I am excited to share that I had my first session of hypnosis yesterday. Let me say that I was somewhat skeptical of hypnosis and had some concerns about it, so I spent a significant amount of time researching the scientific foundations of hypnosis. I reached a point where I was very comfortable with the science and very much looking forward to my first session. Before I share what I experienced, let me take a moment to dispel a few myths about hypnosis:
- Hypnosis has no scientific foundation and is purely "new age:" We've all seen parodies of hypnosis where a person is put into a "hypnotic state" and is then made to do things that are degrading or absurd. This is, quite frankly, impossible, because you cannot be forced to do anything you don't agree to. Hypnosis is a highly scientific procedure that focuses on helping the left side of your brain, the logical side, communicate more clearly with the right side of your brain, which is the emotional side. I've over-simplified that explanation, but that premise is the foundation of hypnosis. Hypnotism has over 200 years of scientific research to verify its validity. Certified hypnotists spend a significant amount of time learning about the brain and how messages are communicated throughout the brain. They also learn an extensive amount about the different types of brain waves that exist, when those brain waves most often occur, and what messages are communicated by each type of brain wave. Their training includes anatomical and physiological information. The goal of hypnosis is to create harmony between the right (emotional) and left (logical) hemispheres of the brain so that messages from each hemisphere don't conflict. A simple example of this would be that the left hemisphere knows that eating a banana split loaded with syrups and whipped cream is not healthy, yet the right hemisphere will very creatively argue against that knowledge and may use emotional triggers to win the battle. Let me share another great example of a situation for which hypnosis can be very helpful. Let's imagine someone who was bitten by a Chihuahua when they were a toddler. This person's rational brain knows the bite was a singular incident and that not all Chihuahuas are dangerous, yet the person's emotional brain retains an absolute terror of Chihuahuas that they carry into adulthood. In spite of the fact that we each want to believe our logical mind dictates our behavior, psychological research has proven our emotional brains control far more - as much as 90% - of our reactions and behaviors. In the case of the person who was bitten by a Chihuahua, they logically know they don't need to fear one on TV, but the strength of the emotional memory may override that logic and cause them to have a panic attack every time they see a Chihuahua on TV. Hypnosis can be used to soften the emotional response and to help the person replace the right brain's emotional, fearful responses and messages with the logical, comforting messages from the left side of the brain. Hypnosis is often used to create more positive behaviors, assist with the elimination of addictive behaviors, eliminate anxiety, eliminate irrational fears, create a more positive response to negative situations, relieve stress, eliminate negative thought patterns, etc. There are also situations where hypnosis can be used to diminish physical issues. Many hospitals in the US are starting to embrace hypnosis and to use it to diminish pain following surgery, to help terminal cancer patients, to assist with weight loss, and in a variety of other applications.
- Hypnosis can make you do things you don't want to: Nothing could be further from the truth. During a hypnosis session, you are 100% coherent, aware and in control. There is no way you could be made to do something you don't want to. It is not "brainwashing." During a hypnosis session, you can actually interrupt if you feel a suggestion has been made which conflicts with your personal moral compass. I can't imagine a situation involving a Certified Hypnotist where that would be necessary, but you always have total control and are completely aware of your surroundings and of what suggestions are being made to help you change your behaviors. The hypnotic state is nothing more than a highly relaxed state that helps make you more receptive to positive suggestions. The highly relaxed state also allows messages to flow more freely between both sides of your brain, and creates an openness to paying more attention to the positive messages you receive from your brain than to any negative messages. However, your conscious mind is still very active, so if you were to receive a suggestion you didn't want to accept, you could easily resist it and reject it. The stage shows that use hypnosis for entertainment are just that ... staged performances with no scientific foundation. I also want to state very clearly that hypnotism is not a "magic bullet" that removes all personal responsibility. Receiving hypnotism therapy doesn't "program" your behavior and make you an automaton, it simply helps you make better choices on a daily basis. Additionally, a qualified hypnotist will never make a suggestion that would cause you physical harm. For example, if someone is trying to quit smoking, they will never be given the suggestion that they will become physically ill every time they are exposed to a cigarette. That type of suggestion would be ethically and morally wrong. Most of us would immediately reject such a suggestion because the damage could be extreme. If you are ever in a situation where someone claims to offer hypnosis but makes suggestions that you disagree with or which could create physical harm, stop the session, fire that person, and move on. This brings up my next point ...
- Hypnotism is quackery: I've already stated that hypnotism relies on a strong scientific foundation. It is important to choose a therapist who has received substantial training from a qualified school. There are practitioners out there who have not received proper training and who use unethical methods. There are multiple schools in the US who offer strong scientific training in hypnosis which results in a nationally recognized certification. My recommendation is to thoroughly research your practitioner. Find out what training s/he received and which certification(s) they hold. Also ask to have a preliminary "get to know you" meeting with the practitioner to determine if you are comfortable with him or her.
