Hypnosis is a highly focused state of attention during which we can perceive and experience things differently. It can happen naturally, for example, when we are day dreaming or focusing on something deeply absorbing, like watching a film or reading a book. Importantly however, in the clinical setting, we can also use this experience and capacity to become deeply absorbed to help people make desired changes in their lives. Hypnosis helps people make changes by building or strengthening their own inner resources to overcome difficulties and problems.

Neuro-scientists can now tell us that when we are experiencing this highly focused state of attention, our brains do process information differently, although understanding exactly what happens in the brain during hypnosis is still in the very early stages of development. However, we do know that when we are focused in this way, we can be especially responsive to new ideas and possibilities that can help us make desired changes.

The remarkable thing about hypnosis is that when used skillfully, it can help in a range of problems. For example, hypnosis can be used to help people become less anxious and phobic, as well as to address the patterns of depression. It can also be used to assist with sleep problems and trauma. Another important area of application is for pain management, both in chronic and acute presentations. A further common and successful use of hypnosis is for habit disorders, like smoking.

We also now have experimental evidence showing that hypnosis is an effective adjunct treatment. When it is used as part of the treatment process, hypnosis enhances treatment outcomes in a wide range of problems including anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, pain, habit control, irritable bowel syndrome, headache and migraine, asthma, sleep disorders, weight issues, eating disorders, cancer and psychosomatic disorders. As practitioners then, we can be confident that hypnosis, when used skillfully and appropriately, is going to be extremely helpful to our clients.

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Frequently asked questions

Is hypnosis like being asleep or unconscious?

No, hypnosis is not sleep or being unconscious but generally when used clinically, people are likely to be very relaxed while in hypnosis.

Does the practitioner have power over clients, and can they be made to do things they would not normally do?

No, this myth comes from people seeing stage hypnosis, where subjects are often chosen because of their extreme willingness to go along with the show. In a clinical setting, the purpose of using hypnosis is to help clients achieve their goals, and the relationship between the client and practitioner is one of collaboration and care, not control by the practitioner.

Can everyone be hypnotised?

Most people are capable of experiencing hypnosis and using it for their own positive purposes. Some people are extremely responsive; some are less responsive, but most people will benefit from hypnosis with a trained and skilled practitioner.

Is hypnosis simply relaxation?

No, hypnosis is not just relaxation, although often, when in hypnosis, the person may feel particularly relaxed. However, in hypnosis, the client is mentally active and processing what is being said to them. Also, it is possible to be in hypnosis whilst being physically active. For example, runners can have the experience of "zoning out" whilst running; they are working hard physically, but their minds are highly focused on something else, such as music. There are other examples in war, or sports, where people can lose awareness of pain whilst physically active.

Is hypnotherapy the same as hypnosis?

Although some practitioners refer to themselves as hypnotherapists, hypnosis is really a tool that can be used to deliver or reinforce a particular therapeutic approach. The research shows that hypnosis enhances the outcomes achieved using cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychological therapies. Clinicians find that with the addition of hypnosis, similar or better results are achieved, and in a much shorter time frame.

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