Hypnosis is a powerful tool to help achieve personal goals and create positive changes in your life. Hypnotherapists utilize hypnosis to help clients achieve success in weight reduction, smoking cessation, stress reduction, relaxation, increasing self-confidence & self-esteem, overcoming insomnia, and in other areas. Hypnotherapy may even be used as part of a program for coping with anxiety or depression.
To understand how hypnosis works, first we need to know some basics about how the mind works. The human mind is typically mapped into three parts: the unconscious mind (which is the deepest level), the subconscious mind, and the conscious mind (the outer level). The unconscious mind controls breathing, heart rate, and automatic body functions (things we do not need to think about, at all, for them to occur). The subconscious mind (like a library or the hard drive of a computer) stores our permanent memory. It is highly organized and unlimited. Every experience you’ve had in your entire life is stored here.
The subconscious mind also stores habits and beliefs. Many habits are rooted in memories or perceptions that may be forgotten by the conscious mind but retained in the subconscious. These habits and beliefs are the cause of most of our behaviors. The subconscious mind will strive to uphold and achieve our beliefs. So, for instance, if you hold the belief, “I am clumsy,” the subconscious mind will direct you to drop something you are holding, or walk into a chair. In this case, during hypnotherapy, you might want to change that belief to “I am graceful”or “I am naturally careful.”
The conscious mind is analytical: It is the part of you that judges and analyzes situations. The conscious mind also acts as a filter: It filters information before it goes to the subconscious mind. Its “critical factor” is a filter, like a watchdog, that compares new information with information already stored in the subconscious. If the new information doesn’t fit in with the information already stored, then the critical factor will refuse the information. If the information is not related to anything already stored, then it will get stored as a “maybe” or “possible belief.” The critical factor makes it nearly impossible to change a belief with conscious thought, alone. A state of hypnosis (whether achieved with hypnotherapy or a natural state of self-hypnosis) is needed to accept a new belief.
What hypnosis does, in essence, is to distract the critical factor. When the conscious mind is distracted, the critical factor gets lazy, and it will allow in things that normally would be filtered out, as long as they are not harmful. With the critical factor distracted, the suggestions can go right to the subconscious mind. Thus, hypnosis helps to access the subconscious mind, making it more open to receive suggestions that may assist you in re-programming old attitudes and beliefs. These are replaced with new, positive attitudes and beliefs that promote healthier behaviors.
The positive suggestions received during hypnosis, then, become a part of those messages in the back of your mind that nudge you toward new behaviors, and thus help to change old habits more quickly and easily. Repetition of these types of hypnotic suggestions can boost your determination and enhance your conscious willpower.
Mental imagery (or guided visualization) is often used during hypnosis. For instance, during hypnosis for weight reduction, your hypnotherapist may lead you through an imaginary journey in which you create an image of yourself at your perfect weight, looking the way you want to look, or weighing the weight you know is healthy for you. You might even imagine the positive comments of your friends or co-workers. In hypnotherapy, you will be encouraged to use all of your senses. You might see, feel, and imagine yourself as you would be once you have achieved your goals. Studies show that the more real your inner experience, the more likely the final results will match your mental images. In addition to using hypnotic suggestions and mental imagery, a hypnotherapist may use positive affirmations during hypnosis. For instance, I use affirmations to increase self-confidence and to help you build an identity of yourself as a success. By increasing your self-esteem, this type of positive programming can help you succeed in attaining your goals.
“Will you make me bark like a dog?” This is the question that people who have seen or heard about stage hypnotists often ask. My response: “No, you will not bark like a dog… unless you want to!” An important point to mention, given the misconceptions many people have about hypnosis, is that you are in control. During hypnosis, you are completely aware of what is going on around you. In fact, you have heightened concentration. Hypnosis is a state of relaxation and mental focus, much like meditation or daydreaming.
Your subconscious mind (both in and out of hypnosis) functions to protect you, keep you safe, and guard your morals: therefore, the subconscious mind will only accept what you want to accept. You will not be hypnotized if you refuse to be… and you will automatically come out of the state of hypnosis if there is any danger. When you are in a state of hypnosis, should you wish to come out of it, you can simply count yourself up, from 1 to 5, and you will come out of it feeling awake and alert. Hypnotherapy is a partnership between therapist and client: You can choose to follow the suggestions of the hypnotherapist in order to make positive changes.
Hypnosis is not a magic bullet or quick fix. Though you may begin to see results even after the first hypnotherapy session, generally for hypnosis to be effective in producing long-term change, a series of sessions is required followed by a period of self-hypnosis in which you listen to a recording to reinforce the suggestions, usually for a period of at least 30 days. Hypnosis also may be combined with counseling and/or other modalities into a comprehensive program for improved physical and/or mental health. When used properly, hypnosis can help you replace “bad habits” with healthy behaviors, change negative thoughts into positive self-talk, and create a happier, more fulfilling life.
Verona resident Susan P. Fenker is the executive director of the Montclair Counseling Center, a non-profit, interdisciplinary mental health facility located at 183 Inwood Avenue, Upper Montclair. This article was written by Leslie Karen Lobell, M.A., L.P.C., a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnosis Practitioner at the center. A Dartmouth College graduate with a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Maryland, Lobell is trained in psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, dream interpretation, meditation & guided visualization. She is also a Reiki Master and a Sekhem-Seichim-Reiki Master. To learn more about Montclair Counseling Center’s mission, therapists and services, visit its Web site or call 973-783-6977 extension 10.