What is Clinical Hypnotherapy, Really?

You’re getting very sleepy…

If that’s what you think about when you hear the words, “Clinical Hypnotherapy,” you aren’t alone.

We all imagine someone putting us to sleep and taking control over our minds, making us dance like a chicken or quack like a duck. Or worse, maybe someone implanting memories or opening our minds to evil spirits!

With all of these negative images floating around, it makes sense that when we hear the word hypnotherapy, we might quickly dismiss the idea altogether. But what if I told you that clinical hypnotherapy wasn’t like that at all?

So, if it’s not making you quack like a duck – what is it?

Well, let me share with you what Clinical Hypnotherapy actually looks like and a few ways that it can be surprisingly beneficial to your life.

All hypnosis is self-hypnosis

When I first heard about hypnotherapy years ago, I thought the idea of someone putting me to sleep, taking over my mind, and “re-programming” me to overcome my fears or to change my bad habits sounded fabulous. But even though I wanted someone to just put me to sleep and do some “magic,” I didn’t really believe it was possible.

Because relaxing or meditating never came easy to me, I thought it was impossible for me to relax enough to let go of control and give the reins to someone else. 

All I had ever known about hypnosis was what I’d seen on TV, where stage Hypnotists performed tricks, demonstrating their abilities to put people in deep trances to do silly things they normally would never do.

So, if they both hypnotize, then what's the difference?

Both Hypnotists and Clinical Hypnotherapists both use relaxation and concentration to access the subconscious, but it’s what happens once you reach that relaxed state where they differ.

The people I help with hypnotherapy do not lose consciousness — although rarely, people might fall asleep because they are not used to being in such a relaxed state!

But the goal is actually to maintain a dual awareness, being connected to your subconscious in order to create an internal experience while maintaining awareness that you are safe in the room with your therapist.

In an article for TIME health,” Dr. David Spiegel says that hypnosis is like “…when you become so absorbed in a movie that you forget you’re watching one at all, like you have entered an imagined world.” 

However, there is a part of your consciousness that knows you are sitting in a theater with a group of people, and that is brought back into the forefront of your mind when someone laughs or coughs loudly.

The thing that people might not realize is that although there are different levels of trance, a Hypnotist cannot make people do anything against their will. Hypnotists know that although hypnosis might not work on everyone, it does work on the majority, and there are people who have fewer inhibitions and higher levels of suggestibility and openness.

Through studying human behavior, stage hypnotists can are usually able to pick out people that fit that description from an audience based on their body language and the way they behave or respond in situations.

So, what makes people quack like a duck?

According to Dr. David Spiegel, three things happen to the brain in hypnosis.

First, the part of your brain “which fires up when there is something to worry about, actually simmers down during hypnosis.”

Secondly, the part of your brain which helps with planning and carrying out routines connects with the part that helps regulate body functions like blood pressure and heart rate. As Spiegel points out, “this suggests that your brain is intensifying its connection to your body.” 

The third thing that happens is that other areas of the brain become less connected, such as the part that is involved in self-reflection, allowing people to act without reflecting on their actions.

The important thing to remember is that people under hypnosis have not lost their ability to make their own choices.

I make sure that all of my clients know that they are in complete control of their experience; I am simply their guide to help them access and utilize the power of their subconscious.

In other words, they already have the resources and answers within, but what they need help with is finding them and learning how to use them.

Your mind is more powerful than you think

If you have any doubt about the power of your mind, let me give you an example. Dr. Becky Beaton, Ph.D., Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Stress Management Institute in Marietta, GA and my trainer in Clinical Hypnotherapy, gave me a session as a demonstration to help me overcome my fear of cockroaches, and the results have been truly amazing.

Now, listen, I’m not going to start making friends with cockroaches or keeping them as pets, but they have lost a lot of the power they once had to send me into a panic.

In our session, Dr. Beaton inserted a “surprise” into my subconscious while imagining spotting a cockroach across the room.

She transformed the cockroach into a cartoon character, waving to me with an antenna, saying “Hi Rebecca,” and then using the antenna to sweep the floor. I was able to visualize a cockroach as something akin to Jiminy Cricket, and it made me laugh out loud.

It used to be that if I saw something that even remotely resembled a cockroach, like a spot or some innocuous black thread on the carpet, I would scream, run frantically out of rooms, and knock over anything or anyone in my path. And if I then realized it really wasn’t a cockroach, it would still take some time for my heart rate and breathing to go back to normal and for my logical brain to get back online.

