You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. This stereotypical line, delivered by fictional hypnosis for decades, has given hypnosis a bad rap.
In movies and stage productions, hypnotism has been depicted as “magic.” You’ve probably seen it before: A patient or volunteer stares at a swinging pocket watch and, in minutes, turns into a zombie who’s highly susceptible to the hypnotists every whim.
If you've seen this before, you might have wondered: What is hypnosis? And is hypnosis a useful tool for self improvement and behavior change?
The truth is that the idea of stage hypnosis is relatively new. Researchers and medical professionals have been exploring the what is hypnosis question for hundreds of years.
In fact, hypnosis is one of the oldest forms of Western psychology.
The Hindus in ancient India, for instance, made self-hypnosis a tenant of their religious practice, and Avicenna, a Persian physician, first documented the hypnotic state in 1027.
After decades of misrepresentations and falsehoods in TV and movies, hypnosis is finally regaining its credibility.
Today, a growing body of research suggests that hypnosis does, in fact, have therapeutic benefits. The research is so compelling, in fact, that The Mayo Clinic – one of the world’s most respected healthcare networks – offers hypnosis alongside its traditional medical treatments.
So what is hypnosis?
In the simplest terms, hypnosis is a relaxation technique, in which practitioners follow steps to reach a state of heightened concentration and relaxation. This is called the “hypnotic state,” and it’s similar to daydreaming, or that feeling of losing track of time you get after driving for long periods of time (which is called “highway hypnosis”).
Under hypnosis, you remain conscious and in control. But you’re relaxed and highly focused. This allows you to tune out stimuli around you and reach a heightened state of awareness.
In this state, the mind is highly responsive to suggestions in the hypnotic state. And that’s why hypnosis is so powerful.
Many of our bad habits, phobias, or negative preconceptions are triggered by our automatic, unconscious thoughts. A smoker experiences automatic cravings throughout the day, which trigger the conscious mind to reach for a cigarette.
But through hypnosis, the smoker can reframe these unconscious urges.
First, he or she would examine why these automatic thoughts were there to begin with. And then, the smoker could begin to delete, update or replace them with more positive associations.
In other words, the positive thoughts get pushed to the front of the unconscious and they drown out the old way of the thinking.
That’s why hypnosis works. It helps you get to the root cause of your habit or fixation.
Ok, so that’s a very broad overview of what hypnosis is.
You likely have many questions left unanswered. This guide will help you research hypnosis at a deeper level, including providing insights into what is hypnosis, what is actually taking place in the brain during hypnosis, and what you can do to get started.
Part 1: Understanding What Hypnosis Is
A range of terms may be used to describe hypnosis, and they’re sometimes used interchangeably. But each one refers to a different part of the process.
As you begin to research hypnosis, it will be helpful to decipher between these different terms. They include:
- Hypnosis: Sometimes called the hypnotic state, this is the relaxed, highly focused frame of mind you reach after being hypnotized.
- Hypnotism: The process used to induce the hypnotic state. A typical hypnotic induction might include focused breathing, closing the eyes and a countdown.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy refers to using hypnosis and hypnotism as a therapy. Hypnotherapists are trained professionals who help patients reach self-improvement goals utilizing hypnosis.
Hypnotherapy: Taming the Unconscious Mind
You can think of hypnosis as meditation with a goal. Both are similar in that you will be seeking to reach a state of relaxation and concentration.
But with hypnosis, you take it one step further.
In this state of heightened awareness, you begin to examine your subconscious mind, and you’re provided with suggestions that can help you reframe, improve and enhance how the subconscious operates.
The process typically includes three steps:
- Hypnotic Induction: You first go through a process to reach hypnosis, called the hypnotic induction. In general, you’ll be seated in a chair (or lying on a couch, bed, or anywhere comfortable) with your eyes closed. You may also use controlled breathing techniques and/or a script to relax and focus. People can follow a memorized script, a recording, or they can be induced by a professional hypnotherapist.
- Hypnotic State: Following induction, you reach the hypnotic state. In the hypnotic state, you feel mentally and physically relaxed, you are calm and focused, and you experience heightened awareness.
