Hypnosis and hypnotherapy

There are a handful of situations in life for which hypnosis is a wonderfully effective therapeutic tool.

It is very effective at helping you change behaviors that you consider self-defeating but difficult to change despite your wishes.

It is terrific for alleviating phobias, anxieties and other blocks to excellence so that more of your talent and devotion can come through.

And it's a powerful tool for coping through some of the most difficult challenges we face throughout our lives -- pain, cancer, trauma, major surgery and our own aging, as well as separation from and loss of people we love.

There is one common element among the conditions that hypnotherapy helps: Volition. That means the outcome is something you genuinely want. The most skilled hypnotherapist in the world can't make you do anything you really don't want to do. But a good hypnotherapist can truly help you tip the outcome in the direction you want when you are conflicted from fear, pain or habit.

How hypnotherapy works

Throughout the cycle of a day, our brains pass through many different levels of activity. At the low end, we're fast asleep. Toward the high end, we're wide awake, with even greater bursts of intense focus at the peaks. In between, we're relaxed, semi-relaxed, semi-anxious, mostly aware, etc.

Somewhere along this spectrum, closer to sleeping but not quite asleep, are levels of deeply relaxed brain activity we sometimes call: "semi-conscious," "half-awake," "falling asleep." Mostly we welcome being in these intermediate places. We associate them with comfort and security -- a familiar daily passage, both coming and going.

In these stages of deep relaxation, our minds are ripe to take in suggestions -- notions that will register, subconsciously, at relevant moments when we're awake. We won't remember "Oh I heard that in my hypnotherapy session." Rather, the suggestions will just be there among other voices in our head that contribute to shaping how we think, feel and act the next day, the next time that situation comes up.

A skilled hypnotherapist will interject positive suggestions at points that would otherwise trigger thoughts or feelings that are causing you trouble in your life. These won't permanently resolve the underlying cause of your problem -- we'd have to work through the issues in traditional therapy for that. But hypnotherapy will relieve a good portion of the unpleasant or undesired manifestations of these problems, the “symptoms” that are interfering with your ability to live lighter, healthier and happier.

Can anyone be hypnotized?

Every day, every one who sleeps and wakes up passes through those intermediate states of consciousness when our minds can take in suggestions that will register subconsciously when we're fully awake. At those times, just about every one of us could be hypnotized.

To receive hypnotherapy, patients need only relax to that point in our office. For some patients, it can even be done over the phone. Good hypnotherapists know how to facilitate relaxation and a hypnotic state by creating and sustaining a relaxing environment. But if you truly do not want to be hypnotized, nobody can hypnotize you. In these rare cases, we will suggest a different course of therapy.

What will happen to me once I wake up from hypnosis?

Most patients awaken from a hypnotic state feeling an unique combination of energized and relaxed. Some compare it to waking from a nap in which they had extremely active dreams. The feeling may last several hours to several days. Most patients are fully capable of driving a car after hypnotherapy, but if you are highly prone to distraction, or have ever suffered from narcolepsy, you should take public transportation or have someone drive you. Many patients also report especially vivid dreams for one or two nights after hypnotherapy. This is normal and no cause for concern.

In about half of the cases, patients will say right after hypnotherapy that they “feel a little different” about the issue that brought them for therapy in the first place. They may feel “a little less anxious” or “a little more confident” or like they "don’t want that cigarette or cocktail quite as much right now." Other patients will require several sessions before they notice any changes in how they think, feel or behave.

Regardless of which happens in the first visit, most patients require several sessions before the hypnotherapy “sticks” – meaning its effect is strong enough to fully counteract the thoughts and feelings that were creating the problem for which they sought treatment. The good news is that hypnotherapy is rarely open-ended: One patient may need three sessions and another patient with the same condition may need six sessions, but in most cases, the course of therapy is finite and relatively short.