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So What is a Suggestion, Anyway?

Question:

Every time I hear people talking about how effective hypnosis is, they mention the power of suggestion.  You mention it in your articles, but have never really defined it.

Answer:

In a normal day, everyone gets suggestions all the time such as when someone tells you what route to drive or which shirt to buy.  It’s an idea given to you by someone else that you receive and consider consciously.  Usually their effectiveness depends on the knowledgeability of the other person.  If they know the area better, you’re more likely to travel as per their suggestion.  But, even if they are only as familiar with the place as you are, just hearing a suggestion gives it power.  It goes to the forefront of your mind and overshadows your other ideas.  However, if that suggestion is different from what your subconscious is comfortable with, then when someone tells you to take a route that involves going through a neighborhood you have negative associations with, your subconscious isn’t going to let you take it no matter how much faster it is or more logical.

But there is one time when the subconscious mind is very open to absorbing suggestions — during hypnosis.  Hypnosis occurs during the thirty minutes before a person falls asleep.  You may have heard in school that what you study just before you go to sleep is what you’ll remember best.  This is because during hypnosis, the critical facilities in your conscious mind, such as logic and reasoning, are already only half aware of what’s going on and are no longer filtering out new, potentially uncomfortable, thoughts and ideas.

A hypnotherapist is skilled at coming up with words and images that “speak” to their client.  The idea that a person’s hand can become so light that it will defy gravity and float up into the air seems impossible consciously, but to the subconscious anything is possible.  If a person is not in hypnosis, logic and reason will tell them that their hand is not getting lighter; however, when under hypnosis, the subconscious mind pays more attention to the voice of the hypnotherapist than the physical reality. Therefore, they will believe that their arm is becoming lighter.  If a person is visual, one might concentrate on the image of the hand rising or playing in the breeze.  Auditory people are encouraged to hear the air lift their hand.  Kinesthetically oriented people are told to feel the air lift their hand.  In nearly every case, the hand will rise.

It’s never just the power of suggestion that affects people, it’s how a suggestion is given and when.  When created by a skilled hypnotherapist, the results can be profound and life changing.

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How can Hypnosis Help with Stress?

Question

A lot of my friends are always complaining that they are “stressed out.”  Can hypnosis help?

Answer

Like everything else your response to stress is a learned behavior, a habit.  Some things that trigger stress begin in childhood and are related to specific things such as going to the doctor or a general pressure to be Number One.  Others are related to current pressures or fears.  Sometimes stress may not seem to be related to anything at all.  While some people think they strive on stress, they are all actually using the anxious energy to drive them forward in a way that will cause them to mentally – and possibly physically – collapse.  Through a few sessions of hypnosis you can always lighten one’s current stress level, but sometimes, that is not enough.

While it would be nice to get rid of stress by what causes it, that’s not always possible.  Everyone has to see a doctor at some time.  Life gives us difficult situations that can’t be resolved for a long period of time or you can’t always leave a job even though your co-workers, bosses, or responsibilities are overwhelming.  In these situations, dealing with the stress comes from two directions:  techniques that help the individual control the feelings of stress and suggestions that adjust their response to outside triggers.

The one technique that helps everyone is to get them deeply hypnotized and create a Special Place in their mind where they are absolutely calm, comfortable, and safe.  I work intensely with the imagery of the place, not just what you see, hear, and touch, but the more primitive smell and taste.  The trick is to have them feel so relaxed and secure that even the concept of anxiety can’t arise.  Then that feeling of calm is tied into an anchor, usually pressing together the thumb and first finger of the non-dominant hand.  The suggestion is given that whenever they press their anchor, the calm and safety of the Special Place will flow throughout their body, washing away all feelings of stress.  Or, they can close their eyes, press their anchor, and take a mini-vacation.  This quickly becomes a valuable tool a person can use for the rest of their lives.

While there are many things that people can do to take control of their stress they are all, of course, much more powerful if they have been instilled and reinforced in hypnosis.  I start with calming breathing techniques, teaching how to relax one’s body, and, finally, self-hypnosis.  I also use this, my favorite breathing technique, for sleep and anxiety.  All you need to do is take very deep breaths through your nose using your abdomen inhaling “CALM,” hold it for a moment, and then exhale through your mouth as though you had a straw there and exhale STRESS.  After you pause, then start again.  Imagine the Stress leaving your body never to return.  I generally recommend doing CALM and STRESS twice and then at least 2-3 repetitions using C-A-L-M and S-T-R-E-S-S.

Stress caused by job issues, relationship problems, problems stemming from childhood, and more, need to be addressed directly.  Very often the problem at work is with the boss or a co-worker.  I usually block the person to those people’s negativity.  Then I retrain so that instead of responding with stress, they remain extremely calm.  Relationship problems need similar treatment, but often you have to work on getting the strength to start directly addressing the problems with the other person.

Incidents that occurred in the past have to be attacked in many directions.  You have to give people general calming tools and block them to both external AND internal negativity.  But because the negative emotion causing the stress comes from the inside, you have to work with the memories of what initially caused the stress.  Sometimes you have to search for them before you can desensitize them.  Then you cut the emotional connections to the incident and the trigger.  Ironically, very often what triggers stress may not even resemble what originally caused it.

