You may recall that hypnosis scene from a movie or tv show where the mentalist manipulates someone’s mind by just mumbling a few words. Magic or fraud, you may call it. Even in the field of psychotherapy, hypnosis remains mysterious and controversial. However, a recent study revealed that hypnosis can effectively treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. With that in mind, mental health professionals begin to combine hypnosis with existing psychotherapy approaches to form the brand new hypnotherapy approach.
To clear up your misconceptions about hypnosis and hypnotherapy, here is all you need to know about hypnosis and hypnotherapy and how hypnotherapy can benefit your mental health.
What is hypnosis?
According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis is a therapeutic technique where clinicians use suggestions to help patients relax and concentrate their minds. More specifically, hypnosis is a tool that guides clients to the subconscious, a way to help the client to perceive, explore and develop a deeper understanding of themselves.
The process of hypnosis transfers a person from the state of consciousness to the state of subconsciousness. During hypnosis, the body and consciousness become relaxed, while subconsciousness will be activated. Hypnotists perform hypnosis and strengthen the patient’s state of the subconscious.
From Consciousness to Subconsciousness
Sigmund Freud’s theory of consciousness heavily influences the process of hypnosis. During hypnosis, the hypnotist guides the patient to transfer from the consciousness to the preconsciousness, then to the subconsciousness. In 1900, Sigmund Freud developed the iceberg theory and suggested that our mind consists of 3 levels of awareness:
Consciousness is the most superficial layer of the mind. It consists of thoughts, memories, feelings of which we are aware. Consciousness is our sensation and perception when interacting with the external world. When we are in the state of consciousness, we rationally think and process information.
Preconsciousness is under the level of conscious awareness. Information stored at the preconscious level is difficult to be aware of, but can potentially be transferred to the conscious mind with additional effort. Preconsciousness also contains information like childhood memories that cannot be recalled immediately.
The subconscious level consists of instinct, desire and lust that people are usually unaware of. This level also holds suppressed memories that are painful to recall. Information stored in the subconsciousness may affect our dreams. Like the submerged part of an iceberg, the subconsciousness operates out of sight but dominates most activities of our minds naturally and actively.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnosis itself is not a therapy, but the relaxation it brings can be beneficial. When combined with other psychotherapies, hypnosis offers a psychotherapeutic solution called hypnotherapy. Besides, hypnosis is commonly combined with other therapeutic approaches including behavioral modification therapy and dynamic therapy to tackle different therapeutic needs of patients.
Instead of a hypnotist, hypnotherapy is carried out by a trained hypnotherapist, who also possesses knowledge and skills of other psychotherapies. Hypnotherapy utilizes the subconscious mind and guides patients to enter a heightened state of awareness where they can explore their hidden feelings, thoughts and memories freely.
Types of hypnotherapy
In the psychological field, hypnotherapy can be classified into 3 major approaches with reference to their techniques, treatment purposes, etc.
- Hypnobehavioral: Also known as behavioral hypnotherapy, it combines hypnosis with traditional behavioral therapy. This type of hypnotherapy is appropriate for clients with less complicated mental health problems such as mild depression.
- Dynamic hypnotherapy: This approach of hypnotherapy is carried out by psychoanalytically-oriented hypnotherapists. Hypnotherapists of this approach have to be sensitive to transference between themselves and the client. This hypnotherapy is suitable for clients with more complicated mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Hypnoanalysis: This type of hypnotherapy combines hypnosis with the Freudian psychoanalysis approach. Similar to dynamic hypnotherapy, hypnoanalysis requires the hypnotherapist to be sensitive to the transference with the client. Most importantly, hypnotherapists will also apply “free association,” a technique that encourages patients to say whatever comes to their minds without thinking.
How does hypnotherapy work?
As implied in its name, hypnotherapy takes place when patients are hypnotized. In the beginning of the process, patients will be guided by a hypnotherapist to transfer from the state of consciousness to the state of unconsciousness. Hypnotherapists will apply “hypnotic suggestions” throughout the therapy to encourage patients to focus on their minds.
Hypnotic suggestions are a psychological process adopted by hypnotherapists to guide the patient’s thoughts, feelings or behavior in the course of hypnotherapy. They are often given verbally by a trained therapist in the form of instructions and invitations.
Since hypnotherapists often combine hypnosis with other psychological counseling elements, the structure of a hypnotherapy session varies with the particular approach (e.g. behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis) used. Hypnotherapists would guide their patients through the session with dialogues and relaxation or focus exercises.
What can hypnotherapy treat?
Hypnotherapy is effective in treating various physical and psychological conditions. In 2016, clinical hypnotherapist Cowen conducted a meta-analysis on 94 journal articles and examined the effectiveness of hypnotherapy. His findings suggested that hypnotherapy is effective for treating physical health conditions including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep issues
Apart from physical conditions, hypnotherapy is also effective in treating psychological conditions like:
Even if you do not have any of the above conditions, hypnotherapy may bring the following benefits to your well-being:
Factors influencing outcomes of hypnotherapy
Despite the effectiveness, the overall outcomes of hypnotherapy can be affected by several factors. The followings are some common factors that may influence the therapeutic outcomes of hypnotherapy:
The initial attitude of the patient on hypnosis plays an essential role in determining whether the patient can experience hypnosis or not. Since motivation is also the willingness to experience hypnosis, patients’ belief in being capable of hypnotic experience is an essential determinant of the overall therapy outcome. In other words, patients who do not believe in hypnosis and hypnotherapy may be less likely to benefit from hypnotherapy.
Hypnotizability and suggestibility
Hypnotizability and suggestibility are essential determinants of the overall effectiveness of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Hypnotizability refers to whether a person can be hypnotized, whereas suggestibility is a person’s responsiveness to the communications of another person. The higher the hypnotizability and suggestibility, the more likely a patient can benefit from hypnotherapy. On the contrary, those with low hypnotizability and suggestibility may find hypnotherapy not much of a help.
How to prepare before hypnotherapy?
Finding a reliable hypnotherapist
The first step is to find a reliable hypnotherapist. If you have friends who have received hypnotherapy before, you might consider their recommendations as personal experience is the best indicator whether a hypnotherapist is suitable for you. Also, make sure the hypnotherapist provides transparent information about the therapy sessions and the fees.
Understand your hypnotizability and suggestibility
Hypnotherapy is generally effective among children because they are highly hypnotizable and suggestible. However, hypnotizability and suggestibility may decrease with age. Adults and elderlies may find it harder to experience hypnotherapy. Before signing up for a session, you may check your hypnotizability and suggestibility using these popular psychological assessments:
Hypnotherapy in Hong Kong
If you are interested in signing up for a hypnotherapy session, please do not hesitate to reach out to hypnotherapists. Below is a list of psychological center in Hong Kong that provides hypnotherapy services (in alphabetical order):
Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic approach that combines hypnosis with other counseling approaches. Hypnotherapy is generally used for treating health problems and has been found effective among patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), alexithymia, anxiety and depression.
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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.