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Does hypnotherapy really work? 

This page makes a recent addition to the website, and I should say a few words about why I've added it. I was surfing "Yahoo Answers", and I found many questions (and answers) relating to "does hypnotherapy really work?" and all of its derivatives. As I expect these days, largely the feedback was extremely positive. There were plenty of anecdotes of success, but still one or two opinions were interspersed with misinformed comments based not on fact and research but instead quite obviously on superstition and mystery. Something I once heard someone say. Chinese Whispers. One of these comments for instance was "It only works on the weak minded". For me this brings a smile, because it's a well known fact amongst those who know about these things that in fact the opposite is true. Hypnosis is a "skill" and one can improve ones ability to enter hypnosis through practice. 

It has been over 150 years since James Braid coined the term "Hypnosis". "Hypnos" is the Greek word for sleep, and certainly the word itself carries an air of mystery. A little known fact, is that Braid attempted to recall the term hypnosis in favour of a much clearer title. He realised that the very calm and comfortable state we now call hypnosis was actually not "sleep" related at all. He went on to re-title the state "Monoideism" from the Latin roots meaning "Single-Idea". Alas, the new title was disregarded. Hypnosis was the term that remained in use, and 160 years later we are still culturally misinformed as to the nature of this useful state of awareness. Monoideism is in fact a much better description of what hypnosis is all about. It is simply a calm focused state of awareness which enables us to calm the internal chatter (physical, mental, and emotional), in order to access our own inner clarity and power. If we wish to achieve something specific then monoideism affords us the perfect tool to become fully focused on this "single-idea". When you consider that hypnotherapy is well known for it's soothing calming properties, one can begin to see why this is so when you consider that it is really the focus on a single idea. When we are anxious we say "My head's all over the place...I can't think straight!" So the antidote to that is.....?? How about focusing on one thing at a time. Let's begin with the one thing you know is going to help. 

So in considering the terrible misunderstanding that exists around hypnotherapy I got to thinking about my clients. Many arrive with a good idea of what hypnosis is all about and are positive. Some are a little uncertain but willing to give it a go. How many though, I wondered, who never make it as far as making an appointment with me, would love to give it a go but are too scared to? Or indeed too skeptical? Loads, I'll bet! And to my mind this is a great tragedy. Why? Because hypnosis and hypnotherapy is a really fantastic tool. It really DOES work! Furthermore, I know that those people too scared to try it are probably the ones who could benefit most from it, because being scared of stuff is being anxious, and hypnotherapy, properly applied, is a great tool for overcoming anxiety. So it's frustrating for me to know that there are people out there who want help, need help, and are willing to get help, but who don't consider hypnotherapy (which is the treatment most likely to deliver real help!) because they are scared away from hypnosis by the misinformation surrounding it. This is a tragedy. Lives are ruined by disabling phobias, depressions and anxieties, and for many people suffering these difficulties, help is available if they only could push through the misinformation. The same is true for the skeptics amongst us. I'm all for healthy skepticism. I count myself a very critical thinker. I want to see something with my own eyes before I sign on the dotted line or "buy in", so I have every empathy with the skeptical point of view. Its healthy to think critically about things. This world is full of deceptions for sure. Like you, I sigh (dropped jaw and head shaking) in exasperation when I see Watchdog and hear about the countless scams that exist to prey on the needy. I'll speak for myself. My business is not one of them! Established hypnotherapists generally don't remain established hypnotherapists by scamming people. We prosper by word of mouth. We get results and people tell other people about us. Most of us take our reputation and our business very seriously indeed. It is of fundamental importance to me to maintain maximum integrity at all times. I'll tell you straight out. I couldn't and wouldn't do the job if it didn't do "what it says on the tin". I value integrity too much.

It's herein that my point really lies. Because we have been culturally misled to think that hypnosis is some kind of magic wand which will turn water to wine (or onions to apples depending on who's show you watched!), we then throw the baby out with the bath water, and write the whole thing off as a bad lot. As level headed people, we say "I don't believe it"...and by extension that becomes "I don't believe in hypnosis or hypnotherapy....it's a load of rubbish". This is a mistake, because when hypnosis is better understood as the tool it really is (and it is ONLY a tool), then we can begin the practical task of putting it to work in our lives. So, I have added this page in an effort to put some of the misinformation and the misunderstandings about hypnotherapy to rest so we can all get on with improving things.

OK. So. To the question of "Does hypnosis/hypnotherapy really work?"

Well, I have already added a page with regards to Stage Hypnosis which answers this question pretty thoroughly when it is asked of Stage Hypnosis. You can access that by clicking here.

