Hypnotherapy – working with the subconscious

Christina Reynoldsgeneral, Psychology

Most people – when asked to think about hypnosis – will probably find that it brings to mind the classic image of a stage hypnotist putting people ‘to sleep’, and then making them do something outrageous. I think you will find yourself nodding in agreement at this. So, the question then is – what does hypnosis have to do with psychotherapy, how does it fit together?

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy

Interestingly, hypnotic trance is actually a natural state of altered consciousness that we can all access (an everyday examples of a light version is when we find ourselves daydreaming – it’s a form of trance). Stage hypnotists access this natural ability and deepen it for entertainment purposes, but in clinical hypnotherapy we use the induction of deep hypnotic trance as a tool within which to process, shift or deal with deeply seated psychological experiences or behaviours. It can only be practiced by an appropriately qualified clinical hypnotherapist who can guide and contain the process responsibly. The focus is on inducing trance to do psychological work on emotional states, drives and behaviours at a subconscious level.

What happens in hypnotherapy?

In standard talk therapy, we are engaging with our clients at the level of conscious discussion with the aim of healing, or healthy development. We may be working with aspects of unconscious or subconscious patterns, parts, or drives, but we work within the space of conscious mental processes.

In hypnotherapy, we are similarly moving towards healing or healthy development, but doing so by connecting more directly with the subconscious parts of the mind. Through trance we may find greater access to emotions and imagination, but also thoughts, drives and experiences that may be more repressed in other words, less accessible to the conscious mind. During hypnotherapy, we create a shift in brainwave frequency from the Beta state to the Theta state, through trance induction and deepening practices. We induce a deep state of relaxation, along with heightened focus or awareness. Clinical hypnotherapy would also include protective suggestions as part of initial work to enhance psychological safety for the client whilst in trance.

When  can hypnotherapy be useful?

As a therapeutic tool, it can be applied to a wide array of psychological presentations, such as anxiety, phobias, stress presentations, sleep difficulties, PTSD, grief, depression, weight loss, pain management, addictions, smoking cessation, obsessive compulsive behaviours, to name a few.

It is important to know that hypnotherapy is not a quick fix form of therapy. It is often misrepresented as such in general or popular media. A positively established therapeutic alliance and trust between therapist and client is essential, as is a genuine need and motivation from the client to work with the issue brought into therapy. It is also usually not the only mode of therapy used with a client either. Hypnotherapy can of course be used as a stand-alone therapy in some circumstances, but more often would be incorporated as a complimentary modality to add further impact to a standard conscious psychotherapy process. The goal can be to create change through suggestive processes, in other words to shift or enhance certain feelings states, thought patterns and unwanted behaviours by using direct suggestion. Hypnotherapy can also be analytical or exploratory and conversational in order to find more information, or a deeper understanding of a presenting issue.

The myths about hypnotherapy

Important to know, and something most people are confused about, is that you will not be ‘asleep’, and you will not ‘lose control’ of yourself during the hypnotherapy process. In fact, whilst you will be deeply relaxed, your awareness will heighten and become more focused, but particularly so on those aspects relevant to the therapy at hand. When appropriately practiced, you will maintain a deep sense of comfortable control throughout. Suggestions will also be given to assist in you not going into trance in any inappropriate situations outside of therapy. It is also important to know that your subconscious mind is geared towards survival and protection, and so will allow only that which your conscious mind is similarly ready to deal with. Another aspect that also creates concern for some people is that they won’t remember what happened in trance, thus leaving them feeling vulnerable, fearful or exposed. This is also not a standard aspect of hypnotherapy. Sometimes it would in fact be extremely important to remember the content for further conscious work with the material. It may sometimes be a suggestion that you will only remember what your conscious mind feels comfortable with, but this would be dependent on the matters being dealt with.

We hope this gives you somewhat of an idea about what clinical hypnotherapy is and how it works. At Zest Infusion, both Dr Ilze Grobler and Elani de la Rey are qualified clinical hypnotherapists. If you feel that this might be a dimension of work you wish to explore, please feel free to book a session with us, or enquire about your options. We are happy to discuss the matter with you to assess whether it would be an appropriate approach for you.


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