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What Is Hypnosis?

 

Formally, hypnosis is “a natural, but altered state, where communication and responsiveness with the subconscious mind is present”.

 

More practically, hypnosis is a state of mind that occurs multiple times throughout the day in all of us. Have you ever caught yourself staring out the window lost in thought? Driving and you miss your exit or turn because your mind was somewhere else? Engrossed in your cell phone?? These are examples of the hypnotic state. Perfectly natural, perfectly normal. Even simpler, is the example of emotion. Acute feelings of anger, sadness, happiness, etc. can all be represented as hypnotic states. In fact, emotion is the purest expression of the subconscious mind. Hypnosis occurs when the conscious mind moves aside and the subconscious mind takes over.

Hypnosis Myths

There are many myths and misconceptions about hypnosis and, of course, the list below is not exhaustive. If you have any questions or concerns about hypnosis, please reach out for more information. Your comfort, security and satisfaction are of utmost importance to a positive experience and outcome.

Myth #1: Hypnosis is mind control...

It’s important to understand that all hypnosis is “self-hypnosis”. The hypnotherapist is only a facilitator and guide for the client to obtain, and maintain, a hypnotic state for therapeutic value. Moreover, hypnosis is a “consent state” that indicates a clear, personal agreement between the hypnotherapist and client. There is zero “control” over the client’s mind. Suggestions made by the hypnotherapist can either be accepted or rejected. 

Myth #4: The client may recall a repressed memory or reveal something they don’t want to share or experience...

Although it’s true hypnosis can be used to retrieve memories of long ago, the subconscious mind has a protective mechanism that will not allow anything to reveal itself if it’s not ready. This is also clarified during the consultative process prior to the session, so the area of focus for the client is clearly defined beforehand, assuring a safe and productive experience. Additionally, a person will not “confess” something under hypnosis. Hypnosis is not a “truth serum”, nor does it offer any specialized power that could be used against the client, or the client’s will.

Myth #2: The client may say or do something they don’t want to do...

As previously stated, the client has complete agency over mind and body during hypnosis. A “conscious awareness” is maintained during hypnosis and the client could never be made to do or say something against their will.

Myth #5: The client will lose control and/or have no memory of the session...

Hypnosis is not sleep, nor is it a state of unconsciousness. The client is always aware of their surroundings and will have complete recollection of what was said during the session. Interestingly, hypnosis does not necessarily require a deep state of relaxation, or even eye closure. These characteristics of hypnosis have been widely, but inaccurately believed to be necessary for the hypnotic state to exist. This is simply not true.

Myth #3: The client can get “stuck” in hypnosis...

Referencing Myth #2, conscious awareness disallows any possibility of getting stuck in hypnosis. Because hypnosis often includes a profound state of relaxation, there are times clients have not wanted to leave the state because it feels so good. The reality is a client can leave the state anytime they wish. Even in the event of an emergency, the client would open their eyes and find safety.

Myth #6: I can’t be hypnotized. I have an analytical mind and I’m strong-willed...

Anyone with normal cognitive function can be hypnotized. Hypnosis is a natural state that occurs intermittently throughout the day and is really just an amplified state of awareness where the conscious mind is bypassed and the subconscious mind is in control.

The Duality of the Mind

We are all familiar with the model of the “conscious” and “subconscious” mind. What does this really mean? How does it affect our outcomes? Why should we care?

The conscious mind is the “modern human brain”. Technically speaking, it’s the prefrontal cortex and is responsible for logic, reasoning and the analytical aspects of decision making. It is “critical” of incoming stimulus and information and provides a filtering mechanism before information is released to the subconscious mind for further processing and storage. The conscious mind is mechanical and doesn’t “feel”, but it does house our wishes and desires.

The subconscious mind is the “old human brain”. It houses our emotions, feelings, imagination and creativity. It serves as a memory bank and computer and carries out habitual conduct. It's also the control center for the physical body regulating all involuntary functions (Remember this! It’s really important and we’ll come back to it later!).

The subconscious mind develops from birth through about eight years old. It records experiences like software on a hard drive. Also contributing to the programming is input from parents and other authority figures. From these experiences beliefs about the world around us are developed and the subconscious mind attaches emotions to these belief systems. Once the programming is written, it’s there to stay until something changes it. The downside is that beliefs and emotions established in early childhood (which may have served valuable purpose at the time) might not be serving us well in our adult life. This is where problems can creep in, creating conflict between the “child-like” subconscious and the logical, “adult” conscious mind. When there is conflict between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, the SUBCONSCIOUS MIND ALWAYS WINS. 

The feelings and emotions attached to our belief systems live deep inside us. We may think they live in our brain, but in reality, it’s our physical body they call home. Where do you feel anger? Sadness? Anxiety? In your stomach? Chest? Throat? Somewhere else? The subconscious mind finds a place to store emotion in the body. When it accumulates you can actually experience physiological response and most of these can be negative if they’re attached to anger, fear or sadness from trauma events. But why?

FIGHT! FLIGHT! FREEZE!

Remember how we said the subconscious mind regulates involuntary bodily function? There’s a really good reason for this. Our “old brain” has kept us alive for millennia. A tiny, almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala houses our defense response to outside stimuli. The amygdala is part of the limbic system and collectively this moderates our defense mechanism and is tied to emotion, behavior and learning. The amygdala is home to the “fight, flight, freeze” response. It has the ability to quickly assess outside threat and prepare the body for the best course action for protection and defense.

 

When a threat is perceived, the amygdala kicks into action and makes a quick assessment to fight, flee or freeze. Whichever the amygdala chooses, the hormones adrenaline, cortisol (stress hormone) and norepinephrine are released into he bloodstream causing a cascade of physiological responses. The amygdala essentially “hijacks” the body to protect it. Associated with the physiological response is how the experience is recorded. Emotions and behaviors are attached to the experience so if they’re encountered in the future there is already “a plan” in place.

 

A key and unusual characteristic of the subconscious mind (and all of its beautiful parts, including the amygdala) is that it doesn’t have the ability to distinguish between reality and imagination. This is important because when a person has a trauma event the amygdala and body respond, accordingly. When the person “relives” or remembers the same event, the amygdala and body, also respond the same way!! This means that even though you’re safe, your subconscious mind doesn’t know this, so it responds just as if it has real danger to face. This leads to “cognitive loops” where a trauma memory comes up, the body responds with its stress response. This can continue to reoccur and is the primary cause for anxiety (as the mind and body “prepare” for the next event). Anxiety leads to panic attacks, and so on… In short, the subconscious mind is always operating in its own reality and the body can only respond, even though the reality is not really reality.

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