There is nobody on this planet who would not benefit from hypnotherapy.
The Zen concept of everything being an illusion, whilst rejected by many, is interesting when one considers the view that we are all in a state of hypnosis for most of our lives. The suggestion that we are in a constant hypnotic trance may seem ridiculous at first, but from a hypnotherapy point of view, both this and the Zen “everything is illusion” idea make a weird kind of sense.
To see this in perspective, we need to understand the state of hypnosis. There are many definitions, but it is commonly accepted that hypnosis requires the suspension of the critical faculty and the acceptance of selective attention. The critical faculty (or function) is a mechanism that filters new information by comparing this information to existing beliefs, perceptions and experiences.
To illustrate this: If I were to tell you that putting your hand into the flames of a fire would make your skin incredibly smooth and supple, you would just know that this is not true! You know this, because your critical faculty compares this new information with your combined beliefs and experience and naturally rejects it as invalid. In a state of hypnosis, this judgment would not be made because the critical faculty is not active. You would probably not feel any pain either – hypnosis can affect a wonderfully efficient, drug free anaesthesia.
Next, we look at the mind. The model of the mind that I use is one I learnt from Calvin Banyan, the respected founder of the Hypnosis Center Inc. in Minneapolis. In this model, the mind is made up of three components:
- The so-called Unconscious Mind that handles bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate; as well as emotional and physical responses, reflexes and the like. None of these are really unconscious, we are just not consciously aware of them.
- The Conscious Mind operates on the other end of the scale. It interacts with the critical faculty. This is the part of the mind that we are aware of using to think. It is logical, with a limited focus of attention handling seven to nine bits of information at any one time. This is why many of us have trouble with sustained will power over a period of time.
- The Subconscious Mind is our memory – the library of our experience. It is highly organized, with infinite capacity and functions by association. The subconscious permanently stores everything perceived by all our senses, consciously or unconsciously, throughout our lives.
The important part of this model in terms of hypnosis is the subconscious. When we are born, our subconscious mind is like a blank tablet. It starts out empty, eagerly waiting to absorb knowledge and experience. At the time of birth, there is effectively no critical faculty – there is nothing to compare new data to, so everything is accepted at face value until there is a relevant memory to compare it against for judgment regarding its validity.
Once a new bit of information is accepted as valid, it is stored in the subconscious as being true. This is important, because once something is accepted as fact, it is no longer questioned. More importantly, all new information is then measured against this “fact” which may or may not really be true. This “fact” is then entrenched by everything that supports it, while all contrary data is labeled as false and stored separately.
Another factor that comes into play in the functioning of the critical faculty is the source of information. If the new information is coming from what is believed to be a trusted or authoritative source, it is more readily accepted without question. If a child is told the story of Santa Claus by a parent, then later told that it is all a myth by a sibling or another child, the parent’s version is likely to be more acceptable to the child.
Parents have the greatest impact upon young minds. Then there are teachers, religious figures such as priests and rabbis, and other adults like uncles and aunts.
A point worth making here is that the young mind is susceptible to both positive and negative inputs. Because there is little or no filter applied, phobias, criticism and prejudice are absorbed just as willingly as justice, honesty and tolerance. Adding to this, the language skill of youngsters is limited. Nuances of language are not properly interpreted, so verbal exchanges are translated in a pretty literal way.
A real example of this occurring: A young girl does something silly without thinking – as is the nature of small children.
Mother (or father, or teacher) says: “Don’t be so stupid! Look at what you are doing, … blah, blah”.
The adult does not mean to imply that the child is slow witted or lacking in normal intelligence, just that she should pay more attention to what she is doing. The child however, being impressionable, could accept the literal judgment and go through her entire life believing that she is intellectually inadequate.
Taking all this together with the child’s desire for approval, presents a little person who lives in a state of constant hypnosis. Until very recently, very few children were encouraged to just follow their hearts. There was always a mould into which children had to fit. If there were corners where the mould had curves, the corners had to be rounded off. If the person was larger than the mould, the lid could be stomped on!
Most of us end up growing to become a mixture of the person that we believe our parents, teachers and other influential people want us to be – this can cause a conflict with the person we truly are. As we progress through puberty, and go on to become young adults, our critical faculty is further ambushed by peer pressure, advertising, the media and various forms of propaganda designed to turn us into docile consumers.
With the growing editorial method of news reporting, twenty-four hour news channels, and advertising everywhere you look, the average person is bombarded by subliminal programming to a greater degree than ever before.
We end up with a population of people living a false reality where the REAL who we are was cloaked by the FALSE who we believe we are – or worse – who we believe we should be.
So large numbers of us grow up not being our authentic selves, not being fulfilled, carrying baggage that does not belong to us, getting ill and developing all kinds of psychological and psychosomatic problems. The internal conflicts all this causes are the root of many excesses that cause even more pain – drug abuse, over eating, abuse of others, and the list goes on.
Is the Zen assertion that all is illusion so bizarre? How much of our perception is real?
An interesting thought related to the idea of us not being our true selves and absorbing much of our “reality” through the views of others, is to consider whether the growing voyeurism enjoyed through so-called reality TV shows has anything to do with removing ourselves even further from reality?
Another thing we could reflect on is whether our response to sensory stimuli is more dependant on memory than a true experience of the sensation. For example: Who looks at a freshly opened flower with a sense of wonder and gratitude? We may express this sense of wonder, but does this come from the sensual experience or the memory of what “should” be expressed?
