What Hypnosis is

Hypnotherapy is a method that helps people to achieve their goals through relaxation.

The conscious mind has to do very little and leaves the work to the hypnotherapist and the unconscious mind.

The goal could be to lose weight, to stop smoking, to conquer a phobia, to get a promotion in work, to be able to make a perfect speech in public, to pass a driving test, to heal a skin complaint or many other things.

It is based on the science of psychology and physiological changes in the brain; although it goes back to the unscientific therapies of animal magnetism and generating hysteria in a number of people to create belief.

A Brief History of Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis and psychology has been a part of civilisation since ancient times from the sleep temples of Egypt to Aristotle’s observations about the mind.

The first known practitioner of hypnosis was Friedrich (or Franz) Anton Mesmer, hence Mesmerism.  Some would possibly call him a dubious quack; but every science has to start somewhere and at least he did start it; and make a very good living out of it.  Friedrich Mesmer was born at Well, which is near the point at which the Rhine leaves the Lake of Constance, on May 25, 1733.  He studied medicine in Vienna under the masters of the day.  He believed that the stars exerted influence over people with magnetic forces and that it may be possible to cure a dead person by stroking their body with magnets.  In 1766 he published his first work: De Planetarum Influx.

Mesmer’s patients would sit around a simmering pot of boiling chemicals holding hands or holding sticks that went into the bubbling pot where he would “mesmerise” them; although he used to say he magnetised them using animal magnetism.  They would go into hysterics, convulsions or have other physical effects from just a touch or a look from Mesmer.  Mesmer was quite a showman.  James Braid found that these effects could be brought on without the use of a vat of chemicals or other dubious props.  He coined the term hypnosis and was the first to practice anything that could be described as hypnotherapy.

Mesmer was never very popular with the government even if they were supposed to have offered him 20,000 Francs for his secret.  He was denounced as a fraud and he withdrew from Paris where he was working at the time.  He died on 5 March 1815.

There are many theories why hypnosis works – but the fact is that it does.   

Sigmund Freud used hypnosis in his work but found its effects short lasting.  Later practitioners found that many complexes needed to cause an effect of some sort and if the part of the mind that was causing the problem was given something harmless to do; it and the rest of the patient could be happy.

Freud was famous for his free association the result of which could be used for catharsis.  This has the danger of re-traumatising the patient.  Modern hypnotherapy can effect reintegration that will relieve symptoms without digging up trauma from the past.  Reintegration is the repair to the mind that catharsis generates.

Because Freud thought that the sex-drive was the cause of most behaviour; whether it was good or bad behaviour; and he would examine behaviour and publish his thoughts no matter what they were he was labelled a pervert.  The most notorious theory he had was called the Electra Complex by Carl Jung; but he insisted on calling it the female Oedipus Complex.

Albert Adler (also an Austrian) thought that what drove human energy was a desire to succeed and achieve; not the sex drive.  Using this approach he made Freud’s treatments more effective.  However Adler is known more for replacing the psychiatrists’ couch with a chair because he did not want to intimidate his patients and he was very much an egalitarian.

How Hypnotherapy Works

You may think why would I want to use such powerful medicine when I only want to give up smoking?

It is very powerful and that is why it can help people stop smoking and conquer anxiety without the side affects and danger of a pharmacological therapy.  However, although it can be good to discuss medication with your GP, if you are taking medication prescribed by your GP you must take it until he/she says it is safe to stop.  Clinical hypnosis is so powerful that some women prefer it to conventional anaesthetic when giving birth.  The relaxation and feeling of ease can greatly reduce the damage that can be caused by muscles tensed by anticipation of predictions given in horror stories.  It can be used to give a belief of a relaxed birth with acceptable pain that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Hypnotherapy is used for pain relief and can be very effective.  The fibres that carry pain to receptors called nociceptors are narrow.  The normal nerve fibres are larger in diameter.  The normal nerve fibres can carry a signal to counter act the pain signal.  The ability to do this and stop pain without pain killers can be taught by hypnosis.

Pain goes through what is called the pain gate and using the opposing nerve fibres to block the pain gate so the impulses cannot get through to the nociceptors can be most effective.    

It is unfortunate that people think of stage hypnotism when they think of hypnotism at all.  Clinical hypnosis just helps people achieve things they need to achieve and although it is very powerful when you receive hypnotherapy you are in control all the time; you will not do anything you would not normally do or tell your secrets.

Your mind works in your brain by synapses firing.  When you are hypnotised some of these synapses stop firing temporarily and this is called dissociation.  This form of dissociation is safe when used by a hypnotherapist who understands what he is doing.  This form of dissociation allows the mind to focus without distractions and communicate with the unconscious mind.

Trauma can cause a more permanent form of dissociation which can isolate parts of the brain because the line of communication, which is the synapses, is not working.  Catharsis, which is talking over and understanding the situation some time after the trauma can reintegrate that part of the brain and start the synapses firing again; or it may re-traumatise the patient making this worse.  Hypnotherapy can help here.

Dissociative complexes is just one of a number of things that hypnotherapy can help with.

Many problems are learned.  This is how phobias and even severe mental illness are infectious.  One way in which problems are learned is classical conditioning.  The famous Pavlov and his dogs that learned to salivate when a bell was wrung; and the infamous Watson who made a little boy frightened of his pet rat.  This is where school teachers have such a responsibility not cripple their pupils with fear and self-doubt.

To repair negative classical conditioning reciprocal inhibition is used.  The patient is made to summon the frightening image under hypnosis and then relaxed.  This should associate the frightening stimulus with relaxation and take the fear away.  The technique was pioneered by Joseph Wolpe to help troops overcome shellshock.

A classically conditioned fear can become a phobia; the most well known phobia is agoraphobia or fear of the market place.  Phoebus was the God of fear and agora means the market place.

Wolpe was famous for popping balloons by his patients which could be a form of what is called massed practice.  Obviously relaxing patients worked better and so he invented the Subjective Scale of Disturbance to desensitise patients through relaxation.  

I have cured myself of psoriasis with self-hypnosis.  Just as stress can cause the body to turn on itself and cause damage and I don’t mean conscious harm, I mean what is called acting in.  This can take the form of skin complaints or even worse; hypnosis can empower the unconscious mind to be able to repair the body.

Milton Erickson

Possibly the most graphic illustration of the mind repairing the body is how Milton Erickson (he may have been the greatest hypnotist the world has ever known) hypnotised himself to be able to walk again after he was paralysed from the neck down by polio.

He was sat in a rocking chair on the front porch, there was no wind, it was a beautiful sunny day and he wanted to walk in the garden.  He realised that the rocking chair was rocking back and fore and the only thing that could be causing this was his muscles.  His desire to walk in the garden again made the muscles of he legs tense and relax.  After a lot of time and effort he was able to walk again, albeit with a stick.  From this experience he learned his profession.

Another achievement of his was that although he suffered with severe dyslexia he was a medical doctor and became a prolific writer and his works have been quoted by psychiatrists and psychologist throughout the world for many years and died in 1980.

Like everything that is of practical use or interest or both hypnotherapy continues to develop everyday and to me it is not a quirky alternative but a branch of psychology that can be practiced by a therapist who is qualified in hypnotherapy.

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