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Jan 10, 2008

Tapping into the unconscious mind

Hypnotherapy may not be the panacea for our illnesses, but it may be the extra motivation you need to gain better health.

IF hypnotherapy were to have a tagline, it would be “tap into the unconscious mind and unleash the power of healing within”.

Perhaps many still find it hard to shed the notion of hypnosis as something mystical to entertain or con, but hypnotherapy is gaining recognition for its role in medicine today.

Peter Mabutt demonstrating a hypnosis technique on a volunteer.
Even clinical hypnotherapist Peter Mabbutt thought that hypnosis was magic when he first came to know about hypnosis.

Now, the Director of Studies of London College of Clinical Hypnosis (LCCH) begs to differ.

“There is nothing magical about hypnosis,” Mabbutt said.

“Hypnotherapy works by using the hypnotherapist’s voice to encourage and motivate you to make positive changes in your life.”

Used interchangeably with the term clinical hypnosis, hypnotherapy is defined as using the state of hypnosis to treat a variety of medical and psychological problems.

Sheila Menon ... ‘We are able to use our bodies’ natural ability to see positive and successful outcomes to help solve our problems or seek a better outcome.’
Described as one of the oldest healing techniques, it was only in year 1955 that the British Medical Association (BMA) endorsed the practise of hypnosis in Medical School education1.

Lately in 2002, the BMA further suggested that clinical hypnosis become re-classified as integrative medicine. This has led to an increased interest in clinical hypnosis from both psychiatry and general medicine.

Harnessing the unconscious mind

According to the psychoanalytic theory, our functioning minds can be separated into a conscious mind and an unconscious one.

The conscious mind is the waking mind, the one involved in assessing our surroundings and making decisions.

The unconscious mind is the storehouse of our feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. More often than not, it is our unconscious minds that continue to influence and condition our decisions and behaviour, although we are not aware of it.

Take losing weight for an example. While we (our conscious mind) know everything there is to know about how to lose weight, but many of us find it difficult to actually take action and do it consistently.

According to Mabbutt, it may be our unconscious mind that is holding us back.

Participants at the ‘Management of anxiety and panic disorder through clinical hypnosis’ workshop practising the art of hypnosis on each other.
The way Mabbutt puts it is simple: “While one part of the conscious mind is saying: lose weight, the other part of our minds, the unconscious mind, is coaxing us to ‘eat... eat... eat...’”

What hypnosis does is to put aside our conscious mind and have access to our behaviours (at a subconscious level) using suggestions and imagery work, Mabbutt said.

His logic: by visualising ourselves achieving what we set out to achieve, we are “setting ourselves up for success” and enjoy the process as well.

By enabling the unconscious mind to think more positively about change, hypnotherapy can be used to help people make conscious choices to break unwanted habits (e.g. smoking, stuttering, nail biting), lose weight and deal with certain conditions such as phobias and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

For weight loss, “not only will you feel motivated to lose weight, you will actually enjoy the taste of healthy food and feel good about exercising, Mabbutt added.

Helping you help yourself, naturally

When a hypnotherapist guides a person into a hypnotic state or a nice state of mental/physical relaxation (trance), the hypnotherapist is not creating a new state of mind. Rather, he/she is just using a natural state of mind everyone experiences in his or her daily life, Mabbutt explained.

Examples of going into trance are driving on a familiar road and getting to your destination without any recollection of the route you took or reading a book without realising that the phone is ringing off the hook. Even passing into ordinary sleep or daydreaming involves a kind of trance state2.

However, going into a trance is not going to sleep although the experience may vary between individuals. Some will feel heavy, some light, some drift off into a sleep-like state, and some can hear every word that is said.

“Most people think that when they are hypnotised, they are in the hypnotist’s power. But it’s not. It’s about giving them power (to change),” Mabbutt explained.

“In hypnotherapy, we accnot make people do things that they do not want to. You cannot get secret information from a person unless he/she wants to reveal it to you.”

Even in therapy, hypnotherapists could not help a person if he/she does not want to change their conditions (e.g. lose weight), he added.

