By Jeanne Clark, MSW, LCSW
|Brief History of Medical Hypnosis|
|What Is Hypnosis?|
|A State of Consciousness|
|Hypnosis Is Not Sleep|
|What Does Hypnosis Feel Like?|
|Some People Fear Losing Control|
|Some People Fear the Inability to Be Hypnotized|
|Is Hypnosis Safe?|
Hypnosis is becoming a more popular alternative treatment for widely divergent issues such as nail biting, improved school performance, and sports performance and from smoking cessation, weight loss, anxiety, phobias, panic, to depression. Many people have misconceptions about hypnosis while others do not know how to find a qualified hypnotherapist. Here is some basic information on hypnosis.
Medical hypnosis is an accepted form of medical treatment that has been used for thousands of years. Hypnosis is one of the oldest forms of medical therapy dating back to ancient Egypt. Writings dating as far back as 3000 BC describe the use of hypnosis in the treatment of human illness. In 1958 the American Medical Association (AMA) officially approved hypnosis for use in all areas of medicine and surgery.
Many people misunderstand therapeutic or medical hypnosis because of the way hypnosis has been portrayed in books, movies, television, and by stage hypnotists. Medical hypnosis is very different from those portrayals. In fact, using hypnosis the way it is sometimes presented in popular media would be a violation of a social workers’, or other clinicians’, ethical standards.
Hypnosis is a very natural state that we all enter at various times. In a hypnotic state, one’s attention is focused in one area, closing out other stimulation. It is similar to day dreaming or being so completely engrossed in a book or TV program that you may ignore someone speaking in the same room. Here is another example. Just before falling asleep every night we experience a period in which we are relaxed, but still aware of what is going on around us. This is very similar to hypnosis. In this state we are able to give ourselves suggestions. For example you may have at wanted get up at a different time then usual. You may have reminded yourself just before falling asleep to wake up early and then found you had awakened ten minutes before the alarm. In that situation, you gave yourself the idea to wake up. That idea is called a post-hypnotic suggestion and is similar to how hypnosis works.
Hypnosis is a state of consciousness and it can be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG), an instrument that reads brain wave activity. Hypnosis can be recognized as a state of relaxed, concentrated attention. The brain activity that is measurable during hypnosis is also found during meditation. Bringing your mind to this state is something that can be learned and practiced. Medical science has proven that there are many health benefits to be gained from this state.
The word “sleep” sometimes is used to describe the hypnotic trance state. However, a person in hypnosis is far from being asleep. When in hypnosis people are aware of their surroundings in a detached way. Conscious, critical thinking is more or less temporarily suspended and yet available at a moment’s notice to cope with an emergency if one were to come up. Because of this relative inner quiet, people are more receptive to positive suggestions. The mind is concentrated on the suggestions and pays little attention to other things.
In general, hypnosis is a pleasant feeling of relaxation. Many people expect to feel something special or different when in hypnosis, even though it is a normal state. Hypnosis is a state in which the mind is highly absorbed or concentrated. We have all been in this state many times before. Sometimes it seems so normal to a person that he/she denies being in hypnosis. One can hear sounds going on around and sometimes one’s mind wanders. Each person’s experience is different and will vary from time to time. Most people feel very relaxed and comfortable and so, have little desire to move or open their eyes, although this is totally possible.
One cannot be hypnotized against one’s will or without consent. Everyone achieves their own hypnotic state by cooperating with the suggestions to relax and concentrate. In reality, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. You go into it willingly and with full awareness. The hypnotherapist is like an instructor or coach, guiding the client. In hypnosis, people will not accept any idea or suggestion that is against their religion, values, or ethical principles.
Permanent inability to go into hypnosis does not exist, although there can be a temporary unwillingness. If one is willing to cooperate and learn to let go, a moderate to deep state of hypnosis can be achieved.
Hypnosis is a safe therapeutic tool. Hypnosis has no side effects, but like any other tool, it should be used only by a trained, qualified doctor or mental health practitioner/professional. In most states hypnosis is not regulated and there are no guidelines or licensing to do hypnosis. It is easy for the lay person to take hypnosis courses and advertise treatment.
Anyone seeking help through hypnosis should inquire about the person’s credentials. Make sure that he or she has a master’s or doctorate degree and is licensed counselor, social worker, psychologist, dentist, or doctor, and has taken additional training in clinical, professional hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Several organizations offer certification in hypnotherapy or medical hypnoanalysis. The American Academy of Medical Hypnoanalysts (AAMH) Web site offers more information about hypnoanalysis and help in finding someone qualified to do hypnosis. (www.aamh.com).