Tell me about hypnosis…

What is hypnosis? What’s it all about?

The first thing to know is that it is a natural occurrence, one you are very familiar with, although you may not call it by that name. Have you ever driven from one destination to another, only to arrive with no memory of the journey? Your unconscious mind was ensuring your safety whilst your conscious mind was engrossed in other things. During your journey your brain waves had likely slowed to the Alpha level of 8-12Hz per second; you were in effect daydreaming. This is also sometimes called “highway hypnosis”, although the same response also occurs when we are focused on any task, or perhaps engaged in something that we can do ‘on auto-pilot’. 

Formal hypnosis is similar. During hypnotherapy, your body usually becomes very relaxed and your mind becomes very focused. While this is happening, your unconscious mind is open to beneficial ideas or thoughts which it may process, thus leading the way to positive and lasting change. Hypnosis enables us to access that part of our mind where our habits and patterns of behaviour are stored, and make changes where appropriate.

There are many theories about why hypnotherapy is so effective, including theories of brain wave function as we’ve mentioned, but also theories of ‘dissociated control’, cognitive theories, so called ‘special state’ theories, etc. In days gone by, it was thought that the power of hypnosis lay with the hypnotist. Today, this latter theory is only perpetuated by entertainers and stage hypnotists, because it enhances their performance.  We have a saying in our clinic – that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. In a session, hypnosis is not something that is ‘done’ to you, but rather a way of focusing that your therapist helps you to achieve. In many instances, we will teach our clients how they may take themselves in and out of this state, enabling them to continue work begun in the session at home.

Modern Hypnosis – a client-centred approach

Milton Erickson MD is considered the father of modern hypnotherapy. His definition of hypnotherapy is:

“A process whereby we help people utilize their own mental associations, memories, and life potentials to achieve their own therapeutic goals.” (Rossi, 1979:1)

With Ericksonian hypnosis, the suggestions you are given can vary between very direct and indirect, depending upon your personality, situations, etc. The more old-fashioned methods, which was very authoritative, is not appropriate for everyone. Most people don’t like to be told what to do, even in trance! Most people know unconsciously what is best for them, so if we can suggest that you make changes for your own benefit, the effects will be positive and lasting. This is much more realistic than expecting someone to change just because you tell them to in hypnosis / offer a hypnotic suggestion to do so. 

The following is a teaching tale of Dr Erickson’s which captures how a good therapeutic hypnotist works: 

 “I was returning from high school one day and a runaway horse with a bridle on sped past a group of us into a farmer’s yard…looking for a drink of water. The horse was perspiring heavily. The farmer didn’t recognize it, so we cornered it. I hopped on the horse’s back…since it had a bridle on, I took hold of the rein and said “Giddy-up”… and headed for the highway. I knew the horse would turn in the right direction…I didn’t know what the right direction was. And the horse trotted and galloped along. Now and then he would forget he was on the highway and start into a field. So I would pull on him a bit and call his attention to the fact the highway was where he was supposed to be. And finally about four miles from where I had boarded him he turned into a farm yard and the farmer said, “So that’s how that critter came back. Where did you find him?”. 

I said, “About four miles from here.”

“How did you know he should come here?”

I said, “I didn’t know…the horse knew. All I did was keep his attention on the road.”

…I think that’s the way you do psychotherapy.”Milton H. Erickson, Pheonix Arizona, 1978



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