Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy - correcting a few misconceptions
Author: Debbie Waller
When I first became a hypnotherapist I discovered that hypnosis is a topic
that everyone has a view on, but not many people know much about.
Most people’s understanding of hypnosis is based on what goes on during
stage show or TV programme. They may have seen this for themselves, been
told about it, or just picked up impressions of what it’s like from jokes
they’ve heard in the pub.
These impressions usually involve volunteers clucking like chickens, dancing
with brooms or singing as Tina Turner – not something that would inspire
to look at hypnosis as a way of dealing with personal problems!
The fictional version of the hypnotist is just as bad. From Kaa the snake
('Jungle Book') onwards I have never yet seen a film or read a book in which
the hypnotist was the good guy. Even 'Neighbours' and 'My Hero' got in on
the act recently as the dastardly Doctor Darcy and the nasty Mrs Raven
misused hypnosis for their own personal gain.
In fact, although I help people go into a hypnotic trance on a regular
basis, I don’t have revolving or multi-coloured eyes, and I’m not
world domination (although getting the kids to clean their rooms would be
nice). Clinical or therapeutic hypnosis is in fact a very relaxing and
enjoyable experience and can be very effective in helping you improve your
life. It’s often faster than many other therapies and without the
side-effects sometimes connected with drugs. So what is this miracle really
The word hypnosis is relatively new, having been coined less than 200 years
ago by a Scottish surgeon named James Braid. But the process of hypnosis,
under other names, is thousands of years old. It appeared in Egypt as early
as 3,000 BC, and references can be found in many other civilisations too –
Greek, Mayan, Hindu, Chinese, Persian, Celtic/Druidic, and African. Even
Genghis Khan is said by some to have dabbled in ‘group suggestion’
method of motivating his followers.
Early or tribal uses of hypnosis are often connected with spiritual and
occult practices as well as healing, and this is probably responsible for
its modern reputation as something esoteric or simply a bit weird.
Around the 18th Century, hypnosis came to the attention of doctors and
scientists, and hypnosis began to be seen as a scientific process rather
than a supernatural phenomenon. The most famous of these early pioneers was
probably Anton Mesmer (1734-1815); we still sometimes speak of mesmerising
someone, and for a while the process was even known as Mesmerism.
Another name that will be familiar to modern readers is Sigmund Freud. Freud
had studied hypnosis at schools in both Nancy and Salpetriere, and was
important to the field because he discarded the then current theory that it
was only useful for hysterics. Working both from his own experiences and
those of another doctor, Joseph Breuer, Freud’s interest in hypnosis helped
him to develop his ideas about free association and psychoanalysis.
Unfortunately, by many accounts Freud was not a particularly good hypnotist,
and even found it boring! On one occasion, finding himself unable to induce
a hypnotic trance, he apparently decided to take a chance and continue his
free association work with his patient in the waking state. The patient
recovered, so Freud, followed by many other doctors and therapists, stopped
using hypnosis altogether.
For many years, the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool almost died out,
but during the First and Second World Wars it began to be used again to
treat shell shock and trauma. In prisoner of war camps, where medical
supplies were limited or completely absent, it was also used successfully as
After the Wars, impressed with reports from returning soldiers, doctors
began to experiment again and the use of hypnosis spread.
The field of hypnosis is currently split into two reasonably distinct
groups, which I shall call medical practitioners and lay practitioners.
Medical practitioners are those who (obviously enough) have some medical
qualification in addition to their hypnotic training – dentists, GPs,
psychologists, psychiatrists. They may use hypnotism frequently as part of
their work, or hardly ever.
I fall into the second group, that of lay practitioners. They use hypnosis
with all or most of their clients and may in fact have more practical
experience of it than some medical practitioners. They are also probably
cheaper if you’re going privately, and some have NHS provider numbers if
your GP wants to refer you.
The catch is that hypnotherapy (or clinical hypnotism, or whatever else you
want to call it) is an unregulated industry, which means that there is no
legal or governmental control over who can practice the profession. In
theory, you could read this article, get interested and put a sign offering
hypnotherapy in your window tomorrow. You could read a book about it first,
but you don’t have to.
This lack of regulation is soon to be rectified by the Government but in the
meantime it has led, quite understandably, to concerns about safety. Despite
this, if you’re willing to do a little research it’s relatively easy
sure you have a therapist who knows what they are doing.
The usual advice is to choose someone who belongs to one of the professional
associations. This is definitely helpful because the associations will not
admit anyone who cannot prove that they are trained to a reasonable
standard. Reputable associations also have a Code of Ethics for
practitioners and a complaints procedure for clients in case it is breached.
