The Unconscious Mind is the Key
To get powerful, lasting and rapid results in therapy and in coaching, it is essential that the methods employed reach and influence the unconscious (subconscious) mind. The unconscious mind houses the emotions, imagination, memory, habits, intuition, and is the individual’s personal pathway to even more subtle levels of consciousness. It also regulates our autonomic body functions.
The unconscious mind is the very core or essence of how we experience ourselves and the world. Meaningful personal transformation, whether in or out of therapy or coaching, results from a shift in the unconscious mind.
Through hypnosis, we have access to the unconscious mind. In fact, during waking states, the only way to reach and change major set beliefs and emotional responses of the unconscious mind is during experiences that are hypnotic. Hypnosis is an altered state beyond ordinary consciousness, but a natural state that can occur spontaneously. In addition, there are many ways hypnosis can be induced and deepened. Once in hypnosis during therapy, there is a vast range of therapeutic possibilities to harness and transform the unconscious mind. Hypnotherapists are taught to use a variety of methods to bring a person into a state of hypnosis (also known as trance), deepen and lighten the state, direct various processes and return the subject back to normal awareness.
Training in the uses of hypnotherapy can substantially enhance the skills of any health, counselling or teaching professional. Examples include psychologists, coaches, physicians, dentists, chiropractors, social workers, marriage counsellors, physical therapists, optometrists, ministerial professionals, nurses, massage practitioners and holistic practitioners .
Hypnosis, while often unrecognized as such, weaves a common thread through the healing arts and sciences. Effective therapists often use hypnotic methods whether they use or understand that semantic or not. As understanding of the field spreads, the deliberate use of hypnotic processes is currently making a major impact in the health professions and truly revolutionizing the field of coaching. While it won’t work for everything or for everybody all the time, it is often a powerful methodology that is as much an art as a science.
Within the field of hypnotherapy, there are a great variety of ways to harness the power of the unconscious mind to affect change. Hypnosis is used in areas such as chronic and acute pain control, to change the pain threshold or affect the psychological associations of pain. It can be effective to improve confidence, concentration, recall, motivation, achievement, focus, health and stress management. Hypnosis can help overcome addictions, habits, eating disorders, insomnia, fears, phobias, and negative thought, emotional and behaviour patterns. It can also tap people into the utilization of their full potential in endeavours like work, sports, art or creative expression.
What is Ericksonian Hypnotherapy? (Ref: Joseph O’Connor, The NLP Workbook)
Milton Erickson (1901-1980) was an exceptional therapist. He used a naturalistic and flexible method for trance induction that worked with the client, not on the client.
He varied his approach all the time, depending on the client’s individual problem and personality. He would gather information about his client by questions and observation to find what they wanted and what sort of person they were. He would then know the best way to induce trance for that person and would be able to work with them on their own terms. This is why Ericksonian hypnotherapy is known as “permissive” hypnosis as opposed to other schools of “authoritarian” hypnosis. It is not about one script to use on all clients, but about learning enough about the client and their needs to create an induction that will be best suited to them. It is about assisting the client to get the outcomes they are looking for. It is not about following a prescribed script and expecting the client to “do what they are told”. It is extremely pragmatic as opposed to authoritarian.
“I invent a new theory and a new approach for each individual” said Erickson. The genius of Milton H Erickson was his ability to find within each person, through hypnotherapy, the answers to long-standing personality problems, to somatic complaints, or to interpersonal difficulties. He was able to touch those answers and enable each person to use his or her unique learnings and inner resources in creatively approaching the problems of living. Erickson’s unique ability to convert symptoms into signals and psychological problems into creative resources appeals to all those who intuitively sense that we all hold within ourselves the keys to our own health and well-being.
It has been made possible to teach Erickson’s unique and incredibly successful form of Hypnotherapy to hundreds of thousands of people thanks to the modelling work done by the founders of NLP, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and to the plethora of books that he co-wrote in his lifetime. The core of his work is the use of artfully vague language; this allows the client to take whatever meaning from what is said that is most appropriate for them. The therapist uses language to induce and maintain a trance state whereby the client can connect with the hidden resources of their personality.
