What is hypnosis?
The word "hypnosis" is an abbreviation of James Braid's term "neuro-hypnotism", meaning "sleep of the nervous system".
Giving hypnosis a meaningful description that encompasses all of the broad concepts and techniques is an extremely difficult task. Also, people that have experienced hypnosis all seem to experience it in a slightly different way - this can be from feeling as though they were daydreaming, feeling disassociated, or just very relaxed.
Hypnotic trance can be described as a focused state of attention during which wider environmental stimuli are ignored so that suggestions and ideas can be given for positive change.
The famous American psychiatrist Milton Erickson, who was possibly the most influensive person in the twentieth century on the use of clinical hypnosis, defined hypnosis as "Essentially a communication of ideas and understandings to an individual in such a fashion that they will be most receptive to the presented ideas and thereby be motivated to explore their body potentials for the control of their psychological and physiological responses and behaviour".
Hypnotherapy is not a specific school of therapy
Hypnotherapy simply means therapy applied through hypnosis, or trance. However, there are so many different approaches to the way that hypnosis is applied in therapy, with each therapist applying it in line with their beliefs about how therapy should be conducted. For some therapists this will be trying to find the root cause of a problem, whilst others will integrate it with CBT or solution focused therapy.
Some therapists will use hypnosis under a different name such as guided imagery or guided meditation.
All hypnosis is not the same
The image of a hypnotist swinging a pocket watch chanting "you are feeling sleepy.... Your eyes are getting heavier" is a classic, and many people associate hypnosis it. However, this authoritarian style of hypnosis is very outdated, and largely ineffective for many people because it is too easy to question and counter the suggestions. For instance, you could easily say "I am not feeling sleepy" and "my eyes are not getting heavier".
The modern indirect / permissive style of hypnosis is much more subtle. The structure of the suggestions are more unobtrusive and allow the subject to relate them to their own experience. Take, for example, this short paragraph:
Some people as they read this may find that they become more and more interested in the way a person can become more receptive to the ideas that hypnosis can present... And I don't know if you're one of those type of people... but as you read further, perhaps allowing yourself to become more fascinated by the way that a person can be entranced by words written on a page, you could (could you not) decide to investigate how relaxed you could become using this type of hypnosis.
Notice how you are not told to do anything – the suggestions are just suggestions! When a hypnotist is trained to present their suggestions in this way, they will usually slow their voice down and soften their tone. Try this now – re-read the above paragraph imagining that it is being read to you slowly and softly. Perhaps you could imagine someone famous reading it to you!
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