Clinical hypnotherapy exists on the fringes of modern medicine. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that clinical hypnotherapy works well to treat a variety of psychological (and other) disorders. Also, there have been some scientific experiments to prove its validity as a method and the prestigious American Psychological Association did a feature on hypnosis in 2011. Unfortunately, people have many misconceptions about hypnosis and the industry is full of charlatans and snake oil peddlers.
This article will be the first of a series of articles on this site to clear up some of the misconceptions about hypnosis, discuss its value in treating mental health problems in particular, and to suggest avenues for hypnotism training and/or hypnotherapy certification as well as what to look for in a good hypnotherapist.
What is Clinical Hypnotherapy?
First of all, what is hypnotism? There are many definitions of hypnotism, but the one that I like the best is that it is a state that allows the mind to bypass the critical factor. In this state, we are highly suggestible.
What does it mean to bypass the critical factor?
Most of our waking lives, our conscious minds are “in charge”. The induction of a hypnotic state is a way to get past the conscious mind and allow us access to our unconscious mind. Why do we want access? It would seem that the conscious mind can only process a tiny fraction of what the five senses can take in. You might have heard that you only actually use a small portion of your brain — that would be the conscious mind.
However, the unconscious mind holds many times more memories of sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feelings that we have experienced throughout our lifetime. Imagine being able to harnass that power and use it to help you solve problems.
There are two times a day when you enter a hypnotic state naturally (for most people there are more, but there are at least two): one is right before you fall asleep, and the other is right before you wake up. You may have had the experience of having an expanded awareness at those times and being able to solve problems that you were not able to solve prior to those times.
Interestingly, if you consciously “ask” your brain to solve problems for you before going to sleep and “ask” for it to provide the answer to you consciously when you wake up, it is very likely to do as you have requested. Once you realize that you have an unconscious mind and that it is has these abilities, it is like having a very powerful ally living in your head, helping out.
The best way to view a hypnotist is as a guide to help you navigate these unconscious waters so that you can even more efficiently solve whatever issue is bothering you.
So, what is clinical hypnotherapy?
Clinical hypnotherapy is hypnosis that is used by a trained hypnotherapist to help you resolve a particular problem. While you can hypnotize yourself, it is helpful to have a guide. Clinical hypnotherapy is in contrast to stage hypnotism.
Stage hypnotists are in the business of entertaining people, so that is what they do. They use some of the same techniques used in clinical hypnotherapy, but they use them purely for demonstration and entertainment value.
What many people don’t realize is that the audience members who end up on stage “clucking like a chicken” and such have latent exhibitionist tendencies — this means they actually, at some level, want to make a spectacle of themselves. They might not even realize this consciously. However, if you go to such a show, you will notice that the stage hypnotist accepts many volunteers and then sends the ones who are non-compliant back into the audience.
Although clinical hypnotherapy allows the bypass of the critical factor, your brain is still your brain and, at the risk of sounding a bit silly, it is, fundamentally, your friend. So, your brain will not do anything that it believes goes against your best interests.
Myths about hypnosis
I have already dispelled a few myths about hypnosis, but here are a few more:
- Only some people can be hypnotized – This is untrue. As I mentioned, we naturally go into hypnosis at least twice a day. It is an interesting function of our brain. You can get better at going into hypnosis with practice. Many people think the extent of a trance is set by the clinical hypnotherapist, but actually it has a lot to do with your experience and natural aptitude for going into trance. It is a skill.
- Hypnosis is spooky and supernatural (and bad?) – Actually, hypnosis is, as I mentioned, a natural state. Some people refer to meditation as a form of hypnosis. Some people have found other names for the hypnotic trance so that it does not worry others. There is nothing magical about hypnosis — well, no more magical than any other aspect of being a living organism. (P.S. Weird fact of the day: When traumatized, pigeons go into a hypnotic trance and here is the BBC Earth youtube video to prove it.)
- People can get “stuck” in trance – Just untrue. People will emerge from trance naturally. The famous hypnotherapist Gerald (Jerry) Kein speaks of a time when he had a heart attack in the middle of a session. His client, upon not hearing his voice for a couple of minutes, emerged from her trance and called for help. Sometimes people might be reluctant to emerge from trance because it is so cozy and comfortable like a soft, comfy bed. However, regardless, they will come out eventually and are aware of their surroundings should they need to come out quickly for emergency reasons (e.g. the building is suddenly on fire).
- Hypnosis is a miracle and can cure anything – Many effects of hypnosis are amazing. However, it really upsets me when I hear about hypnotists claiming they can cure cancer, etc. If someone had cancer, then, in addition to mainstream therapy for their cancer, it might be advantageous to have hypnosis sessions that suggest tumor size reduction and/or pain relief. (Note: Anything the body can do naturally is something hypnosis can suggest that it does — can the body naturally shrink tumors? I have heard some hypnotherapists say it is possible, and I cannot imagine how it would hurt to try.) However, hypnosis is not a panacea and anyone who says they can cure everything should be regarded with skepticism.
Clinical Hypnotherapy – Choosing a clinical hypnotherapist
Use caution when choosing a clinical hypnotherapist. Many clinical hypnotherapists offer a free half hour consultation. Need I say that if you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist, you should not go into therapy with them? This is true of any therapist.
The legal requirements for hypnotherapy certification may differ in different areas, but in many places, such as where I live, it is still unregulated. This means that literally anyone can hang his/her shingle out and say they are a hypnotherapist. It gets worse.
Most hypnotherapy training programs are about 100 hours long (and cost between $2500 and $4000). So, basically, if you have a few days and a few thousand dollars, you can quite easily become a “certified” hypnotherapist.
This is why it is important to do a little research and maybe ask for a referral to find a good hypnotherapist. To me, a good clinical hypnotherapist is someone who has been practicing a while, has a working knowledge of psychology as well as hypnotherapy, and who can effectively achieve the goal of getting most of his/her clients into a somnambulistic state (which is a “deeper” state of hypnosis).
Clinical hypnotherapy is an amazing therapy that can help you resolve problems quickly and effectively. However, it is essential that you find a trustworthy and professional clinical hypnotherapist to guide you on your journey.
In this article, I have discussed what clinical hypnotherapy is and dispelled some common myths about hypnosis. Additionally, I have talked about what qualities to look for in a good clinical hypnotherapist.
In future articles, I will be discussing the value of clinical hypnotherapy in treating mental health problems in particular. I will also suggest avenues for hypnotism training and/or hypnotherapy certification.
(The ad below is for the OMNI hypnotherapy training site. Having dipped my toes in a few different types of hypnosis training, I believe this to be a particularly good program and it is competitively priced. I like that you can purchase the DVD’s and train at your own pace. That being said, I want to add the disclaimer that the link below is my affiliate link. However, I would not link to a product I did not have faith in.)