There are many misunderstandings about hypnosis, ranging from over caution, fear and suspicion, through disbelief and scepticism, all the way through to those people who think that it is going to be a wonder 'cure all' that will magically transform them into something or someone who they are not... all without having to do any work or take any responsibility. There is a little truth to each of these attitudes: we do need to be careful of some unscrupulous people trying to misuse it, it does not work for everyone and yet it can also bring about surprising miraculous changes in people's lives.
The real truth is as usual, rather deeper than the fiction, the hype and the tabloid presentation that we have become used to. I intend to Dis-Spell and demystify some of the myths about hypnosis, tell you something of what it can do and also let you know a bit about how it works.
Myths About Hypnosis
1) Neither NLP nor Hypnosis can get anyone to do anything that they do not really want to do.
(Unless you threaten or lie to someone, which works just as well without hypnosis.)
Stage and TV Hypnotists like Paul McKenna often make it look as if they are getting people to do what they would not normally do. This obviously adds to the entertainment value. However, when people go to a hypnosis show, they go to be entertained, to see people make fools of themselves.
Any good hypnotist will not pick subjects straight from the audience, but will ask for volunteers. In other words, these people know exactly what they are in for and they are up for it. They may be a quiet withdrawn kind of person, but this is an opportunity for them to express another side. Whatever their motive, this gives them a chance to be the star of the show for a while.
I saw a Stage Hypnotist once trying to get a rather reserved man to do something, which even I from the audience could sense was against the subjects principles. The Hypnotist tried twice without any response from the subject. On the third attempt, the subject just came out of trance. This is the usual response.
If anyone has seen Derren Brown when he got a cashier to pay out on a loosing ticket at a dog track, then that relies on disorientation and deceit (lying), such as is used in some interrogation techniques. This does not count as hypnosis, but as trickery. The cashier really did want to pay out on the winning ticket, She was tricked into thinking it was the winning ticket.
2) Anyone can be hypnotised
Before a stage Hypnotist asks for volunteers, he (or she--) will put the audience through a few tests. Only those who have passed these tests will be invited to volunteer.
This makes it appear as if only some people can be hypnotised.
The truth is that almost anyone can be hypnotised, so long as they want to be, and so long as they are of reasonable intelligence and have no severe mental or neurological conditions. (eg. Schizophrenia- where they have already voluntarily retreated to the equivalent of a deep trance, or Alzheimer’s Disease- where they are unable to follow instructions sufficiently.)
What is happening in the show is that the Hypnotist is testing to find out who is willing to follow the instructions. The Hypnotist knows that if you are willing to follow the instructions to the letter, you will be able to access the full power of your imagination and the vast wisdom and fantastic abilities of your unconscious mind. Whatever you do on the show will be far better than someone trying to do it with their ordinary conscious abilities.
3) You can’t get stuck in hypnosis
There is a hypnotic state, known as the Esdale state in which it appears the subject cannot be brought out. However, no one has ever been permanently stuck in it.
In this state, the person has no external physical sensations at all, therefore it is ideal for surgery. However the person is still completely aware of everything going on around them, and yet they are also in a state of absolute bliss. They could come out of this, but they just simply do not want to. Why should they, they feel absolutely wonderful and they want to keep feeling this way for as long as possible. It is no use trying to trick them out of this state, their hearing, sense of smell and their thinking is highly acute, if there was an actual real emergency, they would emerge immediately, but try pretending there is one and there is no way you can fool them.
On the outside they are totally motionless and expressionless. They do not respond to any suggestions (unless the hypnotist knows the right ones---). This is the inexperienced stage hypnotists worst nightmare, it seems they have lost their subject. In fact if you leave them long enough, they will just come round anyway.
Only once have I had someone who went into the Esdale state during a therapy session (It is quite rare unless you know how to do it deliberately). This was actually before I knew of the state. I thought the client was having me on and I intuitively thought of a way to get him out based on that- it worked.
Actually it is remarkably easy to get someone out of an ordinary trance. You just tell them to come out.
