“ Who looks outside, dreams, who looks inside, awakes. ”
~ Carl Jung ~

© Pieter Harris.

What hypnosis is, and what it is not

1. Introduction

Hypnosis is a very powerful tool for promoting healing, growth and transformation. It works by activating a creative state of mind and body where new learning can occur effectively, almost effortlessly. It can help you with the knowledge and energy you need to succeed in life, helping to build new beliefs and to focus your attention. If we can heal our beliefs, our beliefs can heal us.

In this practice, hypnosis is used in the following fields:

• Anxiety and stress

Hypnosis seems to be extremely successful with a Cognitive Behavioural Approach in treating all forms of anxiety and especially panic attacks. Hypnosis is also proven to be successful in overcoming almost any phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder or excessive fear such as stage fright.

• Depression

Depression is called “anger without enthusiasm”, and once this anger is dealt with together with cognitive restructuring, the depression seems to ease a great deal.

• Trauma

Hypnosis is proven to be extremely effective in dealing with trauma, especially post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

• Various other emotional disorders

Other emotional disorders in the working field of a psychologist are also addressed in this practice, especially self-esteem and problems with self-confidence, as well as grief.

• Eating disorders and slimming

Hypnosis is very useful in helping people to slim down. It is sometimes necessary to address underlying issues to help you to get slim easily and effortlessly.

• Smoking

Great success has been achieved with quitting smoking. If a person is not serious about quitting, the success rate is considerably lower. Please read my article on smoking on my website before you make an appointment.

• Habits

Hypnosis can also assist with overcoming habits like nail biting, nose picking, etc.

• Preparation for surgery and aftercare

Although the person is under anaesthesia during an operation, the subconscious mind is still awake and active and the individual may experience this procedure as traumatizing. Hypnosis can help in preparing the subconscious mind for the operation to eliminate the “fight or flight” response. It also helps in recovery, controlling bleeding, reduces pain after the operation, and even helps to reduce scars, since scars can be a subconscious reminder of the trauma. It has also been successful in assisting dentists during dental procedures. In this context, hypnosis can also be very helpful in childbirth training as well as preparation for labour.

• Academic/athletic/sports performance

The client is taught self-hypnosis (hypno-training), which helps with concentration, anxiety, comprehension, motivation and retention. If there is any negative memory or perception preventing the client from optimal performance these areas will be addressed first.

• Memory recovery

It is often necessary to uncover where the problem originated. People can remember things that happened before they were born and even remember what happened when they were unconscious.

• Psycho Neuro Immunology (PNI)

PNI is an exciting new field in the world of hypnosis. In short, it means that any medical disorder may have an underlying psychological root. By treating the disorder with hypnosis, the general practitioner can be assisted in healing the problem or disorder. Success is recorded with especially dermatological, auto-immune disorders, cancer, pain and many other.

• Sleep disorders

Since hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation, it is very helpful in assisting those with sleep disorders, provided that any trauma that is causing the sleep disorder is dealt with first.

• Sexual dysfunction and relationship disorders

Hypnosis can be helpful with sexual problems like frigidity, sexual trauma, impotence and premature ejaculation. It can also assist those with relationship problems for instance, trust.

• Spiritual problems

Hypnosis can also help to put the client more in touch with God or the “Higher Power”, and the Inner Wisdom to help them on their life path. Sometimes many psychological problems have a spiritual root, and it is necessary to address spiritual issues here. Feelings of guilt and feelings of having done something wrong are seen by many psychologists as being at the core of all psychological problems.

The above mentioned areas of hypnosis, are just the tip of the ice-berg. Hypnosis is literally the key that can unlock any door you wish. The only limit of hypnosis is the limits you choose to set yourself. The sky is the limit!

There exist many misconceptions about hypnosis and in order to understand what hypnosis really is, we have to understand what it is not.

2. What hypnosis is not

Have you ever been hypnotised? Most people’s answer is “no”. They think they have never been hypnotised. They have the misconception that hypnosis is a sleep-like state where you are completely unaware of anything and totally under the influence of the hypnotist. Before we can explain what hypnosis really is, we need to understand what it is not:

• Hypnosis is not a question and answer session

This is the biggest misconception. People want to know what the therapist is going to ask them while hypnotized. He or she is not going to ask you anything. He or she will ask in the clinical interview everything they want to know about you. Hypnosis is used as therapy where they leave suggestions or will ask you to perform certain actions in your mind, without having to tell them anything about it.

