The Transformational Nature of Hypnotherapy
by Randal Churchill, CHT
An excerpt from his book 'BECOME THE DREAM...'
The Subconscious is the Key To get powerful, lasting and fairly rapid results in therapy, it is essential that the methods employed reach and affect the subconscious mind. The subconscious houses the emotions, imagination, memory, habits, intuition, and is the pathway to the superconscious. It also regulates our autonomic body functions. It is the very core or essence of how we experience ourselves and the world.
Meaningful personal transformation, whether in or out of therapy, results from a shift in the subconscious mind.
Through hypnosis, we have access to the subconscious. In fact, during waking states, the only way to reach and change major set beliefs and emotional responses of the subconscious mind is during experiences that are hypnotic. Hypnosis is an altered state beyond ordinary consciousness but a natural state that can occur spontaneously. In addition, there are many ways hypnosis can be induced and deepened. Once in hypnosis during therapy, there is a vast range of therapeutic possibilities to harness and transform the subconscious. Hypnotherapists are taught to use a variety of methods to bring a person into a state of hypnosis, deepen and lighten the state, direct various processes and return the subject back to normal awareness.
Eclectic training in the uses of hypnotherapy can substantially enhance the skills of any health, counseling or teaching professional. Examples include psychologists, physicians, dentists, chiropractors, social workers, marriage counselors, physical therapists, optometrists, ministerial professionals, nurses, massage practitioners, coaches and electrologists.
Hypnosis, while often unrecognized as such, weaves a common thread through the healing arts and sciences. Effective therapists often use hypnotic methods whether they use or understand that semantic or not. As understanding of the field spreads, the deliberate use of hypnotic processes is currently making a major impact in the health professions and truly revolutionizing the field of counseling. While it won't work for everything or for everybody all the time, it is often a powerful therapy that is as much an art as a science.
Within the field of hypnotherapy, there are a great variety of ways to harness the power of the subconscious mind to affect change. Hypnosis is used in areas such as chronic and acute pain control, to change the pain threshold or affect the psychological associations of pain. It can be effective to improve confidence, concentration, recall, motivation, achievement, focus, health and stress management. Hypnosis can help overcome addictions, habits, eating disorders, insomnia, fears, phobias, and negative thought, emotional and behavior patterns. It can also tap people into the utilization of their full potential in endeavors like work, sports, art or creative expression.
Within a therapeutic setting, hypnosis is often induced through various methods of relaxation. As a result of this process the critical factor of the conscious mind is bypassed, giving the hypnotherapist and subject direct access to the deeper mind, the subconscious, which has been called "the other 90% of the mind."
Generally, the most well known characteristic of hypnosis is increased suggestibility. Though there are varying degrees of this heightened responsiveness to suggestion, the potential power of this direct access to the subconscious should not be underestimated.
For example, I worked with a man named Gino who had been a three- pack a day smoker for over 20 years. He had never been able to quit for even a day since his early years as a smoker. After his first hypnosis session, he called his wife from work later that day. "I can't believe how easy it is. It's like I never smoked," he exclaimed. "I can remember smoking, of course, but there's no desire at all!" While I cautioned him during our follow-up session not to be overconfident, he continued to do fine, including no negative side effects. To the contrary, he was constructively redirecting his energy, and had dramatically increased confidence and vitality.
I remember Gino vividly because after referring many of his friends and acquaintances to me for hypnotherapy, he came back a few years later to take my training to become a hypnotherapist. He introduced himself to the class with a twinkle in his eye, saying, "Randal helped me quit smoking, but I've never been hypnotized." In spite of his results, he had a hard time accepting that he had entered hypnosis, even though he knew he must have, because his hypnotic experiences were so subtle to him.
Initial doubts about the hypnotic state are not unusual, and more about the subjective experience of hypnosis will be discussed later in this chapter. What was unusual was the immediate ease of his results, although such a response is not rare in the practice of an attentive, skilled hypnotherapist.
While varying degrees of initial struggle are the norm for addiction or habit cessation through hypnosis sessions, my experience has been that more than ten percent of such clients will achieve the desired results and more, with astonishing ease from the beginning. It is not rare for a skilled hypnotherapist in rapport with a motivated client to produce such profound suggestibility that it can have the effect of an imprint. An imprint is a powerful, emotional, single impact learning experience that can affect a person (or an animal) in many cases for a lifetime. But even when results are not exceptional, responsiveness to suggestion is routinely greatly heightened during hypnosis.