Try this exercise – go outside now and look up at the sky. Are you able to look at a cloud and be amazed at the creation of this accumulated moisture that is ever changing, yet perfect all the time? Do you truly experience this wonder of nature, this moment in the life of a cloud; or do you just look up call on the conditioned response of “that’s nice” and carry on with life? This example could be translated to just about any of our many experiences during the day – the key word being experience.
You could be forgiven for seeing this commentary as a sad and depressing story of hopelessness. A painting of despair.
There is an awakening occurring that is causing us to assess our beliefs and prejudices and explore tolerance and forgiveness. The world-at-large is becoming more aware of the link between the mind, body and spirit.
This gives hope. And in a strangely paradoxical way, one path through this veil of unreality is … hypnosis! To be more specific, hypnotherapy.
Most people’s impression of hypnosis is based on seeing a stage hypnotist performing at one time or another or one of the movies that have used hypnosis a means to further the plot. Sadly, both of these (whilst entertaining) do little to inform the public of the real benefit of hypnosis and uniformly suggest the same old misconceptions.
The hypnotist cannot control you. You cannot get “stuck” in hypnosis. You cannot be made to do anything that goes against your moral or ethical principles. You are aware of everything that is happening and will usually remember everything afterwards.
The stage hypnotist is often seen to be controlling the subject, making them do all kinds of hilariously embarrassing things. So is this against the volunteer’s will? Think about it. Why do people volunteer to be hypnotized on the stage? They know what will happen. Why would they offer themselves if they were not willing to play the part? Could it possibly be that they have a desire to be an exhibitionist without the attached risks?
Anyone of normal intelligence can be hypnotized, but you cannot be hypnotized against your will. Someone who reports that they are “not hypnotizable” is one hundred percent right! And as long as they maintain that position it will be true, but once they agree to be hypnotized, they will suddenly become hypnotizable!
Really, hypnotherapy is a partnership. Just as an adventurer climbing Mount Everest would seek the assistance of a guide who is familiar with the terrain and trust their judgement, so the person wanting to benefit from hypnotherapy has the assistance of a “hypno-guide” to help them along the way.
In hypnotherapy, there is usually a gentle induction into a state of relaxation where the body and the conscious mind achieves a level of relaxation that allows direct communication with the subconscious mind without having everything go through the critical faculty first. The person being hypnotized will be fully aware of everything that is happening and everything that is being said.
For many, the experience is like just closing their eyes! Some may either feel very light or very heavy, while others feel a tingling sensation. A common comparison is that feeling in the brief moment between sleep and wakefulness. The one thing that is common with everyone, in my experience, is a general feeling of relaxation and well being after the first session.
Because the parts of the mind that concern people about hypnosis (self preservation, morality, etc.) are at a level deeper than the conscious mind, these are operating the whole time. If there were to be a fire in the building for example, there would be an immediate automatic emergence to conscious awareness.
Once in this wonderful relaxed state, we are ready and prepared to accept suggestions that are in our best interests. The power of suggestion in this state of hypnosis is tremendous. Hypnotherapy has achieved remarkable results through reducing stress and smoking cessation, to easing pain and helping cancer patients “beat the odds” in quality of life and survivability – using positive suggestions, combined with positive visualization.
With medical conditions, hypnotherapy should never be regarded as an alternative to regular medical treatment. The example of the treatment of cancer patients referred to in the last paragraph was conducted on a group of people in a hospital with the full co-operation and support of the patients’ doctors.
With pain relief, one has to be careful. Pain exists for a reason – it is the body’s alarm system. Hypnosis should not being used to mask pain that may really be warning of a medical problem. But when appropriate, hypnosis provides a great anaesthetic! Painless childbirth is understandably becoming very popular.
Hypnosis in operations has been used for many years where drug induced anaesthesia is not suitable. Some wonder why it is not more common, as it eliminates the side effects of the drugs, has resulted in faster recuperation and consequently a shorter hospital stay – not to mention the cost saving! The use of conventional anaesthesia together with hypnosis has also proven beneficial as the hypnosis allows more efficient utilization of the drugs, which means that less anaesthetic is required, causing less severe side effects.
With so-called ADD youngsters, and others suffering from learning difficulties, hypnosis has been found to help them gain the self confidence that is so often lacking and assist in achieving almost miraculous improvement in school performance. As with all hypnotherapy though, the child has to have a desire to improve and be willing to give it a try.
Although tremendous results can be achieved by suggestion alone, permanent change often requires a bit more work. Most of the complaints that a hypnotherapist is faced with are caused by misconceptions that have been accepted by the subconscious as fact – usually at a young age and because of an immature critical faculty. This in turn eventually causes internal conflict that manifests in the presenting complaint.
This presenting problem often does not seem to have anything to do with the event that precipitated the problem, but makes sense once the dynamics are understood. Many people are amazed to discover the link between the cause and the effect.
Hypnotherapists are trained in the techniques required to uncover and neutralize the negative emotions that perpetuate the problem. The main components of these techniques include discovery, understanding and forgiveness. It is only by proper neutralization that the problem can be permanently overcome.
When the internal conflicts have been neutralized and we have a happy, well-adjusted individual, we could say that they have come full circle and are closer to being their true selves – a place where the illusions have been removed.
Then again, perhaps if we were to remove all our negative (and false) programming, we would find that the Zen concept regarding illusion is true! Perhaps this is the next level of consciousness where we no longer need to imagine a world to look at!
In conclusion: Hypnotherapy can be helpful in the treatment of a wide range of conditions. Many can be completely neutralized, while in others noticeable improvement in quality of life can be achieved.