By: Jessica C. Wakeman, LAc, CCHT
Since I started practicing hypnotherapy about four years ago, I’ve gotten a lot of great questions about it as a healing tool. Mostly people are curious about what it is, how it works and who benefits from it, usually followed by how it differs from guided meditation and, on the other end of the spectrum, how it differs from stage hypnosis.
I love when patients ask these questions because it shows how curious they are about hypnotherapy. These inquiries open up the conversation about healing and stretch minds to find language that encapsulates it all.
So, let’s talk about it.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is the practice of becoming deeply relaxed or in a trance- like state, similar to when you are immersed in a movie, a piece of music or a heart-opening conversation that brings you fully into the present moment. This singularly focused state allows you to concentrate your conscious and subconscious mind to experience the words, intuition and guidance of your inner, authentic self from a still and centered place.
Have you ever spontaneously accessed a deep and wise part of yourself before? Maybe you were in a conversation reassuring a friend who was having a tough time. You offered guidance and words that came from a deep, loving place inside of you. You’re not sure where they came from but they felt right. That state is always accessible; it just requires stillness and awareness. When you cut through the noise of technology, everyday stress, chronic stress and outside influence, it can be surprising to hear your inner guidance and how clearly it comes through to you.
Hypnotherapy, and life in general, is a lot smoother if you can traverse what’s coming up for you during sessions with the guidance from that wise, compassionate self.
Many people expect to be in a deep trance to get this state but all it takes is guided relaxation, sometimes with a bit of practice. The more you access this relaxed place, the easier it comes to you on-call. The person receiving hypnotherapy is conscious and remembers everything that transpires. The role of the hypnotherapist is to guide you. I always explain that I work in partnership with the person seeking answers and clarity; we are both explorers of the inner landscape.
If you are in the midst of a major transition, looking for the next steps with regards to your partnership, career, geography or identity, or seeking the root cause of pain, behavior patterns or habits, hypnotherapy is a good tool to help you find answers. It brings you to this place of stillness to access your own inner wisdom and higher perspective.
What to expect in a session:
Through guided body relaxation, breathwork and visualization, your body and mind relax so that you can connect to the many aspects of yourself from a safe, empowered place.
The power of relaxation is not to be taken lightly. First and foremost, relaxation switches the body into parasympathetic mode, which is essential for the maintenance of the body’s organs and functions. It is the rest and digest function and it only happens when your brain signals to the body that it is safe, which in our sped-up, technology buzzing society doesn’t happen as often as we’d think. If we do not feel safe, the body doesn’t fully switch out of the fight or flight function and we experience chronic stress. When we enter deep relaxation, the mind relaxes as well and the brain is able to process all that is happening at a pace that allows for integration.
Depending on your reason for coming in for hypnotherapy, there are many techniques and approaches. Most of the time, you will get comfortable and relaxed and then be guided to imagine a comforting, safe place. Most people imagine a place in nature because nature heals and many start their path to healing in its nurturing embrace. People are often kinesthetic, auditory and/or visual, so you could feel, hear or see things respectively as you imagine your safe place. Some people are dominant in one of these sensory receivers, but you will likely experience different elements of these three senses during. Once you have arrived in this meditative state, the hypnotherapist will ask you certain questions to guide and support you as you journey deeper into yourself. You may meet people, animals, colors, elements, or other versions of yourself as you venture through your inner landscape. Strong emotions may arise and the hypnotherapist will always be there to help you resource and soothe to feel safe and grounded. Once you feel complete in your inner exploration, the hypnotherapist will guide you back to the present moment. The session will end with a conversation in support of your next steps.
Being that there are so many different approaches, let’s use an example of the desire to lose weight to focus on here. Part of the hypnotherapy journey could include reframing what food represents to you then finding and addressing the true root cause of emotional states that block you from losing weight. Maybe there is a tendency to overeat because there is a desire for protection from one’s own feelings, or maybe it’s preventing you from achieving a dream because your ego doesn’t want you to fail or feel vulnerable. There are many possible reasons that lay in your subconscious for not meeting a goal.
