Hypnosis can refer to a therapeutic technique, or to a state of mind. The hypnotic state is a completely natural state that we go in and out of many times each day. How many times while driving on the freeway have you found yourself approaching your off-ramp, and though, "Wow, I'm here already"? How many times have you become engrossed in a movie, or a song, or even a sequence of thought, and then realized that several minutes or more have gone by? These are just a few examples of how we move in and out of hypnosis naturally all day long.
Hypnosis can also be described as a state of relaxed and very focused awareness, where we are allowing ourselves to communicate with the unconscious part of our minds. The conscious part of our minds, the part which makes the many moment by moment decisions that happen all day long, is something like the desk clerk at a hotel. It handles the routine matters that take up so much of our "mental space". The unconscious mind is like "the manager in the back room", making policy decisions that are often based on old beliefs or decisions made in the past. For example, perhaps I want to get a promotion at work, or lose some weight, or change some pattern of my behavior .... and as much as I want to change, I keep getting stuck in the same old patterns. Unconsciously, I seem to have a different agenda than the one I consciously want to have.
Simply put, being in hypnosis is being in a state of mind where we can communicate more directly with our unconscious mind. This can really help facilitate change, both in how we perceive things (like chronic pain or our image of ourselves), and in behavior habits (like smoking, insomnia, and even how we respond to stress).
By the way, being in hypnosis does not mean that we are out of control in any way, or that we are putting ourselves at risk of doing things we ordinarily wouldn't do. Stage hypnotists, who put on shows where people seem to do stunts or act in silly ways, are very skilled at picking out members of the audience who show in various ways that they want to perform.
How do I choose a hypnotherapist?
Hypnosis is not regulated by most states, including California, and so it is important for clients to find out about their therapist's training and experience. Not all people who offer hypnosis are licensed psychotherapists. If your hypnosis provider is not a licensed therapist, be sure to ask under what circumstances they would refer to a licensed therapist. For most of us, symptoms do not exist in a vacuum. If your work in hypnosis brings up other issues, a licensed psychotherapist is qualified to deal with those issues. Someone who is simply trained in the technique of hypnosis is not.
There are only two nationally recognized organizations for licensed health care professionals using hypnosis. Deborah Tucker is a member of one, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (see link below)
What can hypnosis help with?
Clients come in requesting hypnosis for various reasons, and it is one of many techniques that a licensed therapist may use to help resolve problems. Hypnosis is extremely helpful in learning deep relaxation for stress and anxiety management, and as a treatment for insomnia and many phobias. Patients who have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may experience significant relief. Many people with chronic pain find that they learn to manage their pain differently. Hypnosis is frequently used to treat "habit disorders", such as smoking, over-eating, motor tics, etc. Frequently clients will be given recordings of their session to use at home, so that they can learn self-hypnosis techniques to continue their progress outside of their sessions.
It is very important that anyone with any sort of medical condition consult with their physician first before considering hypnosis. Your therapist may ask you to sign a release so that they may speak with your physician, prior to using hypnosis to help with symptoms related to a medical condition. Hypnosis is not a substitute for medical treatment.
How is hypnosis used in therapy?
As mentioned above, many clients come in specifically requesting hypnosis. Other times the therapist may suggest using it. Either way, it's important that both client and therapist are in agreement about what the goals of treatment are, and what can be reasonably expected. The first session is usually spent getting a good history of the presenting problem and what other types of treatment have been tried in the past, if any. Usually there will be time to do an "introduction to hypnosis", in the form of a deep relaxation session, so that the client can experience what hypnosis is like for them.
In following sessions, the therapist will help the client enter into the relaxed and focused state that is hypnosis, and will guide the client through the process of thinking differently about their issue and discovering new ways within themselves of deal with it. The client is always awake and in control. Many therapists will record the session for the client, so that they can reinforce what they have learned by listening at home. Time is reserved at the end for questions and discussion of how the session went. Because it is such a relaxing process, most clients leave the session feeling very refreshed and energized, and may notice an increased feeling of well-being.
Some clients will come only for hypnosis sessions for a single issue. Other clients will find hypnosis useful as part of a broader psychotherapy approach to other issues. Which approach to use is something that the therapist and client will decide together.
Where can I learn more about hypnotherapy?
American Society of Clinical Hypnosis -- ASCH - look for info for the Public in the main menu
How do I set up a session?
I hope this information is helpful. Please call our office if you have more questions.