For this page however I am asking what of hypnosis as a therapy? Again the answer is yes, hypnotherapy really does work (as a therapy). What is worth understanding though is that hypnosis alone is not a therapy. Hypnosis has some therapeutic value because it often involves relaxation (but it doesn't have to...we can be hypnotised without relaxation too.) It is the therapy which is applied in hypnosis that creates the transformation. Pretty much anyone can learn to do hypnosis. Hypnosis is based on a mutual contract. What happens is that the hypnotisee says to the hypnotist "I would like you to hypnotise me." The hypnotist says "Sure...just follow my instructions" Here you have a contract. What has happened here is that the hypnotisee gives permission to the hypnotist to guide him into a pleasant state of awareness which the hypnotist then proceeds to do via the use of "suggestion". So a typical hypnotic induction involves the focusing of the hypnotisee's awareness on a single idea. So the hypnotist  might say:

 "I'd like you to listen carefully to the sound of the music you can hear (I will be playing gentle music in the room), and I wonder if you can just simply follow the notes very closely......just noticing how relaxing it is to simply notice the notes making the music...maybe even becoming aware of the rising and falling tones....soft tones...some people even say that they can have a sense of being able to picture those notes visually, and if you can do that then that's wonderful but you know however you follow those notes with your awareness is just fine....it's only really necessary that you know you can enjoy focusing on the sound of that music which can sound so comfortable to your ears...can remind you of how it does feel when you are at your most relaxed.....and whilst you're thinking about that perhaps you might also just notice the feel of the soft couch beneath you supporting you.....and if you'd like to...you can relax even more deeply into that soft couch.... feeling the comfort of letting go...whilst still being aware of those soft tones you can hear in the music...which can continue to relax your mind and your body....."

So what is happening now is that I am simply "suggesting" to the hypnotisee that they might like to focus on the single idea of pleasant sensations. The music acts as a distraction of sorts but this is not really important. We could work without music. All that is important is that we are focusing the mind - directing attention. What we are doing together is eliminating the mental chatter, the sense of having thoughts and feelings which are "scattered". Whilst eliminating the "chatter" we are replacing that scattered focus with soothing thoughts and images. In practice, this is what hypnosis is. Deep Imaginative Involvement. Focus. A single idea. The hypnotist acts as a facilitator. The word facilitator has it's roots in Latin (as do many English words) coming from the word "Facias" (In Spanish and French - Facil/e), meaning to "make easy". So now you can begin to see that our job is to "make easy" the process of accessing ones own inner focus; ones own calm and peace. As the hypnotisee becomes more and more relaxed, or even just more focused, then we have a state of mind which is "focused" for positive intervention.

Have you ever had an argument with someone, and then because you have been "emotionally aroused" have found yourself unable to acknowledge any of their points even though you know they are making sense? I expect most people have done so. The brain processes information irrationally when it is overheated by emotional arousal. The brain blocks solution when it is emotionally aroused. The brain doesn't really consider new information when it is emotionally aroused. So the process of de-arousing the emotionality and overheating taking place in an anxious or depressed persons brain is healing in and of itself! At this point we have hypnosis, and although hypnosis alone is not truly therapeutic in the long term, it is pleasant and can certainly help a great deal in the short term by creating tranquility where there was chaos. I hope by now I'm beginning to address some of those misunderstandings...no clucking chickens yet!

Now it's here that all the good stuff happens. Let me explain something. Hypnotherapists are primarily therapists. We are hypnotists too, but much more important in the list of priorities is that we are therapists. So if you believe in psychotherapy, CBT, NLP, or counselling then you believe in hypnotherapy, because we use the same principles of therapy in hypnotherapy. In fact, and in practice, we borrow techniques and models from many different therapeutic fields. So hypno-therapy is therapy applied under hypnosis, and for me this is where it becomes really interesting. During my sessions, the first part of any session involves some talking to find out where the session needs to be focused for maximum benefit today. Often it will become apparent that there may be an area that a client is aware of as being a problem but has found that their mind is being naturally unsupportive in this regard. We might talk this over a bit, and it is not unusual for the client to say "Yes, I know I could find the courage to win (or fail even!) BUT.....I can't because" I call this the "Yes, but..." syndrome. "But" is a deletion word. "Yes, but" means "I didn't actually register all the words that went before "but". It has the effect of deleting the solution because often the solution comes before the "but". All the mind sees is the "I can't because..." Now this is interesting because this is where hypnotherapy does its best work. I borrow here from Dave Elman's (an incredibly kind and very skilled medical and dental hypnotist now sadly departed) famous book "Hypnotherapy". He tells us: -

'Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human is bypassed, and selective thinking established.' The critical faculty of your mind is that part which passes judgment. It distinguishes between the concepts of hot and cold, sweet and sour, large and small, dark and light. If we can bypass this critical faculty in such a way that you can no longer distinguish between hot and cold, sweet and sour, we can substitute selective thinking for conventional judgment making."- Dave Elman.

