Shrink Rap: Hypnosis

by Dr. Susannah Smith

Hypnosis is a natural, normal state of consciousness, characterized by the focus of attention on one concept to the exclusion of others.  We experience hypnotic states all the time: when we are reading a book and don't hear someone who is calling our name; when we drive to work and are lost in thought, not really focusing on each turn and location; when we are listening to an "entrancing" story; or when we are in the mystical state drifting on and off into sleep.

I took my first course in hypnosis because I was fascinated.  I did not think anyone could snap their fingers and make me bark like a dog!  What I discovered was a profoundly helpful understanding of hypnosis in general, and what we clinicians call "therapeutic hypnosis."  For most purposes, a light trance state produces the beneficial results we are seeking.  For those who want to experience the deep states of hypnosis, practice is required.  We can learn to put ourselves into a hypnotic state and to choose our areas of focus.

Why would anyone want to practice hypnosis?  The benefits are infinite.  Athletes use hypnosis to focus on the game and to exclude the anxiety of the crowd and noise.  We cleanse ourselves when we go into hypnotic states, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.  We can teach ourselves how to use hypnotic states to help overcome phobias and anxiety attacks.  In a deep trance state, surgery without anesthesia can be performed.

I have been practicing hypnosis with myself and my clients for years.  What actually happens remains somewhat of a mystery.  For example, when someone in a deep trance state is stuck with a pin and does not "feel" it, we know that the body is registering pain, but that the brain is overriding that pain with a suggestion.  If, while in the trance state, I ask to speak to the Hidden Observer, and ask if Jane is feeling pain, the Observer will assure me that Jane is indeed experiencing pain, but that she will not be allowed to feel it.  So, the body is not releasing some form of morphine-like endorphins to eliminate the pain, as with pain medication.  Something else entirely is going on.

About one in 5 people are what we call "somnambulists," or people who can go automatically into a deep trance state with the first suggestion.  The rest of us have to work on it.  Teaching ourselves to attain this deep internal state requires practice and cooperation.  If I think you can't be hypnotized, it helps to realize that you are in hypnotic states much of the day.  However, if you are determined that you can't be hypnotized, you probably will not achieve any results.  Remember: learning to focus your own hypnotic ability requires your voluntary consent!

Many myths surround hypnosis.  Some people are scared that the hypnotist will make them do something they don't want to do, or will give them a negative suggestion.  Some are afraid of losing control, or even of being too calm and, therefore, losing their edge in a tense situation.  In reality, our anxiety interferes with safest responses in many situations.  When we are focused, we are effective.

If you practice self-hypnosis, you will realize a gradual (sometimes immediate) release of anxiety; an increase in personal power and achievement; an increasing ability to heal your body; and an ability to help others be calm in difficult circumstances.  You will attain increasingly deeper levels of awareness of your body, along with the ability to respond to circumstances on a more sensitive level.

Susannah Smith, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 3258
Telluride, CO 81435

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