Hypnosis: What it is (and what it isn't)

“You are getting veeeeery sleepy!” was once a common phrase hypnotists used to induce a hypnotic state. These days, it is more of a comical expression than a common way to hypnotize someone. Pendants swinging back and forth were also historically used, but we now know it is unnecessary and inefficient to help someone reach a hypnotic state.

Hypnosis has also been viewed as a magic trick, mere entertainment, or powers from the dark side. Anyone who has seen a stage hypnosis show will agree. Watching people fall asleep on stage, then waking up on command and acting like monkeys or playing air guitars can be highly entertaining! Many believe it is faked, wondering how a single hypnotist could put a spell on an entire stage full of people. But those who have experienced it firsthand might argue it is very real and much less mysterious than it might seem.

If you feel torn between these two opinions, here are a few facts that might help:

Hypnosis is NOT:

  • Sleeping. Scientific research has confirmed when a person is in a hypnotic state or trance, their brainwaves are not in the Theta or Delta (Sleep) phases.
  • A state of unconsciousness. While hypnosis accesses the subconscious mind, individuals in a trance are still fully conscious and aware of what they are hearing, seeing, doing, and saying. 
  • A person being gullible. An individual will never do or say anything in hypnosis that they would not normally do or say. The individual is in control, not the hypnotist or hypnotherapist.

Hypnosis IS:

  • An awake state. Science shows brain waves are in the Alpha phase when in a hypnotic state, which is more of a state of relaxation or deep meditation.
  • Self-hypnosis. An individual will likely not be able to enter a hypnotic state unwillingly. All hypnosis is self-induced and self-achieved.
  • Imagination. Hypnosis allows access and connection to one of the most powerful tools for healing and change, the subconscious mind. This is where imagination and creativity lie. Learning to access this part of the mind opens the door to intimately overcoming and achieving. 
  • Exercise for your mind. It allows you to turn off certain aspects of your conscious mind and reach deeper for answers or abilities within yourself. 

To better understand hypnosis, we must understand the history of this incredible practice.  

Where Hypnosis Comes From

Hypnosis dates back to Ancient Egypt. Locations called “sleep temples” existed, where individuals would go to revitalize their spirits. Ancient oracles also used forms of hypnosis. Hypnosis began being recognized in the late 1700s in Western culture through the work of a man named Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer became intrigued by a holistic practice where magnets are passed over the body to induce a state of trance and achieve optimal health. He believed all living things had a magnetic fluid called the 5th element or animal magnetism that passed through the body. He thought the more fluid an individual had, the more healthy and vibrant they would become. 

On the other hand, an individual with less of this fluid would become less vibrant, sickly, and even die. Throughout Mesmer’s practice, he became extremely well known and famous for his success with his patients. However, on one particular day, he forgot his magnets. Instead of turning a very sick man away, he decided to continue his treatment without the magnets and proceeded to wave his bare hands over his patient. To his surprise, the man emerged, free of the conditions he had when he arrived. At that point, Mesmer made the self-proclamation that he no longer needed the magnets. He now had so much of the 5th element, he decided he could administer treatment without them. 

As the story goes, Mesmer also grew overly confident. He arranged to prove his discovery of this 5th element flowing from his hands to some pretty elite scientists and individuals, including Benjamin Franklin. While his success and the apparent improvement of his patients were undeniable, he eventually lost credibility. This panel of scientists determined that, while they were in awe with his results, they could not verify the existence of any 5th element. Therefore his success was credited to the mere “imagination” of his patients. Sadly, he was labeled a fraud, and his practice failed. The term “mesmerized” is derived from his name. Even though Mesmer’s practice was ruined, it led the way for future scientists to investigate Mesmerism, later known as hypnosis, and the actual power of our minds and imaginations. 

Today, the idea of one’s imagination being therapeutic — healing and manifesting — is not so improbable. Humans are complex individuals with a foundation of identities, values/beliefs, memories, and experiences that make up the subconscious mind. No individual is alike; all are unique, which means the outcomes and interpretations of the information we receive from the world around us are also unique. For most, knowing how to access the deepest part of the mind, the subconscious, is as foreign as reading a book in a different language. 

How to Access the Subconscious 

The subconscious mind is a powerful, behind-the-scenes system that oversees almost every aspect of life. It is responsible for storing every memory, experience, belief, and value, how we see ourselves, and how we identify as individuals. These things contribute to how we choose to live our lives and the decisions we make daily. According to Forbes (“Your Brain Sees Even When You Don’t”), processing abilities of the human brain are estimated at roughly 11 million pieces of information per second. Compare that to the estimate for conscious processing: about 40 pieces per second.”(DiSalvo) In other words, the brain is brilliantly loaded with helpful information, most of which is buried and just waiting to be uncovered or accessed as needed. Reaching the subconscious side of your brain is not as difficult as it might seem. Hypnosis, also known as hypnotherapy, is one of the keys to accessing the subconscious and influencing individuals in various ways. It’s helped others overcome and improve complicated and frustrating issues, including: 

  • Smoking, alcohol, and other substances
  • Weight
  • Anxiousness/Stress
  • Depression
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Fear of failure or success
  • Fear of snakes, spiders, clowns, the dark, public speaking, and the gym
  • Learning and studying
  • Communication
  • Bad habits (nail biting, teeth grinding, overeating, procrastination)
  • Loss/Grief 
  • Confidence
  • Mood/emotions
  • Performance and goals

How to Find a Credible Hypnotherapist

A good hypnotherapist will possess qualities such as prestige, enthusiasm, confidence, patience and possess certain credentials, experience, and training. These credentials must also be practiced alongside strict ecological values that consist of safe and beneficial methods to themselves, others, the client, and the world. One good way to verify a hypnotherapist’s credentials is by contacting one of the following organizations.

  1. The National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists. Visit their site to view hypnotherapists in your area at http://www.natboard.com/index.htm or call them directly at 301-608-0123. 
  2. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis via website https://www.asch.net/ or phone at 630-980-4740.  
  3. Google can also help you locate credible hypnotherapists with high star ratings (but check their credentials too). 

Additionally, a good hypnotherapist will not require you to return again and again for repeated sessions. The subconscious mind is extraordinary, and most often, it can achieve the desired results in only one session. Occasionally, if the desired result is connected to a secondary or deeper meaning, a second or third session may be appropriate. Another good way to identify a good therapist is to judge by how you feel after a session. Generally, at the end of a wellness session, a client should feel alert and have a sense of rejuvenation and peace. Finally, you should trust the amazing power of the subconscious to indicate if the session received was beneficial and uplifting like it should be. 

References/citations/works cited:

DiSalvo, David. “Your Brain Sees Even When You Don't.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 23                     Jun013,www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/06/22/your-brain-sees-even-when-you-dont/?sh=3630e4d6116a. 

The National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists, www.natboard.com/index.htm. 

American Society of Clinical Hypnosis > Home, www.asch.net/. 

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