Posted April 5,1999
Myth-Conceptions About Hypnosis
I've had a private practice in hypnotherapy for nine years. One of my clients asked me to write an article on hypnotherapy, since she benefited so much from it when she was working with me. This is dedicated to her. She knows who she is.
Much of my initial work as a hypnotherapist is to dispel some of the myths about hypnosis. Many people, even when they come in to see me, have a lot of misconceptions about the process. They think I'm going to wave my hand in front of their face, and they'll go into never-never land. Then they think I'm going to take control of their mind, and erase all their problems in one session. Some people want me to do this, and some are afraid of having me in control. So the first thing I do is explain what hypnosis is, what it isn't, what it can and can't do. Periodically, I even hold a free hour long mini-class, open to the public, to educate about hypnosis.
Some years ago, I was at a party. A man came up and we started talking. "What do you do?" he asked. "I'm a hypnotherapist," I replied. "Oh. Well, you can't hypnotize me," he said, as he began scanning the party for someone else to talk to. "You're absolutely right. I can't hypnotize you. I don't hypnotize anyone. By following my instructions, they actually hypnotize themselves." That got his attention.
That's the first thing I tell my clients. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. If they don't follow my instructions, they won't be hypnotized. And if they try too hard, they won't be hypnotized. It's sort of like falling asleep at night. If you try to will yourself to fall asleep, you'll just wake up even more. Hypnosis is a letting go. Letting go of the details of the day. Letting go of the concerns. Letting your analytical mind let go of its hold on you. Just being in the here and now. Some people are afraid of letting go. They think it means that someone else will be in control. I reassure them that they are always in control of the process, and that they only go as deeply as they feel safe doing. Generally, a client will drift into a light state the first time. The second time I see them, they go deeper because they realize that I'm not going to do anything weird, like make them cluck like a chicken.
In hypnosis, I'm merely a guide. I can lead a client where they want to go, but only if they want to go there. If they're not dedicated to the change they want, then I can't help them. I've had smokers come to me and say, "I'd really like to want to quit. But I still love smoking cigarettes, even though I know I should quit. Take away the craving." I send them on their way and tell them to come see me when they've decided to quit. Hypnosis is a tool that can help them through the process of quitting, but it can't make them quit. It's not a magic wand. I can help a client move from point A to point B, but they're the one that gets to walk the path. Hypnosis can make it infinitely easier. It can make a mountain into a molehill, and make changes happen very quickly. But the person has to really want the change, and be willing to deal with all of the other aspects of that change. For instance, a woman wanting to lose weight decides to reduce her consumption of sweets. After hypnosis, she loses her desire for them, but finds that it was an enjoyable part of the meal with her husband. She gets mad at me because I "took away the enjoyment."
Many people erroneously think that hypnosis is some other dimension of consciousness. It's not. It's a very normal, natural awareness that we're moving in and out of all the time. When you're driving down the road on autopilot, and your mind drifts off, and all of a sudden you're aware that you've driven past your turnoff. Or when you're at the movie theater, and get so involved with the action on the screen that you're barely aware of the rest of the people in the audience. Or if you're an artist or writer, and when you get so focused on a project that time just speeds by, and outside distractions fade away. These are all examples of the state of mind that we call hypnosis. It's just that I know how to help a person reach that level of consciousness deliberately, and know what to do once we get there. Hypnosis is really just being able to focus on one idea. Back in the mid 1800's, Dr. James Braid coined the term "hypnosis" after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. But after more experience with it, he realized that the word "hypnosis" was inaccurate. Dr. Braid then tried to rename it to "mono-ideaism," for "one idea." But it was too late. "Hypnosis" had already caught on, and the other really is a mouthful to say.
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