What is Hypnosis? Describe the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis and discuss the role of relaxation in Hypnotherapy. Introduction In this essay I will attempt to provide a definition and explanation of the term “Hypnosis”, in addition to describing both the psychological and physical aspects of the term, and to discuss the role of relaxation in Hypnotherapy. I will then provide a conclusion. The term “Hypnosis” often conveys images of a strange, powerful Svengali-like character swinging a pendulum, dressed flamboyantly, getting the hypnotised subject to behave in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily behave.
He is a creepy character with spirals for eyes, who exerts power and control over his subjects for his own personal gain. There is a stage full of mind-controlled individuals completely at the mercy of this character, and it is only at his will will they be released from the strange trance-like state he has put them under. We might visualise Paul McKenna or Derren Brown, modern day hypnotists, making those “victims” perform silly or embarrassing stunts on stage for the amusement of the audience.
The public’s misconception that hypnotism is somehow connected to the occult has arisen due to the evil hypnotists portrayed in Hollywood movies and also watching stage hypnotists perform such acts on stage. Stage hypnosis is performed by such characters above for amusement and entertainment, hypnosis used in a therapeutic setting is purely for the benefit of the subject. What is Hypnosis? The term “Hypnosis” is difficult to precisely define. It comes from the Greek work “hypnos” which means sleep. However, it is helpful to provide one or two definitions to gain an understanding of its nature.
According to Cambridge Dictionaries1 hypnosis is a “mental state like sleep, in which a person’s thoughts can be easily influenced by someone else”. Wikipedia, citing the Encyclopedia Britannica, 2004,2 also defines hypnosis as a special psychological state with certain physiological attributes, resembling sleep only superficially and marked by a functioning of the individual at a level of awareness other than the ordinary conscious state”. It isn’t sleep, but an altered state of awareness. In its therapeutic setting, its aim is to experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts or behaviour.
History of Hypnosis Mankind’s desire to induce trance-like states have been around for thousands of years. Hypnotic-like techniques were used by Shamans, for healing and guidance, and the Ancient Egyptians, by Aborigines and within the Hindu culture. Modern day hypnosis and hypnotherapy really began with the work of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) and his theory of Animal Magnetism. He believed that a “cosmic fluid” flowed through people and in using magnets, he could heal those people whose flow was damaged in some way.
He originally used magnets but then started to use his hands. His techniques appeared to have success. One of his disciples, Marquis de Puysegur, found that some subjects entered “a somnambulistic state (a deep sleep) as a result of being “mesmerised”3. He felt that the “cosmic fluid” was electric and not magnetic. He also became aware of the way trance-like states could be induced using words. He tested responses to his words during these trance-like states and found that the patient could still communicate and remain lucid and receptive to his suggestions throughout.
He had quite literally discovered the hypnotic trance. Dr James Braid (1795-1860) felt that ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focussed attention would induce the trance state. He is regarded by many as the ‘Father of Hypnosis’ for he was the man who coined the term “hypnosis”4. Surgeons John Elliotson and James Esdaille in the 1800s pioneered its use in the medical field, and it was even used during the Civil War to perform amputations of wounded soldiers without anaesthesia.
Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy are now used today to treat a great many psychological and physical problems including tackling fears and phobias, addictions, habits, anxieties, pain management pre and post surgical procedures and labour (hypnobirthing). It can help with confidence boosting, relaxation, sleep issues amongst many other complaints. The Conscious and Subconscious mind Next let us look at the conscious and subconscious mind. Your conscious brain works things out using logic, and makes the decisions on what to do next.
The sub-conscious works on a more basic level, keeping us breathing, our hearts beating, and sending out the other signals that our body needs in order to be able to function. The sub-conscious is also the place where we store our memories and knowledge and it is the part of the brain that retains access to these even when our conscious brain has stopped thinking about them. Levels of Consciousness Hadley and Staudacher5 defined how levels of consciousness range and change, and their corresponding mental and physical characteristics.