4) Hypnosis is a natural state.
Most people are expecting to feel strange unusual feelings in hypnosis. In fact hypnosis is a perfectly natural state. Although it is often achieved through relaxation, it is by no means the only way. Good sports people go into a trance before their game. In fact if you can gauge the degree of trance you can often predict who will win.
However, trance through relaxation is just like being on the edge of sleep, either when going to sleep or when waking up.
You are fully aware and awake all the time and unless you are given specific amnesia and your unconscious mind agrees to it, you will be able to remember everything just as well as if you had not been in a trance (which is still not very well for many people).
You will still be able to think- and this surprises some people!
If a person was not expecting to be able to think, they may well be thinking to themselves “I can still think, does that mean that I’m not in trance, I wonder if this is really working?” The best thing to do under these circumstances is to listen to, agree with and follow the instructions. After the session you can discuss consciously whether you were in trance.
We actually go into a natural state of hypnosis when we are watching something interesting on the TV. It is not as if you cannot be aware of your surroundings, but you simply take no notice of them, it’s as if they disappear as you watch and listen to this person and take in everything they say. If someone else comes into the room, you do not notice them, they may talk to you and you will probably reply, but you will probably forget that it happened.
Similarly, when reading a book, we are looking at black shapes on a white background. However in our mind’s eye, we are inside the story, seeing the scene as we imagine it and feeling the emotions as if we were there and the situation was real.
One of the most common hypnotic experiences is when we are driving, especially on either a long or a very familiar journey. For me, the sections of the M5 from Exeter to Wellington and from Taunton to the Wicker Man just before the Glastonbury turning, are ‘Trance Land’. My mind will start to wander, so that after a while, I come round and I don’t quite know where I am. However, my unconscious mind has been keeping me safe all the time, doing the driving for me automatically. In fact if I had needed to pay conscious attention, my unconscious mind would have brought me round immediately.
In just the same way, if someone is in a formal trance and there is any sort of emergency, their unconscious mind will bring them round immediately.
5) It is not a Magic Wand
Many people have developed the idea that hypnosis can get them to change how they are and what they do, without them contribute in any way to the change. They will have arrived with the attitude “Change Me!” Without wishing to take any responsibility for the change. This is often the case when someone else wants them to change (a partner, colleagues, a Doctor, or the law.) The person only wants to change because others are making it awkward for them, or because they think they aught to. Not because they genuinely want to change. As stated earlier hypnosis cannot make anyone do what they do not really want to do. It is not like surgery, where someone is put under and a part of their behaviour is cut off. It is not a magic wand, although it can be magical in its effect for those who really want the change. For those who truly follow it, it can produce remarkable results.
What Hypnosis Can Do
One thing hypnosis is very good for is if someone wants to improve their performance.
It can help in any area of life, not just in sport. It could be in work or business, leisure activities, or in our many relationships. So for instance it can help someone in Business to get the best from the people working for them. It can enable people to get the maximum sense of achievement and satisfaction from their employment, whether or not their boss is encouraging in that way. It can help Couples, not only in their love life, but also in being closer and more supportive of each other in all the other areas of their lives.
There are techniques for continually visualising yourself doing things more and more successfully (Seeing yourself as if from someone else's point of view and also imagining what you will see while you are being successful) i.e. forming successful habits.
There are techniques for accelerating your learning.
There are also techniques for you to be able to change your beliefs,
both about what you are capable of and about what is possible in the world.
It is very good at enabling people to change habits. Hence it is often effective for people who want to stop smoking, get slimmer or stop biting their nails.
Your habits (bad or good) are stored in your unconscious mind and protected there. They got there by us making a decision, and then making the same decision again and again and again.
(This is the basis of Willpower!)
Very occasionally, only two repetitions of a habit is sufficient to set up a habit.
Three is enough in many circumstances, though between five and twenty repeats are sometimes needed to turn around a particularly persistent habit.
