What is Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy?
What hypnosis is NOT
Most people's understanding (if you can call it that) of what hypnosis is all about, tends to come from what they see on stage, or hear second-hand or read in the popular press/internet. People see Paul McKenna and my other stage friends getting someone to fall passionately in love with a mop or speak fluent Martian or quack like a duck or whatever it may be, which is great for entertainment, but absolutely no use whatsoever for therapy (for reasons I shall explain later) but they see these things going on and they make certain, very logical, but nevertheless completely incorrect assumptions.
And the major mis-assumption they tend to make is that there can only be two possible explanations for how all that is done. The first and most likely is that these people are just actors or stooges that have been paid a few dollars to play along, which I can assure you they are not! The only other possible explanation which is far more sinister and worrying, is that these people are the more stupid and gullible members of the audience who have foolishly allowed themselves to be completely taken over like mindless zombies, and that of course must mean therefore, that when you are hypnotized, properly at least, you will not be aware of anything. You will not think anything, feel anything, hear anything, see anything, smell anything, or taste anything. And as I always say to my patient’s, if at any point you feel like that, it’s very important that you tell me because it means you are clinically dead! That would constitute deceased not hypnotized! But yet this is what people truly expect it to be like and the truth could not be further from it. For one thing let's take the idea of mind control out of this for a start shall we. If you could control people with hypnosis, don't you think the government and military might be employing me? More importantly if you could control people with hypnosis, my dear friend Paul McKenna would be president of the United States and I personally, would be married to all of Girls Aloud and richer than Midas lol. I cannot control people with hypnosis, Paul can't and even the Great Richard Bandler cannot, so I think it's a fairly safe assumption that hypnosis is not about mind control!
Hypnosis is in essence a multiplication tool not a control mechanism. If you have someone with a shred of intent, skill or desire, you can multiply that exponentially, literally thousands of times, but you cannot control their minds and put it in to begin with.
A good example of this is some of the people who come to see me with confidence issues. 95% of the people who come to see me with confidence issues, if you were to meet them walking out of one of my consulting room’s and have a brief chat with them, you would think they are the most confident, together, professional people, you could possibly wish to meet. This does not however mean they are confident, it means they are composed, which is the ability to come across that way, but it does not mean that is how they really feel inside. They are just very good actors and actresses basically. However around 5% of people we treat with confidence issues, do not have the slightest bit of composure, these are the people who are just painfully shy. They sit there in my office and cannot make eye contact with me at all, they are white as a sheet, physically shaking, sometimes even in a cold sweat, and it can take me 20 minutes to get a word out of some of them, and when I do, they invariably ‘squeak’ something similar to the following : -
“Oh Dr Roberts…. I have no confidence.”
To which I always reply,
“You have NO confidence?”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes ……. I’m sure”
“Are you absolutely positive?”
“Yes (nodding nervously)…I’m absolutely positive”
So then I feel compelled to point out to them, that they seem completely confident about the fact that they have no confidence lol.
You see the fact is, that we are all born brim full of confidence. Babies are inherently confident at the moment they are born. When they cry, they are completely confident that someone will come and attend to their needs, which is why they do it. When they explore, they have absolutely no fear whatsoever (much to the distress of their parents) but sadly what happens, is that as we move through our lives, particularly our very early lives, we begin to hang on to some of the negative emotion from some of our experiences and the messages we receive verbally and nonverbally from other key people in our lives. It is that which then begins to act as blocks to that natural flow of confidence. So the job of hypnosis in such cases is not to control these people's minds and put the confidence in, it has always been there, the job of hypnosis is to remove the blockages and do a bit of cross wiring! So you see it is not mind control, just very very clever tweaking.
What hypnosis IS
I have spoken much about what hypnosis is not; now let's talk a little bit about what it is.
Have you ever been hypnotized before?
Most of you will probably answer no and those of you who answer yes may tell me how many times, five, ten etc. However both answers are incorrect! You have actually been hypnotized thousands of times, probably tens of thousands of times, so have all your friends and family, in fact everybody on the planet, because contrary to popular belief, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens around us every single day. It is just so very very different from what we expect it to be like i.e. Feeling dead, that we do not notice it as such…. Well you wouldn't do when you think that through would you?