The only time they might ask questions, is when you need to recall information you may not remember – whether it be events that happened long ago which they can’t remember and need to remember.

• Hypnosis is not dangerous

The hypnotic state is no more dangerous than the sleep state, and on the whole there are no dangers when practiced by ethical and qualified practitioners.

If hypnosis was dangerous, we would have to tell ourselves not to slip into another state of consciousness, not to daydream, not to concentrate deeply, not to be completely compelled and absorbed by certain topics.

Consider this: going to a hairdresser is one of the most dangerous experiences there can ever be. She is working with a dangerous weapon, a pair of scissors, close to your neck. One stab could end your life! Then never go to a hairdresser again! Hypnosis is a powerful tool, but it should be practiced ethically.

• Persons in hypnosis are not asleep

The word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word “Hypnos”, the god of sleep. Nothing is further from the truth. Hypnosis is everything but sleep.

Anyone in a state of hypnosis is constantly AWARE of themselves and their environment. The person does not lose consciousness for a single moment, although in a deep trance, noises and disturbances in their environment will seem to be so remote from them that it will not bother them, as long as they don’t pose a threat. When something threatening happens, the person will then simply wake up, in order to take the necessary steps to secure themselves.

• Hypnosis is not like sleep

Studies have shown that hypnosis and sleep differ. Studies of brain activity have shown that although there are characteristic patterns of brain activity associated with sleep, the same is not true for hypnosis. To observers hypnosis might appear to be like sleep because suggestions of relaxation are commonly given as part of a hypnotic routine, but hypnotised people are in a state more similar to wakefulness.

• Hypnosis is not similar to anaesthesia

The hypnotised subject is aware of sounds, touch, smells, taste and visual input. They are even able to speak while in hypnosis. They will always be able to awake from a trance. They cannot remain in a permanent trance. All they need to decide on is to wake up, and once this decision has been made, the hypnotized person will wake up.

• Hypnosis is not the work of the devil

As everyone on earth has experienced trance in the form of daydreaming, it is a natural God-given talent, which can be used positively in the person’s interest. Like anything else, untrained charlatans can also abuse hypnosis.

Some people think that you are vulnerable to the devil/evil when you are hypnotized. This is just not possible. The Scriptures teach us that God protects us at all times. How can the devil ever be stronger than God?

• “Weak people” are not the most susceptible to hypnosis

On the contrary, strong-willed, intelligent and creative people are better subjects than “weak willed” people. There is a misconception that only the weak ones are able to be hypnotised and that a hypnotherapist has therefore unlimited control over that person, while in fact the hypnotised person is always in control. He (or she) will decide to allow it, or not. They will even decide how deep into a trance they will go and at no time is the person ever under the control of the hypnotist. The person is in control of the session and of themselves and therefore more in control of themselves than otherwise.

• People who are in a hypnotic trance will not reveal secrets or say things they will regret

The person in trance always remains in full control. When you see “hypnosis shows” on television and audience members are jumping on the stage clucking like chickens – remember that they volunteered to do that in full knowledge that they would be expected to do something “crazy”. Sometimes hypnotherapy is used for the purposes of revealing repressed memories or information. Persons undergoing hypnosis for those reasons choose to go into a deeper trance states than usual. They are actively seeking to reveal the repressed information. A hypnotherapist cannot make someone reveal any information if they don’t want to.

You may begin to realize that hypnosis is actually a state of mind power. A client once phoned me and said: “I think my husband is cheating on me, will you be able to find out the truth?” My answer to her was: “If he is lying this well, just imagine how well he will be able to lie whilst hypnotized! Hypnosis is a state of mind power, and he can utilize this to lie even better!”

No hypnotist can compel you to do anything in violation of your moral or ethical code.

• You cannot be hypnotised against your will.

All hypnosis is actually self-hypnosis. You have to want to be hypnotised before a trance state can be achieved. There are methods for inducing a trance (deep relaxation) when working with resistant subjects; however, none of these methods will be effective unless you want to be hypnotised.

This is very important. The hypnotist cannot hypnotise you. The hypnotherapist can only assist you in hypnotising yourself. To get hypnotised is the ability of the client, not the ability of the hypnotist.

You can’t be forced to do anything you don’t want to do in hypnosis. You retain power over your ability to act upon suggestions, although if you do allow yourself to act upon a suggestion you may feel as though the effects are happening spontaneously.

