As a Hypnotherapist, this is probably one of the most common things I hear from clients after they have experienced hypnosis for the first time. It’s not surprising really when most people’s understanding of hypnosis usually comes from what they’ve seen on TV when watching stage hypnosis shows or perhaps a film they’ve watched. Films such as Trance and Hypnotic only add to the popular perception of hypnosis as a mysterious state where a person is under the control of ‘The Hypnotist’ and will carry out whatever suggestions they are given.
In reality and as I’ve written about before in previous blog posts, hypnosis is a completely normal and natural psychological state which we all experience, usually several times a day. Every time you day dream and lose track of time, travel on a familiar journey and forget parts of the route, or you get ‘lost’ in good book or film, you’re experiencing hypnosis.
In this post, I will be looking at some of the popular myths about hypnosis, especially when it comes to hypnotherapy sessions. First on the list is…
I didn’t feel as though I was ‘under’
This is often said by clients just after they’ve emerged or ‘awoken’ following their first experience of hypnosis. They are sometimes surprised to discover that, far from being in an almost zombie-like state where they are unable move, talk or speak, being in hypnosis is in fact, more like being in a sort of enhanced day dream. When people experience it for the first time, they usually find that they remain aware of their surroundings throughout and can hear everything that is being said to them.
So where does this idea of being ‘under’ hypnosis come from? If you think about it, most of our understanding of what we think hypnosis is, usually comes from watching another person being hypnotised. During hypnosis, their eyes are usually closed and they are often sat in a slouch position in a chair or laid on a couch, so no wonder it appears as though they are in some kind of magical sleep where they are unaware of what’s happening around them. When it comes to stage or entertainment hypnosis, that’s exactly the impression that you’re meant to have. You’re meant to believe that the volunteer taking part is under the influence of hypnosis, as though it’s some sort of magic sleep.
In reality, hypnosis is more like an enhanced state of focus, where we are able to learn new things and make changes to feelings and behaviours. In this subconscious learning state, we can access the creative and imaginative abilities of the mind more easily and this makes positive change more possible.
You may be wondering why, if someone is actually wide awake, their eyes are closed. Simply put, it’s about shutting out external distractions; if your eyes are closed, it’s often easier to tap into your imagination and it also enhances the feeling of relaxation. In other words, the only reason a person’s eyes may be closed during hypnosis, is because they have been asked to close their eyes by the stage hypnotist or hypnotherapist. It is also perfectly possible to be in a hypnotic trance state with your eyes wide open. Think of all the times you’ve stared into space in a ‘zoned out’ state, or all the times you’ve travelled to work, but can’t remember how you got there.
I could hear you talking whilst I was hypnotised
This is another misconception which is closely related to the idea of being ‘under hypnosis’, where we are unable to see, hear, feel or do anything. If you think about it, we all drift in and out of hypnosis at various points throughout the day by ourselves anyway, so being in hypnosis during a therapy session is just an extension of that experience. The only difference is that the state of hypnosis is occurring deliberately at a time when you choose for it to happen (during the therapy session), rather than waiting for the next day dream to occur. Whether hypnosis is happening as part of a therapy session or a stage show, you are actually taking yourself into hypnosis by following along with what the other person is saying. If you couldn’t hear their voice, how would you be able to take yourself into hypnosis and respond to any suggestions that were given?
Sometimes, once a person becomes more comfortable and familiar with going into hypnosis, they drift into a deeper state where they don’t always consciously remember every word that was said afterwards, however the subconscious mind does remember everything. This is completely normal and is very similar to talking to someone for a while and only remembering parts of the conversation afterwards, rather than every single word. It is also common to experience a sense of ‘drifting’ whilst in hypnosis, where sometimes you are aware of the hypnotherapist speaking and sometimes you are not.
I think I was asleep
We are all conditioned to associate the eyes being closed with being asleep, however as explained above, during hypnosis, a person is very much awake, just in a very natural altered or enhanced state of awareness. Sometimes when we begin to relax very deeply and can access deeper or more profound levels of hypnosis, it can feel as though we have been asleep. This is because the conscious mind, which is the part of the mind that gives us our sense of being awake, becomes very deeply relaxed and passive, whilst the subconscious mind becomes more active. If we don’t have complete conscious recall of everything that happened during hypnosis, it’s natural to assume that we must have been asleep. However, for the vast majority of the time, most people are just in a slightly deeper state of hypnosis, they are not asleep.
Sometimes, if a person is tired, then they may drift from hypnosis and into sleep itself, since hypnosis is one of the phases which we all pass through when falling asleep. When this occurs, it’s usually a sign that the person is tired and that it may be better to do hypnosis when they are less tired and can remain in hypnosis rather than drifting into sleep.
I thought I would be talking during hypnosis
There are many different approaches used within hypnotherapy; some focus on getting to the root of the problem and some take a more direct or solution focused approach to achieving the desired outcome, where the focus is on the future rather than the past.
Whether you speak whilst in hypnosis, depends on the type of therapy being used. Often, people come to hypnotherapy sessions with the belief that their hypnotherapist can access their inner mind and make them reveal hidden information or secrets which will then unlock the key to their problem or issue. Most of the time, this is due to what they may have seen or heard about hypnosis through watching films or TV programmes. In the media, hypnotherapists (sometimes referred to as hypnotists) are often portrayed as quite authoritarian and sometimes mysterious characters who have the ability to ‘make’ people speak about their past experiences. Sometimes they use a pocket watch to hypnotise their subject too, just for added drama.
The type of therapy that is often portrayed on TV, where a person appears to be in a deep hypnotic trance and tells the therapist about their past experiences, is known as Regression or Hypnoanalysis. A person is guided into a deeply relaxed state of hypnosis, where they are then encouraged or regressed back to past experiences which are relevant to the problems they are experiencing in the present. By revisiting past experiences, sometimes valuable information can be discovered which can then help a person to move forwards in the present.
Depending on the problem or issue, this type of therapy may not always be appropriate or needed. The field of hypnotherapy has progressed significantly over the last 100 years and there are newer, more future oriented approaches which focus on what a person wishes to achieve rather than on their past. Therapies such as Solution Focused Therapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming are designed to help focus on the desired outcome and the changes to behaviours and responses that are needed to achieve the outcome. These types of therapy approach can often be very effective at helping people to change the way they feel or react in a situation, however every person and situation is different and people respond differently to therapy.
Some people are more suited to more direct and solution focused approaches, whilst others benefit from a more analytical approach which utilises tools such as regression to get to the root of the problem. The type of therapy used will depend on a number of things including your therapist’s training and experience, the problem or issue and your response to therapy. No two courses of therapy are alike and sometimes different approaches are combined to help you achieve your goal.