Clinical hypnosis has been an accepted adjunct to traditional medicine for over a century.  Yet is probably the most misunderstood of all complimentary therapies.  Thanks to stage hypnosis and the inaccurate ways in whichHollywoodportrays hypnosis, confusion reigns for the general public.  Contrary to what many people believe, hypnosis is not magic, not mind control, and not dangerous. It is contra-indicated for people who contend with schizophrenia, psychosis, delusions or hallucination. It works best when the listener is open to the process, understands it, and has a good rapport with the hypnotherapist.

So what, exactly, is hypnosis?  How is it different from other types of therapy, or say, even normal one-on-one conversation? What makes hypnosis unique?

If you were to read 100 books about hypnosis, or interview 100 hypnotherapists, you would probably get 100 different definitions of hypnosis.  Here’s mine: Hypnosis is a communication process for inducing, or bringing about, a state of trance, for directing mental activities toward an outcome. My simple definition holds these four vital pieces of information:

  1. Hypnosis is a process. The process is spoken communication.
  2. Hypnosis is a means to induce trance.  It’s not the only way to induce trance.  Moreover, you don’t have to be formally hypnotized to go into trance. Anything that captures and focuses attention      and/or imagination can induce trance.  Most of us go into trance spontaneously, several times a day.  Trance often accompanies meditation,      prayer, listening to music, romantic encounters, and watching movies or television. If you’ve ever been “lost in thought,” you’ve been in trance!
  3. Trance is a state. Trance is a mind-body experience: not just a thought process, or a feeling, or a  behavior.  It involves thinking, perceptions, emotions, behaviors and physical responses, all at the same time.
  4. Hypnosis directs mental activities toward an outcome. Trance invites relaxation and slows brain  activity, promoting concentration and suggestibility, and integrating  parts of the brain involved with problem-solving, motivation, and learning. Thus, people are more suggestible in trance. Trance accelerates learning that leads to behavioral change.

Trance varies from light to deep. As relaxation increases, trance goes deeper.  I’ve encountered many lay people, and a few hypnotherapists, who believe trance must always be deep for hypnosis to be effective.  I disagree. To my thinking, the level of trance that works best depends on the client’s intended outcome and the level of trance with which he or she is comfortable.

In my opinion, if the outcome is to learn new behaviors and problem-solving strategies, then a certain amount of conscious, cognitive activity is required: A light trance is ideal. For influencing autonomic processes, such as sleep patterns, blood pressure, healing, or pain, then a deeper trance is better.

Many clients ask me to “put” them into deep trance because they believe only deep trance will solve their problem.  Maybe so, may not. It depends.  Many people get fine results with light or medium trance.  Few people understand that ultimate responsibility for depth of trance does not rest with the hypnotherapist.  I usually say, “I can tell you to go into deep trance, but it’s not up to me.  How deep you go is up to you, based on your willingness to follow instructions.”

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