All you have to do, is once the person is in a good enough trance state, is you get them to imagine themselves acting out an new replacement habit in every situation in which the old habit would have been triggered.
It is frequently used to identify the source of and to resolve emotional issues.
There are several ways of identifying and resolving the event in a person's life that gave rise to their particular problem.
The usual way is Regression.
This means that once the person is in a sufficient trance state, the practitioner will get the person to imagine that they are getting younger and going back through time. (Not into a supposed previous life.) The person is regressed to a time before they sense they ever had that type of problem and then gradually brought forward through time until they suddenly remember what it was all about, or they sometimes have a reaction, without knowing what it was about.
This is highly effective for recovering the memory, but then many practitioners have a tendency of taking the person forward through the now re-vivified memory. This can be uncomfortable for the client, effectively re-living an unpleasant experience. Besides which, by de-ageing them, they have reduced their sense of resourcefulness.
A better way is Regression and Stepping Out.
This starts exactly the same as regression. Once the person has got to when they are younger than when the event occurred, they are then carefully brought forward.
Then as soon as they have the first bit of memory of what the event was
They must imagine they are Stepping Out of the memory (usually to their right)
and suddenly becoming their adult self again (with all their adult wisdom, understanding and resources)
looking at the original scene from outside at a safe distance
The person is then guided to calmly and simply notice what actually happened and that they survived; and to recognise how they could now avoid or handle any similar event if one ever started to occur again. This is usually sufficient to diffuse the memory, as the unconscious mind has now processed the situation in terms of a solution instead of a problem.
A third way:-
Only requires that the person imagine travelling back through time, as their present day self, as if on a separate parallel line to their history, watching their previous self getting younger, till the person senses that their younger self has got to the point where they are young enough that they had not yet had the problem. They then simply watch their younger self gradually grow up, until the person almost always sees the memory from outside. You then continue as with the previous technique.
This is usually a lot quicker, ensures against any possibility of the person re-living any unpleasant memories and preserves all the person's sense of resourcefulness, without them having to step into that resourcefulness, they are already being their adult self.
It is also often used to clear up physical problems such as Psoriasis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This can sometimes be done by suggestion alone. Sometimes there is an emotional basis for the person and this can be identified and resolved using the techniques above. The problem then often seems to resolve of its own accord.
Another approach to some conditions is to regress (de-age) the person to before they had the condition and to bring them forward through time, with their cells staying young. They imagine a history, where they avoided getting the condition. Then you get them to imagine the rest of the time up to the present being exactly the same as it was, but without the condition and bring them round imagining that the condition had never happened. People have claimed improved eyesight and one woman claimed that cancer went away as a result of doing this in self hypnosis. It is certainly popular with some people for keeping their complexion young.
We Are Not Broken
It should be noted that in the therapeutic use of hypnosis, it is assumed that there is nothing mentally wrong with the client. They are not mentally ill, they are not broken. Their emotional responses are just trying to resolve their situation. There has been a large amount of social stigma attached to people trying, through counselling, psychotherapy or hypnosis, to resolve their emotions. We could do our society a great service by helping to remove this stigma.
It should also be noted that in most cases above, hypnosis cannot be used as a substitute for commitment and will power. When changing habits or developing performance, you still need dedication and to remember to use your will power.
In therapeutic situations, the person must have a genuine desire to resolve the situation. However, once it is resolved, the problem often just disappears, though sometimes the person has to learn and apply new responses to particular situations.
How Hypnosis Works
In order to understand how hypnosis works, we need to understand a little of how our minds work.
We could say that our minds work on two levels.
There is the Conscious part of your mind:-
This is the rational, logical part of your mind which deals with all the day to day situations and does the ordinary problem solving.
It is the part that notices what is going on in our lives, notices what we like and what we don’t like, and from this it makes decisions.
It is also the part which deals with Willpower. Willpower is when you decide to keep to an original decision, even when it might not seem quite so convenient. The thing about willpower is that you have to remember to use it. Whenever you might be tempted not to keep to an original decision, you need to remember to use your willpower
The conscious part of your mind is usually under the impression that it is in control of your life, though usually it is not.