The first level is alertness, which represents normal intellectual functioning, reflexive and motor responses. The next level is that of daydreaming/light trance, in which your body has become relaxed and your breathing and pulse has slowed. You may become more internally mindful and daydream about partaking in a particular activity. You may then move into a moderate trance, in which you lose awareness of your surroundings, become more aware of how your body is responding in terms of heart rate and breath, and your body may become more receptive to suggestions to do a particular thing such as raising an arm.
Whilst in this moderate trance your use of imagination is increased and you can really imagine yourself undertaking a particular activity. The next level is that of deep trance where a subject is really able to narrow in on a particular subject, believe they are smelling a particular smell or feel as though they are actually partaking in that activity. The last level is sleep, during which your conscious thought-process is reduced or absent. It is said that it is during daydreaming, moderate trance and deep trance that behaviour modification can ccur through hypnotherapy. Hypnosis is the creation of a trance like state so that the subconscious can help solve a problem that he is unable to in the conscious state6. Hypnotic states occur without us even realising it. For example we may take the same journey to work everyday and one day realise we remember very little of getting from A to B. It can occur when you are engrossed in a book or vacuuming your home. It is a natural phenomenon and occurs because our subconscious mind7 has in a way temporarily taken over our conscious mind.
Taking the journey example, we have no recollection of that journey because we have done it on autopilot. Our subconscious, which has stored everything we have ever learnt, said and done, has come to the forefront. We have taken that journey so many times before our conscious mind has “drifted off” and we have entered a hypnotic state. This automatic activity, of having learnt to drive, is stored in the subconscious and it is when we are performing that automatic activity that our minds may enter a different level of consciousness8. What happens during hypnosis?
A session of hypnosis begins with a series of suggestions called the “hypnotic induction”9. Its aim is to put the client in an altered state or trance, during which the subject becomes more receptive and responsive to suggestion. Not every person will respond to hypnotic suggestions. A person has to want to be hypnotised, otherwise they cannot be. They will not do something outside of their own moral and ethical code under hypnosis, or do anything they do not want to do, such as cluck like a chicken, which is the familiar misused example.
A subject will be aware of the words being spoken to them whilst in trance. In the hypnotic state your subconscious becomes more open to positive suggestions, and you are able to concentrate more easily than in a normal conscious state. You become less aware and distracted by your surroundings and more aware and focused on yourself. It is your subconscious mind that is responsible for any deep and lasting changes that you choose to make. The subject may reveal a past incident or something said that has had a profound affect on what is happening to them now.
Their conscious mind may have developed defences in an attempt to protect itself. The “damaging experience” for example, is then turned into the behavioural trait they wish to get rid of or control, and the hypnotherapist will make suggestions to the subject to eradicate the unwanted behaviour. This suggestion is the tool that helps to reprogramme the mind to respond in a healthier way to something”10. The Psychological and Physical aspects of hypnosis Studies have shown that the brain waves of a person who is in a trance state are very different to when that person is alert or asleep.
Brain waves are a measurement of the electrical activity of the brain and can be measured with the use of an electroencephalogram. When a person is in a trance state the brain waves measure differently to those when you are asleep or those when you are alert. Such differences demonstrate how a person’s consciousness is decreasing and subconscious is increasing. A person’s body may become very still, and their limbs feel heavy. There may be an element of time distortion11 where a person coming out of hypnosis believes they have been “under” a matter of seconds/minutes. Physical changes will also be apparent.
Breathing will have slowed down, a person’ muscles will have become less tense, blood is evenly distributed throughout the body and REM may be noted. The hypnotherapist may suggest that the subject raises an arm or makes some other physical movement, which the subject will do without any real conscious doing or decision to do so on their part. Delusions of the senses may occur. A person may believe they are holding a bunch of flowers12 because the hypnotist has suggested they are. Studies have revealed the positive and therapeutic use of hypnosis in pain management in cancer and burn victims.
Indeed, anaesthesia and analgesic changes have been proven to occur under hypnosis. Guy Montgomery, psychologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine,, revealed that in a clinical trial with 200 breast cancer patients, those that received hypnosis before surgery reported less post-surgical pain, nausea, fatigue and discomfort13. There are many more studies that illustrate what a powerful effect hypnosis can have on both the psychological and physical parts of a person. The Role of Relaxation in Hypnotherapy Most hypnotic inductions use relaxation tools to relax patients.