Trance is a state where you are highly motivated to learn from your unconscious mind in an inner directed way. As opposed to being under the control of another person or totally passive in the receipt of instructions, the trance state allows the client to respond in ways that are different to their normal “conscious” way of responding and the therapist works with the responses that result. It’s like a journey where the responses of the client direct the therapist as to what to do next.
Erickson’s work was based on certain presuppositions, which have become some of the presuppositions of NLP, namely:
- The client already has all the resources they need – albeit at a level that they are not normally conscious of.
- All behaviour, even the most bizarre, has a positive intention. Individuals make the best choices available to them at any given time. Thus, by increasing the information available to the client about any situation, they have access to more resources and can use these resources to change their response to situations both in the past and to situations in the now where they may have been feeling “stuck” or unresourceful. That not only can everyone enter trance, but that trance is a naturally occurring state that all people flow in and out of during the course of normal experience. There is no such thing as a resistant client, only an inflexible communicator. In Ericksonian hypnotherapy the onus is on the therapist to be flexible enough in their approach to allow the client to tap into their unconscious mind and access the resources that they have available to them at an unconscious level.
Erickson also believed that clients came to him because their conscious and unconscious minds were out of rapport. So Ericksonian hypnotherapy is about enabling the client’s conscious and unconscious brain to come into rapport with each other – to work towards the same outcome, to pull in the same direction, to see that they are part of the same team and to listen to still small voice that adds information to the given scenario.
Milton model language is multi-layered and rich in possible meanings. It involves the use of metaphors – the art of telling a story that while seemingly random, actually gets to the heart of a client’s problem. It is based on acute observation (sensory acuity) both of very small changes in a patient’s physiology and of the patterns that a client runs and when and how these patterns occur.
Read: The truth about Hypnosis (article written by Hypnotherapy Trainer Jevon Dängeli)
What is the Link Between Ericksonian Hypnotherapy and NLP?
As Ericksonian Hypnotherapy is about working naturally and easily with a person’s unconscious mind, so it is basic to the art and science of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP works with language, different perspectives, how we know what we know, the study of subjective experience, beliefs and values, time-lines, parts, anchors, strategies and all these techniques are designed to bring the conscious and unconscious minds into rapport so that the client can go through their everyday life more resourceful, more flexible and more able to achieve their desired outcomes.
“The thinking process is unconscious. We become aware of the results consciously”
-Milton H Erickson, M.D.-
Within a therapeutic setting, hypnosis is often induced through various methods of relaxation. As a result of this process the critical factor of the conscious mind is bypassed, giving the hypnotherapist and subject direct access to the deeper mind, the unconscious, which has been called “the other 90% of the mind.”
Generally, the most well known characteristic of hypnosis is increased suggestibility. Though there are varying degrees of this heightened responsiveness to suggestion, the potential power of this direct access to the unconscious mind should not be underestimated.
For example: While presenting a Hypnotherapy training, a student of mine mentioned that one of her outcomes for attending the course was that she would like to be able to help quit smoking. While teaching how to induce the hypnotic trance and direct to the unconscious mind, I inserted certain covert suggestions to help this student achieve her outcome. Many months later she attended another of my courses and gratefully reported that she hadn’t smoked since that day at the previous course.
As important as increased suggestibility can be, it is only one of many kinds of value that can result from access to the unconscious mind. Concentration typically increases dramatically during hypnosis. Within the context of therapy, heightened hypnotic concentration has value as an inherent aspect of trance and is a partial explanation of the effectiveness of hypnotic suggestion. In addition, specific issues such as improved study habits and various achievement goals ranging from public speaking to improved sports performance, are addressed directly by this hypnotic phenomenon. The person can actually re-enter a state of self-hypnosis later while studying or performing, to gain further value from the concentration inherent to the hypnotic state.
