What is Hypnotherapy?

In hypnotherapy, a practitioner will induce a state of altered consciousness, in which the subject is relaxed – fully aware of the surroundings, as in a pleasant daydream – but open to suggestions, with an increased ability to respond to recommended thoughts and ideas.

Hypnotherapy is a useful therapy with which to release traumatic events of the past, and change the patterns of old established habits. Old ideas, learned in childhood, can lead to a low estimation of the self, which can manifest in actions and behaviours that are negative. A skilled and trained hypnotherapist can use this technique to help clients re-learn old thinking and replace it with positive and therapeutic concepts.

Altering the level of consciousness or trance-like states have long been a part of the healing tradition – in ancient Chinese and Egyptian medicine, in India, Greece, North America and Africa, documented in China in 2600 BC, mentioned in Greek mythology, and written of in the Talmud, Hindi Vedas and the Bible.

In the 18th century the use of hypnosis was brought to public attention by an Austrian physician Franz Mesmer. He called it ‘mesmerism’ and tried to explain its effects by a theory about ‘cosmic fluid’ or life force and ‘animal magnetism’ that could be transferred from one human to another.  Though ridiculed by the medical profession of the day, hypnotherapy has become highly respectable as a practice that can be used alongside traditional medicine and conventional therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A number of doctors and dentists are themselves trained in this practice, and hypnotherapy is widely available via the National Health Service.

Nobody is sure how hypnotherapy works: one theory is that the left left-side brain (the analytical half) is switched off during hypnotherapy, allowing the right-side (creative half) to take on board positive, healing thoughts and habits.

What to expect

At your first session, the Hypnotherapist is will start with a discussion about what you hope to achieve from hypnotherapy. The relationship between the hypnotherapist and the subject is considered of great importance, so you need to find one whom you feel you can trust and have a good rapport with. You may not even start hypnosis until the second session.

The therapist will then take you through a calming procedure: perhaps by a soothing, guided commentary, feeling heavy, or imagining yourself in a state of full relaxation. Under Hypnosis, the practitioner may invite you to remember incidents or experiences from your past, in order to establish whether there are reasons for the current issues. Then the hypnotherapist may propose certain related ideas (called ‘post-hypnotic suggestions’) to propose for example, giving up cigarettes or eating less. In this state a subject can also be desensitised to phobias, fear or chronic pain.

You may be taken into a deeper trance state, by counting backwards or visualising yourself going down steps or in a lift. You will not forget your surroundings, or ‘lose control’ and you cannot be asked to do anything you really don’t want to do.

Suggestion hypnotherapy means that the practitioner will try to ‘embed’ positive suggestions, for instance, saying that the patient will no longer want a cigarette, or that a particular symptom will disappear.

In ‘Eriksonian’ hypnotherapy (named after twentieth-century American psychiatrist Milton Erikson) try to implant suggestions in a patient’s relaxed daydreaming state, rather than going to the deep trance level.

In Analytical hypnotherapy a therapist will try to regress the patient, to take them back to the source of emotions or memories that may be at the root of the trouble.

Some hypnotherapists will teach self-hypnosis techniques so you can continue rehearsing and reinforcing the ideas you have been introduced to, on your own.

Effects and Benefits

Since a great number of conditions are thought to originate in the mind, it stands to reason that many conditions are claimed to benefit from treatment by Hypnotherapy.  This particular ‘alternative’ therapy is supported by more scientific evidence that any other form of ‘complementary’ treatment. It is seen as being effective for a range of both physical ailments and also behavioural or emotional conditions (such as stress, anxiety and phobias). These include:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Studies published in The Lancet in 1989 showed hypnosis to be successful in relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. This was supported by research done in Texas in 2005.

Controlling pain in chronic conditions
One technique in hypnotherapy is time and body dissociation: the person is led to imagine themselves in pleasant and tranquil surroundings, such as a beautiful garden or sunlit beach, and this dissociation from their current feelings can be useful in the management of pain.

