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.