What is hypnosis?

Considering I am a hypnotherapist and use hypnosis with my clients, you'd think it would be easy for me to explain what hypnosis is to someone. But it isn't straightforward unfortunately. There are so many working definitions of what hypnosis is and many experts' opinions differ. A therapist's working definition of hypnosis will heavily influence how they work with their clients and that makes it even more important for me to explain my own working definition of what hypnosis means to me.

Due to the differing beliefs of what hypnosis is, in addition to how it is represented in the media and the entertainment industry, there are a lot of misconceptions around and I find that many of my clients hold one or two of these misconceptions about it too. So here I am going to do my best to explain what hypnosis is and what it isn't so that you have a better understanding of it before you come to see me for hypnotherapy.

Throughout our day, there are many times where we are focused intently on what we’re doing to the exclusion of everything else around us. Where we are so absorbed. When we read a book, watch TV, or drive a car. We can achieve this focused awareness too when we use hypnosis.

Hypnosis helps you to create and enhance this mindset where you are focused, absorbed and aware. And we all know when we are paying attention and fully engaged with what we are doing, we are able to take things onboard and learn much easier. We use hypnosis in therapy, i.e. hypnotherapy, in conjunction with other psychological techniques drawing on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), and Mindfulness, among others, to direct your attention, engage your imagination, and seed new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving allowing you to make the desired changes in your life.

Hypnosis is not some mystical thing. We can experience and achieve everything that hypnosis does in our everyday lives without it, hypnosis just brings it all together, focuses you on the changes you want to make, and enhances your ability to make them.

Hypnosis is not something that I do to you. I have no special powers. It's not on or off – it is a process, just like anything else you learn. Everybody can achieve hypnosis and it is a collaborative experience. It is something you do, with me as a facilitator. So it’s important for you to want to be hypnotised. Behave “as if” you are hypnotised even. Engage in the process. Don’t try to force anything. Don’t try to resist anything. Just allow it to happen. Want it to happen. Fully engage in the process, listen to what I’m saying, follow my instructions and expect to respond automatically to my suggestions. And in between sessions you'll be required to spend time practicing the techniques.

Hypnosis is a subjective experience. Everyone experiences it differently. However, things you might notice are fluttering of your eyelids, a change in your breathing, your pulse, perception of your body and sounds around you, stillness in your body, and/or a feeling of relaxation. You will be fully aware of your surroundings, my voice, the other sounds that surround you and if the fire alarm were to go off, you'd be able to get up and walk out without me having to say or do anything.

Relaxation is not a requirement for hypnosis, but it often occurs as a result of hypnosis. This is often music to the ears of my clients who typically find it hard to relax.

I work with my clients with them sat upright in a comfortable chair. This will differ to other hypnotherapists who might have their clients laying down on a couch or in a reclining chair. The hypnotherapy approach that I use lends itself better to you being seated in a chair. When seated in a chair during hypnosis, you are much more likely to be an active participant of the process as opposed to a passive recipient which can occur whilst laying down. I want you to be alert, aware of what I am saying and the suggestions that I am giving you so that you can fully engage in hypnosis, use your imagination more effectively, and learn a valuable skill rather than you drifting off, not remembering half of what I've said and not being able to replicate the techniques for yourself thereafter.

As I have already said, there are many misconceptions about hypnosis so I am going to discuss here just 5 of the most common misconceptions so that you have a more accurate idea of what hypnosis is.

Hypnosis is not sleep. Sure it is a process like sleep and it occurs gradually and you more often than not have your eyes closed during both but that is where the similarities lie. Hypnosis was inaccurately named after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. By the time the father of hypnosis, James Braid, realised it was not a sleeping state, the name had already caught on. The suggestion “sleep” still gets used in hypnosis nonetheless. As mentioned above, you have complete awareness of what is happening around you and you are fully conscious during hypnosis. You will remember pretty much everything that I have said after you emerge from hypnosis. Being asleep is counterproductive to achieving your therapeutic goals.

Following on from that, some people think that they will not be in control during hypnosis. This is not the case. In fact, you'll find that you have more control of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours both during and after hypnosis. I want you to be in control because then you can make the necessary changes you want to make. I have no control over you nor can I make you do anything you do not want to do, that is why you have to want to make a change.

Some people worry that during hypnosis they will divulge their deep and darkest secrets to me. Firstly, during hypnosis, the most I will be getting you to say is “ok”, rating your level of discomfort when you think about a scenario, and perhaps describing what you are imagining depending on the techniques I use. You only need to provide the information you feel comfortable providing both during the consultation and in hypnosis. Remember, you are in control and therefore your secrets are safe!

When stage hypnosis is the only frame of reference when it comes to hypnosis, it is understandable that people worry about whether they will be made to cluck like a chicken or break in to song with a click of the fingers. Stage hypnosis and therapeutic hypnosis have similarities for sure but they also have many differences. I have no interest in making you look silly. I want to support you in getting better and overcoming the issues that you have come to see me about. And again, remember, you are in control and therefore you can be safe in the knowledge that none of these things will happen to you, because you get to choose what you do.

And finally, it is not possible to get stuck in hypnosis. There is nothing to get stuck “in”. It is not some altered state of consciousness nor are you unconscious. At the end of the hypnosis, I will simply ask you to open your eyes and you will be able to do so easily, exactly as you would if you had just closed your eyes for a 5 minute nap.

I hope that these explanations have helped you to have a greater understanding and therefore expectation of what hypnosis is and what it can achieve. If you have any further questions, please feel free to get in touch and I will do my best to answer them.