Hypnotherapy or hypnosis can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions including anxiety and phobias, substance dependency, habit control and pain management. But how does it work?
There are many definitions of hypnosis which can give a clue to understanding how it works, our preferred definition being “one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behaviour.”*
Hypnosis involves taking the patient through a number of stages to achieve the desired outcome, whether that is age regression, relaxation or positive thinking.
Stage One: Preparation
This first step is important, as if unsuccessful, the hypnosis will not work. It involves the subject and hypnotherapist building a relationship. The hypnotherapist will ask for information about the problem the patient is facing and any other relevant issues. They will explain the process to ensure that the patient is completely comfortable. Some clinicians will use a test to assess the patients’ suggestibility so they can be sure of achieving the depth of trance required for the treatment planned.
Stage Two: Induction
There are a number of techniques used to induce a hypnotic trance of which the most popular is the eye-fixation technique. This involves the patient staring at a fixed point whilst the hypnotherapist suggests feelings of heavy eyes and tiredness which eventually lead to a deep, relaxed state.
Another technique is the hand levitation technique whereby the hypnotherapist focuses on sensations of the subject’s hand lifting slowly into the air and touching the face at which point the subject will close their eyes rest in the same relaxed state.
Stage Three: Deepening Procedures
Regardless of how the trance has been initiated, there follows a period of deepening of the hypnotic experience to a suitable level. Techniques include counting, periods of silence, visual imagery, hand rotation or automatic movements, confusional techniques and the use of a metronome.
Stage Four: Treatment
The hypnotherapist can then begin the process of treatment to help the patient overcome their anxiety, phobia or other condition.
Stage Five: Ego Strengthening
Ego strengthening involves removing tension, anxiety and apprehension whilst restoring the confidence that the patient has in their ability to cope with their problem.
Stage Six: Termination
Just before terminating the hypnotic trance, often with the use of a counting technique, the hypnotherapist may use post-hypnotic suggestions to counter negative thinking and introduce the idea of self-hypnosis sometimes using a tape of the session.
As with all therapies, it is important to select a qualified hypnotherapist who belongs to a professional organisation such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists or the UK Council for Psychotherapy with whom you feel you can build a trusting relationship and to ensure the best outcome following treatment. Both Dr Winbow and Prof Hale are experienced in using hypnotherapy in the treatment of mental health conditions. If you feel you may benefit from hypnotherapy, please get in touch.
* The official American Psychological Association’s Division 30 Definition and Description of Hypnosis. www.psychologicalhypnosis.com