Hypnosis is a highly misunderstood practice. When you ask most people what they think hypnosis is, their answer strongly resembles the images seen in a late-night horror movie or a Las Vegas stage act. They have a vision of Bela Lugosi’s eyes staring intently, forcing a person to do things against their will. Or they have the misconception that a hypnotist will put them in a sleeplike trance where they have no control and no memory of it later. Some religions go so far as to claim it is the work of the devil.
The word “hypnosis” is derived from the Greek word hypnos, which means sleep, although hypnosis is not a state of sleep. Hypnosis is in no way a new practice. Stone carvings of sleep temples have been found dating back as far as 1000 B.C. In these temples, high priests put worshippers to “sleep.” The worshippers were then given the suggestion that while they slept, some god or entity would come to them and they would be healed—and they usually were. Sleep temples became very popular with the Greeks and Romans from 400 to 100 B.C.
Hypnotic techniques continued to be used throughout the centuries. One of the most famous practitioners of these techniques was an Austrian physician, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, in the late 1700s. Modern hypnosis is believed to have begun with him. Mesmer believed that people had a magnetic field that, if disturbed, would cause illness. He called this “animal magnetism.” He believed that placing metal plates around the body would create healing. His practices became very popular, especially with the French nobility. Many came to him to be “mesmerized.” Mesmer was truly a master of suggestion.
The first physician to study Mesmer’s work seriously was a Scotsman by the name of James Braid. Dr. Braid was the first to introduce the term “hypnosis.” In the mid-1800s, Braid and two other physicians, Dr. James Esdaile and Dr. John Elliotson, used hypnosis in their practices in England. They performed many surgeries using only hypnosis as anesthesia. The mortality rate for major surgery at that time was about 50 percent. But in the 161 operations done by Dr. Esdaile, using hypnotic techniques and suggestions, mortality dropped to only 5 percent, with none of the fatalities being an immediate outcome of surgery. Dr. Esdaile considered hypnosis a natural God-given method of healing.
In 1847, the Roman Catholic Church issued a decree that stated, in part, “Having removed all misconceptions, … the use of hypnosis is indeed merely an act of making use of physical media, and is not morally forbidden, provided that it does not tend towards an illicit end.”
During World War II and the Korean War, hypnosis was used in the treatment of battle fatigue and for pain control.
Now, in the twenty-first century, hypnosis is more widely used by those in the healing professions, such as doctors, dentists, psychologists, chaplains, pastors and social workers. There is even a hypnotherapy organization, the National Association of Clergy Hypnotherapists, exclusively for members of the clergy.
But what exactly is hypnosis? Someone once asked Thomas Edison, “What is electricity?” To which he replied, “Electricity is—use it!” It’s not necessary to know how electricity works, to turn on a light bulb. The same is true for hypnosis. But I want you to understand what hypnosis is and isn’t.
Hypnosis is nothing other than an altered state of consciousness in which a person is guided with suggestions. Let me explain to you a little bit about the different states of consciousness, so that you have a better understanding of how this takes place. There are four primary brain-wave patterns, beta, alpha, theta and delta, which determine our state of consciousness. The beta state is the one in which we are fully conscious and aware. It is the one in which we spend the majority of our waking time. In the alpha state, brain activity slows; people experience deep relaxation and heightened creativity. This state produces hypnosis or deep meditation. We slip in and out of the alpha state many times throughout the day. In this state, we are alert but feel detached. In the theta state, brain activity slows even more. It is the state we experience just before we fall asleep and just before we wake. The delta state is the deep-sleep state.
We hypnotize ourselves every day. We move into these alpha, theta and delta states without any conscious effort. Let me give you some forms of this self-hypnosis or these altered states of consciousness. At night when you go to bed, for the purpose of going to sleep, you put your head on the pillow and close your eyes. You begin moving into an altered state of consciousness. You may be in that state for a minute or twenty minutes or even an hour before you move into a natural state of sleep, which is the delta state.
When you are hypnotized, you are not unconscious but within one of these altered states of consciousness. When you are in an altered state, the subconscious mind is in charge. The conscious mind is still there, but narrowed down to the point that the subconscious mind takes over.
