In the next few paragraphs I have outlined some of the most frequently asked questions that I encounter in clinical practice, and a brief overview of their answers. If after reading this you have additional questions, or want more information, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a “hypnotic trance”?
Hypnosis is often described as a state of directed or focused attention, accompanied by relaxation, and an openness to suggestion. Many people in a light trance are reminded of the special state between waking and sleeping, a “twilight” experience. It is definitely not sleep, even though the word hypnosis comes from the Greek word for sleep (hypnos). The brain waves occurring during hypnosis are different from the brain waves occurring during sleep. People respond to hypnosis in many different ways. Often, a person in hypnosis simply feels relaxed, accompanied by changes in their body, such as a “floating” feeling. Some people describe what they experience as an altered state of consciousness. Others refer to their experience as concentrated attention accompanied by pleasant feelings. There are many variations on these themes.
Is “spontaneous hypnosis” a rare state?
Actually, it is thought that people are moving in and out of “mini” trance states at various times during each day. From this perspective, being lost in a daydream, or absorbed in a beautiful sunset, are considered light hypnotic trances. One way of thinking of this, is that natural trance states, occurring spontaneously, are the body’s way of using the mind to assist us in taking a step back from the tensions of daily life. If one were to measure blood pressure or heart rate during these experiences, it might provide surprising evidence of the power of this spontaneous, periodic, relaxation. Since these happen automatically, almost outside our awareness, it is easy to see that we have inside us a built in stress-reducing mechanism, attuned to our own unique life experiences. The challenge for the hypnotic subject is to bring this process closer to conscious regulation.
I’ve heard of the term “hypnotic induction.” What is it?
A formal induction is really an experiential process of purposefully entering into the hypnotic state with your therapist acting as a guide. You see, even though people often find themselves in spontaneous trances, and they may even know something about how this assists them, they usually need to learn how to do it at the times when they have a need. The induction behavior outlines for a person the exact steps that they are to take in order to evoke the trance response. In this manner, they can reproduce this state when it is important to do so.
Are you saying that I can learn to hypnotize myself?
I most certainly am! From my point of view, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. All I will do is to assist you as you learn to achieve this relaxing and pleasant state of mind. As you might imagine, this increased control can be extremely helpful. Other assistance is also often helpful. For instance, in the case of managing chronic pain, or in fear of a medical procedure, an audio tape could be made to be used as the person needed it. They can even take the tape with them and use it during the procedure.
Can everyone be hypnotized?
Not everyone can achieve really deep levels of trance, of the kind needed, for example, to undergo surgery without anesthesia. However, since most hypnotic problem solving occurs at light to medium levels of trance, most people can derive some benefit from hypnosis. Some people are clearly more hypnotizable than others. The key ingredients, in addition to innate hypnotic capacity, are motivation, expectancy, and trust in the professional teaching the hypnotic skills. For example, a person with only light to moderate trance “capacity,” but who was nevertheless motivated to do well in reducing anxiety about flying because their job depended on frequent flights, is likely to get a better result than might ordinarily be expected.
Will I lose control in hypnosis?
Far from it! Since the purpose of hypnosis is to enhance and develop your ability to control yourself, exactly the opposite will happen. You will find yourself aware of who you are and where you are while in trance. Though it may be easier to experience suggestions that are in line with what you believe and want, by no means will hypnosis force you to do distasteful things, or to have experiences that are unlike you. Many people believe that hypnosis affects control negatively because of what they have seen stage hypnotists perform. The most frequent comment that I hear is, “You won’t make me cluck like a chicken, will you?” Unfortunately, these ideas keep people from seeking legitimate hypnotic treatment. The truth is that while in hypnosis, YOU are in control, since all hypnosis is essentially self-hypnosis. The hypnotist functions as a guide and teacher of the skills needed.
Is hypnosis a type of therapy?
There has been much debate about this. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis states that hypnosis is not a specific kind of therapy, such as psychoanalysis or cognitive-behavior therapy. It is really a way of assisting people in utilizing their minds to facilitate therapy. In fact, many different therapeutic approaches may be utilized within a given hypnotic experience. In other words, hypnosis is not a treatment in itself; it is often said that professionals do not treat patients with hypnosis, but in hypnosis. In fact, this is exactly why training in hypnosis, in and of itself, is not sufficient in order to conduct therapy. The American Psychological Association and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis believe that clinical hypnosis should only be used by properly licensed and credentialed health care professionals who have been specially trained in the use of hypnosis, and who are working on clinical problems within their areas of professional expertise.
How long will treatments with clinical hypnosis take?
Of course, as with other treatments, this depends on the type of problem that you have, your motivation to change, and the kind of outcome or results that you are seeking. Treatment can be as brief as one to three sessions for something like public speaking anxiety, fear of flying, or smoking cessation. If the problem is more complicated, or if hypnosis is to be used together with other forms of psychotherapy, treatment could take somewhat longer. In most areas, insurance will cover a percentage of the cost of individual psychotherapy, when provided by a licensed professional.
How do I select a professional who is qualified to use hypnosis to help me?
It is important, first of all, to select a licensed health care professional to provide services to you and your family, no matter what the type of problem. Your medical doctor, and dentist, for example, are licensed providers of health care. It is this license, granted by the State, that protects you. Of course, you already know this. In fact, it is so commonly accepted today that health care providers will be licensed, that almost no one even thinks of it any more. However, because hypnosis, and the use of hypnotic techniques, is not regulated in New York State, unlicensed persons, known as lay hypnotists, are plentiful. When calling about treatment, always ask about State Licensure in the person’s particular field, for example psychology, or medicine. If they are not licensed, they probably lack the education required for licensure. Then ask about the professional organizations to which they belong. Ask about whether they have achieved, in addition to the license, a special Certification in Clinical Hypnosis. But remember, certification, alone, is not enough. Would you go to an unlicensed dentist or physician? Of course not! Feel free to ask if the person is Licensed by the state and Certified by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and a member of another professional society, such as the American Psychological Association. This kind of careful questioning can help to avoid entering into relationships with persons who may engage in fraudulent or unethical practices. Once you are comfortable that the person is qualified, you may wish to discuss your problem briefly, and ask if hypnosis is an appropriate treatment for it. If so, ask how would that be done. If not, ask what might be a more appropriate approach to treatment. The person should be able to make reasonable responses to this kind of inquiry. If they do, the next step may be to sit down with them face-to-face, and discuss things in more detail. This series of questions and answers was designed to satisfy an individual’s initial curiosity about clinical hypnosis. If these questions have stirred your interest, perhaps you’ll want to browse the other pages of this site. You can turn to the Case Studies section for real-world, clinical examples demonstrating how the technique is used in my psychotherapy practice. You may also wish to look at testimonials from patients who have benefited from hypnosis in resolving their problems.