It was very clear that the  “danger” didn’t have to be real for me to have the same stress reaction. The power of my imagination was sufficient to scare me senseless.

As I found out later, the opposite was also true.

I was working in Alaska, during the dark of winter, waiting in front of my hotel for my co-worker to drive around to pick me up. Shivering in the cold, I looked up and noticed a puppy in a window.

I thought, “Awwww, so sweet,” and I felt warmth throughout my body as I smiled. I stood watching for a few moments, basking in the warm feelings, and I noticed the puppy wasn’t moving.  

I moved in closer and squinted through the darkness until I figured out that I wasn’t looking at a puppy at all. It was a pillow!

This moment changed my life because, I realized that the same power that my imagination had to scare me also had the ability to calm me down and even produce positive emotions. My imagination alone could create a relaxation response.

Clinical Hypnotherapy is about learning to be your own healer

My first time experiencing hypnosis was years ago, before I even considered becoming a Clinical Hypnotherapist. I didn’t know what to expect as I struggled to get comfortable on the couch. I had chosen to work on the isolation I felt because of my hearing loss and my decision to get a cochlear implant.

A fellow therapist, who had recently completed his Clinical Hypnotherapy certification, helped me relax deeply into state of highly-focused attention and led me on a journey where I found myself in a meadow of wildflowers next to a sturdy oak tree.

In my imagination, I eventually went inside this tree and could feel the healing power of nature, realizing I didn’t need to hear to receive this healing energy and feel a connection to something outside of me. The structure of the tree gave me strength and support to stand tall and ask for what I needed.

When it was time to leave the tree behind, I felt an incredible loss until my friend explained that I could return to the tree anytime I needed to with the power of my own mind.

It was an incredible relief to know that I didn’t need anyone else to take me there. All I had needed was someone to show me how to get there, to lead me until I could find my own way.

You know, my original desire to have someone else heal me was because I thought it would be easy. But the truth is, healing is much easier when you are not dependent on someone else to make it happen.

With clinical hypnotherapy, all you need is a good teacher that you trust and the willingness to learn a new skill with an open mind.

What does a Clinical Hypnotherapy session look like?

Because this trust is so important in therapy, it’s a very good idea to first have an intake session with a therapist and get know each other a little. This way, the therapist can address your concerns, and your clear goals for hypnotherapy can be established.

During my intake sessions, I ask several questions to gather information about a person’s life. Their support network, any spiritual beliefs, people or animals that provide comfort.

We discuss times in their life when they have felt confident and strong, and what their life would look like without their current struggle.

I will make a note of the specific words they use so we can use those to forge meaningful connections throughout the hypnotherapy session. This helps to create a manifestation of what they desire as if it were happening in the present. Using these positive suggestions when the mind is most relaxed is what allows the subconscious to absorb them more fully so that they are experienced and retained for later.

And when it comes time for a session, there is nothing hidden or kept secret from my clients. They are actively participating in the process by sharing the information I need to help them and by working with me in relaxing their bodies and opening their minds.

I also encourage clients to record their hypnotherapy sessions to take home and listen to whenever they want in order to reinforce the positive suggestions.

What kind of issues can Clinical Hypnotherapy help with?

Almost any issue that brings a person to therapy can be addressed and many times resolved through Clinical Hypnotherapy. It can be very useful for common issues such as managing stress or chronic pain, overcoming phobias, losing weight, building confidence, and stopping negative habits, such as smoking.

Many people find it useful for changing a behavior, like becoming more assertive in relationships or getting a better handle on time management. It can be an effective treatment for children and teens as well for issues such as test anxiety and overcoming peer pressure.

However, there are some times when a Clinical Hypnotherapist will not recommend hypnotherapy, for say, a person who is experiencing delusions or hallucinations.

But a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist is trained in assessing whether or not hypnotherapy would be beneficial or harmful for a person and will be able to make that clear.

How many hypnotherapy sessions would I need to fix my problem?

It’s always hard to say how many sessions exactly it will take for someone to achieve their therapeutic goals, but hypnotherapy can often lead to quicker results because it cuts through all of the surface thoughts to the subconscious to create an actual different experience in the present moment.

Often times, people notice huge benefits after a single session. Others might need a few sessions over a period of time, in order to resolve complex issues.

I would encourage you, if you’re interested in trying clinical hypnotherapy, or want to find out if it would help you, to meet with a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist to discuss the issue you want to address, and they can help you decide if it would be beneficial.

I’d love to hear from you!

Was there anything I mentioned about hypnotherapy that surprised you?