The other things that people can, and should, do on their own is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and make sure they get in approximately 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.  This not only keeps your body and mind healthy, but it releases endorphins, the brain peptides/neurotransmitters responsible for putting you in a positive mood.

The Subconscious Mind

Question:

What do people really mean by the subconscious mind?

Answer:

In the 1880s hypnosis revealed that we were more than just our consciousness because something had to be guiding people’s behavior while they were hypnotized and not aware of the world around them.  It was called the unconscious mind or, as we now more commonly refer to it, the subconscious.  It had always been believed that the conscious mind made the decisions that directed our actions; but, in the past 35 years, research from cognitive neuroscience to social psychology, is demonstrating that the subconscious plays the dominant role.

Evolution-based studies show that we rely primarily on our subconscious mind to develop successful ways of surviving in an unpredictable world.  We learn in the form of habits, such as behaviors, values, and beliefs, from infancy on by copying how the people around us respond to specific stimuli in our environment.  Then we develop our own personal habits based on the unique events in our lives.  We usually don’t know that we are learning these responses.  As we grow older, we begin to learn other tasks consciously that are then completely taken over by the subconscious like reading or riding a bicycle.  While our knowledge grows, we develop an imagination to help us survive unanticipated situations.

When things in the outside world trigger specific reactions from our subconscious, the conscious mind thinks it has chosen to act or think certain thoughts, but they are actually initiated by the subconscious.  Though as a person matures, the conscious mind can control some actions stimulated by the subconscious, it has no power over the thoughts or emotions that have been triggered.  Deeply connected habits can be almost impossible to change despite logic, reason, or will power.  However, hypnosis is a method of directly contacting the subconscious and modifying the triggering process.

One way to take control of the subconscious mind is through hypnosis.  Hypnotic suggestions substitute the original habit for another, more desirable one, such as in smoking when being exposed to a cigarette no longer elicits a sense of attraction but makes the person feel disgusted.  The conscious mind is only aware of the change in its feelings, not the change in the subconscious mind that has created the new response.

How does hypnosis work?

Question:

I’ve been reading your site and was wondering exactly how hypnosis works.

Answer:

There are two parts to our minds, the conscious and the subconscious.  The conscious mind is our awareness, the thoughts and feelings we experience everyday.  It experiences the world based on what comes through our five senses during the time we are awake, but it doesn’t take everything in.  While we can control most of our actions and feelings through our conscious decision-making, we can’t always — such as when our will power is too weak to stop us from eating things we shouldn’t or emotions boil up that we have no control over.

Below that is our subconscious mind which we are not directly aware of except when thoughts “jump” into our mind.  This is where our imagination lies and is the seat of our creativity.  It registers all the information we receive more quickly and completely than the conscious mind, but without a sense of time, logic, or reasoning.  In it are established all our central beliefs, conditioning, and every kind of habit from behavioral to emotional.  Its processes are closely tied to the brain itself, which is why we sometimes call hypnosis “retraining the brain.”  Unlike our conscious mind, the subconscious “thinks” in images.

When the client is in hypnosis, they are in a semi-awake state – a form of trance — where there is direct access to the subconscious, better known as suggestibility.  The hypnotherapist phrases his or her suggestions using the images and words he or she has discovered that are most meaningful to the client.  These go directly to the subconscious mind which, as long as it doesn’t violate the client’s core moral belief system and reinforces what the conscious mind wants to believe, is seen as true and accepted.   This then changes how the brain actually thinks so that it changes associations such as when cigarettes no longer seem pleasurable or comfortable, but make you feel sick.  Or instead of triggering a panic attack, a once fearful object creates feelings of calm and comfort.

Can Hypnotherapy Help With Smoking?

Hypnosis is all about changing habits, getting your subconscious to stop associating something with a behavior that you don’t like — like smoking.

Question:

I cannot stop smoking and would like to know if hypnotherapy can work for me.     Sam

Answer:

In nearly every case, yes.  The techniques I use have about a 90% success rate and usually take from 2-8 sessions, depending on the situation.  Obviously, someone who has been smoking since they were ten takes longer than a 28 year-old who started in college.  Ultimately, however, the only deciding factor is if you are really ready to quit now.

First ask yourself “WHY DO I WANT TO QUIT?”  If the answer is that my doctor told me to or my wife did, it’s going to take longer because we’re going to be spending a few sessions getting you to want to quit for your own sake.

No matter what, smoking cessation will require you to do some work.  I’ll have you cutting down regularly, smoking in unfamiliar and uncomfortable places all while we replace the habit with something positive.   If you smoke for social reasons, I’ll teach you to be comfortable without anything in your hands.  Breakfast is coffee and a cigarette?  You need a better start in the morning to begin with and this is a great time to take control of your health in every way.  If your cigarette is your best friend, well, there are a lot healthier ones out there and we’ll find one you like even more.

We’ll need a check-in session three months after we’re done and three months but the six month can easily be done by phone.