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"You are getting very sleepy. When I snap my fingers, you will begin yodeling. After you awaken, you will cluck like a chicken every time the phone rings." Is this hypnotism? Perhaps, but the hypnotist acts of magic shows and clubs have little in common with certified hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapists induce a hypnotic state in others in order to bring about a desired effect, such as increasing motivation or changing a behavior. They may also train people in self-hypnosis techniques. Hypnotherapists don't cast a spell, gain control of a person's mind, or do anything else that's magical or strange. Instead, they use hypnosis to help people tap the power of their own minds to help themselves.
Hypnosis has been proven to work in hundreds of ways, from helping people stop smoking to easing the pain of childbirth. Although hypnosis has been studied for centuries, exactly what makes hypnosis work is still being explored.
A hypnotic state is a sleep-like condition in which the brain waves have slowed and the client is much more relaxed than normal. He or she is not asleep, but aware of and sensitive to the surroundings. But where a fully alert mind might normally break in and stop the acceptance of a suggestion, the brain appears to accept ideas more readily under hypnosis.
Clients are always in control in the hypnotic state—they won't do or say anything that they wouldn't normally do or say. According to the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH), getting to someone to do something against their morals or ethics is a myth. If a person was told to go into the corner and stand on their head, his or her reaction to the suggestion would be the same under hypnosis as it would be under normal circumstances.
A typical session with a hypnotherapist takes place in an office or quiet room. The hypnotherapist begins by discussing with the clients what goals and expectations they may have. Does she want to quit biting her nails so she looks good for her wedding? Does he hope to overcome a fear of flying so he can visit his elderly grandfather in Europe? Does the couple want to stop smoking and eat a more healthy diet so they can set a good example for their children? Whatever the reason, hypnotherapists need to know why the client wants to accomplish his or her goal.
Most hypnotherapists also try to find out about the health, background, and lifestyle of their clients. They build trust with patients by discussing the process of hypnosis and its misconceptions. For instance, many people believe that hypnosis is like sleep, or that people will be able to control their minds or force them to reveal deep, dark secrets.
Next, the hypnotherapist does conditioning or susceptibility tests, which check to see how open to suggestion the client is and which hypnosis techniques are likely to work best. For example, the hypnotherapist could have a client look steadily at an object while he or she talks in a monotone. Sounds like ocean waves, a ticking clock, or an air conditioner may help a client relax and focus. While the patient is focusing on an image or a sound, a hypnotist may suggest feelings of drowsiness or relaxation. Guided by these suggestions, the client becomes more and more relaxed, drifting into a hypnotic state.
Under hypnosis, the client's attention is very concentrated on the hypnotherapist's voice. If a suggestion is made that the client accepts, such as, "You want to quit smoking," his or her mind will be highly responsive to the suggestion and accept it. The length of the hypnosis process depends on the goals of the session, but it usually does not take long to achieve results. One of the phenomena of hypnosis is that subjects often think they've been "under" for a shorter time than they actually have. A session lasting 20 minutes may feel like several minutes to a patient under hypnosis.
Sometimes it takes a few sessions before hypnosis works, that is, before the hypnotherapist is able to help clients enter a hypnotic state.
Hypnosis is also used in medical or clinical settings, and even in emergency situations. Emergency medical technicians and paramedics often use hypnosis to help patients slow down the flow of blood, control breathing, and reduce pain and anxiety through positive suggestions.
Hypnosis is also helpful to mental health professionals. In the hypnotic state, a person may be more open to remembering past events that have affected them traumatically. Once these are remembered, a psychologist or other mental health professional can help the patient deal with them through therapy. Hypnotherapy can also help people replace negative thoughts with positive ones or deal with their fears.
Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of depression, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, anorexia, panic attacks, neuroses, attention deficit disorder, asthma, allergies, heart disease, headaches, arthritis, colon and bowel problems, and more. Experimental research is testing its use with cancer. Young children, for example, have been taught to picture good white blood cells eating cancer cells like the Pac-Man video game.