Many people are using hypnosis to improve their function, restore their health, or overcome emotional or mental hurdles in their lives. If you are curious about the process, understanding what it is and, just as importantly, what it is not can help you make better choices for your own health and well-being.
Here is a simplified way of explaining how your brain works. The human brain has two hemispheres. The left brain tends to be dominant when we are awake and aware, processing information verbally and keeping us rational, intellectual, and conscious. The right brain, on the other hand, is more dominant when we are relaxed. It can be considered the “unconscious mind” and often “sees” in images, ideas, and emotions. When we use hypnotic techniques, we are able to tap into the power of the right brain and use it to facilitate powerful healing processes.
Hypnotherapists use imagery, relaxation, and other tools and techniques to guide you as you tackle your physical or mental concerns. The suggestions can vary based on your specific needs. For example, those who are struggling with excessive stress or anxiety may benefit from suggestions that help them feel calmer or more relaxed not just during the session but also throughout the day. They can develop new coping skills and calming techniques. Pain patients can learn new ways to manage and take their focus off of their pain.
Often described as a “state of focused awareness,” this is an entirely natural process that draws your attention away from your immediate surroundings and focuses it instead on your feelings, images, or other ideas or experiences. You might recall driving down the road on “autopilot,” “getting in the zone” while focusing on your golf swing, or getting “lost in a good book.” Each of these experiences is a form of autohypnosis. When you incorporate the experience into audios or therapy, you can tap into autohypnosis intentionally to achieve specific goals.
Benefits of Hypnotherapy
The misconceptions surrounding hypnotherapy have prevented many people who could benefit from seeking it. They fear losing control, falling asleep, or even worry that the process is mystical or somehow related to the occult. In reality, it is a recognized therapeutic technique that can give you powerful relief from many common physical and emotional ailments and help you maximize your function.
Some of the top reasons people choose to work with audios or hypnotherapists go beyond quitting smoking and weight loss and include:
1. Improving sleep quality
Sleeping problems can significantly disrupt your life and affect both your health and your ability to function. The autohypnosis experience is deeply relaxing and can help you fall asleep, but research shows it does far more than that. If you fall asleep but struggle to stay asleep, if you sleepwalk, or if you have other sleeping problems, you may benefit from using hypnotherapy
The relaxing nature of the experience can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. As your body relaxes, stress hormone levels decline, allowing you to sleep longer and enjoy higher quality sleep. Sleepwalkers can use it to develop tools to wake up before their sleepwalking leads to problematic behavior and eventually may even avoid sleepwalking entirely.
2. Easing stress, worry, and anxiety
Many people today are dealing with overwhelming responsibilities, overcrowded calendars, and overstretched limits. We are stressed out, worried, and anxious. Not all of our anxieties reach the clinical level, but some of us are dealing with a clinical diagnosis of anxiety or an anxiety-related disorder or condition, such as social anxiety or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
As you learn to focus your mind and relax your body, your breathing slows, your blood pressure is reduced, and you feel calm and at peace as your body relaxes. The suggestions can help you tap into this powerful response more easily and offset the body’s fight-or-flight response, allowing you to ease back from stress faster and more effectively.
3. Combating pain
Hypnotherapists have helped people suffering from acute or sudden pain as well as chronic or ongoing pain. Whether you are recovering from a minor injury or surgery or suffer from migraine disorder or arthritis, you can incorporate this powerful technique into your regimen to move forward more comfortably.
The process works by helping you approach pain differently and stopping the cascade of negative effects that is triggered by your pain. Pain triggers the natural stress response, but you can use hypnotherapy to short-circuit the cycle and get more control of it over time. Over time, you will learn to effectively manage your pain not just in the moment but over the long term.
There are many more benefits to hypnosis that touch every aspect of people’s lives. Hypnosis for childbirth can make a substantial difference in a birthing experience while hypnotherapy for phobias can help a person live to the fullest. With hypnosis you can also achieve peak performance.
The Science of Hypnosis
During the process, a hypnotherapist uses gentle suggestions to relax the person as they achieve a state of focused awareness. The process may take a few seconds or longer, and each person’s experience can look markedly different. Regardless, they will all share similar characteristics, including being more receptive and responsive to suggestions.
While long shrouded in mystery, science is uncovering hypnosis’ secrets and showing us how and why it is so remarkably effective in treating such a wide range of health issues, from anxiety and depression to nausea and pain.
What researchers have found is a remarkable link between brain and body that can help us make the most out of both. They found that while we are in that state of focused awareness, we can use subtle suggestions to alter the way we see and respond to the world around us and even our own bodies.
Some studies have shown this process in action. Participants were able to “see” different colors than were shown or experienced different shocks than what was given. The latter may explain why, as Dr. David Spiegel of the Center on Stress and Health says, “Hypnosis as sole anesthesia works extremely well.” In studies, it has been shown to reduce procedure time when used before operations while also reducing complications, such as low oxygen and vomiting.
According to Dr. Spiegel, who is also the medical director for the Center for Integrative Medicine, “Hypnosis is to consciousness what a telephoto lens is to a camera.” When you use this hyper-focused state to move beyond your routine state of consciousness, you become more open to new ideas and accepting of alternative ways of thinking.
You are naturally quite comfortable with your own thought processes, so you might feel uncomfortable with the idea of someone tinkering around with the way you think and operate on a day-to-day basis using these techniques. According to the research, however, we can benefit enormously from working with a hypnotherapist. Whether you are struggling with anxiety, stress, bad habits such as smoking, or even heartburn, techniques such as these can help you regain control over the subconscious processes and give you new and effective tools for managing your symptoms and your life.
During neuroimaging studies, researchers are able to determine that the same areas of the brain have been activated when people imagine something, whether that is a sensation or an experience, that are activated when people are actually experiencing those things in reality.
The History of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
While we might think of it as a revolutionary new idea, the experience might be as old as mankind itself. In fact, the earliest recorded history of the technique dates back more than 5,000 years to the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the Temple of Imhotep, which used “temple sleep” as a healing cure.
While many of these practices might seem almost quaint to our modern sensibilities, early doctors realized they held potential. In 1774, Dr. Franz Mesmer developed an elaborate theory regarding what he termed “animal magnetism” and later “Mesmerism.” His research laid the groundwork for later practitioners who further refined the technique.
King Louis XVI took things a step further when he commissioned a panel of scientists to research Mesmer’s work and uncover its secrets. While Mesmer’s theories about animal magnetism were quickly discredited, the medical reality behind “Mesmerism” was not, and practitioners were soon studying it in earnest.
By the 19th century, James Braid, an English doctor, gave the phenomenon the name we still use today, christening it “hypno-sis,” after the Greek god of sleep Hypnos. Other doctors, including French doctor Ambroise-August Liébeault, Hippolyte Bernheim, and even Sigmund Freud, were all quick to adopt the exciting “new” technique along with a variety of theories and explanations.
It was not until the 20th and 21st centuries that science really began uncovering the secrets behind the phenomenon. The British Medical Association commissioned a committee to investigate the technique and reported on its effectiveness in treating pain, promoting sleep, and addressing other conditions in the British Medical Journal. In 1955, they commissioned a second subcommittee, and another paper was published in 1957 in the British Medical Journal on “The Medical Use of Hypnotism.” In 1958, the American Medical Association commissioned a study and officially recognized it as a legitimate therapeutic technique not long after, and the American Psychological Association endorses it as an effective technique for everything from habit and gastrointestinal disorders to skin conditions and post-surgical recovery. The British Psychological Association has a similar stance.