Records of the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes go back at least 6,000 years. Cave paintings have been found showing priests who appear to be in a state of trance; in ancient Egypt, people came to the sleep temples for healing and guidance; in the 18th and early 19th century the hypnotic state was utilised as a sedation tool for surgery; folk healers from indigenous cultures around the world have used elements of ritualised hypnosis in their practices for thousands of years and even Freud explored the benefits of hypnotherapy.
Hypnosis is a state of focus or concentration where awareness of your immediate surroundings is reduced, and the mind/body connection is enhanced. You naturally slip into these trance states throughout the day: when you daydream; getting worked up about something you anticipate might happen in the future, that strange feeling when you are just on the edge of sleep; losing yourself in a good movie; arriving at your destination, not really remembering your journey or when you’ve been listening to someone drone on for a long time and start to zone out.
In the 18th Century, curiosity around hypnotic phenomena spawned a form of parlour entertainment which ultimately evolved into the stage and TV shows that we’re familiar with today.
Whilst hypnotherapy and stage hypnotists utilise the same hypnotic phenomena, your experience in the hypnotherapist’s chair will be a world away from the razmataz and mysticism we’ve come to know from the likes of Derren Brown and Paul Mackenna. Instead, this heightened state of awareness of your inner world, creates opportunities for deep healing and transformation. In the words of one of my clients, ‘I never drifted off into a trance where I was made to crow like a rooster (thanks Paul for that misconception!). Instead, the relaxation techniques enabled me to face my painful experiences in a way that wasn’t overwhelming and actually made me feel quite refreshed.’
The purpose of hypnotherapy is radically different from that of stage hypnosis.
A stage hypnotist wants to entertain their audience, they ‘wake’ participants at the end of the show with no long-term changes. A hypnotherapist, in contrast, will work with you to establish goals for long term change (that might be improving confidence, changing habits, healing trauma, managing stress or anxiety and generally increasing your health and wellbeing).
‘I felt lighter and confident that I have the tools in hand to be able to face any challenge, from telling family members about my infertility struggles to dealing with pregnant colleagues and friends, to even preparing myself for possible fertility treatment’
For entertainment purposes, the stage hypnotist wants to create the illusion of having ‘control’ over their participants. There is a long selection process which weeds out the most suggestible subjects, those who are most likely to go along with the silliness and not disappoint the audience. A hypnotherapist is not interested in pretending they can control you. Instead, they want to help you understand the way the mind works so that you can take control in areas of your life which may have seemed out of your control. Whilst stage hypnotism only ‘works’ on those that are naturally suggestible, effective self-hypnosis techniques can be taught to anybody
‘I felt that you helped me establish a dialogue with my inner self, rather than leading this dialogue yourself. I never had a feeling that you were taking over, but rather that you supported me in exploring my inner resources, for me to be able to access them anytime on my own, whenever I need them.’
‘I very much like to be in control and so thought hypnotherapy wouldn't work for me and it would be a waste of money. Or that I just wouldn't get it and find it uncomfortable or come across as rude if I laughed or something like that. So, I was amazed that, after a few short sessions, I felt so much calmer and for the first time in long time, much more in control. The big benefit for me is that I am now much more aware of how I feel - I am more receptive to how my body feels and how my behaviour changes when I am pushing myself too hard.’
Most people will feel, at least a little, uncomfortable on stage in front of an audience. Add, to this experience, the presence of a mysterious and charismatic character, reputed to have the power of mind control and most people will already be feeling an altered state of sorts. The human tendency to go along with the crowd means that a highly suggestible volunteer is likely to play along.
Hypnotherapy, in contrast is a very relaxing experience. There is no audience, and your hypnotherapist’s goal will be to make you feel comfortable and relaxed as they guide you through the process of change. Unlike stage hypnosis, it is common to come up against resistance in hypnotherapy. Someone may have conflicting desires. For example: the desire to smoke AND the desire to stop smoking. In these instances, the hypnotic state can be a good place to resolve such conflicts and garner motivation.
'My hypnotheraphy experience was life changing! And I don't say that lightly, in only 4 sessions, I felt so comfortable and amazed by how much progress me made. The experience was entirely focused and bespoke to my situation.’
Kerry Dolan Hypnotherapist and nLP practitioner