But HOW Does Hypnosis Work? (Part 2)

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Welcome back to our discussion of the mysteries of hypnosis–in particular our examination of how hypnosis works to affect desired changes in thoughts or behaviors.  Again, let me state that no one definitively knows the answers to these questions.  What follows is my opinion, informed by research, training, and experience.

We have already noted that hypnosis and hypnotherapy work by accessing the unconscious mind–the part of our mind that generates dreaming and is alternately blamed or credited for behaviors that may be desirable or undesirable.  But just how does the clinical practitioner (I am not talking about stage hypnosis here) gain access to thoughts that are, by definition, not generally accessible to the conscious mind?

Hypnosis begins with encouraging the subject to relax.  In the movies, various alleged practitioners use the command “sleep!” liberally, but in actuality we want our subjects to relax deeply, yet still focus their attention on the hypnotist’s words or actions.  Sleep is not what we are seeking, in most cases, although it may spontaneously occur.  A common technique, called progressive relaxation, encourages subjects to relax their bodies, one part at a time.  Hypnotic subjects may be asked to respond to questions from the hypnotist while in this state of intense awareness and relaxation, which requires a level of consciousness a bit higher than a typical snoozefest.

Inducing this state of focus and relaxation serves the purpose of essentially putting aside the thoughts of the conscious mind and allowing unconscious thoughts to surface.  Typically, the conscious mind becomes so bored with the drone of the hypnotist that it shuts down and awaits something more interesting.  As a result, the therapist can speak more directly to the unconscious mind, which remains active even while the conscious mind decides to put itself on hold.

Please be aware that this is a much simplified version of what happens in many hypnosis sessions.  The relaxed and focused mind tends to be much more receptive to suggestionx from the hypnotist, but only if those suggestions are syntonic (agreeable) to the subject in the first place.  In most cases, hypnotherapists will offer suggestions that come directly from the subject before the session begins.

From this point on, the therapist is simply repeating and reinforcing positive messages that the subject has agreed are helpful.  If the goal is to lose weight, for example, suggestions may center around selecting a healthier diet, stopping eating when one is full, or only eating when the body actually needs fuel to run efficiently.  Long after the hypnosis session is over, the effects of these suggestions may be felt and actualized in behavior–sometimes much to the surprise of the subject!

Again, I should emphasize that a hypnotic subject will not do things that are against his or her own values or morals.  The idea that hypnotists can somehow brainwash their subjects is pure hogwash.

So once the positive suggestions have been given, how long will the new thoughts or behaviors last?  We will discuss that subject in our next posting.

Comments or questions?  Please feel free to share below.

But HOW Does Hypnosis Work? (Part 1)

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In our last post, we looked at the question of whether or not hypnosis or hypnotherapy actually works, which it undoubtedly does.  But that begs another, perhaps more interesting, question: Just how does hypnotherapy work in the mind to affect desired changes?
First, let me state that no one actually knows the answer to this question, although there are many interesting ideas.  If this surprises you, think about the fact that there are a number of drugs that share this same mystery; that is, they do work for the prescribed conditions, but doctors are not sure exactly how working works!  Science has not yet caught up with real world functionality.
So what follows is my own opinion about how hypnosis enables individuals to make changes, based on my training, my research, and–most important–my experience as a clinician.  It should also be stated that I am taking a broad overview of hypnosis as a practice, acknowledging that there are many differences in therapeutic modalities while at the same time stating that most forms of hypnotherapy share the same basic factors.
Most hypnosis clinicians agree that hypnosis involves the unconscious mind.  According to SimplyPyschology.org, “the unconscious mind comprises mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgements, feelings, or behavior (Wilson, 2002). According to Freud (1915), the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see.”
Freud said this part of the mind is filled with images and thoughts that, if known by the conscious mind (the part we use during most of our waking lives), might prove disturbing or upsetting.  Be that as it may, our unconscious thought processes can exert a powerful influence on our perceptions and behaviors.  These thought processes are often blamed for otherwise inexplicable things, such as unreasonable fears or habits that seem to arise out of nowhere.
The unconscious is also thought to be expressed in the realm of dreams, which suggests that the understanding of our unconscious mind is far different–and usually far less logical–than that of the conscious mind.  It is for this reason that dreams, when remembered, often seem to be nonsensical to our conscious minds.  To put it another way, the unconscious mind has a language and symbolism of its own–an idea advanced famously by the noted psychologist C. G. Jung.
Since most of us acknowledge that the unconscious mind has the power to influence behavior and perception, it follows that influencing or changing what goes on in the unconscious mind itself can and will bring about positive changes, whether the problem is a phobia, a bad habit, anxiety, or your errant golf swing.  This is the task of the hypnotherapist: to access the unconscious mind, to see how that mind is influencing or causing undesirable feelings and behaviors, and to change or repair thought patterns to yield more positive and helpful results.
In our next posting, we will discuss how the hypnotherapist works with the unconscious mind to achieve those desired results.
Meanwhile, your comments and suggestions are always welcomed.