Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
by Michael Braunstein
HYPNOSIS AND HYPNOTHERAPY: THE MIND IS WHAT MATTERS
In the dark, old days — before the panoply of self-help and self-awareness books that the ‘70s and ‘80s brought us — the image of hypnosis was shrouded in mystery and myth. But after the public awareness of alternative therapies swelled in the 1990s, a clearer understanding of hypnosis as a therapeutic technique now prevails.
Gone are the mistaken ideas of swaying watch fobs, spinning discs and Svengali-like hypnotists. Instead, millions of people correctly understand hypnosis as the ultimate therapy that engages the mind-body connection. Network television, respected scientific journals, international conferences and the media in general have all played an important role in helping the public understand hypnosis; just as they have with other alternative therapies. Though in some quarters, unfortunate misperceptions and myths persist, most people realize that hypnosis is a valid and important resource for healing and change.
Because the mind is ultimately the generative force that initiates change of any kind and because hypnosis works with the most powerful part of the mind, the subconscious, it follows that hypnosis is a key to making substantial, lasting change.
Change in the “twinkling of an eye” Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that anyone can enter and utilize. What makes hypnosis so effective is that it engages the subconscious. And, yes, hypnosis in an entertainment setting is “real” hypnosis; just as real as when used in a therapeutic setting. Hypnosis is a tool. And like any tool, it can be used for different applications; therapy or entertainment. In any case, hypnosis demonstrates one important, undeniable reality: the power of the mind.
Perhaps the most common question asked about hypnosis is what kinds of issues can it be used for? Yes, the cliché image is one of stopping smoking or weight loss. But the reality is that the public is growing increasingly aware that hypnosis is used for pain control, stress reduction, emotional issues, relationship issues, performance and anxiety, mental acuity, physical illnesses and more.
The most accurate answer to the question may be to simply state that there is nothing in life that isn’t affected by the thoughts we have about it. And the most powerful of those thoughts are the ones we hold in the subconscious part of the mind. Hypnosis is a way of addressing those thoughts, changing them, on the subconscious level.
While hypnosis is the tool, hypnotherapy is the practice of using hypnosis to help someone make a therapeutic change in his or her life. While anyone can learn to hypnotize another person, the techniques and skills utilized in hypnotherapy are specific. It is neither psychology nor psychoanalysis. It is a therapeutic application in its own right.
Many other therapies work with the intellectual, analytical conscious mind. Hypnotherapy relies on the power of the subconscious, feeling part of the mind. The techniques are developed with that in mind.
Hypnotherapy and health. I don’t believe a hypnotherapist or client of a hypnotherapist should ever confuse hypnosis or hypnotherapy with a medical procedure. Any practitioner who may claim that hypnotherapy can “cure” anything is one to be viewed with extreme skepticism and likely has no clear idea of what hypnosis is. Hypnosis should not be considered as a substitute for typical medical treatment.
But can the mind, especially the subconscious mind, affect the body? Certainly. That fact is not lost in the skills that a filmmaker or film scorer mobilize when doing their work in Hollywood.
Consider for a moment what happens when you enter a movie theatre. You buy your ticket and sit down in a dark room with few distractions. The smell and taste of popcorn can even be considered a hypnotic suggestion: it triggers your willingness to suspend the intellect and what Samuel Taylor Coleridge termed “the willing suspension of disbelief.”
Then the movie rolls and perhaps you are watching a scary scene where the heroine is pursued by the slasher/alien/scary monster. Out of the shadows he leaps and what happens to your heart rate, your blood pressure, your sweaty palms, your bladder? Of course! They’re all affected by how the image on the screen is influencing, with your willing participation, your body functions.
Now stop for a moment. Intellectually you know, “It’s a movie!” If the camera pulled back you’d see microphones, lights, blue screen, people eating donuts, a director, make-up — all that stuff. You know that intellectually. But with your willingness, your imagination, nestled within the subconscious, bought the image of the chase scene. And did your heart rate really increase? Yes! Did your blood vessels constrict? Yes! In short, was your body really affected by your subconscious mind? Yes, it was. Now, why not use that same phenomenon to achieve a therapeutic result?
That is why a vast multitude of reports and scientific papers have found that using the subconscious can be effective with health problems ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to cancer and chronic pain. Sometimes the other avenues of addressing problems have been exhausted. Sometimes they need help. The subconscious mind, the feeling mind, does have impact on the body, plain and simple.
I want to change but I don’t know how. Health issues are just one area where hypnotherapy serves. Any change that a person wants to make in his or her life is always going to begin with thought. And hypnosis works with thought on the deepest level.
When we become intellectually aware of something, we are really only thinking about it on the shallowest level. Using the idea of smoking as an example, knowing intellectually that smoking is expensive and unhealthy does little to change someone’s habits. If intellectual awareness were all that is necessary for a person to change, there wouldn’t be a smoker on the planet!
But we do things based on how we feel, not on how we think. And feeling is the coin of the realm of the subconscious. Just thinking about change or consciously knowing what beliefs are running our life doesn’t necessarily mean that change will happen. We must change the way we feel about it and that happens on the subconscious level.
Most of what we do is run by our subconscious mind without our having to invoke any intellectual influence. And usually when we do, it screws it up! Anybody who has ever hit a golf ball, played a musical instrument or even driven a car understands that!
When you first learned to drive, you were a terrible driver! You were thinking about it: Am I in between the white lines? Which gear should I be in? Am I speeding? Oops, too much gas. Oops, not enough. But once you trained the subconscious mind and it took over, you were a much better driver. You drove to work today guiding a 3000-pound chunk of steel, plastic and glass effortlessly down the street while you chugged your Mocha Grandé from Starbucks — while other 3000-pound chunks of steel whizzed around you. Did you give it any intellectual thought? No, thank goodness. And you were a better driver for it!
There is no doubt that the subconscious mind is an important, if not the most important part of our mind in making positive and lasting change in any area. Learning how to engage it is at the core of hypnotherapy and its effect.
No magic wands. The power of the subconscious has been known and utilized for millennia. And it has often been misunderstood. We now know that thought is the actual causative factor in creating change. It wasn’t always so. In the late 1700s, a medical doctor from Vienna, Anton Mesmer, was renowned for inducing miraculous “cures.” He mistakenly attributed this power to the influence of “animal magnetism” that was enhanced by special wands or rods that he used to pass over and around his patients’ bodies.
We now realize, as did an investigative panel during Mesmer’s time, headed by no less than Benjamin Franklin, that any therapeutic change his patients experienced was by the stimulation of their own thought processes, not the wands of Mesmer. That finding remains true today.
Hypnosis is not a cure or a magic wand. Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool that enables a person to use the most important part of the mind: the subconscious.
A hypnotherapist, when properly trained and experienced, is a skilled therapist who can apply specific techniques that help a client utilize the power of the subconscious. As surely as a movie director or film score composer can provide visual and sonic images that may affect the body, a hypnotherapist can guide a client toward healing.
Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy or practitioner.
Michael Braunstein graduated from the Hypnotism Training Institute of Los Angeles and studied directly under the tutelage of Mr. Gil Boyne (1924-2010). Mr. Boyne began hypnosis and hypnotherapy in the 1950s and his schools have long been considered the gold standard of training and certification for serious hypnotherapists. Mr. Boyne established the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners, still the most respected certifying body for hypnotherapy.