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In the proper nomenclature, hypnosis refers to the trance state itself, and hypnotism refers to the act of inducing this state and to the study of this state. A hypnotist is someone who induces the state of hypnosis, and a hypnotherapist is a person who induces hypnosis to treat physical or mental illnesses.

 

 

Insight Alternative Methods

Hypnotherapy and Counseling


What Is Hypnosis & How Does It Work ?


When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombi-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request. Muttering "Yes, master," the subject does the hypnotist's evil bidding.

This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their "masters" -- they have absolute free will. And they're not really in a semi-sleep state -- they're actually hyperattentive.

Our understanding of hypnosis has advanced a great deal in the past century, but the phenomenon is still a mystery of sorts. In this article, we'll look at some popular theories of hypnosis and explore the various ways hypnotists put their art to work.

What is Hypnosis?
People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn't clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle: how the human mind works. It's unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it's a good bet hypnosis will remain something of a mystery as well.
But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.

In the everyday trance of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world seems somewhat real to you, in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness, and you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a monster leaping from the shadows, for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. But most psychiatrists focus on the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.

Early Hypnohistory
People have been entering hypnotic-type trances for thousands and thousands of years; various forms of meditation play an important role in many cultures' religion. But the scientific conception of hypnotism wasn't born until the late 1700s.
The father of modern hypnotism is Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician. Mesmer believed hypnosis to be a mystical force flowing from the hypnotist into the subject (he called it "animal magnetism"). Although critics quickly dismissed the magical element of his theory, Mesmer's assumption that the power behind hypnosis came from the hypnotist, and was in some way inflicted upon the subject, took hold for some time. Hypnosis was originally known as mesmerism, after Mesmer, and we still use its derivative, "mesmerize," today.

In conventional hypnosis, you approach the suggestions of the hypnotist, or your own ideas, as if they were reality. If the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you'll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you'll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel panicky or start to sweat. But the entire time, you are aware that it's all imaginary. Essentially, you're "playing pretend" on an intense level, as kids do.

In this special mental state, people feel uninhibited and relaxed. Presumably, this is because they tune out the worries and doubts that normally keep their actions in check. You might experience the same feeling while watching a movie: As you get engrossed in the plot, worries about your job, family, etc. fade away, until all you're thinking about is what's up on the screen.

In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is, when the hypnotist tells you do something, you'll probably embrace the idea completely. This is what makes stage hypnotist shows so entertaining. Normally reserved, sensible adults are suddenly walking around the stage clucking like chickens or singing at the top of their lungs. Fear of embarrassment seems to fly out the window. The subject's sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience, however. A hypnotist can't get you to do anything you don't want to do.

But what is it that makes this happen? In the next section, we'll look at the most widely accepted theory of what's going when you become hypnotized.

What Lies Beneath
The predominant school of thought on hypnosis is that it is a way to access a person's subconscious mind directly. Normally, you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind. You consciously think over the problems that are right in front of you, consciously choose words as you speak, consciously try to remember where you left your keys.
But in doing all these things, your conscious mind is working hand-in-hand with your subconscious mind, the unconscious part of your mind that does your "behind the scenes" thinking. Your subconscious mind accesses the vast reservoir of information that lets you solve problems, construct sentences or locate your keys. It puts together plans and ideas and runs them by your conscious mind. When a new idea comes to you out of the blue, it's because you already thought through the process unconsciously.

What's in a Name?
James Braid, a 19th-century Scottish surgeon, originated the terms "hypnotism" and "hypnosis" based on the word hypnos, which is Greek for "to sleep." Braid and other scientists of the era, such as Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault, Hippolyte Bernheim and J.M. Charcot, theorized that hypnosis is not a force inflicted by the hypnotist, but a combination of psychologically mediated responses to suggestions.
In the proper nomenclature, hypnosis refers to the trance state itself, and hypnotism refers to the act of inducing this state and to the study of this state. A hypnotist is someone who induces the state of hypnosis, and a hypnotherapist is a person who induces hypnosis to treat physical or mental illnesses.

Your subconscious also takes care of all the stuff you do automatically. You don't actively work through the steps of breathing minute to minute -- your subconscious mind does that. You don't think through every little thing you do while driving a car -- a lot of the small stuff is thought out in your subconscious mind. Your subconscious also processes the physical information your body receives.

In short, your subconscious mind is the real brains behind the operation -- it does most of your thinking, and it decides a lot of what you do. When you're awake, your conscious mind works to evaluate a lot of these thoughts, make decisions and put certain ideas into action. It also processes new information and relays it to the subconscious mind. But when you're asleep, the conscious mind gets out of the way, and your subconscious has free reign.

Psychiatrists theorize that the deep relaxation and focusing exercises of hypnotism work to calm and subdue the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process. In this state, you're still aware of what's going on, but your conscious mind takes a back seat to your subconscious mind. Effectively, this allows you and the hypnotist to work directly with the subconscious. It's as if the hypnotism process pops open a control panel inside your brain.

 

 

 

 

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