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What Does Hypnosis Feel Like?

Question:

What does being hypnotized feel like?

Answer:

Every human being has gone into hypnosis regularly since they were born.  Hypnosis is that state that begins approximately thirty minutes before you fall asleep and that you can go back into for thirty minutes after you wake up.  You also enter it when you’re absorbed in reading or watching a movie or TV.  It’s that completely relaxed and comfortable state in which you become less connected to the outer world and begin moving towards that vagueness that precedes sleep.

Your body is as deeply relaxed as your mind.  Sometimes you feel like you’re floating; sometimes you don’t feel anything at all.  One client describes it as a “dream-like state of mind.”  Others talk about being very calm and that, sometimes, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience – except that you always know exactly where you are and feel absolutely safe and secure.  Others just feel relaxed and nothing unusual.   These people are often not sure they’ve even been under hypnosis — until I remind them that their hand rose off the table simply because I suggested it did or they saw the images we developed with peculiar visual, auditory, and emotional clarity.

But, even in the deepest state of hypnosis, you can always hear everything the hypnotherapist says and talk with her or him.  You can even have your eyes open.  If they choose, a person can come out of the state at any time.  But most people enjoy the whole hypnotherapeutic process so much that they rarely do.

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.

What if things come up in hypnosis that I don’t want to know about or I’m not ready to deal with?

Question:

I had a really bad childhood and I don’t remember it all. What if stuff comes up during hypnotherapy that I don’t want to know about or I’m not ready to deal with?

Answer:

One of the advantages of hypnotherapy is that you and your hypnotherapist are always in control of the situation.  A difficult or painful memory will not come up until you are absolutely ready to — and want to — work with it.

Hypnotherapy’s object is to change behavior.  To do that we are changing habits by “retraining the brain.”  It doesn’t matter what caused the habit to change it.  Events like panic attacks can be removed without ever bringing up what caused them.  In any case, we always ask the subconscious first if it is ready to handle any memories and scary memories will never surface until you are ready for them.  When you are, we’ll examine the memory while keeping you completely blocked from the emotions.  You’ll know what you felt, but without feeling scared, pained, fearful, or any sort of negative emotion.  Then the emotions themselves are removed.  The memories remain, but not the emotions that used to be connected to them.

Phobias — Can hypnosis help me get rid of my fear of spiders and what’s it like?

Question:

I’m scared of spiders.  It used to be that if I saw one, I’d have a panic attack but now even a picture of a spider causes me to panic.  Can hypnosis help me?

Answer:

What you have is a phobia, specifically arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.  While fears and phobias are very similar, a fear is when you get panic attack symptoms that are triggered by something realistic while a phobia is when the panic attack is triggered by irrational and sometimes unknown factors.  Usually, as in your case, the phobia will become more and more easily triggered until it becomes a significant problem in everyday life.  However, for all the discomfort, a phobia is essentially a habit and very easy to handle in hypnosis.  At no point do we bring up the actual feeling of the panic so that the person feels completely safe and comfortable throughout the experience.

Phobias are usually created when someone experiences feeling panicked, terrified, physical pain, or the fear of impending danger and then associates it with something around them, whether or not what they’ve associated the feeling with caused or played a part in creating the negative feeling.  Very often the trigger is only marginally related to the original emotion.  Since you’ve been scared of spiders since childhood, chances are that it’s based on a psychological experience.  But phobias based on truly traumatic experiences, such as abuse or physical trauma are much rarer than people think.  You may have been scared by something other than the spider, saw a spider, and “pinned” the blame on it.  Maybe someone bullied you with a toy spider and you became scared of the toy and not the person.

However, phobias that develop in adulthood are quite often due not to something psychological, but physiological, i. e., due to hypoglycemia or a lack of sugar in one’s system.  This mimics a panic attack and the person associates that shakiness and panicky feeling with something around them.  People skip breakfast or eat poorly, get that panicky feeling later, and suddenly they begin to develop a phobia around whatever they were doing or where they were when the feeling hit them — driving, eating a specific food, or taking tests (when a person is already pretty nervous to begin with).

Ironically, for such a potentially life-disrupting condition, a phobia is fairly simple to manage.  The technique of systematic desensitization allows for the person to feel absolutely calm and then imagine that when they wake up they’ll no longer have any irrational responses to anything.  From then on when the trigger is referred to or seen they associate it with comfort and relaxation and the negative symptoms disappear.  The client is able to think about the phobia trigger and the fear is gone.

It will often take one to three sessions for a phobia to resolve.  A phobia that was produced by a significant trauma is very different since we need to diffuse the incident and all the additional damage it has caused.  This requires more time and may require working in partnership with a psychotherapist.

What Is Hypnotherapy?

QUESTION:

Hi Susan!  I just saw a show at my college where a hypnotist made people do silly things on stage.  Is that what hypnotherapy is all about?

ANSWER:

While both put people in the state of hypnosis, they are very different.  On stage, the hypnotist looks for people who like to perform and gives them a chance to let themselves go — even if they don’t remember it later.  Hypnotherapy, however, is all about reaching goals.  The suggestions I would give you would be to help change behaviors you don’t like, such as not exercising enough or getting panic attacks.   Other uses for hypnotherapy are to prepare you for specific events from tests to any medical procedure.  Everything is done in the comfort of my office.  The only other similarity between stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy is that both are fun.  During hypnotherapy we find strengths you never knew you had and new ways to enjoy your life.  All without making you quack like a duck.