- Only certain people are open to hypnotism: If we were honest, every single one of us has experienced a hypnotic state at some point. Pause for a moment and think about the last time you were overwhelmed after a long, hectic day at work and you arrived at home without any memory of driving home. You were in a hypnotic state at that point. Your mind was overwhelmed by the events of the day, and you became so focused on resolving those events that you allowed the information stored in your subconscious to handle the task of driving. That's an overly simplified example, but the premise is valid. Your focus on changing a situation became strong enough that you were able to rely on the information stored in your subconscious mind to accomplish the task at hand. Hypnosis helps create positive associations in your mind so that you can easily rely on those positive messages to guide behavior in your daily life. The person guiding your session will provide positive suggestions that you will grow to rely on to help make better choices on a daily basis. Research shows that the only people who absolutely cannot be hypnotized are those who lack sufficient IQ to understand the hypnotism process and to desire the change.
Paula explained that much of hypnosis relies on metaphors. The hypnotist creates an image that represents a physical or emotional state, and then helps the client imagine ways to improve and maintain the metaphor. This creates a strong image in the subconscious that the brain can automatically rely on to help change behavior. The use of metaphors and imagined images also makes it possible for the person to create their own interpretation of the issue and the solution. They are not "programmed" to think a certain way, but are given a situation to imagine and are then given full leeway to allow their mind to create an image they can relate and respond to. (This is similar to how we are sometimes able to solve a problem or recognize the cause of an emotional issue during a dream. Our subconscious works with our past experiences to analyze the issue and present a solution using a metaphor encased in a dream.) The metaphor used depends on the situation being addressed. In my case, I wanted to focus on eliminating negative thought patterns and beliefs that sometimes limit my ability to recognize my gifts and to accept blessings.
I confess I assumed my strong-willed mind would resist hypnosis. I asked Paula about that, and she used a very simple exercise to test my suggestibility. Her exercise involved placing my index fingers about an inch apart. She then casually commented that I would feel my fingers start to move toward each other and eventually touch. My fingers immediately moved. Rest assured that I was not in a hypnotic state, but her suggestion did affect my body's response - even though I was determined to resist. This exercise not only helped her judge how well I would receive hypnosis, but also helped me recognize I could be hypnotized. Paula commented that the most intelligent people are often the most easily hypnotized, primarily because they don't have high levels of fear related to hypnosis and because they grasp the scientific foundation of hypnosis. I'm not suggesting that's why I proved to be highly receptive to a neutral suggestions, I'm merely sharing what Paula recognizes as a fact. :)
We then started the session. She started by walking me through some simple breathing exercises that helped induce a relaxed state. I eventually became relaxed enough that I closed my eyes. She then began walking me through a process that helped me imagine my body becoming increasingly relaxed and releasing tensions from head to toe. She then talked me through another imagination process designed to increase my state of relaxation. In this case, she told me to imagine walking down a stone stairway. I don't know why the stairway was stone, but I suspect the suggestion was designed to draw me into a deeper state of relaxation as I focused on creating an image that was not very common and which was highly detailed. I was still 100% coherent and aware, as I was during every stage of the session. When I reached a state of sufficient relaxation of body and mind, Paula talked me through an imagination exercise during which I imagined a garden being fed, watered, and nourished by God's love. This metaphor was used and broadened, and she talked me through a process where I became aware of weeds growing in the garden and took personal responsibility for removing them. Throughout the session, she also explained the meaning of each part of the metaphor and made suggestions that helped me take responsibility for negative thoughts and behaviors. This portion of the session also provided suggestions that allow me to trade negative behaviors and thought patterns for very positive ones.
After working through the complete metaphor, Paula began to bring me out of the relaxed state. She brought me out very slowly and very gently. I was surprised that at one point my hands began to tingle, and shortly after that she commented that my hands would be tingling. If I had any lingering doubts about the value and credibility of hypnosis, they disappeared at that point because I experienced the tingling before the suggestion was made. When she brought me out of the state of relaxation, I opened my eyes and felt incredibly relaxed. I felt as if I'd had a great night's sleep. I was very peaceful and felt an intense joy, but did not feel overly hyped. It was a very peaceful experience start to finish.
Paula finished the session by giving me a recording of the session on a thumb drive (she offers the recordings on CDs, too) and recommended that I listen to it daily. I listened to the session today. I can't say that I reached the same level of relaxation, but the recording still evoked a very peaceful state that made me feel very rested when it ended. I also noticed that my imagination of the metaphor became much more detailed and involved today. Instead of merely picking out the negative weeds, I found myself spreading mulch to prevent future weeds from growing. I found that fascinating and now look forward to seeing how the metaphor expands from there.
I do want to share that I am a Christian and I fully appreciate that some Christians are hesitant to embrace hypnotism because they feel it is an ungodly or demonic practice. My response to that is quite simply that God created our brains and created the different levels of consciousness and the different types of brain waves we have. Hypnotism has a strong scientific basis that relies on research done on these God-created features of our brain. No part of the hypnotism process is at all spiritual - it is 100% based on the acknowledgement that past experiences can influence our current reactions to situations. It also does not remove God from the equation. In my case, I relied on God to guide my session and I prayed throughout the session. I felt very comfortable with every aspect of it. This is, of course, merely my opinion, but I found multiple bible verses which support my conclusions.
Have you every tried hypnosis? What did you think? Please share!