We've all heard that hypnotherapy can help us to modify habits we no longer wish to have, like smoking, nail biting and overeating. It can also help to alleviate our fears and phobias, assist with a better night's sleep, clear writer's block, improve our motivation and generally help us to have a better outlook on life. But how many of us really know what it's like?
At some point, you've probably seen a movie or TV show in which someone was hypnotized and subsequently acquired a zombie-like expression while being made to commit evil deeds. Maybe you've seen a stage show in which a hypnotist caused an audience member to cluck like a chicken, row an imaginary canoe, or do some other goofy thing at which the audience roared in amusement. It would make perfect sense if seeing these things leaves us fearing that a hypnotherapist can take control of us or cause us to tell him our deepest, darkest secrets.
The truth is, hypnosis cannot make you do anything against your will. Stage hypnotists learn to become experts at filtering out those audience members who are most suggestible to them. Twenty-five percent of the population is suggestible to any given person. When someone is suggestible to you, it simply means that person is quite likely to accept your suggestions. The stage hypnotist determines those in his 25%, and he then gives them inane suggestions to which those people are at least subconsciously agreeable, and it's all in the context of entertainment. It's fun. These people came willingly to a stage hypnosis show and they have certain expectations. In addition, the hypnotist can suggest something like "only the most intelligent can by hypnotized," which, of course, makes us all want to volunteer. But if that hypnotist tried to get a subject to do something he or she didn't want to do, the show would turn out a disaster. The hypnotized person might try to do something similar, might freeze, or worse, might come right out of the trance. That wouldn't inspire applause, would it? As far as the evil-deed-committing automaton in the cinema, the same holds true. A person's subconscious has to be agreeable to carrying out a suggestion in order for it to work. No one can make you climb to the top of the Empire State Building and leap off if you don't want to. And if you want to keep your deep, dark secrets deep and dark, you'll do exactly that.
When a client comes in for hypnotherapy, first of all, it's a much subtler, more relaxed experience than anything you'd see in a movie or onstage. Second, the client is actually quite well aware of everything that happens in the session. Some people even feel afterwards that they weren't hypnotized, because of the misconceptions about what it should be like. They know they could have stopped it at any moment or refused to do what was suggested -- although they never did -- and so they think it must not have been hypnosis. I know someone who quit smoking after seeing a hypnotherapist. She tells me that she tried for decades to stop and wasn't able to until after the session, but still she says she's not really sure if the hypnotherapy had anything to do with it. Did I mention that it's a subtle process?
It is, in fact, a very natural state of mind. We go into and out of hypnosis during the course of our daily lives. It happens at least twice a day. You know that momentary dreamlike state you experience just before falling asleep? That's the state of hypnosis. You're not completely awake or completely asleep, but somewhere in between. As it happens, you go through that same stage just before you awaken fully, too, which is why that's such a great time to state your positive affirmations, if you're into that sort of thing.
We also experience hypnosis when we cry at a movie. Think about it: we're not the person experiencing that tragic story line. That isn't our best friend or our family member. It isn't really even happening. Of course we're empathetic creatures, but whatever caused us to cry when we watched isn't causing us to cry now. We're still empathetic now, aren't we? Yet, for that hour and a half, we surrendered our whole minds to the emotional and bodily experiences that would be appropriate if we were in the movie. Tears and all. What a hypnotherapist does is establish you in that state for a time, in order to do therapeutic work. Because that's the time you're most receptive to it. Just as you gave yourself over to crying during the movie, you can yourself over to eating more healthfully, to setting aside that stage fright, or to improving your job performance.
And here's a side benefit: Hypnosis feels really good. Relaxation, both physical and mental is the very foundation upon which it works. Most hypnotherapists will first lead you through a physical relaxation. Once your body's tension is out of the way, you're dealing with the mind. At this point, calming guided imagery often comes into play. Do you like walking along the beach at sunset? That's where you can go. Would you rather drift slowly down like an autumn leaf from a tree? No reason not to. But while you're relaxing, you'll also engage in a capacity to learn and to change in beneficial ways you might not even have realized were available to you. The more you relax, the better you feel. And the better you feel the more you relax.
To help allay any other concerns you may have, you should know that you're the one who's in control in a session. As I mentioned, you'll probably be quite well aware of everything said, and if you ever don't like what you're hearing, all you need do is count up from 1 to 5 and say the words "Eyes open, wide awake." In fact, even without the benefit of hypnotherapy, as you go through your day, if you find yourself dragging or feeling logy, give it a try. Count up to five and say "Wide awake" or "Wake up." You'll find it helps you to become focused on the moment, more alert and better able to concentrate on what you're doing.
Ultimately, even with a therapist, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Your hypnotherapist will guide and assist you, but in the end, you're responsible for developing your innate capacity to accomplish your goals. Your therapist will direct you on how, but it is your own skill of inner communication that's being enhanced, and no one can force you to do that or do it for you. A hypnotherapist is somewhat like a personal trainer in that way. We'll lead you through the process of getting to where you want to be, but you're the one who's actually accomplishing it.
Although the words hypnosis and hypnotism have only been around for a century or two, the practice was in use long before that. Some have even suggested that Jesus engaged in a form of it when, instead of alluding directly to the illness of someone who wanted to be healed, he spoke of their faith -- their belief that it would happen. Whatever its history, hypnotherapy is a natural, effective method of accomplishing your goals that uses the power of your own mind instead of drugs, machines or surgery. It's safe, often faster than other methods, and the effects can last a lifetime.