What is hypnosis?
In simple terms, hypnosis is a state of focused attention and absorption. It can be brought about by a person skilled in verbal and hypnotic techniques, but really it's the product of the hypnotised person's mind.
Anything that absorbs your attention can, to some degree, result in a hypnotic state. In other words, hypnosis isn't something someone does to you–it's something you allow to happen. You can emerge from it at any time.
Being in a hypnotic state is similar to when you tune out your surroundings and get absorbed in a film. You don't sit there thinking, 'Pfft. These are special effects.' You suspend your disbelief and go with it. And once you do, you can become so immersed that you cry during a sad scene or jump during a scary one–even though you know it's not real.
The similar happens in hypnosis, and you become more suggestible than usual. In turn, your ability to respond with changes in perception and sensation enhances via greater access to unconscious resources.
Of course, whether a suggestion is accepted or acted upon is entirely up to you. Hypnosis is not mind control! You're always aware and in control, and can't be made to do or reveal anything that you don't want to.
Misconceptions about hypnosis
Contrary to what many people believe, hypnosis is not a form of relaxation. You can go into hypnosis in an active or tense state, and with your eyes open. People often turn to hypnosis because they have a hard time relaxing in the first place. While relaxation can serve as a vehicle for hypnosis, it's more often an end goal.
Hypnosis has a reputation for being magical, and is often portrayed in this light by Hollywood and stage hypnotists. And while some people use it for spiritual ends, there's nothing magical, mystical or new age about it.
It's a natural yet curious phenomena of the mind that's long been the subject of clinical and scientific research. It's used in a variety of settings from dentistry to performance coaching.
What is hypnotherapy?
Simply put, hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis, and related techniques, in a therapeutic and/or goal-oriented context.
The practice of hypnotherapy has come a long way from simply telling a passive listener that they'll 'no longer have a desire to eat chocolate'. It's more collaborative and sophisticated to the extent that it can sometimes resemble a conversation–strictly within the confines of a session, mind you.
Hypnotherapy can be used on either a stand-alone basis or as a complement to other treatments and services. It is not a replacement for medical or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment or care. If you have any concerns in this regard, please first consult with your GP.
What can hypnotherapy help with?
Hypnotherapy can be used to help address a variety of issues because it focuses on the individual rather than the problem.
Common issues for which people seek hypnotherapy include:
Habits & Impulse Control
Letting go of the past
Confidence & Self-esteem
Life Transitions, e.g. divorce, retirement, empty nest
Management of perceived pain
Performance enhancement, e.g. sports, public speaking, creative arts
What is the unconscious mind?
When you first learned to write, you had to put a lot of conscious effort and thought into it. Now, you can write without having to put much, or any, thought into it.
How does that happen? How does anyone write, walk or do any number of things in this seemingly automatic manner?
The unconscious mind doesn't exist in a literal sense. It's a term that embodies the mind's ability to operate outside of our awareness.
It's the part of you that generates emotions and records your life experiences. It assigns meaning to things, people, events and so on, i.e. your beliefs.
It takes care of all the things you do automatically, from the way you brush your teeth to your body's involuntary actions and survival mechanisms (breathing, heart beat, fight-flight-freeze response).
While we like to think that our decisions and behaviours are made on a purely logical, conscious level, the unconscious plays a role too:
To use a metaphor, the conscious mind is a rider and the unconscious mind, a horse. The rider looks ahead and decides where to go. Yet, if the horse gets scared, hungry, tired ... it can kick up a fuss or derail the rider with great speed and force.
This dynamic when rational thinking is overwhelmed by emotional factors can play out in a number of ways that aren't always in our best interests: overeating, overspending, procrastination, a phobic response, constant worry and so on.
Hypnotherapy places emphasis on working directly with the unconscious mind because of its capacity to influence us to a large and involuntary extent.