Then there is your Unconscious Mind:-
This is the part that stores and protects memories. You may hear a tune on the radio, and instantly it can take your mind back 5, 10, 15, sometimes 20 years or more, as if it were only yesterday, or as if you are right back inside the memory right now. We know from regressing people, that all of our memories are stored in our minds right from when we were very small.
This is also where all our deepest held beliefs and our most important and cherished values are stored. These are powerful hidden drivers of our behaviour.
It is responsible for our Emotions. Very few of us have any direct control of our emotions (though NLP can teach you a great deal of control). If someone is depressed, it is no use telling them to “Cheer up!”, it just doesn’t work.
And when you are in a good mood, you just generally are, for whatever reason, but you rarely get to chose. Emotions are also powerful drivers of our lives.
From memory and from decisions and using your willpower, you learn and develop habits. You unconscious mind stores and runs your habits. Habits also run a large part of our lives. This is useful, it would be inconvenient to have to work out how to use each different door, to have to tie a shoelace from first principles or to have to have instructions for every time we made a cup of tea. Some habits, such as smoking, eating when we are bored or unhappy etc are obviously not so useful.
You imagine with both the conscious part of your mind and with your unconscious mind. However it is your unconscious mind that brings about the power of your imagination. An extreme example of this is if someone has had a nightmare. They may have dreamt they were being chased and running away, when they wake up, they are feeling exhausted as if they had actually been running, even though they had probably only been twitching. their unconscious mind has given them all the feelings as if they had been running. In a similar way, when someone is reading a book, their unconscious mind gives them all the emotions as if they were personally witnessing the story, as well as bringing about many of the physical changes and producing the same sensations.
Your unconscious mind is also responsible for protecting you, not only from physical harm, but also from negative or unpleasant emotions. So your unconscious mind take over automatically if for instance you were crossing the road and it was not as safe as you thought. You may also have heard of a person who has been through a terrible trauma, but they have no memory of it whatsoever. They know logically that it happened, but they have complete amnesia for the event,- their unconscious mind has protected them from all the negative emotions that were connected with the event.
So it is a person’s deeply protected beliefs, their values, their habits and their emotions that are running their life.
The conscious part of your mind does its best to protect your unconscious mind from changes, even quite often from positive, beneficial changes. This is called ‘The Critical Faculty of the Conscious Mind’. This is to prevent us from being too easily influenced by others and to guard against un thought out changes in our habits, beliefs and values.
You can bring about changes at the unconscious level by making a very definite decision and keeping to that decision through continued, yet gentle will power. The Critical Faculty tends to get suspicious if the willpower aspect is too pushy, so calm gentle persistent determination is the key.
Hypnosis is a way to relax that barrier, so that positive ideas can be allowed in to make much more rapid changes. The Critical Faculty does not switch off, in fact if a person knows they are being hypnotised, it is even more vigilant, hence you cannot get a person to do what they do not want to do. It does however become allowing of positive beneficial ideas and suggestions, once it has assessed them. It then positively cooperates to enable your unconscious mind to receive them and use them to make rapid changes, without any challenges.
In this way, hypnosis can bring about many wonderful positive changes in your life.
With over 20 years in practice in Plymouth, David Owen is probably the longest standing combined NLP and Hypnotherapy practitioner in the area. This follows a twenty year career in engineering, the health service and the BBC.
He has had extensive training in Counselling and Psychotherapy as well as four major trainings in Hypnosis.
He has also undergone Ten major trainings in NLP and is now personally trained and licensed by Dr Richard Bandler, the originator of NLP and by TV Hypnotist Paul McKenna (one of the world's leading NLP Maser Trainers) as an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer. In fact he has assisted Paul and Richard on many of their trainings.
This makes him one of the most experienced and highly qualified practitioners in the whole of Devon and Cornwall, which means that if anyone can help you, he can!
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