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What really happens to the mind under hypnosis?
Lets take the mystery out of hypnosis. First, I want you to know that Hypnosis is a completely natural state of mind. Although you may not have been formally hypnotized before, you have experienced this state of mind countless times. You’ll understand that better when you know what it is that really happens in your mind during hypnosis.
For the moment, imagine dividing your mind into two parts. One is the conscious mind, those things you are fully aware of and focusing on at any given moment and the second is the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind works like a giant computer. Every experience we’ve ever had in our lives is permanently stored there. Of course it would be too much trivia to be constantly aware of so you can think of it as a filing system that is accessible to us with hypnosis and other methods.
The subconscious mind controls ‘involuntary’ bodily functions, such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc. Hypnosis is the only tool that gains access bringing many of these ‘involuntary ‘functions under your voluntary control. Habits are controlled in the subconscious mind and this is of major importance. The subconscious mind is also the seat of emotions and since certain emotional connections to food seem to be common among overweight people, you need to be able to gain access to the subconscious mind in order to effectively change those responses.
Imagine, if you will, a filter, screen or network which lies over the subconscious mind. I will call it the gate keeper. You can think of it as a kind of protective mechanism so that every single thing we are exposed to does not become accepted as truth by the subconscious mind and become acted upon. In hypnosis we are purposely bypassing the gate keeper of the mind so that ideas which are beneficial to us can make a deep and lasting impression on the subconscious mind. The gate keeper of the mind merely becomes less active through a variety of methods but it never disappears. It is simply less active and it will return to full activity should any suggestion be presented which your mind did not deem to be in its best interest. If you were to be instructed, while under hypnosis, to do something that goes against your moral compass, you simply would dismiss the instruction. You are not a blank slate in hypnosis and you will not accept just any suggestion that is presented. You are in full control at all times.
Think about sometime when you were watching a sad movie and maybe you were crying or at least feeling some emotions coming up. The gate keeper was still active enough that you knew it was just a movie and yet it wasn’t bombarding you with interfering thoughts like, “Why are you crying? This lady is not dead. You saw her on Oprah this morning.” And yet, if your partner taps you on the shoulder and asks if you want some popcorn you can turn and respond and then instantly return to the movie and be right back into it again.
We go into and out of our subconscious mind all day long. Every time we are involved in some creative endeavor, every time we daydream, every time we get wrapped up in our emotions, every time we drive along in our car and suddenly realize we don’t remember the last mile we drove, every time we are feeling our emotions or acting out of some previously formed habit.It is estimated that we spend between 50 and 80% of our waking hours in our subconscious mind. I like to remind people that when we enter into that state of mind we call hypnosis that we are not going into uncharted territory where no human has ever set foot before. It is a common and completely natural state of mind that we have all experienced countless times before, we just didn’t call it hypnosis.
Since hypnosis is a completely natural state of mind, there is no such thing as a person who can not be hypnotized. A thorough explanation of hypnosis and careful instruction in reaching that wonderful state of relaxation takes place during the very first session. Remember that it is a natural ability of the human mind and you will find it extremely relaxing and enjoyable.
Absolutely! Hypnosis has nothing to do with being asleep or unconscious in any way. You hear everything, remember everything and know exactly what’s going on the entire time. You are always in control.
Absolutely not. When a person goes up on stage to participate in an entertainment show of hypnosis, they have a certain contract in mind. They know that they are going to be asked to do a lot of silly things and they agree to that at some level of their mind. If we were to bring the ‘star’ of the show to my office for some clinical purpose, they would not respond to any of the suggestions which they had responded to when they were in the entertainment setting. The context in which the hypnosis is taking place and the understood purpose of the hypnosis in the individual’s mind always determine the type of responses that can be elicited. You can not be caused to do anything in hypnosis that you would not ordinarily do. And, of course, in a clinical setting all suggestions would pertain precisely to the goal of your becoming more and more in control of your eating behavior.
Actually, everyone has a different subjective experience so I can only give you some of the common reports. Some people say it’s like the peaceful feeling they have just upon awakening on a morning when they don’t have to get up right away. They are fully aware of where they are and what’s going on but it’s just very peaceful and relaxing to lie there, sort of a gray area between waking and sleeping. Most individuals think that hypnosis should be more like the state of sleep itself where we are not consciously aware of anything. They expect to “wake up” from hypnosis as from a sound sleep. Since we are never ”asleep” in hypnosis we don’t need to “wake up” from it. It is simply a very comfortable and natural state of mind that we enter into and then back out of. Some individuals will experience a sensation of heaviness in the limbs while others may report a light floating sensation. Breathing tends to slow down in hypnosis somewhat like it does when we are asleep.