My personal advice actually goes a step further. Look for someone who is a
member of a large professional association and who also has insurance. Not
only does it say that your therapist is responsible enough to safeguard
their business and their clients, but insurers only gain from taking on
people who are not likely to be sued. It’s another way of checking up!
If you’ve found someone who looks good on paper, chat to them before booking
an appointment. Ask about the training they’ve received, whether they
undertake career development to keep up with the latest techniques, and if
they have other relevant experience or qualifications. If you are talking to
a lay practitioner, are they prepared to refer you on if they feel your
problem needs to be seen by a doctor, or even another therapist with more
specialised training or experience?
You also need to find someone you can relate to on a personal basis. You
might need to reveal quite personal information to your therapist, so it’s
important you feel comfortable with them. Some therapists, including myself,
offer a free information session to potential clients. This is a 20-minute
chat with no strings attached, and although no therapy or hypnosis takes
place, it does give you a chance to meet me and ask your questions face to
If you do go ahead and book a session, what have you let yourself in for?
Well, everyone probably has their own approach but with me there’s a lot
paperwork at the first session. Although all hypnotherapists use hypnosis,
there are many different ways of approaching any particular problem once you
’re in trance. It’s important that I get a full history of your health,
personal circumstances and your problem to make sure that you’re a suitable
candidate for hypnosis and to identify the best approach for you. Once the
background stuff is out of the way, I go on to help you experience hypnosis
itself. (Hypnosis is not something I do to you, by the way – it’s
you do to yourself with my guidance.)
Some people are quite nervous about going into trance for the first time,
and a few take a couple of attempts to get it right. This isn’t a problem.
Most people, quite understandably, ask me what it will be like.
Unfortunately for me, as everyone experiences hypnosis differently, it’s
difficult question to answer.
In general terms, hypnosis is a state of very deep relaxation. Contrary to
popular myth (and despite the fact that the name comes from hypnos – the
Greek word for sleep) it is not the same as being asleep. If you are asleep,
you don't know what's going on around you: anything obvious enough for you
to notice wakes you up. In a hypnotic trance, you stay aware of your
surroundings. Many people tell me their hearing seems better than usual, but
background noises do not cause you to come out of trance. Your body may feel heavier
or lighter than usual, and in either case you
will feel wonderfully relaxed.
Once you’re under hypnosis, most therapists work with the idea of a
conscious and unconscious mind (though a few use different terms for them).
Your conscious mind is the one that decides what’s for dinner today and
whether your socks match your tie. It’s the part you’re aware of when
thinking. Your unconscious mind is behind it and acts a bit like an attic.
Everything you have ever known or experienced is up there somewhere - but it
’s not always easy to find what you need!
Experiences or beliefs that are stored in the unconscious can be negative
positive. Hypnosis allows you to use identify and release any unrealistic
negative beliefs, and use your positive knowledge and resources to resolve
problems. In very broad terms, it is a way of bypassing the part of your
mind that limits your abilities or undermines your confidence by saying "I'd
like to … but I can't".
Hypnotherapy excels in resolving problems where this type of emotional
conflict is involved: smoking, phobias, stress reduction, motivation and
weight control. Hypnosis can also be used to engage the body’s natural pain
relief mechanisms to relieve long-term conditions like arthritis, although
you would need your doctor’s permission before using it for this purpose.
mentioned elsewhere it’s a fairly rapid therapy (though rarely instant)
most people need only a few sessions to see a result.
Hypnosis is not mind-control. If it was, all hypnotherapists would have a
100% success rate! Even in trance, you will not do or say anything you do
not wish to do or say. You are quite capable of bringing yourself out of
trance or rejecting any suggestions made to you. If I suggested you should
rob a bank and send me the proceeds, for example, you’re unlikely to do
If I suggest that you see yourself as a permanent non-smoker, it will work
because it’s what you want too.
Going right back to where we started, this point about mind control is also
true of stage hypnotism. Volunteers who are not open to the idea of going
along with a few daft suggestions do not agree to go on stage in the first
The same goes for hypnotherapy. If you do not believe it can help you, it
probably won’t. You’ll resist going into trance or reject the suggestions
prove yourself right.
But if you do believe it might help, and are willing to give it your best,
it can perform the odd minor miracle.
About the author:
Article written byDebbie Waller, Yorkshire Hypnotherapist
BA (Hons). GQHP. GHR Reg. R Hyp. PNLP.
Web site: http://www.debbiewaller.com
copyright © Debbie Waller
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