While sometimes directly associated with concentration (as in some of the above examples), heightened recall during hypnosis has many functions. Revivification of significant events, whether or not they were previously repressed, can be combined with many therapeutic modalities. Also, many persons have used hypnotic access to buried memories to find missing objects of value. Although the use of hypnosis for solving crimes has been restricted in recent years by the courts, hundreds of crimes have been solved by the use of forensic hypnosis. Victims and witnesses to crimes have hypnotically recalled crucial memories, whether buried because of detail or time or trauma.
A person can be taught to re-enter hypnosis to access stored memories while taking examinations or, in certain situations, to improve job effectiveness. Therefore, persons developing memory recall skills are supported by the value of increased suggestibility during the initial hypnosis sessions, as well as by the later heightened concentration and recall natural to the state of self-hypnosis.
The pain threshold changes dramatically during hypnosis or self-hypnosis. Hypnosis can provide great relief for chronic pain sufferers referred by their physicians for such complaints as back pain, arthritis, headaches or recovery from injury. As with any issue, the good hypnotherapist will work comprehensively and holistically toward lasting results, dealing with life-style, stress, emotions and personality factors, as well as possible secondary gains. Self-hypnosis can often provide some immediate benefit, while any underlying emotional and life-style issues are addressed during hypnotherapy sessions.
In deeper levels of hypnosis major surgery can, in many cases, be painlessly performed with no other anaesthetic agent. In addition, physiological functions normally controlled by the unconscious mind can be effected, such as by suggestions from a dentist to a hypnotically anesthetized patient to control salivation and bleeding.
Increased access to the emotions during hypnosis has many uses. Often hypnotized persons later report having experienced feelings of bliss, joy or euphoria, sometimes spontaneously and other times as a response to post-hypnotic suggestions or therapeutic methods. Such feelings can be very meaningful and have substantial therapeutic value. When a person has been struggling with feelings such as fear, grief or anger, there are various therapeutic methods during hypnosis to help him or her access those feelings when appropriate and express, release or transform them.
Facts and Fallacies
Misconceptions about hypnosis are still fairly prevalent but gradually diminishing with time. The fear of loss of control is a result, in part, of stage hypnosis demonstrations. Volunteers may seem to be “under the spell” of the stage hypnotist. Some develop the notion that the participants will do whatever the hypnotist suggests. Actually, some operators have been known to survey the audience and express disappointment if, say, five volunteers are needed and there are only 60 people in the audience. Most people will not respond well to stage hypnosis and those that do, will do so only under the right circumstances.
Stage hypnosis is a chance for a person with some extrovert tendencies to perform, have fun, and be a star. It is no coincidence that the longest running series of stage hypnosis shows in history, with Pat Collins, was in Hollywood. A large percentage of volunteers for her shows were striving to become actors and actresses. Volunteers of any stage show know they will be expected to do silly things in front of an audience, and find that appealing. The ones who show timid or self-conscious responses are asked early on to go back to the audience. The participants who are receptive to hypnosis will have, to some extent, a loss of inhibition. However, the volunteer would not do anything against his or her moral beliefs. For example, if handed an imaginary glass of champagne, a non-drinker will refuse to pretend to drink. Also, some otherwise responsive persons will back off to a specific suggestion (e.g., to sing) because of a lack of self-confidence in that area. Even during stage hypnosis, individuals retain control in areas of principle or in which there is major unconscious resistance.
Many persons who have not previously experienced a formal hypnotic induction expect the experience of the state of hypnosis to be far different, and often more extreme, than what it is. Even after attempts prior to the induction to alleviate such misconceptions, a classic response after a first hypnosis is, “I know I wasn’t hypnotized. I heard every word you said.” Ironically, the same person, when asked what this “non-hypnosis” experience was like, may give a dramatic response, such as, “Well, I haven’t relaxed so much in twenty years. Some will doubt in early sessions whether they went into hypnosis at all. Others who achieve significant depth may believe only light hypnosis was achieved. With continuing experience, people tend to go deeper and also begin to recognize the signs that for them are associated with hypnosis.