• You cannot get ‘stuck’ in hypnosis

There is no evidence that anybody can become stuck in hypnosis. The worst that might happen could be that you may fall asleep – and wake up unhypnotised! Studies have been conducted where participants have been hypnotised, and the hypnotist then leaves the room under the pretence that there is a problem he has to attend to. The participant is then observed (without their knowledge) to see what happens. The result in all cases was that participants spontaneously woke up.

• You will not remember anything afterwards

You will remember everything afterwards because you are awake and alert. Some people don’t remember certain things, simply because their minds strayed during the trance. And that is okay, because we are addressing the subconscious mind, not the conscious. You are free to let your thoughts wander as we go. Some people even fall asleep, and there is nothing wrong with that either.

It seldom happens, but occasionally clients have no recollection of what had happened. Sometimes it might be so traumatic that the subconscious may choose for you to forget. When this happens, clients never ask the therapist what happened because they don’t want to know.

It has nothing to do with being in a deep trance. Deep trances are not required. Anything can be done in a mild trance.

• Nothing is going to be revealed

Many people are scared about what may surface whilst hypnotized. First of all: the days of going back to the past and reliving the trauma are over. Nowadays we have techniques of dealing with trauma without having to re-traumatise the client by making him or her relive the experience. As you have already experienced the trauma in real life, this time you will only see it as a memory, and as you are older, wiser, more experienced, and you are not alone, it will never be as bad as it was in real life.

3. What hypnosis really is

Have you ever driven a long distance and, after arriving, thought: “How did I get here?” Have you ever watched a movie without even hearing someone talking behind you? Are you aware of background sounds right now if you do not concentrate on it? That is hypnosis!

Broadly speaking, hypnosis is a state of altered consciousness that occurs normally in every person just before falling asleep. That is why hypnosis is usually accompanied by relaxation, simulating the relaxed position of the body during sleep. In therapeutic work, we prolong this brief interlude, so that we can work within its bounds.

In short: after our first hypnosis session, you are not going to believe that you were hypnotised at all. Clients always tell me: “but I don’t think that I was hypnotised. I was aware of everything all the time, I could hear your voice all the time, and I heard the noises in and outside the building all the time. I was not “under”. That is hypnosis. You will be aware of everything. It is true however, that the more hypnosis sessions we have, the deeper you will experience your trance state.

Hypnosis is nothing but just a deep state of relaxation causing a state of mind power. Nothing more, nothing less. If you understand this, you understand hypnosis! You will not believe that you were hypnotised at all!

One of the best examples of hypnosis is the following: have you ever been in a church, and the reverend or pastor or minister was praying? And the prayer is “boring”. You are sitting there with your eyes shut and thinking of anything and everything except the prayer, and sometimes you even fall asleep! But you will always hear the word “Amen” loud and clear. You were in a hypnotic trance! You were not falling asleep (I hope), yet you missed every word. But you did not miss the “Amen”. It is called a conditioned response. “Amen” in the subconscious means he is finished; you can open your eyes. Yet your subconscious registered everything, and was in close communication with God.

Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state of mind. It is usually achieved with the help of a hypnotherapist and is different from your everyday awareness.

• Your attention is more focused.

• You’re deeply relaxed and calm.

• You’re more open to suggestions, and less critical or disbelieving.

The purpose of hypnosis is to help you gain more control over your behaviour, emotions or physical well-being.

I prefer to refer to hypnosis as a relationship of trust. If there is trust, virtually anything is possible. If there is no trust, hypnosis will not be successful.

It’s not clear how hypnosis works. Hypnotherapists say that hypnosis creates a state of deep relaxation and quietens the mind. When you’re hypnotised, you can concentrate intensely on a specific thought, memory, feeling or sensation while blocking out distractions. You’re more open than usual to suggestions and this can be used to change your behaviour and thereby improve your health and well-being.

4. Stage hypnosis

Keep the above mentioned principles in mind.

What exactly is happening on stage?

First of all, the stage hypnotist will never call out participants. He will say: “Any volunteers, come up to the stage”. That will be your first clue. Everybody knows he is going to make fun of you. And the fact that you are willing to do that, says that because you want to, he will be able to do it. If you are not willing, the hypnotherapist will be the fool!

Secondly – and this is what you don’t see on TV: he will converse with them. This is to establish whether there is a relationship or not. If he discovers that you don’t like or trust him, or vice versa, you will be sent back to the audience. The same will apply if you are overly critical of him.