- Hypnotic Suggestion: Once in hypnosis, the patient receives hypnotic suggestions. These suggestions are designed to replace and update your subconscious thoughts. Suggestions can be formed in different ways. Traditional hypnosis for example uses direct commands, while Ericksonian hypnosis uses metaphors. Neuro-linguistic programming, on the other hand, uses suggestions that closely mimic our thought patterns.
What Hypnosis Is NOT: Common Misconceptions
You can’t be made to cluck like a chicken. Or act against your will.
Remember, hypnosis IS NOT a form of mind control.
Instead, it’s similar to meditation. You follow steps that allow you to enter into a state of deep concentration and relaxation. And you remain in control throughout.
Unfortunately, pop culture has tarnished the image of hypnosis and pushed forward some silly misconceptions. Common ones include:
- You Lose Control. Hypnotized people are completely aware of their surroundings. And experience a heightened level of focus. They tune out distractions, reach relaxation, and ultimately, calm the mind. So there is no loss of control. You can open your eyes at any time.
- You Are Asleep or Unconscious. The deep focus and relaxation reached during hypnosis is often mistaken for sleep or unconsciousness. That’s why the origin of the word hypnosis is the ancient Greek word “hypnos,” or sleep. But unlike sleep, you are aware and acutely aware.
- You Can Get Stuck in Hypnosis. You’ve seen it in movies – someone tries hypnosis for the first time and they never wake up. They stay hypnotized forever. But this is pure fiction. You are in control and can open your eyes and come back into your surroundings.
- Hypnosis Is a Magic Bullet. Hypnosis isn’t a cure. You have to want to make a difference, and you have to continue to work at it. But if you want to improve, researcher has shown that hypnotherapy can help.
Hypnotherapy: What It Can Help You Accomplish
Your subconscious mind controls nearly all of your thinking. In fact, about 95 percent of your thoughts are generated autonomously via the unconscious mind.
That’s why we get stuck doing unwanted behaviors.
They’ve become deeply embedded in our minds, due to repetition and reinforcement. Many of our fears, worries, habits, impulsions and doubts, thusly, are held in place unconsciously.
For example, phobias are a prime example. A person may have developed a fear of flying by having a negative experience, and as such, the subconscious begins to associate flying as a life-threatening risk. Many of the symptoms of this fear – anxiety, panic attacks or vomiting – are attributed to this unconscious response.
As a therapy, hypnotherapy seeks to reframe and reverse these “habits of thought.”
Therefore, hypnotherapy has been shown to be effective for a number of unconsciously motivated conditions. Some of the most common include:
- Phobias and fears – Hypnosis reframes the fear and untangles the associations that keep that fear in place. Hypnosis can help with: Fear of flying, driving, heights, the doctor or dentist, insects, intimacy or success.
- Habits – Habits are deeply embedded in our thinking due to repetition and reinforcement. Smokers have numerous triggers: Stress, mealtimes, driving, and boredom, to name a few. Hypnosis allows people to examine these unconscious triggers and get rid of them. Hypnotherapy can help with: Smoking, substance abuse, gambling, overeating and procrastination.
- Worrisome Thinking: Worries, often times, are irrational and they can get in the way of life. Hypnosis helps us examine our worries, and provide new information that can help us establish more positive associations. Hypnosis can help with: General anxiety, social anxiety, exam anxiety, stage fright, performance anxiety, and public speaking.
- Negative Self-Talk: Our subconscious minds control our perceptions of ourselves. And when negative thoughts are formed, they can impact our confidence. Hypnosis seeks to reframe these negative self-thoughts and update them with positive information. Hypnosis helps with: Self-criticism, self-confidence, self-esteems, self-awareness, body dysmorphia, negativism, indecision and insecurity.
- Health Conditions: Many general health conditions stem from negative subconscious thoughts. For example, insomniacs may have a fear or worry that they won’t fall asleep. By examining and reframing these thoughts, insomniacs can begin to reverse the thinking behind their condition. Hypnosis can help with: Stress, hypochondria, headaches, chronic pain management, agoraphobia, impotence, and insomnia.