Rather than losing consciousness during hypnosis, there is typically heightened consciousness. Awareness is much greater than normal, which is related to the increased focus previously described. When somnambulism (a deep state of hypnosis) is reached, however, the shift back to normal consciousness is so great that the memory of the experience may stay buried in the unconscious mind after the person comes out of hypnosis. This can be similar to the experience of someone who has been asleep and dreaming, and upon awakening remembers the dream at first, only to be unable to recall it a few minutes later. The memory of the dream or of the hypnotic experience is still there in the unconscious mind, even when conscious recall fades. Though the somnambulistic state is the exception, it has led to the still somewhat common misconception that a person in hypnosis will automatically experience amnesia. Hypnosis actually leads to increased awareness, and one result of this is that distant or previously unconscious memories may be recalled in vivid detail.
Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that is entered spontaneously every day. Examples include states of narrow focus, such as you might experience when watching television or absorbed in a good book. Highway hypnosis can occur when driving on the freeway and suddenly realizing you have no conscious memory of the past several kilometres travelled. A form of hypnosis, the hypnogogic state, is entered just prior to falling asleep, and the heightened suggestibility of the hypnopompic state occurs when first waking up. Even daydreaming is considered by many experts to be a form of light hypnosis, or a borderline (hypnoidal) state. The conscious mind begins to recede and the unconscious mind comes to the foreground, giving you greater access to the imagination, memories and feelings.
During most of our daily lives we are in touch with our conscious minds, while unconscious activities below the surface regulate physical functions such as the autonomic nervous system and circulatory system. The unconscious mind can leap into action during emergencies, but it is in part that portion of the mind that is on “automatic pilot” while we are awake or asleep.
People who enter hypnosis deliberately in session or during self-hypnosis know they are suggestible. The most common danger with hypnosis lies primarily outside of the therapeutic context, in situations in which people are not aware that they are in suggestible states. For example, we can be influenced by an authority figure, such as a doctor or other professional, or a political or parental figure. When a person is unduly influenced by an authority, a spontaneous hypnosis can develop and the person may become extremely suggestible.
To give another example, double-blind suggestibility studies have documented that most persons will respond well to placebos, even when used in place of morphine for severe pain. That gives us a glimpse at the enormous power of the unconscious mind. A person who deliberately uses hypnotic states to control his or her unconscious mind can create extreme physiological changes and other exceptional achievements without needing to project power onto a pill or an authority figure.
Additionally, our consumer culture bombards us with various forms of advertising that can have a hypnotic effect. Advertisers may even pay a premium for broadcasting late at night or early in the morning when people are more likely to be highly suggestible. Learning about hypnosis and suggestibility helps us recognize times when we may be more open or vulnerable so that we can retain awareness and have more control.
There are many therapy or healing practices that include forms of hypnosis. Biofeedback techniques, for instance, are used in conjunction with hypnosis. Jose Silva, in developing Silva Mind Control methods, borrowed liberally from Dave Elman’s hypnotic inductions. Christian Scientists use hypnotic methods for pain control. Guided imagery, guided fantasy, visualization, selective awareness, autogenic training, progressive relaxation and relaxology are examples of hypnotic methods. Sometimes the practitioner, teacher, nurse, psychotherapist, etc., who uses such methods will not associate the methods with hypnosis. If these methods are recognized as hypnotic and that is communicated to the client, time needs to be taken to alleviate possible misconceptions. Any practitioner, who sometimes uses hypnotic methods but has not previously recognized them as such, would find hypnotic skills magnified tremendously by a thorough training in hypnosis.
The therapeutic value of hypnosis is gradually becoming much more widely recognized. As the myths and misconceptions are exposed and word continues to spread about the values of hypnosis, growing acceptance and interest has increased in academic and scientific communities as well. Many doctors and other professionals are being trained themselves or referring patients to hypnotherapists for work in conjunction with conventional treatments. While there is still residual misunderstanding in some people’s minds, the misconceptions of many have lessened over the years.