Think of it this way. If we gathered a group of individuals around a swimming pool and asked them to get into the pool, we would see a wide variety of methods. Some would dive in and some would head down the steps at the edge of the pool while others would test the waters gently with their foot. The same is true with a group of people entering into hypnosis. Some will dive right in and enjoy a deeper quality of relaxation than they ever have before in their entire lives and they will love it. Others will just gently test the shallow waters.
The point is it doesn’t matter which you do. You need only a light to medium state of hypnosis to bring about positive behavioral change. Those individuals who enter a deeper state of hypnosis will not necessarily “do better”. You are not in competition with anyone. It is the nature of the subconscious mind to respond more easily and more rapidly with each repetition of response. Before you know it, you will be able to enter into hypnosis “just like that” whenever you so desire. Soon you will cease to ask yourself the question “Was I hypnotized ?” and instead just ask yourself the right question, “What does hypnosis feel like to me?”
No. No one has ever died as a result of being hypnotized. You may feel a bit disoriented immediately after the session and may want t to allow a little extra transition time before going back to work, driving, etc. This may only last a few minutes. You may also feel a bit more tired that usual on the eve after the session and may feel like turning in for bed a little earlier. I like to think that this is for the benefit of your unconscious mind needing some additional down time to integrate the suggests that were made. In spite of what you might think, your unconscious mind serves as a protective function and will only allow you to be influenced by suggestions that are in your best interests.
Hypnosis and meditation are similar in that they both require a focused concentration in order to go more deeply. The objective of meditation regardless of the varying styles, usually points towards a kind of awareness or mindfulness with no preconceived goal to achieve. You may train yourself to focus on a meditative object, like your breath for example, to develop a passive attentiveness, becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, distractions, etc. as they arise in order to dismiss them and let them go. Hypnosis on the other hand, intentionally focuses on specific outcomes or goals to reach. Specific changes in feelings or behaviors are pursued actively in hopes of making improved cognitive or behavioral changes. While you may be attempting to clear your mind during meditation, while under hypnosis we purposely use mental and affective suggestions to redirect your attention towards predetermined preferred outcomes.
Hypnosis performed in a clinical setting is quite different from that of the stage hypnosis shows you may have seen on tv, in the movies, nightclubs, cruises, etc. In a nutshell, stage hypnosis is typically performed for entertainment purposes to make others laugh. Hypnosis in a clinical setting is practiced solely for the purpose of helping you with your goals. It is not necessary to create the dramatic effects of a stage hypnotist in order to help you get positive results. A stage hypnotist is skilled at running volunteers through a series of tests to weed out poor responders on stage. The result: the remaining participants he selects are the best responders of an audience of perhaps a hundred or more. In a clinical setting, hypnosis is practiced to meet the goals of each individual, solely with their best interests in mind.
In a group hypnosis setting, I needs to generalize hypnotic suggestions to ensure that a participant will not be mislead or be given a suggestion meant for someone else. Hypnosis performed one on one, allows me to personalize specific suggestions according to your particular motivations and preferences. For example, one person might prefer to relax as if lying on a sunny beach, recalling the good times from their early childhood, while another person with traumatic childhood memories of getting severely sunburned on a beach, might prefer to relax as if walking in the shaded woods being inspired by the beauty of nature that surrounds them
Of course, the number of sessions varies from person to person. Generally speaking, during the first session, time is spent collecting information about what you may want to work on, answering questions, and determining whether or not you have a good match for working together. By the end of the first session or during session two, you might then have had an experience of entering into a hypnotic trance and getting comfortable with the procedure. By session three you might begin to observe how the effects of suggestions begins to modify your particular experience. Additional sessions may include reinforcement of procedures, working on other unanticipated issues that emerge, changing to a more effect methodology, etc. At first, I generally recommend that people come in weekly for sessions. We might then increase or decrease the frequency of meeting depending on the individual’s needs or desires. Some clients may elect to focus only on short term goals, others may expand into a psychotherapeutic relationship to continue to address other concerns as indicated.