As important as increased suggestibility can be, it is only one of many kinds of value that can result from access to the subconscious. Concentration typically increases dramatically during hypnosis. There are many benefits from this. For example, many indigenous cultures have kept oral records for centuries or millennia. Successive generations of historians would enter hypnotic trances and recite detailed, prolonged ancestral records. A famous example involves Alex Haley's attempt to find possible validation for the childhood legends about his apparent African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, which was the basis of his book, Roots. His search led him to an African village historian who, a few hours into a trance recitation, came to a verse about the disappearance of Haley's ancestor.
Within the context of therapy, heightened hypnotic concentration has value as an inherent aspect of trance and is a partial explanation of the effectiveness of hypnotic suggestion. In addition, specific issues such as improved study habits and various achievement goals ranging from public speaking to improved sports performance, are addressed directly by this hypnotic phenomenon. The subject can actually re-enter a state of self-hypnosis later while studying or performing, to gain further value from
the concentration inherent to the hypnotic state.
While sometimes directly associated with concentration (as in some of the above examples), heightened recall during hypnosis has many functions. Revivification of significant events, whether or not they were previously repressed, can be combined with many therapeutic modalities. Also, many persons have used hypnotic access to buried memories to find missing objects of value. Although the use of hypnosis for solving crimes has been restricted in recent years by the courts, hundreds of crimes have been solved by the use of forensic hypnosis, such as when Ed Ray's hypnotic recall of the license plate after the Chowchilla kidnapping led investigators to the kidnappers. Victims and witnesses to crimes have hypnotically recalled crucial memories, whether buried because of detail or time or trauma.
A person can be taught to re-enter hypnosis to access stored memories while taking examinations or, in certain situations, to improve job effectiveness. Therefore, persons developing memory recall skills are supported by the value of increased suggestibility during the initial hypnosis sessions, as well as by the later heightened concentration and recall natural to the state of self-hypnosis. (Other values of hypnosis will also apply to improved recall, such as various uses of therapy for test anxiety.)
The pain threshold changes dramatically during hypnosis or self-hypnosis. Hypnosis can provide great relief for chronic pain sufferers referred by their physicians for such complaints as back pain, arthritis, headaches or recovery from injury. As with any issue, the good hypnotherapist will work comprehensively and holistically toward lasting results, dealing with life-style, stress, emotions and personality factors, as well as possible secondary gains. self-hypnosis can often provide some immediate benefit, while any underlying emotional and life-style issues are addressed during
In deeper levels of hypnosis major surgery can, in many cases, be painlessly performed with no other anesthetic agent. In addition, physiological functions normally controlled by the subconscious can be effected, such as by suggestions from a dentist to a hypnotically anesthetized patient to control salivation and bleeding.
Increased access to the emotions during hypnosis has many uses. Often hypnotized persons later report having experienced feelings of bliss, joy or euphoria, sometimes spontaneously and other times as a response to post-hypnotic suggestions or therapeutic methods. Such feelings can be very meaningful and have substantial therapeutic value. When a person has been struggling with feelings such as fear, grief or anger, there are various therapeutic methods during hypnosis to help him or her access those feelings when appropriate and express, release or transform them.
Facts and Fallacies
Misconceptions about hypnosis are still fairly prevalent but gradually diminishing with time. The fear of loss of control is a result, in part, of stage hypnosis demonstrations. Volunteers may seem to be "under the spell" of the stage hypnotist. Some develop the notion that the participants will do whatever the hypnotist suggests. Actually, some operators have been known to survey the audience and express disappointment if, say, five volunteers are needed and there are only 60 people in the
audience. Most people will not respond well to stage hypnosis and those that do, will do so only under the right circumstances.
Stage hypnosis is a chance for a person with some extrovert tendencies to perform, have fun, and be a star. It is no coincidence that the longest running series of stage hypnosis shows in history, with Pat Collins, was in Hollywood. A large percentage of volunteers for her shows were striving to become actors and actresses. Volunteers of any stage show know they will be expected to do silly things in front of an audience, and find that appealing. The ones who show timid or self-conscious responses are asked early on to go back to the audience. The participants who are receptive to hypnosis will have, to some extent, a loss of inhibition. However, the volunteer would not do anything against his or her moral beliefs. For example, if handed an imaginary glass of champagne, a non-drinker will refuse to pretend to drink. Also, some otherwise responsive persons will back off to a specific suggestion (e.g., to sing) because of a lack of self-confidence in that area. Even during stage hypnosis, individuals retain control in areas of principle or in which there is major subconscious resistance.
