The Story Behind the Practice of Clinical Hypnotherapy

Clinical Hypnotherapy is an often under-estimated yet highly successful and evidentially proven wellness technique, and one of the fastest possible tracks to successful results.

Anyone who has embarked upon a wellness path understands the road can be exciting or arduous, successful or disastrous – and (as most of us have come to discover) – fraught with false information from well-meaning family and friends and digital social influences.     The practice of clinical hypnotherapy however is an age-old curative measure that has evolved to a finely tuned and powerful tool that can outserve even the most scientifically researched and developed medical solutions and pharmaceuticals in certain practices.

The art of using suggestion to a subconscious mind or what we now know as the process of hypnosis has in fact been utilised since prior to the 15th century.   From a ritualistic process that even the spiritual healers that delivered them could not define, to the revolutionary style of modern hypnosis we enjoy the advantages of today, the art of engaging the power of the subconscious mind has served to heal and benefit with undeniable success.

So where did it all begin?   Hard to fathom but disease was once considered to be a punishment from God.    Trance states could be invoked with chanting, drums, dancing, and/or fire, and ancient shamans and priests all over the world would suggest the power of belief was enough to cure and relieve pain, and act as anaesthesia.

The mystery of how this process worked was expanded upon over the years and through the late 1700s was theorised as an imagination magnetism, or transferred by the clinician’s own power.    The renewed concept of “mesmerism” gained momentum as the anaesthesical qualities became statistically irrefutable and was experimented with by Josef Breur and Sigmund Freud in the late 1800s prior to Freud’s transcendence to his more widely known psychoanalysis theories.

Hypnosis as a concept survived to significant success treating the condition of Shell Shock during WW1 (albeit perhaps to the disdain of the suffering soldiers who were made to return to the trenches after their treatments returned them to stability).

Since the second world war, the introduction by Milton Erickson of revolutionary hypnosis methods has escalated hypnotherapy to a highly revered and respected practice, referred to by many types of mainstream medical and other professional industries as a collaborative tool for subconscious programming.

It is inspiring to consider hypnotherapy as a pre-cursor to pharmacology and its medicinal qualities as being one of the founding wellness techniques of our civilisation.

Defining hypnotherapy is to not do it justice, for its breadth is indefinite and diverse in its practices.    At a very basic level, hypnotherapy is the induction of a trance, a deeply relaxed state that allows the unconscious mind to receive messages whilst the conscious is not obstructing it, for the purpose of supplying suggestions.     The client can accept or refute willingly these suggestions from the position of an unconscious state, enabling them to overcome and reframe thoughts and mindsets that have been holding them back or keeping them in unnecessary psychological or physical pain.

There have been many misconceptions around the properties of clinical hypnotherapy as aligning with the exhibitionism of stage hypnosis, the differences of which deserve to be characterised to avoid any correlations between two very different methods and outcomes.   Many of us have inadvertently come across the hyped-up showman miraculously making a seemingly shy person cluck like a chicken, gyrate humiliatingly like an exotic dancer or drop from a stand to a foetal sleep position with the click of the hypnotist’s finger.   Considering a great deal of clients looking for hypnotherapy are presenting with symptoms or derivatives of anxiety I’m going to point out first of all that public humiliation is going to be counter-productive here and a very good reason not to use those methods!

The showmanship of stage hypnosis is much like the smoke and mirrors of magicianship where the trick is in the sleight of hand.     So let’s look at how the participants in stage hypnosis are qualified.

Firstly, volunteers are aware of what they are volunteering for which is their first step in being susceptible to the suggestion and willingness to perform.   Secondly, the stage hypnotist is well practiced in weeding out subjects who are non-compliant by performing a number of susceptibility tests where it’s obvious who will reject (dismissed) and who is ready to perform (retained).   Those ready to perform are filled with suggestion that staying on stage is conditional on them being wholey responsive when the time comes.    As the subjects are whittled down, the remaining members are perfectly conditioned to perform on cue, safe in the knowledge that any embarrassment can be attributed to hypnosis and they won’t be accountable for their actions.

Let’s now consider these factors when played out against the hypnotherapy session format.   Firstly, you weren’t invited to “come on up”, you decided you’d like some assistance and much like seeing a dr, went of your own accord without coercion or invitation.       Secondly, you have a specific reason and ideal outcome for your therapy that you are geared towards.   This one is important because hypnotists do not have magical powers, even whilst in a deep trance you have the power to accept or ignore suggestions that you do and don’t see as valuable insights.    Modern hypnosis is permissive and will not instruct you on what to do, but allow you to engage with the suggestions that your unconscious mind is most drawn towards and that your unconscious knows you are capable of even though your conscious mind may have been telling you otherwise.    There is no pressure to “perform” and there is no right or wrong response.    Whereby a subject in a stage show will leave the stage perhaps feeling embarrassed, bewildered, or joyful of the attention, your therapy session will leave you in a subtly enhanced and relaxed state of mind.  Many clients report weightlessness from the shedding of negative thought patterns and the reframed calm and optimistic strength of the certainty of moving forward as your best self.

Another concept to absorb is the variance between the terms hypnosis and hypnotherapy.      Confusing?  No..simple!

Simply put, hypnosis is the process of inducing/facilitating trance which whilst having its own therapeutic effects is only considered hypnotherapy once a suggestion and intervention are integrated via hypnotic suggestions.    Trance or hypnosis can be achieved in a meditative state, but therapy is unrealised until suggestion occurs.

