As a professional hypnotherapist in private practice for nearly two decades, and as someone who has spoken before hundreds of people in large university audiences, I can tell you that I have probably been asked nearly every question one could imagine about hypnosis. Regardless, every hypnotist will tell you, the two most common things people wonder about are: #1. “Is hypnosis real?”, and #2. “Does it really work?”
So, let’s have a frank discussion. Let’s talk about the reality of hypnosis.
First, I must confess that I can wholly relate to all the skeptics out there. When I began studying psychology as an undergraduate in college, I prided myself on my ability to think critically and scientifically. During that time, I held the very common belief that, yes, hypnosis might be ‘real’--for some people, perhaps the weak-minded--but certainly not for me, as my mind was ‘too strong’.
It was only many years later, when I was hypnotized by someone who practiced a type of hypnosis called, ‘Ericksonian’ hypnosis, that I discovered to my great delight that there might be more to the story. The man used a unique type of language--one that took me deep into corners of my mind I had never visited before. And, although I felt wonderfully relaxed and did not understand how or why, when I opened my eyes after that first session, I simply knew something had changed. And, a year later, when my entire life had been transformed, I knew even more that something had REALLY changed.
Later, as I was hypnotized myself many times, and as I studied how to therapeutically hypnotize others, my belief would only deepen. I learned, like the medical doctors and psychiatrists who trained beside me, that there was a thoroughly documented history of hypnosis and its effectiveness. For example, there was the work of Dr. James Esdaile, a Scottish field surgeon who lived in the 1800’s and who used hypnosis to perform major operations without any chemical anesthesia whatsoever. If hypnosis was a sham, or little more than a carnival trick, I thought, then how could one explain the hundreds of amputations, abdominal surgeries, even genital surgeries, that Esdaile had performed?
But what truly sealed my acceptance of hypnosis as an authentic phenomenon, was not merely historical anecdotes, or even the results I saw for myself and the hundreds of clients I would come to work with; those things could possibly be explained in other ways. What did it for me, what convinced me that hypnosis was ‘Real’ (with a capital ‘R’) was an understanding of how hypnosis actually works and is an ever-present force in our lives.
You see, we all go into trance states all the time. When we watch a riveting movie, get sucked into an engrossing conversation, get ‘into’ our favorite song, lose track of the hours because we are so focused on our work, or sometimes even when someone goes crazy and yells at us--all of these things are instances of ‘everyday trance’. They are fixations of our attention, and the only real differences between them and the trances you might experience in a competent hypnotherapist’s office are that the ones that occur in the therapist’s office are usually much deeper and are specifically intended to benefit the person being hypnotized.
Does hypnosis work for everyone? The surprising answer is, ‘yes’--but only because trance states are everywhere and we cannot avoid them. What I mean is that if a person doesn’t appear to be benefiting from therapeutic hypnosis, then almost certainly it is because they are caught up in a bit of hypnosis of their own.
For example, they might be in a trance centered on fearful thoughts about ‘letting go’ and being hypnotized. Left unchecked, such a trance could interfere with their ability to respond properly to the positive suggestions of the well-meaning hypnotist.
Fortunately, a really competent hypnotherapist knows how to recognize and then work around these types of negative self-hypnosis.
So, the short answer is, yes, hypnosis IS real and it DOES work! It is a wonderful ability that human beings have been gifted with by nature. And therapeutic hypnosis, specifically, is a profound state of learning and relaxation that can allow us to ‘soften’ old beliefs and feelings and then reprogram in new, more productive patterns so that we can live more aligned and happier lives.
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