Now the moment of truth! He snaps his fingers and says: Sleep. And they go to “sleep”! Well, you know by now it is not sleep. But how is it possible for him to just snap his fingers, and they are hypnotised? This would in fact imply that he has hypnotized them before.

This means the stage hypnotist is familiar with his subjects and thus knows who will be willing to play the game.

As mentioned earlier: hypnosis is a state of mind power. For instance – you are on stage, and the hypnotist suggests to you to dance like a ballerina. You will first check with your internal moral system whether it is okay for you to do that or not. If it is acceptable, you can use your mind-power to remember for instance a TV show where you have seen a ballerina dancing. You will be able to recall the moves, and you will be able to perform them accordingly. You can even use mind power to dance on the tips of your toes and to imagine a steel bar from the tips of your toes to your legs. But if the hypnotist suggests something that is against your principles, you will come out of hypnosis, because you are in control all the time.

When he is finished, he will “wake you up”. As mentioned earlier, you will always come out of hypnosis. And you will remember afterwards what happened. Some people appear to be surprised afterwards. Well, you will also be surprised when you realize how realistic everything was.

5. The hypnotic process

Hypnosis is not a once-off experience. Generally it takes four to eight sessions of hypnotherapy to work through the problem. It might require more or less sessions, depending on the nature of the problem. It is difficult to predict how many sessions we may need.

Hypnosis is usually done with a seven day interval between sessions, as the subconscious mind takes seven days (on average) to process the suggestions. Usually only after seven days you will start experiencing the effects of the previous session.

5.1 The first session

A client will hardly ever be hypnotized during the first session. Hypnosis is based on a foundation of trust between the therapist and client and therefore the first session is about building that bond of trust and also an opportunity for the client to see whether he or she is comfortable with the therapist and the process of hypnosis. The first session is also utilized by the therapist to establish the exact nature of the problem and to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together (to analyse the psychodynamics). There are however certain exceptions, such as quitting smoking, where hypnosis can start in the first session.

It is necessary to ensure that the client is well aware of what hypnosis entails and what it does not, in order to eliminate any fears, prejudices and possible false expectations.

5.2 The second session

Usually hypnosis will be initiated during this session. Since you are the one determining the course of therapy, it might happen that there are more issues that you would like to discuss and hypnosis might not be a possibility yet. Bear in mind that at least half an hour is needed for hypnosis. When we actually do start with hypnosis, there is a possibility that not much might happen initially, due to the following reasons:

• You will not initially go into a deep trance or a trance at all. Anyone will resist something they are not familiar with, which is good, because it is natural to be weary of the unknown.

• Anxious clients might find it especially difficult to relax, since the harder they try, the harder it gets. Imagine a sleepless night. The harder you fight the sleeplessness, the more difficult it becomes. The moment you stop trying, it will come naturally. This is also the case with hypnosis.

• You will realize that you don’t have to think, concentrate or even co-operate. Everything happens spontaneously. You can let your thoughts wander. Imagine listening to a boring speech, lost in your own thoughts. You might even fall asleep. The subconscious mind always receives the messages, without you even being aware of it.

• After a session of hypnosis, you will go home, thinking that nothing had changed. As time progresses you will start noticing the subtle changes in your relationships and in your daily life. Only then will you realize the power of the subconscious. Others will probably become aware of these changes, even before you do.

You will realize:

• You can only be hypnotized if you allow it. If you don’t want to be hypnotized, it can never happen.

• Hypnosis is defined as a relationship of trust. If there is trust, you are halfway there. If there is any lack of trust, the issue should be addressed. This is necessary and to your benefit.

• Anyone can be hypnotized. There is no such thing as a person who cannot be. Self-hypnosis occurs on a daily basis without you even being aware of it.

• Your mind is your tool. Your therapist is merely the key that unlocks your subconscious. You already possess everything necessary to fulfill your every desire.

5.3 The third session and what follows

Only during the third or fourth session will you start experiencing a deeper level of trance. Now you have surpassed the novelty and your own resistance and now we can really start working on your problem. You will sometimes go into a deep trance and sometimes not. The depth of your trance is however not significant. Your subconscious is doing all the work automatically.

From this moment on we can work fast and effectively.

6. Conclusion

Hypnosis is an unconscious process. In most cases people aren’t even aware that they were hypnotized.

You don’t have to do anything whatsoever. The subconscious mind does everything for you. Easily and effortlessly. All you need to do is say: “Thank you Subconscious Mind”.