerful attributes of the human psyche is the visualization ability. Many hypnotherapists, working with many types of problems, program clients to accept the belief that, “What the mind can conceive, you can achieve!” This concept is common in fields of meditation, positive thinking, spiritual faith and others. Hypnotherapy can help develop and focus the powers of visualization. And since visualization is frequently undeveloped in clients, and since it can be learned, hypnotherapy can serve as a teaching modality.
In stop-smoking programs the ability to visualize one’s self as a non-smoker, free from past effects of the habit filled with new health. energy and vitality, is a major asset. Visualization enables the client to picture in the mind cigarettes as unappealing, bad tasting, foul smelling and otherwise revolting. Likewise it is possible to picture and otherwise sense clean breath, healthy appearance, sensitive tastes.
Through visualization a smoker can perceive himself/herself as looking healthier, more active, in better physical condition, with easier breathing, stronger lungs and similar advantages. Through hypnotherapy senses of sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste all can be enhanced and used to modify reactions as necessary to achieve goals.
Once a smoker has achieved success in a stop-smoking program it is necessary to reinforce the programming that led to the cessation of the practice. Smoking habits are acquired over a long period of time. Even though the smoker may have ceased smoking, the habit is likely to still be active. But like most activities, if not used, it tends to fade and disappear. The hypnotherapist will take measures to reinforce the programming during the period (perhaps a couple of months) required for the habit to weaken, providing a personalized tape to maintain success until the habit, itself, is gone.
Among the primary reasons why people seek therapy is the need to deal with fear reactions. The range of such problems is extensive–from simple, annoying “hang-ups”, to specific (or non-specific) fears which affect the activities or enjoyment of life, to full-blown phobias which may be a part of serious mental illness.
Under certain circumstances or in specific situations virtually all people are subject to a variety of rational or irrational apprehensions. Many of these originate in childhood when undeveloped reasoning ability creates in a young person a natural climate for developing fears of the unknown. Fears can, of course, develop in adulthood through traumatic experience, but most prove to have originated in early, impressionable years.
It is interesting to note that fears seldom travel alone. While one may be dominant and apparent, investigation will usually reveal others which are associated and inter-related.
The usual apprehensions that may exist in relative degrees of severity include flying, high places, rejection, failure (or even success), pain, exposure, poor performance (sports, scholastic, job, theatrical, sexual), death, the unknown, contamination, blood, animals (including spiders, sharks etc.), water, impending danger, darkness, open spaces, closed spaces, loss of control and many others.
Fears are not necessarily bad. They can be highly valuable if they serve useful purposes, such as creating caution in driving, locking doors, being prepared for emergencies. But when a fear causes alteration of a normal lifestyle, creating intense and irrational behaviors, becoming a threat to a person’s well-being, it merits attention. Frequent occurrence is a strong warning signal that needs to be heeded.
A “hang-up” becomes a fear when it becomes noticeably disturbing and begins to affect behavior. A fear becomes a phobia when it reaches the point of being triggered by factors which are irrational and may be unknown, and when it is experienced so frequently that it affects an individual’s normal activities. Lack of understanding of the repressed conflict which causes the reaction may result in uncontrollable or unreasonable behavior.
Hypnotherapists specializing in such disorders have claimed that the fear itself may not create the phobic reaction. It may well be caused by what the fear represents as an unknown danger.
Fears originating in adulthood may sometimes be caused by chemical problems (hypoglycemic reaction) or by physiological reactions (indigestion assumed to be a heart attack). The duration of the reaction under the triggering circumstances may indicate whether the cause is physiological or psychological. A psychological reaction, since it anticipates the triggering episode, tends to diminish once the situation is actually encountered. Physiological reactions, caused by the event or activity itself, tend to increase once the triggering situation begins.
A key point is that a phobic person is threatened by something that does not in reality present a life threat. Yet the reaction is the same as it would be in a situation of real danger. The fear generates more fear, and the situation cannot be confronted in a calm state, so the victim makes every effort to avoid it.
The Advantage of Hypnotherapy
Specific fears often emanate from apprehension of impending danger. Feelings of anxiety and panic tend to manifest into forebodings of approaching disaster the source of which is not understood. The fear of loss of control is primitive and is likely to be a common element and basic cause in all phobia cases. It is not uncommon in relationship break-ups.
The progressive development of fear and phobic reactions often proceed through four phases: Unrealistic self-statements create a state of alarm; Fear of the fear itself develops; Personal feelings and reason are rejected as the fear escalates; Avoidance begins of any person, place, thing or situation which generates feelings of arousal or anxiety.
In mild cases reprogramming through hypnotherapy can prove effective. Hypnotic suggestion can replace catastrophic thoughts with truthful statements explaining the nature of the symptoms and the realization that the physical sensations can cause no harm. Hypnosis can slow the heartbeat, achieve a sense of balance, gererate relaxation through deep breathing, free the throat to swallow, overcome sensations of temperature change and promote clear-headedness.
In more severe cases, symptoms are usually apparent, but true causes likely are unknown. The condition which created the fear is a threat to the victim because it is unresolved. Exposing the cause can diminish the anxiety associated with the fear by taking it out of the unknown so that rational suggestion can be used to alleviate symptoms. Some causes apparently producing present symptoms, however, may prove to be of themselves symptoms of yet a deeper cause.
