Clinical Hypnotherapy: A Brief Introduction

Hypnosis, when used with counselling and psychotherapy, is an induced state of relaxation and a trance state like meditation, throughout which a skilled therapist acts as your guide. Hypnosis is a very natural process that has many undeniable, and clinically proven therapeutic benefits, it is also approved by the British Medical Association in the UK, and the American Medical Association in the USA.

In hypnosis, individuals are shown to be more open to positive suggestions, particularly where this enables them to overcome a variety of personal obstacles in both their personal and professional lives. Hypnosis can be used to bypass the conscious analytical mind in order to establish more agreeable positive thinking. It has often been misunderstood by the general public but has a wealth of history that dates back several hundred years. Ancient Egyptian priests hypnotised people to treat illnesses using hypnotic suggestions, in addition to the revered Indian Yogis who have practised Dream Yoga within Hinduism called Milam.

These tantric processes and techniques are advanced practices of Yoga Nidra, which is explained as ‘sleep with a trace of awareness’ and dates right back, some 1300 years, to the 8th century. However, it was originally used in the United Kingdom in 1841, by a Scottish surgeon named James Braid as a natural anaesthesia for surgery, and has since been used to successfully stop pain, cure many physical illnesses, and resolve numerous disturbing issues that prevent people from living more happy and fulfilling lives.

Moreover, James Esdaile, a personal friend of James Braid, worked as a surgeon for the East India Company in Calcutta, and also performed two thousand surgical operations using Braid’s hypnotism, and reduced his patient mortality rate by 45% prior to the introduction of Chloroform in 1847. Even the world famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was a hypnotist, who suggested that psychoanalysis might be combined with hypnotic suggestion, in order to hasten the outcome of treatment, as he later struggled with the great expense of time that psychoanalysis actually requires.

Hypnosis is a natural human phenomenon, and I’m certain that you’d be surprised at the number of times you’ve experienced this natural state for yourself. Some common examples of this condition would be, daydreaming, losing track of time whilst travelling by car, getting lost in fascinating conversation, waking from sleep during the night to use the bathroom and returning to fall asleep as if you hadn’t even been disturbed at all, being so absorbed in watching television only to realise you haven’t closely followed the plot, reading a good book that felt impossible to put down, and losing track of time when doing something really enjoyable. These are all typical examples of some naturally occurring hypnotic states we regularly find ourselves in each and every day.

Furthermore, the National Health Service, the largest healthcare provider and employer in the world, has effectively used hypnosis in the United Kingdom for several years, mainly to help women who are preparing to give birth, but also in the treatment of cancer and depression, to reduce the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and even to help people successfully stop smoking. Similarly, the British Psychological Society has stated that “Hypnosis is a valid subject for scientific study and research and is a proven therapeutic medium that should be adopted more widely” (BPS, 2001).

Moreover, over the last half of this current century, thousands of research studies have been published through major journals upon the effectiveness of hypnosis, supported by numerous systematic reviews of existing research that concluded many specific beneficial effects of hypnosis. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that frequent myths have contributed to an unwarranted controversy around hypnosis, as it is neither supernatural nor paranormal. What is more, where a person is in hypnosis, they are fully aware and responsive. This subsequently makes it falsely ridiculous to suggest that a person would surrender to the will of a hypnotist, as they are aware of everything that is said during the session, despite still being in hypnosis. A hypnotic subject remains in control of their actions, and rejects suggestions which they may find objectionable or that are not in alignment with their ethical and moral values and future goals, particularly if something is said or done which could alarm them.

What’s more, hypnotherapists are also bound by strict codes of conduct, called professional ethics, in order to be licensed and insured to practice. These moral principles empower the client and pay respect to their autonomy, which is central to the underpinning philosophy of hypnotherapy. Moreover, unlike conventional psychotherapy, the client is seen as the authority of their personal experience, as well as being a source of therapeutic potential. Similarly, relaxation is an accepted consequence of hypnosis, and individuals don’t get stuck in a hypnotic state. People also generally remember what they choose to, unless this is contrary to effective therapy or they are of a somnambulistic personality type, a characteristic which can usually prevent a patient from recalling suggestions but this is really quite rare. Nevertheless, it is also a safe practice that works for anyone reasonably intelligent and willing to follow simple guided instructions. As a therapy, hypnosis is notably person-centred and also solution-focussed in its approach, so defining specific individual patient need is uppermost for each and every hypnotherapist.

Furthermore, we understand, through scientific study, that the brain is divided into two large sections known as hemispheres. These two hemispheres are not directly connected, as they have few inter-connective nerve cells that run across both of their centres. However, these two lobes, that live side by side, are responsible for us living in two, often complex, disconnected mental worlds, which process, perceive and express information very differently to each other. Contrary to our perceptive, individual sense of self, and our needs, these two separate mental worlds know little about each other, and are characteristically known as the conscious and subconscious aspects of our mind. In addition, survival mechanisms in the right brain are processed twice as fast as in the left, so a belated sense of things that are done automatically occurs in the left brain. For example, we can often ask ourselves ‘did I brush my teeth?’ when this almost automatic task has already been completed.

Likewise, the left hemisphere is often astonished by the dreams, intuitions, and symptoms fashioned in the right hemisphere of our brain. Therefore, understanding right brain subconscious functioning has helped hypnotherapists unravel some of the mysteries behind people’s possible confusion and subsequent dilemmas. For this reason, we understand that a combination of right brain traumatic information and defences, buffer left brain conscious awareness, with a resulting muddled explanation of these intrusions. The outcome of this condition can often promote incongruence, when two or more of a person’s representations, parts, or programs are in conflict, which is like being ’of two minds’ or ’torn between two possibilities’ etc. In addition, we also understand that the non-appearance of verbal and visual memories from early childhood as well as traumatic events, relates to their right brain subconscious non-verbal retention and storage.

Consequently, it is essential for a hypnotherapist to take an initial detailed case history, plan an appropriate course of action towards a more positive client-centred outcome, and equally so along with their client. Fortunately, hypnosis is a pleasant experience that doesn’t just focus too much on a client’s issues, but looks for solutions to the everyday dilemmas which we all might face, providing a brief strategic intervention to help people move towards achieving happiness and total fulfilment.

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