Did you know that you go through a hypnotic state twice a day? Whenever you drift off to sleep and whenever you slowly rouse into a new morning, you are passing through a hypnotic state. So even if hypnotherapy seems like a foreign concept, elements of hypnotherapy, such as falling into a hypnotic state, are actually fairly common occurrences that all minds experience.
Hypnotherapy is a form of complementary therapy that uses the power of positive suggestion to bring about subconscious change to a person's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. As a hypnotherapist myself, I get asked a lot of questions about the power of hypnotherapy: what it is and how it works. In order to demystify hypnotherapy, one thing needs to be clear: hypnotherapy is not magic. As hypnotherapists, we are not magicians who can take over your free will. We do not have the power to make you do or say anything you wouldn't want to do or say. Our hypnotic suggestions are formulated based on the words, metaphors, and language that you produce during our sessions together. However, with an open mind, hypnotherapy can significantly help combat anxiety.
How Conventional Therapy and Hypnotherapy Differ
By definition, conventional therapy, more commonly known as psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health provider. During psychotherapy, you examine your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.1 While psychotherapy has proven to be a traditional therapy that produces positive results, many patients and practitioners are finding that the process of getting to the desired result can be lengthy, requiring a commitment of time and financial resources.
The process of hypnotherapy aims to alter one's state of consciousness in a way that relaxes the conscious part of the mind while simultaneously stimulating and focusing the subconscious part. This heightened state of awareness—which can be reached by using skilled relaxation techniques—allows the therapist to then make appropriate suggestions.2
Understand the Conscious Mind and Subconscious Mind
Within the practice of hypnotherapy, the mind is viewed as having two separate parts: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind accounts for approximately 10% and is where the logic, reason, willpower, and deductive reasoning are housed. The subconscious mind, the other 90%, is purely reactive and dictates the involuntary emotions and behavior responses that a person exhibits when triggered. Hypnotherapy works directly with the subconscious.
To further explain how the subconscious mind works, let's look at a person who has a fear of dogs. This fear isn't something one has naturally, but something that's learned over time or after a certain event. The origin of this fear can vary: the person was attacked by a dog, saw someone get attacked by a dog, or was told at a young age that they should stay away from dogs. Because of this, reacting to dogs with fear and avoidance is something that becomes deeply embedded in their subconscious. Even if this person is able to rationalize that not all dogs will attack them, logical thoughts are typically not enough to create a shift in the subconscious association that dogs are bad.
Anxiety as a Subconscious Reaction
Similar to a fear of dogs, anxiety is a subconscious reaction. When anxiety gets triggered, the body responds and the mind begins to try to rationalize it. However, one is often unable to identify the cause of anxiety and is left panicking at the feeling that is surging through one's system. People often become fearful about how long the feeling will and how deep the emotions might run. Frequently, a powerful imagination will lead a person down a path of 'what if's' and worst-case scenarios.
People suffering with anxiety are often ruled by these worst-case scenarios, constantly living in fear of the future. Because the subconscious projects past memories and associations into the future, it's can be easy to fall into an anxiety spiral about things to come. However, anxiety is like a crying baby that needs tending. Rather than running from anxiety, it would be better to find out what it needs.
What to Expect When Undergoing Hypnotherapy
This is where hypnotherapy comes in. Hypnotherapy involves an integrated session of two key parts: therapy and hypnosis.
Part I: Therapy
- Talk. Just like in conventional therapy, hypnotherapy begins with a little talking. This way, you can discuss with your hypnotherapist your what you want your session to achieve, describe what's making you anxious, and what has happened to make you anxious in the past.
- Learn. Before diving into the hypnotherapy process, your hypnotherapist will discuss how the hypnotic state works. This is a time to ask questions, if you have any, and familiarize yourself with the process.
Part II: Hypnosis
During the hypnosis portion of the session, one can expect a series of events that will allow for a successful treatment. They all involve falling into a progressively deeper relaxed state.
- Guided Visualizations. You will be guided to think of a relaxing place, visualizing it so vividly that you feel like you're actually there. It is similar to what happens when you read a captivating book or watch a thrilling movie.
- Eye Fascinations. Then, you will engage in eye fascination. Eye fascinations work by having you fix your attention and visual focus on one spot on the wall or even a moving object like the pendulum. This over-stimulation of the eyes will help you achieve a more relaxed state.
- Progressive Relaxation. Finally, the hypnotherapist will use progressive relaxation to help you focus on moving a relaxing sensation throughout the body, starting with either the head or the toes. For example, you may be asked to imagine spreading a warm blanket over your body starting at the feet.
Once your body is relaxed, the mind is given permission to relax as well. By giving the conscious, critical mind the ability to let go, one can gain access into the subconscious mind, which is where the processing and understanding of words takes place. The subconscious mind hears and listens but does not process words from the hypnotherapist in the same way that the conscious mind does. However, it is important that any hypnotic suggestions given to the subconscious mind be mindful and utilize words that resonate with you in order for the subconscious mind to not only hear them, but to truly understand them. Thereby, accepting them as truths and creating a shift in the mind for change and letting go of unwanted behaviors.
Harness the Power of the Subconscious
Hypnotherapy has made great strides within the wellness and medical community as a powerful form of alternative healthcare. Hypnotherapy provides the patient with the ability to heal their mind and body on a deeper level by harnessing the power of the subconscious mind. While the application of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes is unconventional, its success is derived directly from the empowerment of its users. These users range from business executives, musicians, cancer patients, nail biters, pain management seekers, to women with fertility issues–all of whom are looking to let go of bad habits, hurt, fears, and grief, or to decrease and manage stress and anxiety. Whatever the reason for using hypnotherapy, the mind and body approach taps into the subconscious mind, which is used to treat the person, not just the presenting issue, symptoms, or disease. Given that your subconscious makes up nearly 90% of your mind, wouldn't you like to harness its power for your own well-being? Use hypnotherapy to allow your subconscious to become the biggest asset in your healing process rather than its greatest opponent.
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1Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.(1998-2015). All rights reserved.
2Hypnotherapy Directory. (2015). All rights reserved.
Date of original publication: March 18, 2015
Updated: December 05, 2016