Let’s face it. If you are ever asked if you have experienced hypnosis, you may ask three questions back:
1) What is hypnosis?
2) Is it dangerous?
3) Why would I do it?
These are fair queries – exactly the ones you should ask your counselor if ever hypnotherapy were offered to you. At first brush, hypnosis will feel scary. Most certainly you would have seen it done on television or the stage, where magicians have dazzled their subjects into obeying such unsettling commands as “cluck like a hen” or even “shoot your wife.” That’s hypnosis for entertainment, for goodness sake! It’s done – and, yes, hypnosis can do those things to people (read on, because this is not the complete picture).
But I am not talking about hypnosis.
It’s hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis I am keen to tell you about. Put another way, this is about counselors who use therapeutic hypnosis, or hypnotic techniques, to help clients become better emotionally and behaviorally. According to Boyne (1989), author of Transforming Therapy, hypnotherapy “is a natural approach that uses the client’s present resources and strengths to further and accomplish meaningful goals”. Hypnosis is used to improve treatments for many conditions in adults and children, including: phobias, fears and (post-trauma) anxiety; sleep disorders; depression; stress; and grief and loss. It is used also to control pain and alter habits such as overeating and smoking. (WebMD, 2009). In positive psychology, it is a tool used to boost confidence and other positive emotions.
Even so, you are probably wondering if a hypnotist can brainwash you, control your mind and actions, make you reveal shameful secrets and never bring you back to “normal” again. In short, many people fear a loss of control.
That should be the least of their fears. In hypnotherapy, the client is the one who has the control (Eastburn, 2010). In fact, the entire therapeutic process is set up to ensure the client makes the decisions, with the therapist being merely facilitating the decision-making. According to Boyne (1989), quoting the United States Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles, the hypnotherapist “consults with client to determine the nature of problem.” She “prepares client to enter hypnotic states by explaning how hypnosis works and what client will experience. She “tests subjects to determine degrees of physical and emotional suggestibility (and) induces hypnotic techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of client’s problem.” She “may train client in self-hypnosis conditioning” (Boyne). Every step is geared toward determining if the cilent desires hypnotherapy and is ready for it. It is never foisted on him.
As for whether during hypnosis, the client will ever reveal, against his will, hidden secrets, the issue of control again rears its head. There are two ways to address this. One is to tell you that “usually in hypnosis the client isn’t speaking unless we are doing an interactive process (when the client and therapist communicate during trance)” (Eastburn, 2010). Not speaking makes revealing secrets highly unlikely. If the client were to speak, it would be because he chooses to do so (just like he would choose to cluck like a hen or divulge that he would wish to shoot his wife). In trance, the client never loses control. But let’s say he accidentally tells a secret. Then what? Here’s the second answer: Hypnotists are bound by professional ethics to keep client confidentiality. Privacy violations are reportable to the therapist’s certifying body (Eastburn). Ultimately, client privacy is protected in hynotherapy.
Some clients fear getting stuck in trance, condemned by the therapist’s mind tricks to stay in a perpetual Esdaile state (Eastburn, 2010) . The simple solution is to remind the client that he controls the process: he decides when to go into trance and again decides when to emerge from it. The hynotherapist simply steers him with the right techniques. The reason some clients stay in trance is because they don’t want to emerge from it yet, according to Eastburn. It feels so good to be in the Esdaile state that they want to stay there and luxuriate in the good feelings (Eastburn). They will awake when they are ready. Some hypnotherapists jokingly suggest reminding clients that they charge by the hour.
Along the way, most hypnotherapists will meet challenging clients who, despite coming forth for therapy, will insist they cannot be hypnotized. Hypnotherapists regard such a statement with great skepticism. Only three things are required for formal hypnosis to be successful (Eastburn, 2010): an ability to follow simple instructions; a desire to be hypnotized and have emotional and behavioral change occur; and an IQ of above 70 (Eastburn). Unless the client is mentally handicapped or unwilling to receive therapy, most clients will be able to go into trance.
Boyne, G. (1989). Transforming Therapy: A New Approach to Hypnotherapy. Glendale, California: Westwood Publishing.
Eastburn, D. (2010). What Is Hypnosis? (Really), Westminster: Trafford Publishing.
WedMD. (2009). Hypnosis – Topic Overview. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/tc/hypnosis-topic-overview.