Written by Sarah Stanley
Hypnosis is known to most people merely as a form of entertainment. Making people do things they don’t want to do while in a hypnotic ‘trance’. In earlier times hypnotists offered miracle cures and hypnosis was associated with the occult. All a bit ‘woowoo’ in many people’s minds!
In fact, hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy. it is a very powerful way of changing how we use our minds to control perception and our bodies. Most clinicians now agree it can be an effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions, including pain and anxiety. And it can help in improving confidence, reducing phobias, and developing heathy habits.
MRI Scans – the Key to Our New Understanding
Modern science has enabled us to understand the power of hypnosis more fully. Scientists are finding out more and more about how the brain works and our understanding of the benefits of hypnosis and hypnotherapy increases apace.
The invention of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, has been an enormous step forward in researching how the brain works. Magnetic resonanace imaging allows us to see the impact of hypnosis on the human brain.
Using MRI technology, David Spiegel, a scientist at America’s prestigious Stanford University, has conducted research showing that hypnosis actually changes the way blood flows to different areas of the brain.
What the Science Shows About Hypnosis...
- Activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate is reduced. This is the part of the brain that is active when you are worried.
- Certain areas of the brain become better-connected, specifically the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (responsible for planning and organization) forms a stronger connection with the insula (which gathers information about bodily sensations and our emotions).
- Other areas of the brain lose some connectivity. In particular the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex becomes less connected to the part of the brain which is responsible for self reflection.
Combined together, these changes mean that under hypnosis you are more relaxed and less self-conscious. You are living in the present moment, more open to new ideas and less concerned about what might go wrong.
These changes in brain function can be used in a constructive way to alter thought patterns and so make behavioural change easier to achieve.
Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy – What’s the Difference?
Hypnotherapy makes use of the effects of hypnosis to enable patients to make positive changes in their thought processes and behaviours.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, which I practise, maximises the opportunities provided by hypnosis to bring about change and improvement.
In my clinic I ask the client to lie or sit comfortably on the couch and close their eyes, if they are happy to do that. Then I guide them into a relaxed ‘trance’ state, followed by a progressive ‘body scan’ during which they focus on each part of the body in turn, leading to further physical relaxation.
I then use positive, indirect suggestion to encourage new ways of thinking. Any suggestion can be disregarded if it is not consistent with their values, interests, or judgement.
I enhance this state by using a ‘deepener’ using visualization or guided imagery to help clients focus on becoming even more relaxed, while using their imagination to reinforce the change we want to make.
Usually I include metaphor. A metaphorical situation is different from the conscious problem you are struggling with and allows your conscious mind to relax. At the same time, the unconscious mind will register the behaviour pattern being followed, and it will use the metaphor for therapeutic change.
It is now acknowledged that we dream in metaphor and metaphor is often called the ‘language of the unconscious.’ Metaphor is ‘hypnotic’ because it speaks to the unconscious mind.
Hypnosis is quite safe when it is practised like this with a trained professional. You remain completely in control throughout.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and Positive Change
The combination of coaching therapy to help you identify a positive way forward in your life, and hypnotherapy, using your subconscious to consolidate the changes you want to make, is very powerful. I have seen it work for so many clients.
With support from a trained coach or therapist, people under hypnosis can bring about real positive change in their lives. Negative self talk is diminished. Positive suggestions are accepted more readily.
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