I confess that I am not a big fan of hypnosis, certainly not to the extent that I view cognitive behavioral therapy, which I view as being more rational and logical.
My father enjoyed hypnosis, and I think that he even learned how to hypnotize and to engage in parlor tricks. Perhaps it was this that turned me away from hypnosis.
However, it is for these very reasons that I can be more objective and less gullible and to provide you with more relevant, useful and helpful information and advice.
The history of hypnosis is certainly on its side. It originated, most likely, by the Hindus in ancient India, or perhaps by the people in ancient Egypt or Greece. Perhaps the first written document of something akin to hypnosis was done by Avicenna, a Persian psychologist and physician, about 1,000 years ago.
Hypnosis was popularized by Franz Mesmer, from whom he get the word “mesmerized” and, more recently, by Emile Coue who originated the autosuggestion “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”.
It is now used in a variety of ways, generally categorized as military applications; stage hypnosis (or hypnosis for entertainment, as my father did); self-hypnosis (or autosuggestion); and hypnotherapy, which is done by educated and trained professionals.
It is this last option (and, perhaps to a more limited and amateurish degree, self-hypnosis) that can treat a variety of both physical and mental conditions such as eating disorders, sleep disorders, compulsive gambling, smoking, weight management, fears and phobias, addictions, habit control, pain management, relaxation, skin disease, sports performance, irritable bowel syndrome and most pertinently to this article–anxiety, depression, grief and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are generally three steps to a hypnotic session or hypnotherapy: the induction, the suggestion and the “coming back”. These can be shown in a session designed for self-hypnosis to treat anxiety and depression.
1) Get comfortable, but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep. Lying on the floor, bed or mat with your arms at your side, or sit in a straight backed chair with your hands in your lap. Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing each part of your body, from your head to your toes.
2) Picture the most relaxing place or situation that you can imagine, a warm beach, a forest stream, the mountains, a peaceful garden or any other place that appeals to you. It is important that you feel at ease and calm there.
3) Approach this step-by-step. So that you do not distract yourself by thinking about what you are saying, it is better to have already recorded yourself in descending into this place. Especially if you follow the recordings, make sure that they are slow and gradual; it should not be rushed.
4) Imagine yourself in this environment (the warm beach, etc), and then descending ten steps down from that place to your own place. Count each step slowly and gradually, and with each step, tell yourself to become more and more relaxed. The counting ought to be slow and gradual to let your body and mind acclimate to the calm and peace that you are creating.
You have now reached the tenth step, and are at your most calm, relaxed and peaceful state. Take some time to “smell the flowers”, to feel and experience every great thing that this place has to offer. Then state (and again, it ought to be on your pre-recorded voice) that you are peaceful, happy and perfectly in control of your life and that you can easily cope with everything that happens.
Once you are ready, pinch the fold of the skin between your thumb and first finger of one of one of your hands. Then repeat the statement (that you are peaceful, happy etc.) and that you can relax at will, simply by pinching my right/left hand and thinking of this place.
When you feel ready, imagine yourself climbing up the steps slowly and gradually as you count backwards from 10 to 0 (with zero being the everyday world), all the while understanding that you can return to this place whenever you want to. In the future, if you ever begin to experience anxiety, a panic attack or depression then just pinch the fold of skin between your thumb and first finger on your right/left hand and you will feel as you did in that special place that you created for yourself.
But what is hypnosis? Hypnosis is generally regarded as being a psychological or altered mental state, perhaps akin to being in an alpha, theta or delta wave of consciousness (as opposed to our more normal beta wave in our brains). Perhaps the most accurate, objective and verifiable description is that it is imaginative role-enactment.
The advantages of hypnosis are that your attention is more focused; you are more open to suggestions and less critical or disbelieving; and you are more able to understand and control things that had been outside of your control. There have been numerous studies on the efficacy of hypnosis and even studies on such studies.
One such exhaustive study concluded that 37% of patients benefitted from hypnosis even without additional treatment. When additional treat was added, then hypnosis benefited 64% of patients. The disadvantage is that if you do not not believe in it then it will not work for you. My father and all hypnotists acknowledge that if you do not think that you can be hypnotized then you cannot be hypnotized. For me and for these people, it is no better than a placebo.