We’ve all seen the dramatic depiction of someone being hypnotized: it usually involves a pocket watch swinging like a pendulum, making the individual powerless to resist the drowsiness setting in. Thirty minutes and several subconscious commands later, when the hypnotist snaps her fingers, the person awakes and believes she is naked, or she is a chicken, or some other extreme, non-therapeutic outcome. Hypnotherapy bears little or no resemblance to the stage show described above.
Clinical hypnosis is really just a heightened state of relaxation, achieved through a deliberate and gradual process of induction : helping the client achieve a trance state through use of imagery and systematic relaxation. The hypnotic state of trance is experienced along a continuum with some clients feeling fully awake and aware of what’s being said, and others feeling like they were asleep throughout the experience. However a person experiences the trance state, the subconscious mind is accessible within that heightened state of relaxation. A skilled hypnotherapist then uses that opportunity to access the subconscious mind and make positive suggestions, or negative associations for change in the client’s life. For instance, if a client is struggling with addiction, the therapist might suggest that inhaling cigarette smoke burns the client’s throat like acid, or that alcohol tastes like vinegar. Conversely, positive suggestions are made through the use of imagery, such as having the client imagine a field of flowers representing choices—all beautiful in their own way. Or envision a ship sailing across the sea, carrying with it a troubling or traumatic memory or some distressing aspect of the client’s current life. The suggestions are made using a soothing and calming vocal tone, which encourages and deepens the person’s state of relaxation, or trance.
When used in combination with talk therapy, hypnosis adds another dimension to the client’s self discovery and catharsis. In my therapy practice, I develop a hypnotic experience or guided imagery that is specific to each individual client’s experiences, preferences and tastes. As an example, I establish a client’s “calm, peaceful space” based on questions I ask the client. “Tell me about a place where you’ve been, or always wanted to visit that, when you envision it, makes you feel calm, peaceful or otherwise pleasant.” “What are some of the elements of that place, such as the surrounding environment, (are there mountains in the distance, is it lush with vegetation, what color is the water?” These criteria are then used to create a custom experience that uses metaphors and imagery that really resonates with the client.
Some clients are concerned that the hypnotherapist will force them to address and re-experience something painful, and that they will not be able to escape the discomfort. A good hypnotherapist always lets the client be in control of what he or she is ready to face. A hand signal, for instance, can be established before induction into hypnotic trance, that will alert the therapist to any extreme discomfort or adverse reaction the client is experiencing. The therapist can then redirect the imagery to reduce the distress, or gently bring the client out of trance for further processing of the reaction.
Imagine that you feel a wave of calm beginning to travel through your body, beginning at your toes. It flows through your feet, your ankles, your shins and calves…carrying with it as it travels ALL the tension and stress we often carry in our bodies. You feel the calming, gentle current over your thighs and hips, your stomach, your chest, your shoulders…and as it travels, it leaves behind lightness and peace, beginning to give you the feeling that you’re floating…
A hypnotic experience can be a lot like a spa treatment, in that the client often comes out of hypnotic trance feeling rested and calm, reporting that this feeling extends throughout their day or even several days. What the client experiences while under hypnosis is quite pleasant; the therapist uses imagery and metaphors that the client has identified as pleasing, and usually the client comes out of the trance feeling refreshed and empowered. In my practice, I typically use the initial hypnosis session to instill a calm, peaceful place using a setting the client has indicated as pleasant and relaxing. Many clients, for instance, select the beach as their happy place. With that imagery, I will help the client envision being at the beach, and experiencing all the sensory elements of being there: what they hear, what they see, what they smell, even the taste of the salt air. This peaceful image can then be stored within the client’s memory and later accessed when the client feels stressed or angry.
In my practice, I have used hypnosis to help clients who struggle with substance abuse, cigarette smoking, weight and fitness, traumatic memories, phobias and general anxiety. Hypnotherapy can be incorporated into our regular course of treatment, or it may be used to supplement ongoing counseling you are undergoing with another therapist.
At Life Skills Resource Group, we have a team of skilled therapists who can address most any emotional or behavioral concern you may have. If you are interested in hypnotherapy and would like a free phone consultation, please call our office at (407)355-7378. To read more about my background and therapeutic approach, click here.