Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis is widely used in the private health sector and to an increasing degree in the NHS. It is an effective, non-invasive treatment with few risks or side effects and is wholly holistic in its approach. Yet it is still very much misunderstood.
Although it is a natural state and can occur unprompted (daydreaming is a level of hypnosis), hypnosis, in the therapeutic setting, is best defined as an altered state of awareness usually induced in one person by another, where an individual remains responsive to suggestion.
Although hypnosis is said to resemble sleep the two states are in fact different. The two main distinguishing features can be shown using an EEG (electro encephalograph). Stage 1 sleep and hypnosis are difficult to distinguish, however stage 2, 3 and 4 of sleep are quite different in that there is an absence of delta waves in the hypnotic state which are present in stage 4 sleep. Secondly, the pattern given when a client experiences dreaming in an hypnotic sleep is the same as that of a client in the waking state however in sleep, the pattern in the dreaming state is quite different.
Hypnotherapy is a treatment procedure which utilises appropriate techniques with specific therapeutic goals. There are two essential components required for the successful induction of hypnosis.
- Rapport between therapist and client.
- Client motivation.
With both of these present about 90% of the population can be guided into the hypnotic state and contrary to popular belief, no one can be hypnotised against his or her will.
It is generally accepted that there are four levels of hypnosis with the number of people able to achieve each level lessening as the hypnotic state deepens.
The four levels of hypnosis are:
- Hypnoidal – where relaxation can be experienced.
- Light hypnosis – limb catalepsy, diminished anxiety and sensory alteration are experienced.
- Medium depth hypnosis – here some analgesia can be experienced and there is acceptance of post hypnotic suggestion.
- Deep hypnosis or somnambulism – here, a considerable analgesic effect can be experienced and there is profound acceptance of post hypnotic suggestions.
During hypnosis the conscious mind, which thinks and acts in the present, is least dominant while the subconscious mind is the most dominant and receptive part of the mind function. The subconscious mind can undertake most of the functions of the conscious mind but it cannot take on the ability to criticise and as the dominant mind, the subconscious mind is much more open to, and accepting of suggestions given. It is important to understand however, that the client has total control over the session and will not accept suggestions against his/her will, moral code etc. Suggestions accepted in this state are accepted much more readily and acted upon much more powerfully because the ability to be critical and analytical is switched off.
This makes hypnosis a powerful therapeutic tool in the management of many health challenges. But for it’s therapeutic value, hypnosis would be no different from for example mediation or relaxation.
There are two principle methods of employing hypnosis therapeutically; symptom removal by suggestion and hypno-analysis. Symptom removal by suggestion is limited because it deals with effect rather than cause and is best applied when there is no psychological impact on the presenting problem. It can however be an effective tool in the management of pain control, the treatment of insomnia, aiding application to study and so on. Hypno-analysis on the other-hand delves deeper. It combines hypnosis with psychoanalysis and endeavours to pursue and find the cause of the problem. It is easier to bring this about when the subconscious mind is in control and the conscious, analytical mind is put to the side. With so many problems, if the cause is not reconciled, then the symptoms are likely to resurface. A comparison of the two techniques can be seen in the case of phobia. Suggestion therapy may help a client manage the fear through for example behavioural desensitisation or perhaps suggestions of relaxation. However, hypno-analysis would seek out the hidden triggering factor and deal with that, making it a more effective therapy for the client. Symptom removal by suggestion therefore has limitations. With hypno-analysis on the other-hand, in dealing with the originating source, there is likely to be a much longer lasting therapeutic effect.
Hypnotherapy is considered appropriate where:
- It is known to be effective in the management of the presenting problem.
- The client is responsive to hypnotic induction.
- There is rapport between therapist and client.
- The client is motivated to resolve the presenting challenge.
- The use of hypnotherapy would not have a detrimental effect on the client.
The format of a session is directed by the needs of the client, taking into account the character of the client and the presenting condition. It will generally consists of:
- A holistic clinical assessment.
- The hypnosis itself which consist generally of induction, deepening, visualisation, ego boosting, the application of appropriate techniques to provide the desired therapeutic effect, further ego boosting and or positive reinforcements and termination.
- Post hypnotic discussion to answer any questions the client may have and the discussion regarding any follow-up treatments/care.
The number of sessions required varies from case to case and is determined by the needs and progress of the client in attaining the desired therapeutic goals.
Like many of the therapies labelled ‘complementary’ or alternative’, hypnotherapy has no formal regulation. It is up to individual practitioners to assess and evaluate the various training schools and the methods they employ, which associations they are affiliated to and what that body provides to both therapist and client. For example; Is there a code of conduct, including disciplinary procedures, What post graduate training is available, Is there a code of ethics, Does the body insist on or provide appropriate insurance for practice etc.?
Perhaps when the issues of streamlining training and setting up a regulated professional body have been resolved many of the myths surrounding hypnotherapy will be overcome, allowing more people to experience the benefits of the application of hypnotherapy as a treatment strategy.