During my first 10 years working as a psychotherapist, I had the privilege of listening to the life stories of thousands of clients. My clients experienced hardships that included domestic and community violence, personal and family substance abuse, learning disabilities, poverty, sexual abuse, co-dependent relationships, self-destructive behavior patterns, and societal oppression due to their race, gender, ethnicity, government, primary language, sexual orientation, and more.
The anger that I observed reached homicidal levels and the sadness reached suicidal levels. And despite any flaws in our nation’s mental health system, I can humbly and first handedly state that mental health services have saved many, many lives. I have witnessed the powerful – though often prolonged – power of healing that good psychotherapy can nurture. But after 10 years working in the mental health field, I had provided thousands of psychotherapy sessions and attended plenty more of my own. I had also been a student of meditation, metaphysics, and various forms of non-denominational spirituality from a soul-evolutionary perspective for nearly 20 years. Through this integrative work, I became keenly aware that healing often requires more than just talking.
With a desire to sharpen my tools I pursued hypnotherapy training. When I enrolled in a hypnotherapy certification program, little did I know that my relationship with my work and my clients would change forever. My healing work would soon draw from a level of human strength that goes well beyond the psychological, but into a place that is commonly referred to among hypnotherapists as the superconscious – a portion of the psyche that contains a profound level of inner wisdom, strength, connection to divine power in the universe – a portion of the human energy system that is driven not only to survive, but to thrive!
What Is Hypnosis:
Hypnosis is a state of relaxation very similar to meditation. When you think about levels of relaxation, there is a continuum. On one extreme end is our fully alert (Beta) state of mind. In western culture, we are conditioned from a very early age to utilize this active, left brained side…think, analyze, multi-task, get things done quickly. This active state of mind is also where we experience stress! A little further along the continuum, our biorhythm slows down a bit and we start to relax (Alpha state). We regain a sense of perspective and our stress levels decrease (e.g. looking at the ocean, sitting quietly for a few minutes, taking a few deep breaths, dazing off a bit). Still further along the continuum, our brain waves slow even more (Theta). We begin to daydream or even experience a light state of sleep. Hypnosis begins in the alpha state and shifts into the theta state, however it occurs before we actually fall into a deep state of sleep (Delta). Contrary to popular myth, being hypnotized does not mean being put to sleep, nor does it involve a loss of control.
But how does relaxing help us heal through hypnosis?
1. In a state of hypnosis, people often access information & insight that they might not access when their minds are racing along in daily life. Those of you with experience in meditation know exactly what I mean. When you relax, the answers or inner guidance just comes to you and you can draw from that insight to move forward. For those of you who are not meditation-savvy, think about a stressful day that left you feeling overwhelmed, stuck, or confused. After taking a walk in the park, giving yourself a few minutes of quiet time to yourself, or even getting a good night’s sleep, you reached a new level of perspective or insight into your troubles. A resolution that you had not considered previously now seems clear. Hypnosis takes this experience to a new level! The inner guidance that we can access in a state of hypnosis can be invaluable in understanding and solving various issues and in developing an action plan. This benefit is particularly useful when we dialogue with the hypnotherapist during the session. The action plan is meaningful and useable because we generate it ourselves.
Accessing inner wisdom helps us heal, but that’s only part of the process. Many hypnotherapists use only the power of suggestion and in my experience, such an approach is very limiting. Instead, an interactive healing process that works with the power of the superconscious mind is what leads to a greater level of healing.
2. In hypnosis, the superconscious mind can conjure up images, symbols, and stories that represent blocks, barriers, and emotional baggage that have been holding you back. The archetypes and images that are generated during hypnosis can be very dream-like. These images and stories are emotionally loaded and represent aspects of the subconscious mind that are ready to be resolved – waiting to be resolved – but may not be easily accessible through traditional talking therapy or our daily alert state. The reason is that talk therapy, despite all its merits, utilizes a Beta (intellectual) state of brainwave activity. As a result, we can get “stuck in our heads.” We have all known people who understand the psychology and intricate dynamics of their lives quite well but they still don’t change their behavior. This pattern is particularly common with addictive behaviors, trauma, anxiety, certain physical symptoms, motivation, and other emotionally loaded issues. Hypnotherapy can assist people to release and transform the symbolic images that are associated with these behavioral and emotional patterns.
