Hypnosis is a state of consciousness brought about by deep relaxation or where the client becomes focused internally. In this state, the mind is usually more open to the process of change. As such, a client and therapist can safely work together using an agreed approach to enhance mental, physical and emotional well-being.
What can Hypnotherapy treat?
Hypnotherapy is most often used to help with a wide range of disorders including:
- phobias and irrational fears
- social difficulties such as lack of confidence
- eating disorders
- stress-related physical problems including skin
disorders, migraine and irritable bowel syndrome
- disorders of mood, thought and feeling
- panic attacks and depression
- as pain relief by dentists and surgeons (some women learn self-hypnosis to help them through labour)
- achieving personal growth and rebuilding self-esteem
- managing personal crises such as miscarriage, bereavement, redundancy, divorce
- children are very susceptible to hypnosis and hypnotherapy can be used to treat bedwetting and asthma
Viennese physician Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) is the usually acknowledged forerunner of modern hypnotherapy. Mesmer’s contemporaries attributed his successes in ‘mesmerism’ to his manipulation of a client’s imagination but, during the nineteenth century, his work was followed by several doctors who used hypnosis, not only to treat psychological illness, but also as anaesthetic for surgical operations. Hypnotism was brought to the UK in the late nineteenth century by Dr James Braid who coined the terms hypnotism (from the Greek hypnos meaning sleep). Braid practised it frequently, even prior to surgery. Sigmund Freud used hypnosis in his early work but later preferred to work with the client fully conscious. In the Fifties and Sixties, US psychotherapist Milton H Erickson developed a form of hypnotherapy which stresses the interactional nature of therapy. Therapist and client work together to solve the problem and the resources and capabilities of each individuals are recognised and used. This is known as the Ericksonian approach and is increasingly used throughout the world.
Under hypnosis, the conscious, rational part of the brain is temporarily less active, thus allowing the subconscious part to become more receptive to positive suggestion. Hypnotherapists claim it is impossible to hypnotize anyone against their will. The client is generally aware of his or her surroundings and can choose to come out of hypnosis at any time. No responsible hypnotherapists will try to hypnotise anyone against their will.
Hypnotherapy may be used on its own as simple relaxation therapy or it may be integrated with schools of psychological thought, creating an integrative approach suitable for treating a wide range of more complex psychological conditions. In 1997, the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy formally endorsed a new term, hypno-psychotherapy as "a branch of psychotherapy which uses hypnosis".
If only simple relaxation therapy is required, then someone with a basic hypnotherapy training should be able to help. More complex emotional, psychological or physical problems may require the skills of a fully qualified hypno-psychotherapist.
Consultation and treatment
At the first session, the hypnotherapist will take a full medical history and will ask about physical and mental health, your problem and your motivation to resolve your problem.
During the hypnosis session itself, you will be invited to relax in armchair or couch and will then be guided into a state of deep physical and mental relaxation. There are several methods for inducing a state of hypnosis including counting techniques and creative visualisation. Once hypnotised, the therapist will work on changing your emotional responses by suggesting a series of positive rather than negative thoughts and images. A hypno-psychotherapist may incorporate any of a wide range of psychological techniques during hypnosis such as dream analysis, Gestalt techniques and cognitive behavioural techniques.
A session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes and usually takes place once a week. The average number of sessions required is between three and four, depending on the condition being treated. Treatment for relatively simple disorders such as migraines and addictions such as smoking should need no more than six sessions. More complex problems may need more sessions.
Costs start at £30 for an hour. Hypnotherapists who also have medical or dental training may charge over £60 per hour.
Most people can learn to induce hypnosis for themselves. Self-hypnosis can be used to relax in stressful situations, foster self-confidence and deal with pain during labour. The technique can be learnt from books and tapes but it is always useful to consult a hypnotherapist first.
How to find a practitioner
At the moment, anyone can set up in practice as a hypnotherapist without undergoing any formal training. It is vital that you choose a trustworthy, qualified practitioner.
There is currently a wide range of hypnotherapy training courses available. These vary from correspondence courses to well-intentioned but limited brief or intensive courses in hypnotherapy. Dentists, doctors and psychologists who are interested in using hypnosis in their work can undertake training over several weekends throughout their careers.
A good quality training will be externally accredited and recognised by one of the major independent bodies such as the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the Institute for Complementary Medicine (ICM). Three training organisations fall within these categories: Centre Training School in Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy; National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy; and the National School of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy.
Members of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis (BSMDH) and the British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis are clinically trained. Both societies, as well as the National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists, can send you a list of practitioners in your areas. The Central Register of Advanced Hypnotherapists provides its full UK register of practitioners together with an explanatory booklet on request.
Accredition varies from society to society. The BSMDH, for example, involved training over a period of three years amounting to some 14 days. During this time, practical experience is gained with hypnosis in their practice in a field where they already have professional competence to advise and treat patients. A written presentation is followed by an oral examination by two assessors. Accredited members are required to maintain a level of continuing education.
While many lay practitioners are highly experienced and competent, it is wise to be treated by a clinically trained hypnotherapist.
You can be referred to a doctor or psychologist trained as a hypnotherapist on the NHS.
People with certain psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or serious psychological disorders should never undergo hypnosis. In these cases, a competent therapist may recommend an alternative form of psychotherapy or modify their technique. If you suffer from a chornic disorder, either physcial or mental, go to a doctor first.
Hypnosis may sometimes cause an ‘abreation’, bringing back echoes of someone’s past that may be deeply disturbing.
It is vital that you choose a trustworthy, qualified practitioner.