Examples of Everyday Hypnotic Trance
To give you some examples, do you ever remember the exact moment at which you fall asleep? No! No one does, because the moment you fall asleep, you are already deeply hypnotized! You have to be in order to fall asleep, it's a prerequisite. Do you drive? Driving along on a long or familiar journey and you suddenly realize you've just lost half a dozen motorway junctions or cannot remember the last two traffic lights you passed? (That is not dangerous by the way, unless of course you fall asleep but it is a form of deep trance called hypno-amnesia). If you want the technical explanation, what happens there is that you are so familiar with the journey and what you are doing, that the conscious mind does not need to play any part, and so it drifts off into space and hands over full control to the unconscious mind. If you want a definition of hypnosis that essentially is exactly what it is. It is ANY moment in time, when there is direct communication with the unconscious mind, without the simultaneous involvement of the conscious filter. That is all it is.
Have you ever been to the cinema and seen a movie you really enjoyed? Whilst you're sitting there, you forgot the seat that you are sitting in, you lost awareness of all the other people around you, their heads simply disappeared, even though, they were right in front of you! You became absorbed, engrossed, entranced. It is all forms of trance.
When you were a small child, did mum or dad ever read you a bedtime story? And you fell asleep whilst they were reading it to you? If so, they are fully qualified hypnotists! I kid you not! If you read a child a bedtime story and they fall asleep while you are doing it, make no mistake, you have hypnotized them. This is not rocket science and there are thousands of different ways of inducing it.
And finally, the best example of all. How many times in your life, have you scratched, bruised or injured yourself in some small way and then got home, or to work, or the gym and thought how in the hell did I do that? That's a form of hypnosis call hypno-anesthesia. It is exactly the same thing that I do when I am called upon to work with dental patients, who cannot have a conventional anesthetic. The only difference in that scenario is that I help them to produce the effect on demand and then prolong it whilst they have a root canal or a tooth pulled or whatever it may be. But the fact is that you have experienced exactly the same thing, in normal, everyday life. Begin to see?
The Paradox and what causes all the confusion is simply this, people assume, because of what they see on stage and hear second-hand and read in the popular press, that when you're hypnotized, properly at least, you’re going to feel dead, or at least asleep, or at least like a zombie with no free will of your own. But if I was to ask you, the last time you were driving along on a long or familiar journey and suddenly realized you had lost part of the journey…. What did it feel like to be deeply hypnotized? Last time you bruised, scratched or injured yourself in some way and did not feel it at the time, what was it like to be in a deep trance? Exactly! People assume, that when you're hypnotized, you’re going to feel dead, or at least asleep or like a zombie…. But what you actually feel like when you are hypnotized…. Is absolutely ‘diddly squat’ because here is the rub…. When you are hypnotized, you are not aware of it.
That is why, if you ever go to a stage show, or see one on television, you will notice that we always get one or two of the stars of the show up on stage at the end and interview them and they seem genuinely confused. Oh trust me they are confused, because in their minds, if it was going to work, then they would have felt dead, or asleep, or at least like a zombie, but none of that happened and so clearly they were far too strong minded to be taken in by all this nonsense. But they can kind of remember kissing that mop but she looked really beautiful at the time and why is everyone laughing at me? It's all very confusing, but of course they have not had the benefit of this explanation and so they did not have a clue what to expect.
Now the way that the stage thing is done, is actually very simple. You see, when we are small children, four, five, or six years old, we all have the most incredible ability to play pretend and use our imagination in the way it was originally designed to be used, to the point where you can actually experience it, as reality, just for a while. That is why so many small children of that age have imaginary friends. They are very real to them. We have just forgotten how to see them. It is also the reason why when you were 5 or 6 years old, you could be playing with a ball in the backyard and just for a while, you really were scoring the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl. Or you could be there with your wand and your tutu, and just for a while you were a real fairy. Do you kind of get the sense of what it was like to get lost in play like that? To the point where it actually became reality, just for a while? That is all we do on stage. We just put people back in touch with a time, when they could play pretend to the point where they could actually experience it as reality, just for a while. Great fun for entertainment, absolutely no use whatsoever for therapy, because it is temporary!
In clinical work we are not just playing around with the imagination, although it is a gateway. We are working with the self-image and the belief system, which is in different part of the psyche. More importantly, we want it to be a long lasting and permanent change. So the approach is very different. It is a little bit like building a house. You have to start by levelling the ground, then you dig the foundations, then you put in the corners and build up the coursework, eventually you can put the roof on and hopefully the whole thing now supports itself. It is similar in clinical work, everything builds on what has gone before, it is a cumulative process. So that is the major difference between the two types of hypnosis.
Now the good news is that the way that I work, clinically with hypnosis, it is impossible for you to get it wrong. I just need you lying or sitting down comfortably, with your eyes closed and me talking. That is as complicated as it gets. You just get to lie back and ignore me whilst I tell you magical stories that you do not even need to listen to. It is not exactly hard. In fact the tough part, is realizing how ridiculously easy it actually is.
