What you think you know about hypnosis is wrong
So, let’s put it right.
When I was doing my hypnotherapy training, I had an assignment to complete, to find out what people knew about hypnosis and hypnotherapy. According to the responses to the question, “What do you know about hypnosis and what are your perceptions about it?” there are many thoughts about what hypnosis involves, and no one who was asked was able to define it.
Blackouts and Mind Control
Answers included, “I think hypnosis is a blackout sort of feeling“, “I perceive it as a quite frightening loss of control”, and “it puts you under and I don’t want that.” The respondent with the latter was not able to expand much more on what she meant about being “under”, except that she likened it to anaesthesia, of which she has a phobia. So, that would be problematic, persuading her otherwise.
All these misconceptions seem to come from watching television programmes and stage hypnosis acts, and the misrepresentations of hypnosis that have originated with them. Not surprising really. It’s understandable that when we see tv portraying the hypnotherapist as the “bad guy” and the antics people are seen to perform when in trance that people may be wary and have a false picture of hypnosis.
The overall feeling and concern seemed to revolve around loss of control and being made to do things that they did not want to do. More than one person, predictably, mentioned that they did not want to be made to cluck like a chicken. Honestly, if you want to cluck like a chicken, it’s ok but I’ve yet to meet anyone who does, and so it’s a treat I’m yet to witness.
The misconceptions can present challenges for both the therapist and the client. You need to have trust in me and this may be difficult if you have these fixed ideas that can come from watching stage hypnosis shows and making the assumption that all of the participants in them must be victims of a form of mind control.
All but one who answered believed that some good could come from hypnosis or hypnotherapy for them, but the actual process seemed to them to be a frightening or uncomfortable prospect. One person who was asked believed that her weight issues could be helped with hypnosis, but the thought of being “under” was enough to stop her from pursuing hypnotherapy as a possible solution.
The mythology surrounding hypnosis, reinforced by comedy shows and so on, can lead people into a suspicion about what actually “happens” when a client is in trance, and the people asked about hypnosis were all concerned about “getting very sleepy” and the swinging watch, and whether or not their wallets might still be in their pockets when they “came around”.
Clearing the myths
If we clear the myths, misinformation and horror stories that people tell about hypnosis, then it makes it all clearer. Because hypnosis was always portrayed as something of a dark art on tv, we have a tendency to believe it. Just bear in mind, when you’re watching Casualty, the way they use the defibrilator machines is also completely incorrect! Did you know that? So, worth bearing in mind that not all is portrayed correctly.
When asked in my little survey, not one person was able to clarify or justify the reasons for their concerns, and all admitted that it had more to do with what they chose to accept, and the fact that it did not occur to them to investigate whether or not their concerns had any real basis in truth. So, while false memories (one person’s concern) could possibly be generated, for example, that person had not gone into how that might happen, the ethical concerns of a therapist, or how that could be prevented from happening. Again, don’t believe everything you see or hear.
It is vital for a hypnotherapist to clear up these inaccuracies so we can do really great work with you, and the most powerful way to do this is to ensure that you know that you have the power to veto anything that doesn’t feel right.
Fact from Fiction
A therapist needs to separate the facts from the fiction for a potential client who has ideas of hypnotherapy that give them cause for concern. The young lady who mentioned that a hypnotic trance seems to be a state in which she would experience a loss of control needs to know that anything that contradicts her values, beliefs or wishes would simply not happen.
We discard anything that does not match our current view of the world (and if this is an issue that requires work, it may be done with other therapies). The power of veto is also something to be pointed out, because as well as staying in control due to the critical faculty; she also gets to say “no” at any point. It would be useful to point out to her the occasions when hypnotherapy is not successful, for example, in smoking cessation when the client clearly does not want to quit smoking. They are exercising their abilities and rights to veto.
The people who describe a hypnotic trance as a “blackout” or “being under” need to be reassured that it is not like anaesthesia or being unaware of what’s happening around them. This seemed to be one of the more common feelings around hypnosis and from the people spoken to, a trust component was missing because they were convinced that they would not be aware of what was happening to them. It is reassuring to know that while in hypnosis, we are completely aware of our surroundings. You know what’s going on, you just choose to not take notice of things that aren’t a part of your focus at this point.
It’s Your Choice
The key idea to get across is that if a client does not give permission for a particular scenario/event/idea, then it does not happen. The ethical responsibility of the therapist can ensure that, but for the peace of mind of the client undertaking the therapy, they themselves ensure that it does not happen. This is so important for the trust and confidence of the client, and their ability to relax and take part in the process. I know that there are people out there who couldn’t give a monkeys about you and just want to take your money, but do your research and you’ll weed out the real deal pretty quickly.
The evidence of successful hypnotherapy in action is reassuring and something that potential clients would benefit from researching. Explaining the idea that we are conscious but able to access different areas of the unconscious mind can be intriguing and lead us to want to know more. A different type of consciousness experienced in trance does not have to be a frightening prospect but a useful tool for becoming more confident, for ridding ourselves of fears and phobias and taking away unhelpful perceptions.