This is because they can only help people make the changes they desire by ridding them of the negativity that resists change.

If a hypnotherapist suggests something that is against your principles or moral values, your unconscious mind will reject it automatically, Mabbutt assured.

How does it work, exactly?

Sheila Menon, principal of the London College of Clinical Hypnosis (LCCH) Malaysia, offers a more scientific explanation.

“When we are tense, our level of adrenaline (stress hormone) goes up. When we begin to relax, the body tends to process that adrenaline,” she said.

By processing the adrenaline, our body becomes physically relaxed, and our minds follow the body into relaxation as well, she added.

In this state of reduced anxiety, there is a natural sense of optimism where we could see things in a clearer perspective and are more open to positive suggestions.

“We are able to use our bodies’ natural ability to see positive and successful outcomes to help solve our problems or seek a better outcome,” Menon explained.

Although hypnotherapy can be used to help people deal with a number of conditions, it is not a cure for any disease.

“What we work with is the mental state of mind. Thus, we help people deal with whatever illness they’ve got psychologically, and the mind changes the way the body works.

“When you start to feel positive, you start to feel more relaxed and motivated to improve your lifestyle.

“That in turn helps you build up your immune system, which then overcomes the disease you are facing,” says Mabbutt.

Even though hypnotherapy opens up the potential for change, Mabbutt could not guarantee that the changes will definitely happen for everybody.

A hypnotherapy session

If you are going for a hypnotherapy session, be prepared to free at least 45 minutes to 1½ hour off your schedule.

The first session will take longer because the hypnotherapist will need to take your case history, including your medical history, habits and likes or dislikes.

Subsequent follow-up sessions may be shorter depending on the therapist and the kind of therapy given.

To start the therapy, a hypnotherapist will usually sit you in a comfortable chair and get you to relax using induction techniques, such as asking you to focus on the back of his/her hand or listen to the ticking of a clock.

Then with a soft, slow voice, and pauses in between, the therapist will ask you to “make yourself comfortable, place both your feet flat on the floor, gently allow your eyelids to close, and think of something pleasant,” and proceed to make you feel more relaxed.

“What we are doing is guide a person’s attention into their inner world,” Mabbutt explained.

When you are in a hypnotic trance, you start to breathe slower, you may feel your eyes move rapidly under your eyelids, and sometimes your head will sink towards your chest, said Mabbutt in a recent workshop for the management of anxiety and panic disorder through clinical hypnosis.

After guiding you into a trance, the therapist will deepen your trance state and make positive suggestions for your unconscious mind to help you in achieving your goals and aims.

Later on, the therapist will remove any suggestions that should not be retained such as heaviness or numbness of the limbs and awaken you usually by counting from one to 10.

Upon awakening, people usually feel refreshed and energised, Menon remarked.

In their hypnotherapy sessions, clients are also taught self-hypnosis as reinforcement to the therapy, she added.

Finding a therapist

Since there are many who claim to be hypnotherapists out there, the challenge is to find a competent and qualified practitioner.

“The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BSCH) Asia provides the public with the means to find practitioners who have been appropriately and ethically trained,” Menon said.

BSCH (Asia) is the division of the BSCH specially created to include any additional and specific ethical considerations to those professionals qualifying and practising in Asia.

LCCH Malaysia, which provides Certificate, Diploma and Practitioner Diploma courses in Clinical Hypnosis, requires its students to be members of BSCH Asia and adhere to their code of ethics.

As a patient, you can ask the hypnotherapist about their certification and make sure that they got their training from a recognised institution.

Another point to note is the duration of training. “There are people who think that they can teach people (how to do hypnosis) in two to four days, but that is impossible,” Mabbutt cautioned.

A trained hypnotherapist will also make sure that there are no underlying medical conditions contributing to your problems before starting therapy.

Sometimes, hypnotherapy practitioners will clinically supervise each other to ensure the standard and safety of the treatment.

Finding a properly trained therapist is important because not only can they perform therapy correctly, it is safer as they will ensure that the patient is suitable for hypnotherapy, Mabbutt said.

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