Around 5% of my patients at one end of the spectrum actually nod off and go to sleep. Some of them even start snoring. It does not make the slightest bit of difference, because even when you are fast asleep, the bit that I want to talk to isn't! That's why if you suddenly need to go to toilet in the middle of the night you wake up and you go (unless you are very drunk lol). Similarly if there is a strange noise in the middle of the night, you wake up to deal with it, or if you have any sense, nudge your partner to go and deal with it lol, but you would not sleep through it. Babies would never get fed if we did. If you want to take it to the nth degree, even when people are in a coma, we ask the friends and family to play tapes and recordings to them and to talk to them whilst they are visiting, it is how we bring them back. So even at that level, in coma, the part of your mind that I need to talk to, is still processing every sound, every word, and much more importantly for what I am actually doing, every sub-communication…. Because nothing in these stories means what you think it means consciously anyway. So if you drift off completely to sleep and have a good snore that is great!
5% of my patients at the other end of the spectrum, the complete control freaks, very uptight, cannot possibly relax, need to listen and understand everything that's being said, because it’s all so very important and they cannot trust anyone else to get anything right…, they tend to be very alert all the way through, at least for the first session or two. That does not matter either, because even when you are fully consciously alert as you are now, so is the part that I need to talk to! The reason that closing your eyes is important is that as soon as you do that, you shut down 20% of your sensory input, which produces theta waves in the brain and is by its very definition, the beginnings of trance, everything beyond that is just deepening anyway.
90% of my patients, which you certainly you will be after a session or two if not before, are somewhere in the middle. Sometimes they are listening to little fragments of what I am saying and following along, other times they drift off and think about something funny they did as a child or where they would love to go on vacation or something they have to do tomorrow, it does not make the slightest bit of difference! I just need you lying or sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and me talking, it as simple as that.
There will however be times, when my voice goes very quiet and mumbled, it is deliberate! There will be other times, when what I say gets very confusing and almost impossible to follow, take the hint! There is no need to be following it lol.
I treat many patients who have been to see other hypnotists before in the past with shall we say varying degrees of success. Usually the reason for this is that the people they have been to see do not have very much in the way of psychological expertise or background as I do. Consequently they are not very good at explaining all this, and whilst they cannot do any harm, sadly in many cases it also means they do not do much good either because the inherent problem is if this is not explained thoroughly and correctly, (especially with someone who is a little nervous, uptight or has any kind of control issues) is that they will spend the whole session, worrying about having the experience, and having the experience correctly, and they get themselves so wound up and worried about having the experience correctly and why they do not feel dead yet…. That they actually forget to have the experience…. Which is not much use to anyone.
You see, going into trance is very similar to going to sleep. They are not the same, but they are very close cousins and both require you to do one thing and one thing only… and that is to completely physically relax, because when you completely physically let go, the mind will follow. In fact it has to, it is just the rules, but this is bit that people miss with relaxing….
Have you ever tried, really hard, to get off to sleep one night?
How did that go? Lol
Ever tried really hard to relax? Yeah, let me know how that's been working for you too.
You see this is the point I'm trying to make, relaxing by its very definition, is the absence of trying to do anything, including TRYING TO RELAX!
The moment you are trying to relax you are NOT relaxing!
During our sessions I do not want you trying to listen, trying not to listen, trying to think, trying not to think, trying to relax, and trying not to relax. I do not want you trying to do anything! I just want you sitting or lying comfortably with your eyes closed and me talking, makes sense?
Now for the bad news… There is in fact only one person on this planet, that can actually hypnotize you and sadly it is not me. Nor Paul McKenna nor even Richard Bandler. Care to hazard a guess at who it is? Yes YOU! The same person who has been doing it all your life, you just never realized it!
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis, all a hypnotist does, is GUIDE that natural process, very skilfully in some cases, but nevertheless that is all we are doing, guiding a natural process. Which means it's a skill and like any skill, the more you do it the better you get at it.
Out of interest do you know what the major difference is between clinical hypnosis and guided meditation?
Answer: Virtually nothing! It is just that hypnosis is more powerful.
Can hypnosis be done safely online?
Hypnosis is induced using voice and language patterns and therefore works in exactly the same way and just as effectively via telephone and Skype, as it does face to face.
If you have read the above explanation you will also understand that hypnosis is closely related to guided meditation and is therefore always safe, no matter whether done face to face or via remote means.