Hypnotherapy, The Unconscious Mind & The Fear of Losing Control:

People often ask me how it is that, despite the thousands of research papers and positive results achieved through hypnotherapy, hypnosis is still not available through the NHS in the UK.

And I believe that the answer comes down to the money to develop and provide it and train staff and so on, and misunderstanding about what hypnosis actually is and what it involves.

A few months back I was talking to a prominent mental health advocate who told me that, although he felt he needed therapeutic help with an issue that hypnotherapy is well suited for, he was worried about being 'out of control' during the hypnosis. Now this is a mental health advocate who speaks at schools and other organisations yet who was unaware that the science and practice of hypnotherapy is, in fact, the opposite of his perception. You learn how to take back control over your thoughts and feelings and 'mind' rather than seemingly having to just live with anxiety, stress and worry. 

And if those within the mental health profession don't get it then no wonder hypnotherapy is where it is (despite all the positive scientific evidence in its favour and despite the research that shows that hypnosis tends to increase the results of cognitive behavioural therapy). Although interestingly I've worked with many doctors, some of whom have even sent their patients and their kids to work with me, so perhaps there is a growing understanding of the role that hypnotherapy can play in improving our mental health.

 

With regard to the mind control thing, sure stage hypnosis and the Derren Browns of this world can make things appear that way sometimes. People seemingly do crazy things on TV shows and stage shows that incorporate hypnosis. Yet often all we see or remember are the best bits and, on TV, the takes that work. The confidence of the hypnotist is a factor as is the perception of the person being hypnotised of that person. There can be elements of expectation towards certain behaviours as well as social expectation that means people do things because they are expected to by the crowd. 

Yet in a therapeutic context, hypnotherapy is very much all about the individual. Without you doing something, nothing happens at all. For hypnosis to be successful you need to access your cognitions and engage your imagination and focus. You need to want to change and provide a level of commitment and motivation.

I've written before how research has demonstrated and proven that hypnosis is voluntary and conscious (check out that article and research here: Hypnosis is Conscious and Voluntary). 

In the same way that your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and beliefs support having ongoing issues such as anxiety, by employing these same psychological capabilities in different ways, you can learn how to change what you experience and develop the abilities and strategies to achieve your goals and maintain them.

As far back as 1965, the psychologist Hilgard wrote, "Hypnosis depends more on the efforts and abilities of the subject than on the skill of the hypnotist."

And more recently, Eason has written about how "the hypnotised individual does not respond mechanically to suggestions given, but rather in an active and goals-directed manner" and how "we are ultimately in control of how suggestions affect and influence us" (in 'The Science of Self Hypnosis, The Evidence Based Way to Hypnotise Yourself).

I also think there are two specific things that some hypnotherapists do that keep the profession held back from advancing in the fields of psychology and mental health.

Firstly, I've noticed a growing tendency within the hypnotherapist profession for making success claims, particularly on social media, that don't stand up to scrutiny. For example, the other day a hypnotherapist posted how their client had just left their session and was now 'free of their previous fear of flying'. Which may be true of course, but how can the hypnotherapist or the client know that until the client actually flies on a plane? I don't know about you but if I had a fear of flying I wouldn't be convinced it was gone until I'd stepped foot into a plane. Interestingly these claims always come from the therapist singing their own praises rather than being supported by a written or video testimonial from the client. 

Someone is not a non-smoker because they didn't light up during the session or fancy one when they left. Someone is not free of anxiety because they felt calmer after their hypnotherapy session. Someone is not free of fear because they can think of something without their old reaction.

And there are many, many more examples like this where success claims are made without any substance or thoroughness behind them. A session may be very successful, these people may be the best hypnotherapists on the planet, changes may have been achieved, and yet until someone goes into that situation or circumstance then it devalues therapy and the hypnotherapy profession to make such flimsy claims too early and without cleint feedback or any opportunity of putting the session techniques and coping strategies into place.

Yet despite that, I think that the biggest thing holding back the hypnotherapy profession is the notion of the 'unconscious mind' or 'subsconscious mind.' Certainly we do things non-consciously such as breathe and digest and move and so on. We are creatures of habit and pattern and tend to do the same things in similar situations, which can make it difficult to change sometimes. We have beliefs, expectations, a sense of indentity, our own experiences, imagination, values and motivations and a whole host of other psychological things that help us structure our lives, make decisions and get stuff done.

Yet nowhere within us do we have an actual thing called the unconscious mind, nor do we need it to explain what we do within hypnotherapy or to get positive results.

If you went to the doctor with anxiety and he suggested you work on changing your unconscious mind you'd probably wonder what was going on. If he sent you to a surgeon to sort your habit or thinking patterns or behaviours and the surgeon offered to operate on your unconscious mind then you'd probably be hesitating over signing the consent to operate form. And if you doctor told you that the medication for your anxiety, depression or pain worked by acting on your unconscious mind then you may well decide they wouldn't help you.

The fact is that the notion of unconscious mind is not necessary and, because it isn't really a thing (and so is at best a metaphor and at worst a made up way of quickly passing over stuff that the hypnotherapist doesn't understand) it just makes the profession look a bit silly if you ask me. Far better to draw upon science, evidence and how our minds actually work rather than, calling upon what William James (way back in 1890) referred to as “The sovereign means for believing what one likes in psychology and of turning what might become a science into a tumbling ground for whimsies.”

The fact is that hypnosis and hypnotherapy help you to take control over your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. By taking control you can use your normal psychological processes in more beneficial ways that help you make the decisions, take the actions and achieve what you set out to achieve. And with so much scientific evidence already available and continuing to grow to support hypnosis, there really is no need to keep perpetuating old misconceptions, making unsubstantiated claims or relying on made up things to explain what we do.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

  

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