The next step in hypnotherapy involves transforming these symbols into something positive and in alignment with one’s goals. Essentially, we re-write our mental scripts, transforming them into something more positive – more desirable. Sometimes, energy work such as EFT, chakra clearing, or rhythmic breathing in hypnotherapy can further assist the process of healing and release. People who are visual tend to do really well with hypnotherapy, however other senses can be utilized for transformational healing too.
3. The power of suggestion: The new experience must be reinforced through affirmation in order for healing through hypnotherapy to stick. This step is most commonly associated with hypnosis but is often misunderstood – or even misused by well-intentioned hypnotherapists who are not trained in interactive hypnotherapy techniques. When people desire change, they are receptive to statements that support them in that process but the statements and affirmations must accurately reflect the client’s goals, imagery, feelings, and history with the presenting problem. The more general the affirmations, the less effective they will be in helping reinforce the client’s healing process…the more specific the affirmation is to the client, the more effectively the affirmations will work. In many cases, hypnotherapists who have additional training in counseling techniques will be better equipped to formulate affirmations that are fine-tuned to their clients’ specific issues and goals. I draw heavily on my experience as a psychotherapist to sort out the core history of a problem, the holistic picture of the individual, and realistic goals that are broken down into manageable parts.
What Kinds of Issues Can Be Assisted With Hypnotherapy? Anxiety, Fear, Sadness, Habit Cessation, Emotional Clearing, Confidence, Stress, Gaining Clarity, Unleashing Creativity, Motivation, Certain Kinds of Trauma, Past Life Regression, Deepening Spirituality, Developing Intuitive Skills, Some Medical Conditions, and Much More.
How Much Hypnotherapy Does It Take? Hypnotherapy is not psychotherapy. The work is very goal focused, can be intense, and often involves some rather rapid-fire healing and clearing. Having a clear understanding of the issue can be an important way of moving the process along. Some people are able to get really good results in one session, but that is not the norm. I find that many people are able to resolve a single issue in 4-6 sessions spaced 2-4 weeks apart. The more complex the issues, the more sessions will be required.
Finding a Good Hypnotherapist & Making Good Use of Hypnotherapy:
· Be sure the hypnotherapist is Certified by the National Guild of Hypnotists. Because hypnotherapy is an alternative healing modality, anyone can call him/herself a hypnotist – even without proper training.
· Be sure you feel comfortable with the hypnotherapist: How does that person sound on the phone? Is his/her voice comforting? Does this person present as caring and knowledgeable?
· Is this person willing to discuss the basics of your issue before scheduling a session so you can each get a sense of whether it’s the right match? I require a free 15-minute phone consult for all new prospective clients.
· Be cautious of anyone who guarantees specific results – or specific results in a designated number of sessions. The fact is that the human psyche varies greatly among individuals and an infinite number of variables influence the kind of results and length of time needed for hypnotherapy to be successful. Hypnotherapy works for many people, but not for everyone. Any ethical hypnotherapist will fully acknowledge that fact. Be cautious about pre-paying for a block of sessions before you’ve experienced at least one session with that hypnotherapist.
· Does the hypnotherapist have a suitable office? Although many hypnotherapists work out of their homes, the space should still be professional, quiet, and soothing.
· Keep in mind that Hypnotherapy is a professional service and fees should be reflective of relevant credentials and experience.
· What other credentials, background, or experience does the hypnotherapist have? Don’t make assumptions about the educational credentials that a hypnotherapist has. A Ph.D. is a respectable degree, but it offers little in the way of emotional healing if this doctorate degree is in Botany or Economics and the hypnotherapist has no other experience with personal development, counseling, or helping others professionally.
· Collaborate with your hypnotherapist about what works and what doesn’t.
· Listen to your hypnotherapy recordings regularly. Doing so is essential to making the work stick!
· Keep in mind that hypnotherapy is not magic. It is only one healing tool and should be treated as such.
· Use your best judgment.
This article is based upon the author’s professional experience and training, however it is not intended to serve as a prescription for medical or psychological treatment. Always consult with appropriately credentialed practitioners directly to discuss your specific situation.
Matthew Engel, LCSW, CHt –
Psycho-Spiritual Growth: Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, Past Life Regression, Intuitive Readings, Classes, Workshops, Talks & Media Appearances.
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