Relaxation calms anxiety and helps our body and mind recover from stress. Generally, the more relaxed we are, the better our minds work and the more capable, receptive and adaptable we can be. Hypnosis is really a form of deep relaxation.. Hypnotherapy is a connection of two words; hypnosis and therapy. Hypnosis is needed to perform the therapy. The aim is to use the trance-like state, when the conscious and subconscious minds are communicating, to initiate the therapy. The subject will then be able to focus at an enhanced level through relaxation, allowing emotions, thoughts, feelings and self awareness to become more apparent.
How a person’s body responds when they are relaxed is akin to that when a person enters hypnosis, as described above14. Relaxation can act as a conduit in allowing a person, whilst under hypnosis, to see things from a different perspective. It has been said it enables a person to communicate with their subconscious15. Being relaxed certainly helps to focus the mind, but it is not imperative that a person has to be relaxed to be in a hypnotic state. For example, in addition to being relaxed, you can also be hypnotised while walking, reading, working on the computer, or even while you are in pain (hypnobirthing).
Obviously when you are in pain you are not in a relaxed state! That aside, relaxation plays a very important role in allowing hypnotherapy to take place. When relaxed it frees the mind of everything irrelevant whilst the mind can narrow in and focus on the behavioral trait in question. Conclusion Many factors may play a role in a person’s susceptibility to hypnosis, such as a person’s belief in hypnosis, trust for the therapist, sense of safety, ability to concentrate and focus the mind, and the absence of external factors such as noise, uncomfortable temperature, and physical comfort.
However, when all those factors are present hypnotherapists can use this natural phenomenon for a person’s benefit and improvement. Hypnotherapy is an extremely useful tool in treating many complaints. The use of hypnotic techniques by therapists has increased over the years and its use has been gaining widespread acceptance as being a safe, effective and reliable alternative or adjunct to other treatment methods, and “a growing body of scientific research supports its benefits in treating a wide range of conditions”16.
In fact many psychologists believe that students enrolled on psychology training programmes should undertake hypnosis classes17. With the help of a hypnotherapist, a person can teach themselves self hypnosis, which can be overwhelmingly beneficial for that person. They can do this solely to aid them in reaching a relaxed state, or to get better sleep, or to reaffirm those suggestions put to them by the hypnotherapist, and so on. It is a fascinating subject of which we are still trying to fully understand. Footnotes 1. http://dictionary. cambridge. rg 2. en. wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title=Hypnosis 3. Hypnosis for Change, 3rd Edition, pg 15 4. http://www. jamesbraidsociety. com/index. html 5. Hypnosis for Change, 3rd Ed, pg 12 6. Understanding Hypnosis: Roet, pg 11 7. Subconscious : “the part of your mind which notices and remembers information when you are not actively trying to do so, and which influences your behaviour although you do not realise it” http://dictionary. cambridge. org/dictionary/british/subconscious_1? q=subconscious) 8. Hadley and Staudacher, in Hypnosis for Change). . Hypnotherapy: A Handbook 2nd Edition, Michael Heap, pg 29 Heap 10. Hypnotherapy for Dummies, pg 24 10. 11. Hidden Depths, The Story of Hypnosis : pg 34 12. Example provided in Hidden Depths, pg 33 13. Journal of the National Cancer Institute Vol 99 No 17) 14. Heart rate and breathing slows down, muscles become less tense, your thoughts become more abstract and less fixed. 15. Understanding Hypnosis, 2000, Roet pg xii 16. “Hypnosis Today” American Psychological Association, Jan 2011, Vol 42, No 1 Brendan Smith 17. Hypnosis Today” B Smith, APA Jan 2011, Vol 42, No 1 Bibliograpy Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis Robin Waterfield Hypnosis for Change, 3rd Edition Josie Hadley and Carol Staudacher Understanding Hypnosis, 2000 Dr Brian Roet Hypnotherapy: A Handbook 2nd Edition Michael Heap Hypnotherapy for Dummies Mike Bryant and Peter Mabbutt http://www. better-your-health. com/hypnosis www. bscah. com : British Society of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis Paper: What is Hypnosis? www. apa. org : American Psychological Association