Hypnosis, and by proxy Hypnotherapy, has an air of mystique surrounding it, largely due to most people having only experienced stage hypnosis. But a seemingly all-powerful and controlling Hypnotist clicking their fingers while saying ‘sleep’ is not what you should expect from a standard suggestive Hypnotherapy session.

Hypnosis is not sleep, and it certainly is NOT a means to control another person – in fact if a client is unwilling it is essentially impossible to hypnotise them at all. Hypnotherapy put simply is deep relaxation paired with therapeutic suggestions and visualisations to support change. So if it is that simple then where does the mystic lie? I think it lies in the hypnotherapist’s ability to help you focus on the positive – what you want out of life – and then facilitate the passing of that information direct into the behavior driving subconscious without being overly scrutinized and judged. Below I explain in more depth how the mind and body works in relation to hypnosis and what makes hypnotherapy such a powerful avenue for change and wellness.

MAJOR STATES OF AWARENESS (content care of ©Hypnosis New Zealand, image ©Hypnotherapy with Desiree)

You will be very familiar with two states of awareness – awake and asleep (refer to image, content care of ©Hypnosis New Zealand). When fully awake we are very aware of our surroundings and our brains are actively experiencing everything we encounter. On the other end of the awareness spectrum we are asleep, and almost entirely unaware as our brains are resting (although it’s good to note that we are never completely unaware, which is why we can awake when deeply asleep). Hypnosis (or trance, or deep relaxation, or meditation) occurs when we are not quite asleep and not quite awake, it is a ‘middle ground’ of awareness that we naturally and regularly experience when day dreaming, falling asleep or waking up. Hypnotherapy takes advantage of our middle ground of awareness, as our conscious mind is relaxed enough to provide suggestions and visualisations direct to our subconscious mind.

CONSCIOUS V SUBCONSCIOUS MINDS (content care of ©Hypnosis New Zealand, image ©Hypnotherapy with Desiree)

Hypnotherapy combines hypnosis and therapy, and to fully grasp how it can benefit us we need to understand the relationship between our conscious and subconscious minds. The conscious and subconscious work on different levels and influence us in different ways (refer to image, content care of ©Hypnosis New Zealand). As external stimuli is received into the conscious it applies a process of judgement and reasoning and then the information is passed to our subconscious which houses our memories or learned behavior. The conscious uses logic and analysis to drive behavior as we experience life through our five senses, and the subconscious relays information back and forth to our conscious based on previous experiences and generally evokes feelings to affect behavior. Hypnotherapy involves treating problems on both the conscious and subconscious levels, problems that are often unable to be solved in the conscious state alone. Mutually agreed suggestions and visualisations are discussed while fully aware, and then presented to the subconscious in a state of deep relaxation, to support client driven desired changes to thoughts, words and actions.

Meditative, altered awareness, daydream-like – think of hypnosis as a deeply relaxing ‘being’ state. We fluctuate between this and our consciously aware ‘doing’ state which we are in most of the day. Both states have benefits. When operating under no pressure we rhythmically experience the conscious doing state for 90 minutes and then move into the being state for 20 minutes (you can read more about the psychological benefits of ‘being’ in Understanding Hypnosis by Dr Brian Roet.) However mental loads these days can be overwhelming to say the least and modern life is wrought with stress and pressure, so we often aren’t able to experience the beneficial and healing being state that nature intended. Hypnotherapy utilises the natural being state of hypnosis. It is in this frame of mind that our feelings, creativity, imagination, automatic actions, memories and responses via the autonomic nervous system are accessed. When targeted suggestions and visualisations are presented in this being state real and lasting change can occur.

Brain waves of hypnotised subjects using an electroencephalograph (EEG) generally show alpha waves, which denote a mentally alert but physically relaxed state. This contrasts strongly with extremely slow delta brain waves when we are asleep. Which can be reassuring to those who are concerned about being ‘unconscious’ during hypnosis. As hypnotherapists induce the naturally occurring sensation of deep relaxation we encounter daily, similar to daydreaming, during most hypnotherapy sessions you will remember everything that the therapist speaks to you.

Physical functions measured before, during and after hypnosis show that while in a state of hypnosis breathing and heart rate slows, the bronchi of the lungs dilate, blood-pressure drops and the production of stomach acid is reduced. No stress hormones are released and white blood cells cling more firmly to blood cells (which is thought to increase immune efficiency) – all positive side effects! These findings highlight how hypnosis can help alleviate physical problems such as asthma, tension headaches, stomach disorders, high blood pressure and many other stress related problems (you can read more about the real physiological changes that occur during hypnotherapy in Principals of Hypnotherapy by Vera Peiffer). Therefore benefits of hypnotherapy are two-fold – supporting both your mental and physical health.

I hope you now understand that hypnosis and hypnotherapy are not mystical. Rather the underlying focus of a skilled therapist is to help you learn about yourself (on your conscious, subconscious and emotional levels) so that you can resolve conflicts and take control of your life.