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What is Hypnotherapy? PDF Print E-mail

When the word ‘Hypnotherapy’ is mentioned, people often think of stage hypnosis where the unfortunate victims are unwillingly brainwashed into performing humiliating acts by a slick hypnotist. This is known as stage hypnosis and is not to be confused with hypnotherapy which is a recognised and respected modality that is used to treat various illnesses and conditions.

And here’s the truth: The people on stage performing those ridiculous antics are doing so purely out of their own free will because they want to! You cannot be made to do anything that is against your moral code or ethics – you can say no to a hypnotist and choose not to accept his/her suggestions at any time. In fact, the body’s survival instinct is so strong that it will over-ride any suggestion that may be perceived as a threat to its continued existence. That is why you cannot be given the suggestion to stop breathing.

Hypnotherapists use exercises that bring about deep relaxation and an altered state of consciousness, also known as a trance. In hypnosis, brainwaves drop to alpha and even theta states (which we all achieve naturally several times during the course of the day). The mind is often a lot more focussed in these states as it is not overwhelmed by the incessant chattering which is its usual disposition when in Beta state. A person in a deeply focused state is hyper-suggestive to an idea or image, but this does not mean that a hypnotist can control the person's mind and free will. On the contrary, hypnosis can actually teach people how to master their own states of awareness. By doing so they can affect their own bodily functions and psychological responses.
You are not ‘asleep’ whilst under hypnosis as this would defeat the objective of communicating with the subconscious mind. As previously mentioned, the mind is a lot more perceptive and receptive in these deeper states, so it is simply not true that one cannot remember anything that was said after coming out of hypnosis.

What is the history of hypnosis?
Throughout history, trance states have been used by shamans and ancient peoples in rituals and religious ceremonies. But hypnosis as we know it today was first associated with the work of an Austrian physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. In the 1700s, Mesmer believed that illnesses were caused by magnetic fluids in the body getting out of balance. He used magnets and other hypnotic techniques (the word “mesmerized” comes from his name) to treat people. But the medical community was not convinced. Mesmer was accused of fraud, and his techniques were called unscientific.

Hypnotherapy regained popularity in the mid-1900s due to Milton H. Erickson (1901 - 1980), a successful psychiatrist who used hypnosis in his practice. In 1958, both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical procedure. Since 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended hypnotherapy as a treatment for chronic pain.
Other conditions for which hypnotherapy is frequently used include anxiety and addiction. (See "What illnesses or conditions respond well to hypnotherapy?")

How does hypnosis work?
When something happens to us, we remember it and learn a particular behaviour in response to what happened. Each time something similar happens, our physical and emotional reactions attached to the memory are repeated. In some cases these reactions are unhealthy. In some forms of hypnotherapy, a trained therapist guides you to remember the event that led to the first reaction, separate the memory from the learned behaviour, and replace unhealthy behaviours with new, healthier ones.

During hypnosis, your body relaxes and your thoughts become more focused. Like other relaxation techniques, hypnosis lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and changes certain types of brain wave activity. In this relaxed state, you will feel at ease physically yet fully awake mentally and may be highly responsive to suggestion. If you are trying to quit smoking, for example, a therapist's suggestion may help convince you that you will not like the taste of cigarettes in the future. Some people respond better to hypnotic suggestion than others.

There are several stages of hypnosis:
• Reframing the problem
• Becoming relaxed, then absorbed (deeply engaged in the words or images presented by a hypnotherapist)
• Dissociating (letting go of critical thoughts)
• Responding (complying with a hypnotherapist's suggestions)
• Returning to usual awareness
• Reflecting on the experience

What happens during a visit to the hypnotherapist?
During your first visit, you will be asked about your medical history and what brought you in -- what condition you would like to address. The hypnotherapist may explain to you what hypnosis is and how it works. You will then be directed through relaxation techniques, using a series of mental images and suggestions intended to change behaviours and relieve symptoms. For example, people who have panic attacks may be given the suggestion that, in the future, they will be able to relax whenever they want. The hypnotherapist will also teach you the basics of self-hypnosis and give you an audiotape to use at home so you can reinforce what you learn during the session.
How many treatments will I need?

Each session lasts about an hour, and most people start to see results within 4 - 10 sessions. You and your hypnotherapist will monitor and evaluate your progress over time. Children (aged 9 - 12) are easily hypnotized and may respond after only one or two visits.

What illnesses or conditions respond well to hypnosis?
Hypnosis is used in a variety of settings -- from emergency rooms to dental offices to outpatient clinics. Clinical studies suggest that hypnosis may improve immune function, increase relaxation, decrease stress, and ease pain and feelings of anxiety.
Hypnotherapy can reduce the fear and anxiety that some people feel before medical or dental procedures. For example, hypnosis may improve recovery time and reduce anxiety as well as pain following surgery.

Clinical trials on burn patients suggest that hypnosis decreases pain (enough to replace pain medication) and speeds healing. Generally, clinical studies show that using hypnosis may reduce your need for medication, improve your mental and physical condition before an operation, and reduce the time it takes to recover. Dentists also use hypnotherapy to control gagging and bleeding.

A hypnotherapist can teach you self-regulation skills. For instance, someone with arthritis may learn to turn down pain like the volume on a radio. Hypnotherapy can also be used to help manage chronic illness. Self-hypnosis can enhance a sense of control, which is often lacking when someone has a chronic illness.

Clinical studies on children in emergency treatment centers show that hypnotherapy reduces fear, anxiety, and discomfort.
Other problems or conditions that may respond to hypnotherapy include:
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Tension headaches
• Alopecia areata
• Asthma
• Phobias
• Insomnia
• Addictions
• Bedwetting
• Fibromyalgia
• Phobias
• Labour and delivery
• Skin disorders [such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema (atopic dermatitis)]
• Stress
• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
• Cancer-related pain
• Weight loss
• Eating disorders
• Warts
• Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Are there any risks associated with hypnotherapy?
If you have a psychological condition (for example, a phobia or anxiety) it is best to be evaluated by a psychiatrist first for without an accurate diagnosis, hypnotherapy could make your symptoms worse.
Be sure to look for a qualified hypnotherapist who has experience in the therapeutic side of hypnotherapy.

How can I find a hypnotherapist?
Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, or family counsellors who have received additional training in hypnotherapy. For example, members of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association (IMDHA) have at least 20 hours of IMDHA approved training in hypnotherapy. The International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association provide certificates for licensed medical and mental health professionals who complete a 6 - 8 week course.


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