You must understand that all of hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The only way you can be hypnotized is if you are willing to be. The hypnotherapist does not take control over you. You are in control at all times. When you’re in a hypnotic state, no matter how deep, and given a suggestion that would be against your will, morality or religious beliefs, you would do one of two things. You would either reject the suggestion and let it go or come completely out of the hypnotic state and challenge the hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapist cannot force you to do anything against your will. Remember, as I mentioned before, your free will is one of the most powerful things you have.
Unfortunately, the only concept of hypnosis that most people have is what they see on the stage. I’ve had clients who did not understand why people would act silly on stage if the hypnotist did not force them to do it. I try to explain it to them in this way: People who attend this type of show are there for enjoyment purposes. When the hypnotist asks for volunteers, people who raise their hand are already agreeing to follow the hypnotist’s suggestions. They are going up there to have a good time. If the hypnotist says, “When I count to three, you will bark like a dog,” and everyone starts barking, would you be the only one who didn’t? No, because then you would be the odd one. But when it’s all over, their excuse for acting silly is that the hypnotist made them do it. At one of my seminars, a woman said, “I still believe you could be made to do something you didn’t want to do.” So I said, “Okay, would you come up here for a moment?” She did. I then asked her to sit down in a chair, so she sat down. I asked her to take a deep breath and she did. I then asked her to close her eyes and she closed her eyes. I then asked her to raise her right arm out in front of her and she raised her arm. Next, I asked her to take another deep breath, which she did. I asked her to place her left hand on her left knee and she complied. Then I asked her to take her right hand and place it on her right knee, which she did. I then asked her to get out of her chair and go stand on her head in the front of the room. She opened her eyes and said, “Pardon me?” I said, “Wait a minute. You followed eight previous suggestions. Why didn’t you follow that one? Because it was against your will.” Stage hypnosis is not the same as clinical hypnosis, but unfortunately it is the only form most people are familiar with.
There are many other forms of self-hypnosis that you may not even be aware of, though I’m sure you’ve experienced them. Have you ever been driving your car, just staring ahead of you, and suddenly realized you passed your exit? You were driving along and, without realizing it, moved into an altered state of consciousness. Suddenly, you jumped back into a fully conscious state and realized that you missed your exit entirely. Truck drivers call this “road hypnosis.” It’s a natural phenomenon. Sometimes you may drive somewhere and realize that you don’t even remember how you got there. Your conscious mind was focused on something else.
Daydreaming is another form of self-hypnosis. Have you ever just stared at something and suddenly realized that someone had been calling your name and you didn’t even hear it? That’s an altered state of consciousness. The only danger of being in an altered state is not being aware of what you may be feeding directly into your subconscious mind. If, while staring off into space, you begin feeding yourself negative information such as “I don’t know what’s wrong with me; I can’t seem to do anything right” or “I’m not happy” or “Life is miserable” or “I feel horrible,” these things are going directly into the subconscious mind because the conscious is narrowed down to a point that it is not rationalizing or contradicting these thoughts. Remember, the subconscious mind accepts statements as truth. So what happens when you come out of the altered state? You begin to respond to the negative programming by feeling bad or depressed, and you don’t even realize why.
Have you ever just sat staring at a fire in the fireplace? Soon your mind is very peaceful, your eyelids feel heavy, and thoughts are just flowing in and out; you’re not focusing on any one thing in particular. Or maybe while reading a book, you became so engrossed in it that you thought you were reading for only a few minutes when actually an hour had passed. These are also altered states of consciousness.
Some people say, “Oh, I can’t be hypnotized!” But without realizing it, they experience these forms of self-hypnosis on a daily basis. It’s a natural phenomenon. Your mind already knows how to do it.
As I stated previously, I use hypnosis a little differently than other hypnotherapists. Because I know firsthand the importance of the mind–body–spirit connection, I work with a person’s own spirituality to help them achieve their desired goal. I believe that when a person is in the hypnotic state, that altered state of consciousness, they are more in tune with God consciousness. It’s like a holy encounter that takes place. They are able to see things more clearly, from a more knowledgeable, more relaxed and more spiritual point of view. They are able to rise above the problems and fears that once consumed and controlled them. On that level, when their perceptions change, they become free from that problem, and even though the conditions and circumstances remain the same, they are no longer affected by it.
I have briefly explained a little of what hypnosis is and isn’t to help you understand it better and remove any misconceptions you may have had about this beneficial tool.