Changing behaviours like stopping smoking or weight loss
Although many people have sought hypnotherapy for issues like ceasing smoking or losing weight – and have been personally satisfied with the outcome, A Cochrane Review published in 2005  was could not find proof that hypnotherapy was any more likely to be effective than other interventions.

Sexual disorders and fertility problems
Some forms of infertility have been identified with psychological stress, and it has been found that after hypnotherapy, improved hormone levels and increased conception rates have been reported.

From a study of 189 women who had babies in 2005 it was found that hypnosis eased childbirth and assisted with the management of pain during labour. It is also claimed to reduce the length of labour, the need for pain-controlling drugs and interventions like forceps.  In order for hypnotherapy to be effective during labour, the mother needs to have begun to prepare with the technique during pregnancy.

Other conditions routinely treated through hypnotherapy include:

Addictions to alcohol or drugs, phobias and fears, insomnia, dental phobia and also conditions like asthma, eczema and allergies; also treated are personal development issues, such as confidence and self-esteem.

Fascinating Facts about Hypnotherapy

  • Hynotherapy derives from the Greek word ‘hypnos’ meaning sleep. Hypnosis induces an exceptional mental state, somewhere between sleeping and waking, to enable access to the subconscious part of the mind, not generally accessible in a fully waking state.
  • Before it was called ‘Hypnotherapy’, the practice of putting people into a trance-like state of suggestibility was called ‘Mesmerism’ after a Viennese physician Dr Franz Anton who pioneered the technique in the nineteenth century.  The verb to ‘mesmerize’, meaning to captivate or spellbind someone,  is still part of our vocabulary today.
  • A Scottish eye surgeon, James Braid who lived from 1795 to 1860 was initially sceptical until he saw the work of Franz Mesmer. Having seen the technique at work he adopted it in his own medical practice, coining the term ‘hypnosis’ to replace ‘mesmerism’. He found that hypnotised patients, bled less, felt less pain and recovered more quickly from operations.
  • Another surgeon from Scotland, James Esdaile (1808-1859) is said to have performed no less than 300 major operations (and some 2000 minor ones) using only hypnosis to anaesthetise his patients.
  • Not everyone can be hypnotised. It is claimed that about 90% of the population can be hypnotised to some degree, and 10-20% can be taken into such a deep dissociative state that they could undergo medical procedures and minor operations without anaesthetic.
  • Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, developed much of his theory about the subconscious mind by interviewing hundreds of patients under hypnosis, though in the later part of his career he preferred to work with fully conscious patient.
  • While is it claimed that many patients and many conditions can be helped through hypnotherapy, the practice is contra-indicated (not recommended) for those suffering from depressive illness, epilepsy, psychosis ( like schizophrenia) and some breathing problems.
  • Imaginative and creative people are reputed to make the best subjects for hypnosis, as it is easier to distract and or make suggestions to them, than to practical, literal-minded individuals.

Professional Organisations

There is no universally recognised training or licensing for a hypnotherapist. There are many hundreds of skilled and trained practitioners in this country, but pretty much anyone can call them self a hypnotherapist, so it is worth researching the therapist you choose to go to.

There are also many practitioners from a conventional medical background – doctors, nurses, dentists, clinical psychologists – who have done additional training in hypnotherapy, and are regulated by their own regulatory bodies.

The Hypnotherapy Association UK

The Hypnotherapy Association is a non-profit making organisation and is a leading independent professional body in Britain representing approved hypnotherapists in active practice. It aims to maintain a National Register of Practising Hypnotherapists and to improve and increase the knowledge and skill of all members by providing workshops, seminars and meetings demonstrating special techniques and skills.

It further aims to ‘maintain contact with the medical profession and other complementary disciplines. To carry out the recommendations of the 1993 BMA report “COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE – new approaches to good practice”, and to maintain  contact and improve understanding within the NHS, Regional Health Authorities and Private Health Insurers.’


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