Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is Hypnosis?

(from the Canadian Federation of Clinical Hypnosis)

Hypnosis (or trance, relaxation, focusing) has been recognized for thousands of years and used for many purposes. The ability to enter this natural state of heightened and focused attention opens the door to endless possibilities for healing, self-exploration and change.

When we enter into a state of hypnosis, we can utilize thoughts, talents and experiences in ways not usually accessible to us. With the guidance of a trained professional, we can develop our latent abilities that enable making desired changes in our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. "Peak performance" training, as it is called, can be used to help people uncover and overcome “blocks” that underlie their failure to achieve their desired goals.

Although hypnotic trance is a very natural, peaceful state of mind that most of us experience almost daily (e.g., while daydreaming), it has often been portrayed in films and television in ways that have been inaccurate and even alarming. But clinical hypnosis, when practiced by a well-trained, licensed health-care professional, is safe. And it is often speedier than many other forms of treatment--both psychological and medical.

Hypnosis FAQs

What does it feel like to be in a hypnotic state?
This will differ from person to person. Some people say there is very little difference between the hypnotic state and their normal waking state - not at all like the stereotype of being zombie-like. Others say the sensation is that of being extremely calm and relaxed, just as you feel prior to falling asleep. In most cases clients notice that their senses are more alert and aware, quite the opposite of what they had expected. Some can remember everything that happens when they are in trance, and others have less conscious recall of events.

How can a treatment aimed at your mind affect your body?
The body responds physically to thoughts. For example, when we think a frightening thought, we can experience increased heart rate, shortness of breath, "butterflies" in the stomach, muscular rigidity, sweating, shaking, and so on. Similarly, when we think a pleasurable thought, we can experience reduced heart rate, deeper breathing, relaxation of muscles, and so on. These are autonomic nervous system responses that are involuntary, but they can be utilized to promote health. When hypnotized, an individual is very open to suggestions that can enhance positive and diminish negative physical reactions.

Can children be hypnotized?

Many children make excellent hypnotic subjects, and respond well to hypnotic suggestion for a wide variety of problems, e.g., self-esteem issues, anxiety, behaviour problems. It is important that your child's therapist be competent and experienced in dealing with your child's particular issue or problem.

Can anyone be hypnotized?
Some people find it easier to relax than others. By the same token, some people are able to go into trance more quickly and more deeply than others. About 80 to 85% of people can go into at least a light trance. For most hypnotherapeutic goals, light trance is enough to enable almost everyone to benefit from hypnotherapy to some extent.

In a relatively small number of situations, (say, when hypnosis is being used instead of a general anesthetic, e.g., as in labour and childbirth), a deeper level of trance may be needed. For these purposes, it is helpful to determine the trance capability of a given person, before making a decision about the advisability of using hypnosis as an anaesthetic.

Even for those people (maybe 15 to 20%) who do not enter into even a light trance state, hypnosis may still be helpful to assist their relaxation and improve their suggestibility to constructive comments and suggestions.

Will I lose control of myself?
No, there is no loss of control. Hypnotherapy allows clients to be more focused and less distractible. In this way, they can achieve more of their therapeutic goals. If the hypnotherapist's suggestions are acceptable and beneficial to the client, those suggestions are likely to be acted upon by the client. Trained professionals do an assessment to make sure the suggestions they provide are consistent with the value systems of their clients. The 'control' misconception appears to originate from stage hypnosis which, funnily enough, also involves people doing exactly what they want to be doing.

Is hypnotherapy safe?
Yes. The hypnotic state occurs naturally for most people. When you read a book or watch a movie, you suspend your tendency to disbelieve while increasing your ability to believe. That is a form of self-hypnosis. You are making what isn't real, real. So, it makes sense that you need to trust the individual guiding the process. Hypnosis is safe, but it matters that the hypnotist is ethical and competent. That is why we counsel you to see a health care professional for health or psychological problems that might benefit from the use of hypnosis.

Can I get trapped in the hypnotic state?
No. At any time a client can re-alert or choose to ignore suggestions. No one stays hypnotized indefinitely - you will always "come out" of trance within a short time.

Will I be asleep when hypnotized?
You will not be asleep when hypnotized. The word hypnosis comes from the ancient Greek word 'hypnos' meaning sleep, but it is a misnomer. Hypnosis is generally a very relaxed state, but it is not sleep. Many people, after a session of hypnosis, don't believe that they were hypnotized at all. That likely comes from misconceptions about just what a 'trance' in fact is. There are differences between the brain waves of people who are asleep and those who are in trance. In practice, people who are hypnotized often talk with the hypnotist, and can both answer and ask questions.

Will hypnosis make you remember things accurately?
No. Hypnosis can improve your recall of events that you believe happened to you. But hypnosis is not a way to find out the truth (whatever that may be) about events that are in dispute. That is, under hypnosis you may re-experience events, but there is no guarantee that you are remembering them correctly. Hypnosis only assists the subject in recalling perceptions, not truths.

Courts recognize this, and sometimes take the position that being hypnotized influences your ability to later testify in court on those matters. You should get legal advice before attempting to use hypnosis to improve your recall of events when there are, or might be, court matters involved.

Successful Treatments

Uses of Hypnosis in Medicine and Psychotherapy

This is a list of conditions/situations that have been successfully treated by hypnosis, according to documented case studies. The list is not exhaustive and we don't claim that everyone will benefit from hypnosis. The choice of whether hypnotherapy is the correct choice for you is a matter requiring discussion between you and your health care provider.

  • Gastrointestinal Disorders (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colitis, Crohn's Disease)
  • Anxiety and stress management: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Phobias, Test Anxiety, Travel Anxiety (including finding unconscious factors involved in the cause; use of self-hypnosis for relaxation; and increasing resistance to stress)
  • Depression (with and without medications)
  • Dermatologic Disorders (Eczema, Herpes, Neurodermatitis, Pruritus [itching], Psoriasis, Warts)
  • Surgery/Anesthesiology (in unusual circumstances where the usual chemical anesthesia is not recommended, or when the patient needs to be conscious during a procedure)
  • Pain (back pain, cancer pain, dental anesthesia, headaches and migraines, arthritis or rheumatism, injuries from motor vehicle accidents). Some maintain that hypnosis can “cure” the source of some of these painful conditions, but this has not been definitively demonstrated in the literature. There is good evidence that some people can use hypnosis to mask and alleviate pain.
  • Childbirth: the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis claims that, based upon members' anecdotal evidence, approximately two thirds of women have been found capable of using hypnosis as the sole analgesic for labour.
  • Sports and athletic performance enhancement. Hypnosis has been found effective by many athletes as a way to deal with improving concentration and alertness, improving adaptiveness in the incorporation of new techniques.
  • Smoking cessation. For some people hypnosis can be an effective sole agent, but for most, it will be part of a program used to assist in smoking cessation.
  • Weight control. This is another complex problem in which hypnosis can be one of the treatment choices.
  • Habit modification: nail biting, hair-pulling (trichotillomania), teeth grinding (bruxism).

The above is a partial list taken both from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and a recent literature search.