There is Such a Thing as Therapeutic Hypnosis, and It Could be The Very Thing That Could Serve You Best.
Thanks to Hollywood portrayals, stage-show antics, and a few unethical practitioners, many people either fear or scoff at hypnosis, while others raise an eyebrow in serious skepticism.
Yet hypnosis is a completely natural state. Babies and small children spend a lot of time in a trance. It’s the world of imagination, the place where time gets lost. Adults enter this state every time they become engrossed in a book or movie, get caught up in daydreams, or become enchanted by music. Athletes experience a kind of hypnosis when they find themselves in the zone. Artists, writers, actors and other performers tap into a kind of trance while performing or creating. The ability to access this state is actually what helps them be successful and prolific. We may not typically recognize these events as hypnosis, but that’s essentially what they are. Not unlike meditation, hypnosis bypasses the conscious mind by using deeply focused concentration, allowing distraction to fall away, and permitting the mind to become still. The self-awareness opportunities are vast, opening up portals into one’s subconscious to reveal our truest natures and beliefs. Though hypnosis is a relatively recent term (derived from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep), trance and hypnotic-like states have been utilized since the dawn of history. Ancient peoples of Egypt, Greece, Africa, and Siberia employed trance during cultural rituals, though its most tangible roots weren’t established until the 18th century when healer Franz Mesmer became interested in how measurable physical forces (like magnetism and gravity) could influence human health. “Mesmerism,” as it was then known, induced a sleep-like state in its subjects, a state Mesmer believed he was responsible for creating.
So what is hypnosis, anyway? According to Marc Oster, a clinical psychologist, “Hypnosis is the outcome of a collaborative interpersonal relationship in which one individual, the therapist, facilitates in the other person, a patient or client, an experience that enables them to be open to changes in their thought, feelings or behaviors. This process usually involves three elements in the subject: the ability to focus one’s attention or to concentrate, the ability to separate oneself from surrounding distractions, and an increase in one’s receptiveness to suggestion.”
It is this focused concentration and openness to suggestion that makes therapeutic hypnosis particularly successful in the healing realm. Qualified therapists often use three things during hypnosis – mental imagery, ideas/suggestions, and subconscious exploration. Imagery under hypnosis is very powerful – simply visualizing one’s goals can have a measurable impact on the physical and psychological body. Suggestions are another successful tool, particularly when the therapist is in tune with the patient’s motivations and desires. It is important to note, however, that suggestions which are not compatible with the client’s goals generally fail. In hypnotism, you do not surrender your free will. Last, therapeutic hypnosis allows clients to skirt the conscious mind and deeply explore their innermost motivations; it also allows them to understand the significance of past events or experiences that may be influencing present behavior.Hypnosis is not a magic cure. The individual must be both hypnotizable (most people are), and truly willing to change. Like any therapy, the success of the treatment largely depends on the individual. While one client may need only a couple of sessions to, for example, quit smoking or stop impulsive eating, another may require several appointments or need an additional approach to supplement the hypnosis. Client motivation plays a tremendous role in the outcome. As Oster notes, “If the goal is to be hypnotized and afterward have no interest in food, abundant interest in exercise, and watch the pounds fall away with little concern on your part, then hypnosis may not be very useful. But if you want to use hypnosis to increase your sense of self-control, explore issues relating to your eating problem, and help you integrate all you’re learning about yourself and your problems with food, then yes, hypnosis is good for that.”
A therapeutic hypnosis session is similar to guided meditation. The client is fully awake and alert, but deeply relaxed and focused – breathing becomes slow and even, eyes glaze over and often close. In her book The Pregnant Man and Other Cases from the Hypnotherapist’s Couch (Random House, 1998), Diedre Barrett describes being hypnotized as “a dream with considerably more direction.” Physically, research shows that brain waves slow from Beta into Alpha. Additionally, according to medical doctor Hilary Jones, “Hypnosis is thought to work by altering our state of consciousness in such a way that the analytical left-hand side of the brain is turned off, while the non-analytical right-hand side is made more alert.” In this state, the therapist can directly access the subconscious, offering suggestions in accordance with the client’s goals, seeding them deeply in the mind so that change can occur. Without the censor of the conscious mind, clients are more open to suggestion, more likely to see and accept alternative perspectives to a nagging problem and more likely to allow repressed memories or fears to surface, inviting the possibility for healing.
Stemming from the very obvious need of therapeutic hypnosis for those who are suffering, it’s a pretty short leap to see how it could be incredibly healing and beneficial to bring into the childbirth realm.
The Mongan MethodLike hypnosis, childbirth has suffered a poor reputation thanks to a mythology perpetuated by the media and supported by invasive, disharmonious medical procedures. Women fear childbirth, they believe it to be excruciatingly painful and their fears are compounded by the horror stories of other women. And yet, like hypnosis, childbirth is a completely natural phenomenon. Women survived without modern medicine for centuries with no assistance from doctors, midwives, or medication.
Enter HypnoBirthing, a method developed by lifelong educator and counselor Marie Mongan who, after birthing four children, realized she was using a kind of self-hypnosis to guide her through labor. HypnoBirthing classes are similar to other childbirth classes, except that instructors are trained to re-educate the parents about birthing anatomy and equip them with the tools to use hypnosis during delivery. Using music, visual imagery, and post-hypnotic suggestions, the couple literally reprograms their understanding of the birthing process, and thanks to hypnosis, the woman is completely alert and fully relaxed throughout labor. As Marie Mongan says, “Hypnosis teaches women to bring their bodies into a state of total relaxation, to release the horror stories and fear, and to access their natural ability to birth.”
By removing her fear and anxiety, HypnoBirthing prohibits the fight-or-flight response that most women enter during labor. Instead, the mother is taught to focus on her body and her baby, to tune out distractions, and literally work with nature. Birth companions are taught prompts, which help deepen her trance, and are integrally involved from beginning to end.
Client response is overwhelming. Many women report feeling little or no pain, and their time in labor is usually a fraction of what most women experience. Often, the medical staff is flabbergasted at how quickly and easily babies are birthed this way. Parents love it for obvious reasons, and doctors are coming around too. After all, if the birth progresses is quicker and less painless, their jobs are easier too.
By Tanya M. Williams
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