Age regression can be a highly effective technique for uncovering causes. It is one of the most beneficial procedures available in therapeutic arsenals of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. Once casual factors are revealed. the hypnotherapeutic technique of circle therapy may be the treatment of choice. This is a well-recognized desensitization procedure to bring the psyche back into balance, eliminating the fears by hypnotic confrontation. The fears are met and faced through the subconscious mind. Repeated confrontation causes deterioration of the fear symptoms and increases the ability to face and deal with past traumatic experiences without apprehension.which the conscious mind then accepts.
The human brain receives messages from several sources, each dealing with separate types of information. Input dealing with everyday matters such as news, music, jobs, relationships, weather etc. comes from the external environment. Our own bodies provide data concerning movement, digestion, tension, pain etc., all in the form of message units sent to the brain.
The conscious mind deals with reasoning and logic, decisions, goals planning and conscious activity. The unconscious mind, which includes both the subconscious and the superconscious, wields the greatest influence. It receives all the message units from our social, spiritual and genetic backgrounds and all the conflicts and disturbances which enter our consciousness each day. The unconscious mind receives and holds its information, neither accepting nor rejecting the messages. It does not evaluate. That procedure is reserved for the conscious mind. From primitive times the human animal has possessed an escape mechanism that even today, under severely threatening conditions, can cause regression to primitive behavior. The fight/flight syndrome, always a means of dealing with fears, threats, attacks and other disturbances, has gained tolerance through evolution with the addition of Reaction vs. Action and Repression vs. Depression. Without these, when the message input volume reached overload conditions, the escape would be toward the denial of reality. However, the desire for social acceptance provides motivation to cope with and adapt to reality.
Nevertheless, when the conscious mind can no longer handle the message units overloading the brain, the subconscious prepares us for fight or flight–the heart pumps harder, blood pressure rises, super-strength can be generated. But sometimes there is nothing to fight. We can’t fight the environment We can’t fight a job, an accident, a bad decision. What now?
Enter Stress! Anxiety
Unable to fight, the reaction turns to the alternative of flight, which in present day life can prove impossible. Often a state of apathy, depression and/or hyper-suggestibility ensues. Negative input finds acceptance. Futility and melancholy develop and an overreaction to the senses develops together with a loss of tolerance. The road turns downhill.
Imagine a group of musicians playing together. Imagine the trumpet player getting a measure or two ahead of the rest. Imagine the saxophone player, trying to figure out what the trumpeter is doing, growing a measure behind. Imagine the drummer, becoming confused, missing his beats so that the whole group gets off beat. Imagine the conductor waving his arms desperately trying to orient the players. Imagine the cacophony as the musicians collapse, give up and quit playing.
A person experiencing continuing stress may well become subject to such a frenzy, in the process developing any or several forms of stress-related illness.
While certain types of stress are even desirable (romantic stress, job promotions, winning a lottery), stresses that produce debilitation, depression, excessive smoking, overeating, anger, grief, and similar reactions need attention and usually professional help.
The first recognition of a therapist dealing with stress is likely to be that while the world, or the past if it is a factor in the condition, cannot be changed, it is possible to alter the client’s perception of and reaction to them.
Again, casual factors need to be investigated. And not infrequently regression can be helpful in this process. Stress may be a reaction to people, places, events, or things. The threats may be real or imagined. Remember, the subconscious mind does not analyze, and usually by the time depression appears the conscious mind has lost its ability to do so. However, there are several common basic causes of stress which can be recognized, defined and often eliminated.
What’s Behind It All
Why me? Stress victims ask the question quite often. Many factors enter into the picture of possibilities. Over-achievers, typical Type A personalities, are hyper-competitive. They can be addicted to stress. They can’t enjoy it, until it gets out of control. Victims can learn stress early in life from parents, teachers, relatives and others. Through early experience they will consider stress a normal part of they see it all the time.
Fears, valid or otherwise, can lead to the development of symptoms of stress. They can expand into full grown phobias and psychiatric disorders. Unrelenting pain or worries health situations are factors, as are repressed emotions such as hurt, anger, grief etc. Specific incidents are frequently involved, such as the necessity to speak to a group in the course of job performance when such activity is uncomfortable.
Medical conditions, including dietary deficiencies, can lead to stress, as can such female experiences as PMS. External factors, such as continuous or intermittent bothersome noise levels can create or add to stress levels.
Every individual is different in tolerance levels, coping abilities, reactions and therapeutic needs. Dealing with stress is best accomplished through a trained, experienced and sensitive professional who can determine causes and evaluate reactions. Sheer willpower is not the remedy in stress cases. Effective and permanent relief responds to desensitization, which can be brought about through hypnotherapy.
It is important to analyze the stress stimuli and the physical and/or emotional responses which they bring about. Through hypnosis positive new responses can be created to replace the devastating reactions of the past. Buried feelings can be brought to the surface and released. Outside pressures can be relieved. And finally, new responses to old disturbances can be induced with major changes in attitudes and reactions.