What is hypnotherapy?
The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word hypnos, meaning “sleep.” Hypnotherapy is a method of inducing relaxation to relieve certain symptoms or bring about a change in life style. It combines the skills of counselling and psychotherapy with the techniques of hypnosis. The induction of hypnosis produces an altered state of consciousness or awareness, similar to day dreaming or near-sleep and provides a special opportunity for patients to progress towards their desired physiological state. Patients derive most benefit when enabled or encouraged to achieve this inner re-synthesis by their own efforts
Hypnotherapists use exercises that bring about deep relaxation and an altered state of consciousness, also known as a trance. A person in a deeply focused state is unusually responsive to an idea or image, but this doesn’t mean that a hypnotist can control the person’s mind and free will. On the contrary, hypnosis can actually teach people how to master their own states of awareness. By doing so they can affect their own bodily functions and psychological responses
Hypnosis - a brief history
Throughout history, trance states have been used by shamans and ancient peoples in rituals and religious ceremonies. But hypnosis as we know it today was first associated with the work of an Austrian physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. In the 1700s, Mesmer believed that illnesses were caused by magnetic fluids in the body getting out of balance. He used magnets and other hypnotic techniques (the word mesmerized comes from his name) to treat people. But the medical community was not convinced. Mesmer was accused of fraud, and his techniques were called unscientific
Hypnotherapy regained popularity in the mid 1900s due to Milton H. Erickson (1901 - 1980), a successful psychiatrist who used hypnosis in his practice. In 1958, both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical procedure. Since 1995, in the USA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended hypnotherapy as a treatment for chronic pain
How does hypnosis work?
When something happens to us, we remember it and learn a particular behaviour in response to what happened. Each time something similar happens, our physical and emotional reactions attached to the memory are repeated. In some cases these reactions are unhealthy. In some forms of hypnotherapy, a trained therapist guides you to remember the event that led to the first reaction, separate the memory from the learned behaviour, and replace unhealthy behaviours with new, healthier ones
During hypnosis, your body relaxes and your thoughts become more focused. Like other relaxation techniques, hypnosis lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and changes certain types of brain wave activity. In this relaxed state, you’ll feel at ease physically yet fully awake mentally and may be highly responsive to suggestion. Your conscious mind becomes less alert and your subconscious mind becomes more focused.Some people respond better to hypnotic suggestion than others
There are several stages of hypnosis:
- Reframing the problem
- Becoming relaxed, then absorbed (deeply engaged in the words or images presented by a hypnotherapist)
- Dissociating (letting go of critical thoughts)
- Responding (complying with a hypnotherapist’s suggestions)
- Returning to usual awareness
- Reflecting on the experience
What happens during a visit to the hypnotherapist?
During your first visit, you’ll be asked about your medical history and what brought you in — what condition you would like to address. The hypnotherapist may explain to you what hypnosis is and how it works. You’ll then be directed through relaxation techniques, using a series of mental images and suggestions intended to change behaviours and relieve symptoms. For example, people who have panic attacks may be given the suggestion that, in the future, they will be able to relax whenever they want. The hypnotherapist will also teach you the basics of self hypnosis and give you an audiotape to use at home so you can reinforce what you learn during the session
How many treatments will I need?
Each session lasts about an hour, and most people start to see results within 4 - 10 sessions. You and your hypnotherapist will monitor and evaluate your progress over time
What illnesses or conditions respond well to hypnosis?
Hypnosis is used in a variety of settings — from emergency rooms to dental offices to outpatient clinics. Clinical studies suggest that hypnosis may improve immune function, increase relaxation, decrease stress, and ease pain and feelings of anxiety
Hypnotherapy can reduce the fear and anxiety that some people feel before medical or dental procedures. For example, studies show that dental patients who underwent hypnosis had a significantly higher threshold for pain than those who were not hypnotized. Hypnosis may also improve recovery time and reduce anxiety and pain following surgery. Clinical trials on burn patients suggest that hypnosis decreases pain (enough to replace pain medication) and speeds healing. Generally, clinical studies show that using hypnosis may reduce your need for medication, improve your mental and physical condition before an operation, and reduce the time it takes to recover. Dentists also use hypnotherapy to control gagging and bleeding
A hypnotherapist can teach you self regulation skills. For instance, someone with arthritis may learn to turn down pain like the volume on a radio. Hypnotherapy can also be used to help manage chronic illness. Self hypnosis can enhance a sense of control, which is often lacking when someone has a chronic illness
Other problems or conditions that may respond to hypnotherapy include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Tension headaches
- Alopecia areata
- Skin disorders [such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Cancer related pain
- Weight loss
- Eating disorders
Before considering hypnotherapy, you need a diagnosis from your doctor to know what needs to be treated. This is especially true if your condition is psychological (for example, a phobia or anxiety), and you should be evaluated by a psychiatrist. Without an accurate diagnosis, hypnotherapy could make your symptoms worse. Very rarely, hypnotherapy leads to the development of ‘false memories’ made up by the unconscious mind; these are called confabulations
How can I find a hypnotherapist?
Hypnotherapy practitioners who are committed to the health and wellbeing of their clients will ensure that they are members of one of the UK based hypnotherapy professional bodies (there are a bewildering number of these) recognised by the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council.
It is easy to be confused by the number of hypnotherapy websites that claim to be professional organisations who promote therapists across the country or even internationally. Although some of these have very offical sounding titles, many do not require the practitioner to have any form of professional supervision or even a qualification. A good guideline when using these sites is to check that they are based in the UK (so may at least have a nodding aquaintance with the current and ongoing reviews by the Department of Health) and that they expect their members to hold a qualification from a well recognised training body and that they maintain continual professional development and supervision.
The National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) represents over 1800 hypnotherapy professionals within the United Kingdom and is committed to ensuring the highest possible professional standards amongst their members. It’s a good place to start
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