Written by: Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC
There are many ways in which a therapist might try to help a Client. The approach might vary according to the Client’s presenting problem or issue, a Client’s specific goal, or the therapist’s training. Among other things, I was trained as a Clinical Hypnotist, a therapist who uses hypnosis to facilitate change for her Client. Extensive research on Clinical Hypnosis points to its efficacy in helping with sports or artistic performance, weight loss, weakening addictions including smoking, stress management, the reduction of anxiety and depression, and other things.
Some clinicians think that hypnosis can help in the retrieval of lost memories such as those of a trauma survivor. I do not advocate this use of hypnosis because the unconscious mind is factually unreliable. It does not distinguish between objective truth and emotional truth, between actual beings and archetypes, between idea and symbol. It is beautiful, mysterious, and inexact.
Since I first began to use hypnosis in session, my Clients of a certain generation have demonstrated, and even voiced, distrust of the procedure. When questioned, they are often reluctant to admit that they were deeply influenced by the now-famous episode of Scooby Doo in which the evil Ghost Clown in the Barnstorm Circus hypnotized Shaggy, Scooby, and Daphne, forcing them to engage in all manner of dangerous behaviors. For these Clients, I would like to dispel some of the myths and common fears about hypnosis so I can resume this healthful and relaxing approach to personal change.
- No one can make you do anything that you do not want or intend to do. If, during session, I suggested something that you did not like, you would immediately come out of the hypnotic trance. When you see circus or television demonstrations of “hypnosis” where the subject is doing something embarrassing, it is because the subject wants to. If you tell me, “I’ll bet you can’t hypnotize me.”, you are absolutely correct. Hypnosis is contingent upon your desire to be hypnotized. You will have to work carefully with me in order to ensure success.
- Hypnosis is less something that a therapist does to you than it is something that the therapist teaches you to do.
- The hypnotic trance in Clinical Hypnosis is not so deep that my Client will become unconscious as in sleep-walking, or somnambulism. It is a light and restful trance that permits my Client to hear and remember all that I say. In trance, I will tell you some very positive things about your ability to change that will hopefully make changing easier. I will also tell you that you will remember every word that I have said. And you probably will.
- If we decide together that hypnosis might help you, you will not be wandering around town in a hypnotic trance riding a unicycle on top of a circus elephant. At the end of your session, I will direct you as to how to release the trance. I have never had a Client who had difficulty coming out of trance.
How does Clinical Hypnosis work?
To understand that, we must, once again, refer to the conscious versus the unconscious mind. Many researchers believe that our mind is only 5% conscious. Some believe that it is 10% conscious. Others think that the average mind is about 5% conscious but that the minds of geniuses like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking might be 10% conscious. What no one disputes is that a huge percent of the mind is unconscious.
The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of. The unconscious mind holds feelings, thoughts, dreams, urges, and memories of which we are unaware. This includes feelings of pain, conflict, and anxiety. The unconscious influences us in ways that we do not know. The conscious mind might be thought of as the gatekeeper of the unconscious. If your therapist tells you that you can do anything you set your mind to, your conscious mind might argue: No, Lane, that’s ridiculous. I’ve tried before. I’ve tried a million times. I tried last Thursday. I cannot succeed.
Hypnosis seeks to bypass the rational, logical, judgmental, argumentative, gate keeping conscious mind and to influence directly the deep, powerful, primal force of the unconscious.
How does it do that?
During Clinical Hypnosis, the therapist will tell you a story that will keep your conscious mind occupied. During the story, messages to the unconscious about desired changes will be suggested. The conscious mind, occupied by the story, or script, will not argue. The powerful unconscious mind will therefore receive the direct message of positive change.
How can you know if Clinical Hypnosis is right for you?
In the first session, we will do several tests to see how you learn. Are you a visual learner? Are you also sensitive to auditory or olfactory information? Where is your favorite place? What is the best way for you to relax? If, at any point in the session, you feel uncomfortable, we will stop. Many people look forward to session because it is so relaxing.
I hope that I have dispelled some of the Scooby Doo-related myths around hypnosis. I do not want to upset any of my Clients or any of our prospective Clients, but I also think that we have to realize, at some point, that Scooby Doo is not a real dog. I mean, I love the big guy, but he is actually only a cartoon. I am not in any way attempting to minimize his importance as a cultural icon and a key factor in your development, but he is only a figment of our collective imagination. And so is the Ghost Clown. If you are having trouble with this, come and see me. We’ll talk about it.