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The word "hypnosis" often evokes memories of lounge acts where members of the audience quack like ducks on stage under the guidance of the hypnotist. Or we visualize the movie rendition, which entails a swinging watch and someone repeating "You are getting very sleepy."
Yet hypnosis is not sleep nor is it controlling someone. A stage hypnotist simply recognizes those people in the audience who are highly suggestible and uses their natural talents and abilities, explains Laura Pagano, CHT, president of Achievement Strategies, a Roswell, GA-based company that provides life-improvement services through hypnotherapy.
"Hypnosis is a relaxed, yet aware state where the critical analyzing ability of the conscious mind is bypassed and the subconscious mind is accessible," she says. The conscious area of the mind governs reasoning, logic, and willpower, while the subconscious area handles expectations and associations and has no logic or reason.
Often, people try to change behavior such as smoking by employing the willpower and logic of the conscious mind, which is only 10% of the brain, rather than accessing the subconscious mind to make changes. The subconscious uses 90% of the brain. Because it is the strongest area, it is easier to make lifestyle changes when the subconscious is tapped, says Pagano.
Hypnotherapy is not a magic pill, and it often takes several sessions to change a negative association to a positive one. "Hypnosis is an anchoring process, any belief or idea we have is anchored in our mind," says Michele Guzy, DCH, NLP, a hypnotherapist and owner of Personal Growth Unlimited in Encino, CA. Therefore, many people have negative beliefs about themselves that have become anchored, such as the idea that they will never amount to anything. The hypnotherapist helps the person change the negative anchor, or belief, to a positive one.
During hypnotherapy, a person is in a deep state of relaxation. Their conscious mind rests and their subconscious is more pronounced, says Peggy Arnold, DCH, a hypnotherapist and owner of Apollo Institute in West Point, UT. "The unconscious mind is where learning takes place and your automatic responses are programmed. People don’t have to think about breathing, it happens automatically because of their subconscious mind," she explains.
Hypnotherapy was recognized as a valid treatment by the Chicago-based American Medical Association in 1958. It is not a substitute for counseling or psychology for people with mental problems; however, it is sometimes used in conjunction with other therapies that work with the conscious mind rather than the unconscious mind, says Pagano.
Multitude of uses
"Hypnotherapy is appropriate when a person is motivated to let go of a habit, situation, or mindset in their life. It is appropriate for self-improvement issues and can aid in health and wellness," says Pagano. It should not be used to block pain unless a person has undergone medical testing, because pain is a warning signal that something is medically wrong, she says.
Common reasons to seek hypnotherapy include smoking cessation, stress reduction, weight loss, habit control, such as drugs or alcohol, nail biting, bed wetting, motivation, goal setting, sports improvement, sleep problems, anger, and memory fears, such as needles or water.
There are several reasons to use hypnosis, agrees Guzy. There are emotional, physical, mental, and behavioral reasons. "The bottom line is that it is a behavior modification tool," she explains. Hypnotherapy can build self-esteem, deal with worry, and even impact the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients.
Rarely does the desired change take place in one session and sometimes maintenance sessions must be done periodically, says Pagano. "Changes are reinforced and best maintained through some amount of repetition," she explains. For example, an emotional event might trigger a person to begin smoking again. However, through repeated hypnotherapy sessions, new associations are accepted and soon the associations that triggered smoking are gone. (To learn what a typical hypnotherapy session is like, see article, right.)
When a person decides that hypnotherapy is right, they must take time to choose a hypnotherapist understanding that there is a big difference between hypnotist and hypnotherapist. "A hypnotist is someone who has a working knowledge of hypnosis," says Guzy. Select a hypnotherapist who has been through a year of training, she advises. The Hypnosis Motivation Training Institute and American Institute of Hypnosis, both in Southern California, have longer training programs.
A background in social work or psychology is a plus. Research their previous vocation, how long they have been practicing, where they received their training, and if possible, talk to other clients. "A lot of older schools still teach a shock-induction approach, which is stage hypnotherapy," says Guzy.
Although there currently are no licenses for hypnotherapists, there are a variety of groups that offer certification in hypnotherapy with requirements starting at 50 hours of training. A qualified hypnotherapist should have extensive training with at least 300 classroom hours in a variety of methods and teachings and have hands-on experience, too, says Pagano. "Like every field, the more a person knows, the more practice a person has, the more effective they are," she says.
For more information on hypnotherapy, contact:
• Michele Guzy, DCH, NLP, Personal Growth Unlimited, 16633 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1011, Encino, CA 91436. Telephone: (818) 501-6463. E-mail: email@example.com. Web site: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.hypnosisdoc.com.