Hypnosis is often recognized as being used by performers in comedy or entertainment, and is typically seen as fun and harmless in those situations. However, hypnosis has broader application when used in the helping practices. Essentially, there are three main platforms for hypnosis:
- Hypnosis used for entertainment.
- Hypnosis used by a person trained in specialized uses, such as helping people to stop smoking, manage weight, or deal with sleeping problems.
- Hypnosis used by a licensed mental health practitioner (hypnotherapist) as one of the tools in the counseling/therapeutic toolbox.
Hypnosis and hypnotherapy have an extensive history as reputable methods used the therapeutic process by trained and skilled hypnotists and hypnotherapists alike. The difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy is that hypnosis is defined as a state of mind, while hypnotherapy is the name of the therapeutic modality in which hypnosis is used.
A trained hypnotist uses hypnosis to help people with issues such as smoking cessation and weight management, but is not licensed as to practice hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is practiced by a hypnotherapist who is a trained, licensed, and/or certified professional. Only a hypnotherapist may use hypnotherapy to work with such mental health concerns as phobias, stage fright, eating disorders, and certain medical conditions.
How Does Hypnosis Work?
Hypnosis is defined as a harmless altered trance state characterized by very deep relaxation, highly focused attention, and an extreme openness to suggestions which are usually positive and foster positive therapeutic changes. However, a hypnotic trance is not necessarily therapeutic on its own. For example, when someone is driving to the mall, seemingly suddenly arrives, and is not sure exactly how he or she got there so soon, he/she has experienced an altered, hypnotic state. People may also experience this altered state when they are just beginning to fall asleep and are in a dreamy and drowsy state, aware but not completely focused—just focused enough to have a simple conversation but not remember talking at all.
When used for therapeutic approaches, specific suggestions and images given to people in a trance can alter their behavior in a positive manner. When in this state of hypnosis, you are more inclined to permanent change and more likely to be successful in making the lasting changes you desire. Almost all lasting changes happen in your subconscious mind.
Another example of how visualization in hypnosis works is when a hypnotherapist helps a person experiencing claustrophobia to visualize being in a very open space, without fear, when entering an elevator. By learning to positively visualize entering the elevator without fear, the person is often able to then do it in reality. The subconscious mind does not distinguish between a genuine experience and a suggested one. If you visualize it in a trance state, your body will react to it.
Who Can Be Hypnotized?
The simplest answer is that almost anyone can be hypnotized if they want to be. Modern research has shown that most people can be hypnotized to some degree and that the real question is how deep and to what degree they go into trance. Being able to be hypnotized is not a sign of being weak-minded, gullible, or giving up control. The ability to be hypnotized—or “hypnotizability”—is actually correlated with intelligence and the ability to have heightened awareness and focus while being in complete control.
For example, if while in a hypnotic trance you were asked to give the hypnotherapist your wallet or take off all of your clothes, you wouldn’t unless you truly wanted to. Likewise, if you were in the audience of a stage performance by a hypnotist and you were selected to participate in the show, you would quack like a duck only if you truly wanted to. In fact, the participants are usually chosen because the hypnotist believes you want to act silly and be part of the show. This is in contrast to someone who is not showing any indication he or she wants to be at the event or even have fun.
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