Is hypnosis something to be wary of?
By Carolyn Potter Dip Hyp HPD MNCH reg. GQHP
Certified HypnoBirthing® Practitioner
When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by hypnosis. I had seen it on TV and the effects of it seemed to be almost magical. The hypnotist would click his fingers (it was always a man!) and instantly the person would drop their head in a deep ‘sleep’, and then they would do amazing things. I suppose, when I was that little, I imagined that it was a bit like watching a real life magician from a fairy story performing ‘magic tricks’ on people, and I don’t suppose I would have been all that more amazed if he had managed to turn them into toads or swans.
As I grew up a bit more, I saw a fascinating film about past life regression, and that enthralled me even more. I became even more interested in the so called ‘power of hypnosis.’
So is my fascination typical of other people’s experience? I will never know the answer to that question. I eventually trained to be a hypnotherapist, so I suppose it is fairly safe to assume that I had a stronger interest in it than many others. I think it is safe to say however that many people still do have this idea that hypnosis has slightly occult powers, and it is something that they should be wary about. The other school of thought that is commonly held is that it is all a load of codswallop and there is nothing in it of value.
So what is the truth about it all? Can a hypnotist make you act like a turkey, or take all your clothes off and run down the road stark naked? The answer to that is probably they can, but only if you wanted to do that in the first instance. (You must bear in mind that no self respecting professional hypnotherapist would ever even suggest such a ridiculous course of action anyway!)
The most important thing to remember about hypnosis is that all hypnosis is effectively self hypnosis. What I mean by that is that no suggestion will take effect unless you want it to. I heard this story a couple of years ago from a woman who found out that I was a hypnotherapist. I hope it will illustrate my point.
‘Hypnosis for smoking doesn’t work!’ she said emphatically. When I asked her why, she replied, ‘When I was hypnotised, the hypnotherapist said ‘ you will never be able to smoke another cigarette again’ and I said to myself ‘no one is going to tell me I can’t have another smoke’’
What was happening here was the hypnotherapist was giving her one suggestion, and she was counteracting it in her head. Her own suggestion that she would be able to smoke again was far stronger than that of the hypnotherapist, so in effect you could say that she is a classic example of how very effective hypnosis actually is. Needless to say she was a confirmed smoker when I met her, and proud of it. I must put the record straight however. I have had many clients who really wanted to stop, and did so very successfully and easily.
The other concern that clients have is that they will lose their sense of self control while under hypnosis, and that they will have no recollection of what has happened while under hypnosis. The story of the smoker above is testimony to the fact that most people are fully conscious while in hypnosis, and are capable of filtering suggestions themselves. It is true however that for less than 5% of the population there is an element of amnesia connected to hypnosis. As you can see that leaves over 95% of people fully aware of everything that happens when they are hypnotised, which is the vast majority. Certainly stage hypnotists will draw these highly suggestible people from their audience to work on, as they provide the most entertainment value. If they have an audience of over three hundred people there will be a possible pool of up to 15 such people to work with. These stage hypnotists have ways and means of selecting these people to ensure they find the ones they want..
So what is it like then? Being hypnotised is like being so relaxed that you just can’t be bothered to move. You can hypnotise yourself if you want to, by carrying out the following procedure, or by listening to a CD. You start by sitting somewhere quiet and comfortable. You can lie down in bed, but you might just go asleep, and that is not what you want to do. You start by progressively relaxing your body all over and then take yourself deeper. Then you can start using suggestions. Being in this relaxed state helps to focus the attention, and help you accept any suggestions given more readily. When you have finished, you just say to yourself, ‘right I am going to wake up now’, and you do. The term ‘sleep’ has long been associated with hypnosis, in fact the word hypnosis has been taken from the Greek word for sleep, but it really is a misnomer, and James Braid, a Scot, who first coined the term later regretted it. If you are asleep you are getting very little benefit from hypnosis at all.
You can not get stuck in hypnosis. If you were to go very deep, eventually you would fall asleep, and we all know that we can wake up from even the deepest of sleeps. You might feel a bit groggy and spacey after you come out of it, but just take a couple of minutes to bring yourself back to earth, possible stamp your feet on the ground, and have a drink of water or something to eat.
So, what if you regress into a past life, or uncover some traumatic memories? Well the jury is out on whether past life memories are real or not, they may be memories of a past life you have lived before, or they may be memories of books you have read and forgotten, or films or TV programmes you have seen at sometime in the past, or indeed dreams you have had.. It has been proven that sometimes people in hypnosis uncover false memories, and by doing that some people have in the past been sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. For that reason, testimonies of evidence uncovered while under hypnosis is inadmissible in court. However, if this is something you would like to do, it is safest and best to only attempt to do it while in the presence of a trained hypnotherapist, as they can assist you to work through any traumatic memories in a safe manner. This is not something to try by yourself, because there is a risk of re-traumatising yourself all over again.
Modern hypnotherapists use hypnosis as a tool to install positive thoughts and behaviours, or to rehearse exposure to items which stress or scare you, so that you can face it in real life. The emphasis there is on therapy rather than just on hypnosis. It is the therapy that helps people, and hypnosis is a tool used to make that therapy more effective.
In HypnoBirthing® for example parents are educated in how our bodies are designed to give birth naturally. Throughout history there has been a moving away from natural birth, so that it is made ‘safer ‘for women to give birth. This medicalisation has often meant unnecessary interventions into what is intrinsically a natural process, as doctors take action ‘just in case’ something goes wrong. Certainly there have been thousands of cases where caesareans have been carried out where if they had not been available, babies and mothers might have died, but that really is the exception rather than the rule. We often tend to hear about the horror stories rather than the stories of easy natural births, so it becomes a false belief, that there must be some drama surrounding birth.
Often when someone is carrying a negative belief around with them, they know it is irrational, and not true, but it still seems hard to change. It is much easier to change beliefs in hypnosis, and HypnoBirthing® uses hypnosis to change the parents perceptions of what is natural, and instil belief that they can birth naturally and easily by using the natural abilities within themselves. HypnoBirthing® also helps expectant parents to learn how to relax fully and deeply, and teaches them self hypnosis techniques to use during the birth, to enable them to stay calm and focus on what is happening. These techniques not only can be used whilst giving birth, but can be used throughout their lives to cope with any stressful or difficult situations they might encounter.
So what is the conclusion to all of this? Certainly hypnosis deserves respect, because it is a very powerful tool which, when used correctly, can bring positive change to your life. There is nothing to be frightened of, and no one will try to manipulate you, and even if they did, they would not succeed unless you allowed them to. Choose your therapist carefully. Check out their credentials to ensure they are a member of a professional organisation, but most importantly meet them and see if you get on okay with them. You need to feel comfortable in their presence so that you can allow yourself to relax completely into hypnosis, and benefit from all the positive changes that can be achieved in hypnosis.