Relaxation in hypnotherapy

Hypnosis as it is practised refers to an interaction between two people, one of whom is identified as the hypnotist, the other as the subject/client, (P2 Hypnotherapy handbook, by Heap and Dryden). Hypnosis is a process in which psychological, mental emotions, reactions and behaviour are changed to improve health and positive wellbeing. During this essay I will talk about the history and what the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis are. Further to that I will be discussing the role of relaxation in hypnotherapy, why some of us are more susceptible and how hypnosis has been used in medicine, as well as the comparisons to hypnosis today.

We have all been in a hypnotic state however most do not notice it because, at the time, it seemed a natural state of mind. However, the hypnotic state is natural for all humans and many animals. Neurologists believe that the left side of the brain is where the logical control centre of the brain exists (conscious mind), and the right side of the brain controls creativity (subconscious mind)(.website ,, hypnosis how does it work, clinical hypnosis and memory: guidelines for clinicians and forensic hypnosis by D. Corydon Hammond)

This supports the idea that under hypnosis the conscious mind takes a back seat and the sub conscious mind takes over, e.g. when you are driving yourself along a familiar road past your exit, or you suddenly became aware of yourself behind the wheel and wondered where you were going. Everything we learn is stored in our subconscious. Because we have already learned to drive, our driving skill is stored in our subconscious (p11 hypnosis for change by Hadley and Staudacher) and our conscious mind drifts off, allowing our subconscious to become more active.

When your attention is needed to avoid something in the road, your conscious mind comes back into play again. Whenever you do anything automatic, your conscious mind is diverted from your subconscious and you are more likely to go into a hypnotic state. Hypnosis gives us the ability to tap into the workings of the subconscious mind.

The modern day image of hypnosis has been greatly influenced by many in history- the first by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815). Mesmer developed healing by “animal magnetism “and the word “mesmerism” directly came from Franz Anton Mesmer. He would apply magnets to patient’s bodies to heal them. Mesmer believed he was generating the cures he produced not the physical forces via magnets.

Mesmer was a charismatic showman with his theatrical shows which we now recognise as stage hypnosis. (P6 psychotherapeutic counselling-year one-module one 1-1 07/2010 SC) This image is often wrongly associated with hypnosis. It is not helped by the media, e.g. Darren Brown / Paul McKenna. My own first impression of Hypnosis was the image presented by the media; however, starting this course I have much more of an understanding.

The next person to influence modern day hypnosis was French psychiatrist Leon Chertok with Puysegur in 1785. They worked on the principles that it was not necessary for patients to have convulsions and that the words were enough. The magnetist needed to listen to his patient because often clients re-experience painful feelings and the clients needed to be seen regularity. The magnetist had to be neutral and patient and the symptoms might return temporarily. This all still applies today; the therapist needs to be aware of the client’s individual needs. In 1843 – James Braid, an English doctor from Manchester, renamed magnetism/mesmerism as hypnosis- “Hypnos”, was the Greek word for god of sleep in 1840.

This is maybe where the false thought that the client will be asleep whilst in a hypnotic state came from; we will look at this later. Braid first thought that under hypnosis the nervous system was linked to certain cures by suggestion. He later dismissed the theory. Braids came across his technique “hypnosis” by chance as he found a patient transfixed by the light in his waiting room. When he asked the patient to close his eyes and sleep, the patient did so. Sigmund Freud studies convinced him that humans have powerful hidden mental processes, the theory that formed the basis of his later works.

Freud supported the use of hypnosis and he used it in his work with the use of non-verbal inductions. By the mid – 1890’s he had given up hypnosis as it fell out of favour. Modern day acceptance of hypnosis in medicine that we now have owes a great debt to research starting in the 1920’s and 30’s by Clark Hull and his student Milton Erickson. Erickson went on to become the recognised leading authority on hypnosis- the master of indirect hypnosis. He was able to put a person into a trance without mentioning the word hypnosis. Erickson’s approach is widely accepted as the most effective techniques.

When clients have hypnotherapy, changes happen in the brain. Science has given us a way to measure the electrical activity of the brain and the electroencephalography (EEG) is often used for brain damaged patients and other conditions. The first EEG was recorded in 1929 by Hans Berger. It gave us the electrical activity of the brain known as brain waves (p10 year one-module one).

There are four main types of brain wave: the fastest beta 15-40 cycles per second when we are engaging in active conversation, Alpha waves 9 -14 when we are relaxed or at times of creativity and Theta waves 4 -8 cycles per second during dreaming and some meditative states. Theta waves are associated with our subconscious mind where we hold all our past experiences, thought and behaviour patterns. When we are in Theta we can experience deep relaxation and deep hypnosis. Delta waves have 1 -4 cycles per second and are produced in our subconscious mind when we are in the deepest state of rest, detached awareness and sleep.

When we sleep we go from Beta through to Delta and when we wake we reverse the process. Research has shown that one type of wave will predominate depending on the individual. Alpha and Theta are most commonly seen in hypnotised clients enabling the therapist to access the subconscious mind.

Most people can be hypnotized; however some of us are more susceptible to suggestion than others. We need to believe in hypnoses, however, I do not think this is necessary to benefit from hypnosis. We need to trust our therapist, feel safe and have the ability to concentrate and focus our mind. If we are conformist in life we are more likely to be more susceptible to suggestions in hypnosis than non-conformist.

This is because if you are conformist, you will conform to rules or groups as studies – by Solomon Asch in 1951, who performed experiments on seven participants. Where only one was a true participant followed the wrong answer the other participants gave, even though it was obvious which one was correct. This tells us that people are likely to conform to avoid feeling anxiety, e.g. Darren Brown’s show on BBC2, the experiment on conformity.

Being part of a group affects our sense of right and wrong. His BBC2 programme on the 30th October showed we have the capacity for evil and whether or not being part of a group affects our sense of right and wrong. He demonstrates that when we are in a group, we often do make decisions that normally would go against our beliefs. It was a very powerful modern day example of conformity. Hypnosis entails a degree of conformity or compliance on the subject’s part. This is why as a therapist, it is important to be aware of the influence we have over clients. A client who is being hypnotised is likely to conform to the wishes of the hypnotist to avoid feelings of anxiety uncertainty and embarrassment.

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