Myths around hypnosis don’t stop at the stage hypnosis mix-up and here are a few things that are commonly misunderstood.

  • FALSE:  You have to be mentally “weak” or mentally “intelligent” to be hypnotised – anyone can be a successful subject of hypnotherapy, as long as the mind participates!    Many people unknowingly enter trance every day, especially in the period just before sleep or waking.  
  • FALSE:  Hypnotherapists have special powers – lycra has no place in this profession!   The true power lies in your mind and the untapped resources that already exist within your subconscious.   We as hypnotherapists are simply highly skilled and educated guides who can facilitate your exciting self-discovery
  • FALSE:  Clients reveal deep secrets against their will under hypnosis – You will only reveal what you are ready to learn about yourself and only then what you would like to share.    Your mind is actually still very aware during treatment, neither asleep nor unconscious and your censorship process will operate as normal.

Hypnotisability refers to the degree to which a person receives hypnosis, this is really varied between individuals for many different reasons and whilst some people are more easily hypnotised than others, this can also change over time so is not a blanket measure.

People often wonder who can and can’t be hypnotised, and this is an endlessly debatable question.     It could be said for example that everyone can be hypnotised if they “choose” to participate.   This then draws out anyone who “does not want” to be hypnotised as we can be sure that those people will not allow themselves to enter a hypnotic state and therefore cannot be hypnotised in that instance.   We can certainly agree that it is much harder for certain characters or that brain functionality can impede the receiving of hypnosis, for example, anyone who cannot focus or pay attention.   This may include small children, people with low IQs or brain damage or anyone who is chemically impaired by drugs or alcohol or suffering from major psychosis or depression.  The latter two would rarely be treated irrespective of their hypnotizability.

I referred earlier in this Blog to Milton Erickson who is the father of modern hypnosis and gave birth to the Ericksonian method of hypnotherapy which is notable in its permissiveness and indirect style.

There are other methods of hypnotherapy that are regularly practiced that also enjoy success albeit with very different philosophies and styles.   

The traditional method of hypnosis is targeted towards symptom removal and is built upon a more pessimistic style of pathology that people are “broken”.    The therapy goes to discovering the root of the problem and addressing the symptoms which can be a non-conscious trauma or decision.    Traditional hypnosis is directive in its instruction to change by acknowledging past learnings and typically suggestions are instructive.

Scripted hypnosis is another popular form of hypnotherapy that is reassuring and tempered with positive vocabulary.   This style of hypnotherapy is limited in that it is not tailored towards the individual and is delivered in a one-size-fits-all script with minimal deviation.    Whilst having its own successes, the scripted method can be met with rejection by the client if the words are not in fitting with their experiences.   For example, the script may tell the client that they now worry about things less and less because they are more relaxed, however, if the client is extremely anxious and has not yet achieved a deep state of relaxed trance their mind may revert to a state of consciousness as it argues what it has just been told knowing that is not the case right now.     Some highly susceptible clients will achieve success with scripts but it is less successful for an analytical mind that is highly motivated by things being right or wrong or black or white.

The Ericksonian method or modern hypnosis is very permissive and definitively present or future-oriented with little to no reflection on the origins of the presenting issue.      The client is invited to connect with their untapped but existing resources and the dialogue is reflective of choice so all suggestions offer freedom for acceptance or to disregard without having to resume a conscious deflection of being “told” something.    At times a directive authoritarian approach is valuable or more appropriate but this is qualified during the interview process and the tailored dialogue having not been scripted is free to be specific to the individual’s personality, values or beliefs so that even a directive instruction can resonate effectively.       The pathology is about disconnecting the past as the client no longer needs behaviours that are not serving them so the new suggestions can be immediate.     Reflection is no longer a focal point and limiting patterns are thereby disrupted and replaced with revitalised and optimistic valuable direction and ability.   The client does not need to dwell on how they got there, only how well they will accomplish their goals moving forward.

Hypnotherapy as a treatment is expansive and can resolve any number of ailments or psychological restraints, but can also enhance performance and drive success.

Psychologically, hypnotherapy can assist with anxiety, phobias, addictions, compulsions, and only in a highly skilled and specifically trained environment assist with more complex issues such as depression, PTSD or OCD.

Emotionally and mentally, hypnotherapy can assist with relationship issues, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, pessimism, stress and other debilitating but less psychologically derailing issues.   Bedwetting in children and stuttering can also be resolved with effective hypnotherapy treatment.

Medicinally, hypnotherapy has had great success and is becoming more heavily used in chronic pain relief, hypnobirthing during labour, high blood pressure, asthma and migraines and can be highly effective in surgical recovery processes and rehabilitation.    Dentistry commonly uses hypnotherapy measures to calm patients and act in an anaesthesia capacity.

Increasingly, hypnotherapy is being used as performance-enhancing for elite sports performance, corporate executive skills such as confidence presenting and attentiveness and focus.

Whilst these are some of the areas hypnotherapy can overcome, the fundamentals are in capturing the true core of the issue, disrupting and eradicating historical management and behaviours that are unhelpful, and enabling the client to access their wealth of abilities in their unconscious to “unstick” their blockage and take action towards success.

Marked by centuries of proven success and increasingly powerful uses for wellness, hypnotherapy is arguably the most effective therapeutic tool available in our modern world and proven to have some of the fastest results.

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