What this means in plain English is that we can get around the "Yes, but...." In other words we can establish selective thinking. We can "choose" how we would like to think about something. Isn't that an interesting concept? Isn't it simple? This then is hypnotherapy. Choosing to think about something differently. Ordinarily one might like to do so but one finds that the mind is blocked by a "yes...but". Here though we find that once in hypnosis the "yes...but" is far less active. Why? Well, it has to do with distraction, relaxation, and deep clarity. When the mind is relaxed then your system decides that you are not under any threat. You simply would not be relaxed if your life was endangered. Therefore it is considered "safe" to be in the environment you are in and furthermore, if you have a good therapist you should feel not only safe but also supported so now the mind is opening to receive support too. In hypnosis, the "yes...but" part of your mind, the critical conventional judgment making part of your mind is simply "resting" shall we say. It is a pleasant experience to find that voice soothed and co-operative. Let us be clear though that in hypnosis there is always still a part of you on the look out for anything dangerous or unreasonable. Of course if you are working with a good therapist then in all likelihood they are going to be working with you gently and ethically anyway so you would not expect to ever hear a suggestion which wasn't to your benefit, but in putting your mind at ease it is important to understand that one does not simply act on or accept every suggestion that is made. Remember we call this process "selective thinking" which means that you "select" the thoughts and ideas you wish to make use of, and anything not wanted is simply disregarded. Hypnosis simply allows you to consider new perspectives with the volume of the "critical" voice significantly reduced. The practical net result of bypassing the "critical" part of the mind in any case is that "I can't...." can be replaced with "I can...". I regularly see people coming in for the session saying "I just can't.." and leaving saying "Yes...I got it...I know what I'm going to do now!" This is down to the hypnosis part of the session offering an opportunity to go beyond the usual negative assumptions and re-consider the situation or problem from a new perspective. So without wishing to be dismissive about other therapies, it is clear that hypnosis confers upon us a considerable advantage over "talking" therapies because we can bypass the part of the mind that is really causing the problem (the critical part) and go straight to the deeper levels of self. Some "talking" therapies try to use the part of the mind which is the problem (the analytical/critical mind- ever heard of analysis paralysis?) to solve the problem. It can be done, but it is slow and often focuses on the problem rather than the solution. 

The British Medical Journal says the following about hypnotherapy: 

"There is good evidence from randomised controlled trials that both hypnosis and relaxation techniques can reduce anxiety…. They are also effective for panic disorders and insomnia....A systematic review has found that hypnosis enhances the effects of cognitive behavioural therapy for conditions such as phobia, obesity, and anxiety.”

So hypnotherapy is an art and a science. Like all things, it is a tool and the question of whether it works or not can be answered with a clear yes, when it's used skillfully. Like all tools hypnosis can be wielded clumsily (resulting in a messy job) or with craftsmanship. I have years of learning how to work skillfully with these tools, and naturally I take pride in my work. Let's conclude by saying as I always do that hypnosis involves the willing suspension of judgment, NOT the complete suspension of reality! So I hope I've gone some way to showing that fears and skepticisms are unfounded. Hypnosis works if what you expect is some space to make some new assessments, to re-view old memories and ideas and change what you feel about them. Hypnosis works when you need to remind yourself that you can do the things you haven't been willing to permit yourself to try. It works when you need to stay centered, or be more disciplined. It works when you need to remind yourself there is hope, when you need to be kind to yourself, when you need to remember there is peace available somewhere within yourself. So when you ask the question "Does it work?" we are also asking whether we'll make it work for us. We have to work with it. It's not a magic bullet (there is no such thing in life!). It doesn't make you do what you don't want to do...or even what you can't be bothered to do, but if you have decided you want to do something....get fit, be happy, stop smoking, reduce your drinking, get on an airplane again, be confident, ditch the anxiety, break out of your depression, then hypnotherapy is genuinely a great tool! Hypnotherapy can definitely help you to do the things your mind says you can't and if you really want to do it, then there is truly no better tool than the power of your own mind on your side to make it happen! So I hope I have addressed here at least some of the misunderstandings surrounding hypnosis...what it is...and perhaps more importantly, what it isn't.

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