Part 2: How Does Hypnosis Work?
Up to this point, you have a general understanding of why hypnosis works. Under hypnosis, we can begin to reframe our unconscious thoughts.
But that definition leaves a lot to be explained.
You might be wondering: Why the hypnotized mind is so suggestible? What exactly is going in in the brain when you are hypnotized? And what does the research say about hypnosis?
Can I Be Hypnotized?
The short answer: It’s very likely you can be hypnotized.
An overwhelming majority of people – about 75-85 percent – are capable of reaching a light state of trance, according to the latest research.
And many of these “easily hypnotizable” people share some common personality traits. Researchers have speculated that people who are easily hypnotizable might also be:
- Easily absorbed in everyday tasks
- Frequent daydreamers
- Show higher empathy
- Are open to learning new skills
- And have an open mind about hypnosis
Of course, these traits aren’t required to be hypnotized. You show all or one of these. But they offer a solid barometer of your susceptibility to hypnosis.
Yet, even for those who cannot reach a light hypnotic state, there are still benefits to hypnosis. Much like meditation, hypnosis can be a powerful tool for reducing stress, relaxing, or improving the mind’s susceptibility to positive reinforcement.
What Does It Do to Your Brain?
Many theories exist as to why hypnotherapy is effective.
But the prevailing thought is that the deep focus and relaxation reached during hypnosis allows you to bypass the conscious mind.
Once we’ve passed the conscious part of the mind, psychologist speculate, we can begin to work directly with the subconscious. In other words, hypnosis allows you to go “under the hood” and access the deeper recesses of your mind.
In fact, recent brain research seems to confirm some of this theory. One study in particular showed that areas of the brain responsible for criticalness show reduced activity during hypnosis.
Dr. David Spiegel, chair of the psychiatry and behavioural sciences department at Stanford, studied the brain activity of people under hypnosis. Spiegel found that hypnosis allowed us to:
- Tune Out Stimuli: The study showed reduced activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate, an area of the brain that’s part of our conscious awareness network. In other words, hypnosis allows us to tune out our worries and stresses. We’re become absorbed in the experience.
- Increase in Mind-Brain Connections: The research found that the mind is more in tune with how it’s controlling the body. This could help explain why hypnotic suggestion can help us better control how the body responds in certain situations, i.e. to prevent cravings, fears, or negative natural responses.
- Reduced Self-Consciousness: Finally, the researchers observed that the connection between two brain networks – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the default mode network – were less connected. In effect, we become much less self-conscious of our actions, and are thusly, more suggestible.
Overall, Spiegel’s research shows that our brains behave much differently in the hypnotic state. In fact, many of these processes are unique to hypnosis. Read more about how hypnosis works on Grace Space.
What Do You Experience During Hypnosis?
You may be wondering now: What does the hypnotic state feel like? What exactly do I experience?
You could describe your feelings in the trance state as those you might experience in deep meditation. You’ll feel relaxed and hyper focused – just like you would during meditation
Ultimately, as you practice hypnosis, you can begin to experience a deeper state of trance as well. As you enter into hypnosis you might experience:
- Physical sensations such as a heaviness and relaxation around muscles like eyelids. You might feel your body relaxing into the chair.
- A tuning out of your surroundings and a reduce state of alertness. You will move into the mind and push things like your worries or fears out.
Ultimately, lots of people describe hypnosis as the feeling you get when taking a nap. The big difference, though, is that you are aware, and you’re guided through an experience during hypnosis.
Hypnosis Clinical Research
In the last four decades, a trove of compelling hypnotherapy research has been published. Thousands of studies have examined hypnosis for a range of conditions, including chronic pain, fatigue caused by cancer treatment, smoking cessation, weight loss, IBS and a host of other conditions. And a majority of them highlight positive effects.
Some of the most compelling research includes:
Hypnotherapy vs. Psychoanalysis. Dr. Alfred Barrios compared hypnotherapy to traditional psychoanalysis, and found that hypnotherapy achieved a significantly higher recovery rate after much fewer sessions. His study found that 93 percent recovered after just 6 sessions after undergoing hypnotherapy, compared to 38 percent after 600 psychoanalysis sessions.
