When people ask me what I do and I say that I’m a strategic psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, invariably the first question they ask is, ‘What is hypnotherapy and do you use mind control?’ I explain that there is no mind control in the therapeutic application of hypnosis. The general public’s perception of hypnosis tends to be based on stage hypnosis which has the hypnotist as the authoritarian figure manipulating ordinary people to do things they would normally avoid, and this has perpetuated the misconception of forced control in hypnosis. However, in a therapeutic setting, hypnosis is a collaborative experience where the practitioner assists the client to be still and focus inwardly so that constructive suggestions can be made to the client to facilitate real change1 .
The uncertainty about hypnosis and its clinical application in the West can be seen in the 18th century when a German physician named Franz Mesmer started using it to treat his patients and incorrectly assumed that it was ‘animal magnetism’ that flowed from the practitioner to the patient. The term to ‘mesmerise’ originated from this period. We now use the term, ‘hypnosis’, thanks to the English physician, James Braid who, along with other physicians elsewhere in the 19th century, demystified hypnosis as a psychological response to suggestions2 . The next major development occurred in the 20th century when an American psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, transformed the practice of hypnotherapy from an authoritarian approach to a permissive, indirect style that utilised clients’ inner resources3.
There are a few myths about hypnotherapy that I want to clear up along the way: firstly, you are in control of the process and you can’t be forced to relax or focus on anything if you don’t want to do so. Secondly, you cannot remain stuck in hypnosis because you are in control and can stop at any time, just as you can stop watching TV at any time although you can appear to be ‘glued’ to it. Thirdly, you are not asleep or unconscious but will be highly alert and focused inwardly4 . Clients’ responsiveness to hypnosis varies and this can depend on whether they are more imaginative or analytical; their ability to concentrate on the internal landscape; and their expectation of hypnosis; this is where I adapt my approach to facilitate the best outcome for each client5 .
Having said that, I would not recommend hypnosis for people with mental health issues, such as psychosis and certain personality disorders, as it could worsen their condition6 . I strongly recommend that they continue with the specialised expertise of their medical team or get a referral to a medical team if they don’t have one already. I also would not use hypnosis on a client unless they come to see me of their own volition after making up their own mind.
You might also notice that I use ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotherapy’ interchangeably, because when used in therapy they have the same meaning, but for semantic purposes ‘hypnotherapy’ is the dedicated use of hypnosis in therapy, whereas ‘hypnosis’ would imply that it is used as a tool in therapy along with other methods7. I am also asked if there are variations in how hypnosis is applied. The most common method in the past was the traditional/authoritarian approach where the practitioner gave direct orders for clients to go into trance and change their behaviour. This approach is best used in self-hypnosis where there tends to be less resistance from the client, but is ineffective for the practitioner-client interaction.
There is another approach which uses standardised scripts with clients regardless of their issues and inherent resources. This cookie-cutter approach may be effective if the client’s issues are a direct match with the content of the script being used, but its efficacy is limited for all other cases. In contrast, the Ericksonian approach I practise uses indirect techniques, such as metaphors and stories to elicit the clients’ resources, with the hypnotherapist in the role of facilitator and guide and the client in complete control of what they choose to accept from the interaction8. This is by far the most effective form of hypnotherapy.
The use of hypnosis is increasingly becoming more common and is being applied in various ways as our understanding of the mind-body connection grows. It is used to complement traditional medical treatments to empower patients to control their mind, attitude and emotions to their medical condition. In the field of dentistry, hypnosis has been used to reduce anxiety in the patient and in pain management when the use of chemical anaesthesia is inappropriate, as it reduces blood flow in the area undergoing dental work. In the arena of sport, hypnosis is used to enhance the athletes’ physical performances and their mental preparation for successful outcomes9.
As mentioned, the type of hypnosis I use in my practice is the Ericksonian approach, because it is flexible and allows me to tailor the therapy so that I have an individual approach to each client. Of course, there are variables with each client which may affect the efficacy of hypnotherapy but in general, the results my clients get are a testimony to this life-changing form of therapy.
If you are at the stage where you’re sick and tired of your issues holding you back and are ready to move on once and for all, I look forward to hearing from you so that we can work together for your brighter future.
4 Essentials of Hypnosis, Second edition, 2015, Michael Yapko, pp 25-27 (hereafter referred to as ‘Yapko’)
5 Yapko, pp 44-53
7 Yapko, p10
9 Yapko, pp 11-14, 17