Clinical Hypnosis: A Brief Introduction
By Naomi S. Goldblum, PhD
One aspect of my clinical work that generates a great deal of interest and curiosity is my use of hypnosis. In this brief introduction I want to explain what hypnosis is and how it can facilitate therapy. I will also address common misconceptions about hypnosis that often interfere with using a very helpful therapeutic process.
Hypnosis is a naturally occurring state of mind. People experience hypnotic states in situations when they are deeply absorbed and internally focused. Naturally occurring instances of hypnosis, also frequently called trance, include moments when you might daydream and lose track of time, or are so absorbed in the emotions of a movie or book that you find yourself experiencing the feelings as if they are your own.
So hypnosis is a state of mind that is characterized by increased focus, absorption in internal processes, and a detachment from external awareness. In this state of mental absorption individuals are able to use their imagination and thoughts in a very powerful way. You can think of hypnosis as concentrating the ability of the mind the way a magnifying glass can focus and concentrate the rays of the sun, making the naturally occurring light more powerful. In this highly focused state, you can effect changes in how you think, how you feel, and even influence physical sensations in your body. I think of it as a tool to increase self-control and awareness.
When hypnosis is used in a therapeutic setting to treat a specific concern, it is generally referred to as clinical hypnosis, or hypnotherapy. This involves having a therapist guide you while you are absorbed in hypnosis. Like many skills that involve practice to master, having a therapist guide you in hypnosis facilitates the ability to use your own hypnotic ability to address a wide range of concerns. Most people immediately discover an increased ability to relax and set aside stress. But effective hypnotherapy goes beyond mere relaxation. Hypnotherapy has been shown to be effective for the treatment of anxiety and depression, and facilitates the resolution of trauma. It is effective for treating habit disorders, such as smoking, nail biting, eating behaviors and weight management, or any other behavior that takes on an automatic feeling. Physical problems, such as pain disorders, also respond well to hypnotherapy.
Many people only know about hypnosis from representations in movies or stage shows, creating many misconceptions about hypnosis. Stage performers want to be entertaining. They utilize some aspects of the stage situation to increase the sense of magic and amazement by seemingly controlling people. The truth is, no one can enter a state of hypnosis unless they wish to. No one can be made to do anything that is contrary to their values and beliefs through hypnosis. Hypnosis is very different from sleep and individuals are quite aware of themselves while in hypnosis. In fact, it’s this heightened awareness which facilitates the therapeutic value of hypnosis.
Since hypnosis is a naturally occurring state of mind, almost anyone who is interested in hypnotherapy will have some benefit. Many people are pleasantly surprised that they have a good ability to access this state of mind which allows for new possibilities. I will often teach people I work with to access this state on their own which is called self-hypnosis. This allows them to utilize hypnosis on their own, in addition to the hypnotherapy that is done in the office.
Like any therapeutic tool, hypnosis will be most effective when there is a positive relationship between the individual and their therapist, and clearly defined goals. When integrated into treatment with a trained professional there are no risks connected with hypnotherapy. However, like any tool, hypnosis can be used incorrectly. This is why hypnotherapy should only be conducted by a licensed health care professional, such as a psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or physician trained in the treatment of a broad range of concerns. In addition, the provider should be trained in hypnosis through a professional organization such as the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis which only certifies providers that are licensed health care professionals.
If you are interested in learning more about hypnosis, I would direct you to the websites for the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the Society of Psychological Hypnosis, which is a division of the American Psychological Association. Both of these organizations provide information about hypnosis with extensive bibliographies and recommended readings for professionals and the general public. The links to these websites are provided below.