The Experience of Hypnosis
Following a preliminary discussion and alleviation of any misconceptions, three things are needed for hypnosis in a therapeutic setting: concentration, imagination, and a motivation to be hypnotized. Hetero-hypnosis, in which a therapist works with an individual or a group, is in a sense self-hypnosis because each individual goes into hypnosis by choice. If a person doesn’t feel rapport with the operator or doesn’t desire to, that person will resist entering hypnosis.
The more you practice hypnosis the deeper you tend to go, but it isn’t necessary to reach deep levels to be therapeutic. Excellent results in therapy can be achieved in light and medium states. Practicing hypnotherapists can train many of their clients in self-hypnosis for added benefits. With experience and confidence that a relaxed and open state of hypnosis can be reached, tools are soon developed that an individual can use for a lifetime to access the power of his or her own unconscious mind.
There are many levels of hypnosis and various subjective states can be experienced at any particular depth. During lighter levels of hypnosis feelings of relaxation and passivity are commonly experienced. Additionally, there may be slightly altered perceptions or physical changes such as eye fluttering or a tingling sensation in the extremities or a light or heavy sensation in some part of the body. Persons who don’t get much of a response at first will continue to learn and develop significant skills within a few weeks of practice.
In the beginning it is common to underestimate the length of time in hypnosis. When asked after an initial hypnosis, many will guess the time as shorter than it actually was. A person who has had a few more hypnotic experiences will usually have a better estimate of time. The flip side to the occurrence of an initial subjective distortion of time is that the unconscious mind has a kind of built-in clock. When you enter self-hypnosis or when you go to bed at night, your unconscious mind can be trained to bring you back or wake you up at a particular time.
In medium depths of hypnosis, the altered state becomes more enhanced. There may be more pronounced physical sensations of heaviness or lightness, or a floating or sinking feeling in part or all of the body. A loss of conscious awareness may occur, or a major change of pain threshold, such as with the experience of “glove anaesthesia” in the area of the hands. Various illusions may be perceived through any of the senses. Ability to visualize or imagine suggestions tends to increase with depth.
Somnambulistic levels of hypnosis create more extreme physical and mental responses, such as loss of awareness of most or all of the body. Physiologic responses may include the same kind of rapid eye movements that are associated with dream stages of sleep. Exceptional suggestibility often includes a profound literalness in response to suggestions. Some will have the ability to produce hallucinations, even with the eyes open or post-hypnotically. Complete conscious amnesia may occur.
Hypnosis is a far different state than sleep, but it has been called a sleep of the nervous system. Respiration and circulation slow down, but not as much as during normal sleep states. The brain waves also slow down, though not as slow as the brain waves of delta which are reached during the deepest levels of sleep. The levels of brain waves begin with beta, the fastest, and then slow to alpha, theta and delta. Under most conditions of normal waking consciousness, brain waves are primarily beta. In light to medium states of hypnosis, a significant decrease to predominately alpha level brain waves will occur. In deeper levels of hypnosis a person’s brain waves may actually go down into theta.
Remember, however, that hypnotic skills develop with practice, so the rules of the above paragraph can be broken under truly extraordinary conditions. An Indian Swami who had been meditating several hours a day for many years was documented on film as having gone into delta brain waves while sitting, his eyes half open. As a general rule, unless you’re focusing on a major trauma issue, the deeper you go into hypnosis the more pleasant the state is, until at deeper levels it can be quite euphoric. This Swami was certainly in a state of bliss.
In a nut shell, Hypnosis is a gateway state that enables you to become more conscious of your expansive inner world where all is well including you.
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
– Carl Jung –
Read: The truth about Hypnosis (article written by Hypnotherapy Trainer Jevon Dängeli)
Take the Trance…You never know how far the Change will go…
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