During a hypnotherapy session you know you may be open to suggestion. Rather than losing control, a comprehensive series of sessions can help a person to gain control. If during the initial consultation I am not convinced of my new client's firm commitment toward a proclaimed goal, I will not continue with the person. In spite of the increased suggestibility inherent with hypnosis, genuine motivation is necessary for a person to achieve meaningful results in therapy. Clients become more motivated toward their goals if significant underlying resistance issues get properly addressed and there is some degree of rapport with the therapist.
Many persons who have not previously experienced a formal hypnotic induction expect the experience of the state of hypnosis to be far different, and often more extreme, than what it is. Even after attempts prior to the induction to alleviate such misconceptions, a classic response after a first hypnosis is, "I know I wasn't hypnotized. I heard every word you said." Ironically, the same person, when asked what this "non-hypnosis" experience was like, may give a dramatic response, such as, "Well, I haven't relaxed so much in twenty years." (The initial subjective experience of the state is often disappointing to some extent, but the results, as with Gino, can nevertheless be profound.)
Some will doubt in early sessions whether they went into hypnosis at all. Others who achieve significant depth may believe only light hypnosis was achieved. With continuing experience, people tend to go deeper and also begin to recognize the signs that for them are associated with hypnosis.
Rather than losing consciousness during hypnosis, there is typically heightened consciousness. Awareness is much greater than normal, which is related to the increased focus previously described. When somnambulism (a deep state of hypnosis) is reached, however, the shift back to normal consciousness is so great that the memory of the experience may stay buried in the subconscious after the person comes out of hypnosis. This can be similar to the experience of someone who has been asleep and dreaming, and upon awakening remembers the dream at first, only to be unable to recall it a few minutes later. The memory of the dream or of the hypnotic experience is still there in the subconscious, even when conscious recall fades. Though the somnambulistic state is the exception, it has led to the still somewhat common misconception that a person in hypnosis will automatically experience amnesia. Hypnosis actually leads to increased awareness, and one result of this is that distant or previously unconscious memories may be recalled in vivid detail.
Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that is entered spontaneously every day. Examples include states of narrow focus, such as you might experience when watching television or absorbed in a good book. Highway hypnosis can occur when driving on the freeway and suddenly realizing you have no conscious memory of the past several miles traveled. A form of hypnosis, the hypnogogic state, is entered just prior to falling asleep, and the heightened suggestibility of the hypnopompic state occurs when first waking up. Even daydreaming is considered by many experts to be a form of light hypnosis, or a borderline (hypnoidal) state. The conscious mind begins to recede and the subconscious mind comes to the foreground, giving you greater access to the imagination, memories
Beginning around the age of five, the overwhelming majority of the population is hypnotizable in the formal sense. Exceptions include some psychotic individuals who don't have the necessary trust to be open and receptive, and some retarded persons and those with advanced Alzheimer's, who don't have the necessary concentration or imagination. However, I have used hypnosis with the developmentally disabled through the Sonoma County Mental Health Department and found that some of the higher functioning individuals were able to respond rather well.
During most of our daily lives we are in touch with our conscious minds, while subconscious activities below the surface regulate physical functions such as the autonomic nervous system and circulatory system. The subconscious can leap into action during emergencies, but it is in part that portion of the mind that is on "automatic pilot" while we are awake or asleep.
People who enter hypnosis deliberately in session or during self-hypnosis know they are suggestible. The most common danger with hypnosis lies primarily outside of the therapeutic context, in situations in which people are not aware that they are in suggestible states. For example, we can be influenced by an authority figure, such as a doctor or other professional, or a political or parental figure. When a person is unduly influenced by an authority, a spontaneous hypnosis can develop and the person may
become extremely suggestible.
To give another example, double-blind suggestibility studies have documented that most persons will respond well to placebos, even when used in place of morphine for severe pain. That gives us a glimpse at the enormous power of the subconscious mind. A person who deliberately uses hypnotic states to control his or her subconscious mind can create extreme physiological changes and other exceptional achievements without needing to project power onto a pill or an authority figure.
Additionally, our consumer culture bombards us with various forms of advertising that can have a hypnotic affect. Advertisers may even pay a premium for broadcasting late at night or early in the morning when people are more likely to be highly suggestible. Learning about hypnosis and suggestibility helps us recognize times when we may be more open or vulnerable so that we can retain awareness and have more control. Click the button for page 2.