Hypnotherapy and Smoking Cessation. A 1992 meta-analysis examined a survey of more than 70,000 adults who had quit tobacco. Many who had used hypnotherapy were successful quitters. Ultimately the authors found that hypnotherapy was 15 times more effective than quitting cold turkey.
Hypnotherapy and Weight Loss. A 1996 study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers examined hypnotherapy as a complementary therapy for weight loss. Those who received hypnosis lost more weight than 90 percent of those who did not.
Hypnosis and Menopausal Hot Flashes. A 2012 joint study from Baylor University, Indiana University and the University of Texas found that hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis training helped women experience a 74-percent drop in hot flash frequency; the group that did not undergo hypnotherapy experienced only a 13-percent drop. Additionally, the hypnotherapy group also experienced a 57-percent drop in hot flash severity.
Hypnosis and Hypertension. University of Florida researchers explored how hypnosis could help patients could manage their conditions. They found that hypnosis was highly successful in helping patients better control stress and anxiety, conditions which can exacerbate hypertension conditions.
Part 3: Getting Started with Hypnosis
What can you do to get started practicing hypnotherapy?
The good news: You have many options for getting started, most of them are low-cost and can be tried in your own home. In fact, you can start today with self-hypnosis, a form of hypnotherapy in which practitioners self-induce the hypnotic state and provide their own suggestions.
But that’s just one option. You could also try guided hypnosis recordings.
And you can even visit a professional hypnotherapist.
Types of Hypnosis
Hypnotherapists, in general, use three methods for accessing and talking to the unconscious mind. And most professionals tend to specialize in a particular method.
You might not get results initially using one particular type of hypnosis. In that case, you might find a specialist or utilize methods for a different type of self-hypnosis.
The three main types of hypnosis include:
- Traditional Suggestion Hypnosis: Once you reach a deeply relaxed trance state, you’re provided with direct suggestions. This type of hypnosis tends to be used on people who are not highly analytical. Direct suggestions typically are straightforward commands and statements about what you can hope to achieve, i.e. you will feel better by not smoking, you will be OK if you don’t overeat, etc.
- Ericksonian Hypnosis: This replaces direct suggestions with metaphors and brief stories. This helps the mind make connections between the metaphor and the intended behavior, and can help to disguise the message from the conscious, critical mind. Metaphors may be disguised as subtle suggestions within a larger story, or they may be the underlying theme of a larger story. This is the technique that is mostly used at Grace Space Hypnosis.
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): NLP techniques are highly complex, and they are best left to a professional. In general, the process is similar to talk-therapy. The hypnotherapist will take a client through an unwanted behavior and determine triggers for the behavior. Then, using NLP suggestions the hypnotherapist can help to untangle negative associations in the mind, i.e. morning coffee triggering a sugar craving, and provide subtle suggestions for updating and reversing the behavior.
Common Options for Inducing Hypnosis
In general, there are three types of hypnotherapy that you can follow. They include:
- Self-Hypnosis: This is self-guided hypnosis. You follow steps and/or a script to induce hypnosis. Once in hypnosis, you would continue reciting a memorized script that contains hypnotic suggestions. A simple session may last a little as five minutes.
- Guided Hypnosis: In this form of hypnotherapy, you would follow a pre-recorded hypnosis session. This recording would include an induction, steps for falling further into trance, and ultimately suggestions for specific conditions.
- Clinical Hypnosis (Hypnotherapy): You can also work directly with a professional hypnotherapist. This form may be conducted in an office, or via video conference. The hypnotherapist learns about you, and what you’re hoping to accomplish. Then provides a hypnosis session tailored to your exact needs.
Hypnotherapy: Updating The Unconscious
In a nutshell, the unconscious mind is powerful and automatic. It’s responsible for nearly everything we do each and every day – the good and the bad.
And for centuries, hypnosis has given us a method for accessing our unconscious thoughts and providing more accurate, positive information for it to use.
Now you have an understanding of the basic mechanics of hypnosis. What it is. How it works. And what you can get started. Are you ready to start your journey in hypnotherapy? We can help you get started.