When we journey to find and access the multiple parts of ourselves (i.e. the part of yourself that wants to lose weight and feel healthy and another part of yourself that wants to eat non-nourishing foods etc.), we can address the conflict between these different parts and their divergent motivations. We are ask questions to to get to the heart of the divide. Change is very difficult when we have a divided will. Usually one aspect is your ego keeping you safe, or your child-self needing reassurance before making changes. The goal is to align these parts so that they are working together. In this way, you can release old patterns and find your true purpose behind your goal. When you are in this type of empowered alignment your goals are more easily achieved.
This is one approach, there are many other aspects to hypnotherapy. In some cases, there is other work to be done such as relationship dynamics to be worked through. It all applies, as it is just about quieting oneself enough to see what is happening underneath the top layer that we all use as armor.
How is it different from stage-hypnosis?
I’ve personally never seen stage-hypnosis besides in TV shows or movies, which often make light of it. My teacher says, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Meaning if you don’t want to relax into the process, you won’t. Stage hypnosis is for entertainment value. The people who volunteer want to be a part of the process, they are willingly going along with barking like a dog or whatever action is entertaining the audience.
This is the key difference, stage hypnosis is for entertainment, hypnotherapy is for healing and therapeutic benefit; it’s a process for healing, self-reflection and a driver for change.
How is it different from guided meditation?
If you have a guided meditation practice, the beginning stages of hypnotherapy might feel very familiar: following your breath, releasing tensions, quieting the mind. These are all wonderful entries into relaxation. Meditation is the practice of allowing what comes into the mind, watching it and not being attached to it. This is a passive role, which is practice for our waking life of not being attached to every outcome, emotion or action of others.
Hypnotherapy is a more active route; you are experiencing going places, maybe your childhood backyard or a greenhouse in the middle of a forest. Ultimately, you are making inquiries in this relaxed place.
Afterwards, many people report that they feel incredibly calm and renewed as if they’ve been meditating.
What if I’m nervous about it?
Many people come in for the first time feeling nervous about the session. This is for many reasons. Most likely they have been suffering from their condition for a while and have high expectations that lead to anxiety. There are also a lot of unknowns around hypnotherapy and what it is (hopefully this article helps that!) and clients are also often fearful about what they might say or do during the process. This is totally understandable, and it is also what is at the heart of the issue. Many people are afraid to look at what’s really there within them.
For example, I had one client who really wanted to be in relationship, but through hypnotherapy she saw that she was terrified of being vulnerable so she froze up whenever she met . Once she saw what was really happening she was able to look at it more clearly and realize that it was her fear taking control. She was scared because she had been hurt in the past. Once, she was able to find a safe place within herself, she developed more courage in being herself in front of others. As she came into her own, she attracted a new partner within a week! They started dating and, through her relationship, she continued to work on letting go of her fear of being truly seen to build intimacy with her partner. It was wonderful to watch!
What does it help?
What I’ve found in my 700+ hours of providing hypnotherapy is that this is a way to work on your own relationship with yourself and what more influential relationship is there?
I hope this encourages you to give it a try — try it a few times! The first time has a lot of newness to it. Try at least three times to see what happens for you as you get in touch with yourself in this way.
Some common issues I see:
- Stress management
- Relationship Challenges or Transitions
- Calling in Relationship
- Pain management
- Disease management
- Mastering Skills
- Weight Management
- Quitting Smoking
- Career Transition Support
- End of Life
- Palliative Care
- Cancer Support
- Releasing Phobias
I hope this helps to dispel any myths, make the process a bit friendlier and encourages you to discover a beautifully, fulfilling way to touch into your unique potential.
Please reach out to me or write a comment below with questions or your own personal discoveries through hypnotherapy.
Jessica C. Wakeman, L.Ac, CCHT, is an acupuncturist, herbalist, certified clinical hypnotherapist. She is an all around explorer of wellness practices and wisdom traditions.