So what is hypnotherapy? Perhaps you have an idea. It’s Paul McKenna making you act like a chicken, or get drunk drinking a glass of water. It’s the mentalism of Derren Brown, reading your mind using ideomotor response, or overriding your conscious thought by the spell binding weaving of suggestion. Yes it’s fair to say that hypnosis, in a less dramatic light as it’s portrayed under the bright lights of TV and stage, underpins what we do in the therapy room. But that isn’t what its all about.
When I first began looking into training as a hypnotherapist, I was overwhelmed by the choice of courses. The problem arises, much like when it comes to choosing a therapist itself, that everyone has a different idea about how to make contact with the unconscious mind; the source (usually) of what your particular problem is. Ever since Bandler and Grinder stepped into the arena of self help in the 1970’s with their new wave model of therapy entitled Neuro Linguistic Programming the flood gates have been opened to ever more imaginative ways to touch and probe our psyche’s and bend it to a way that allows us to fulfill our potential.
If you’re reading this now, then chances are you’re interested in how at least one of these techniques works and more importantly which one is best. I’m afraid this blog cannot answer that. No one can, no matter what they claim, because at the risk of stating the obvious, you are an individual and what works for you may not work for someone else. Let me instead give you a lighthearted version of how your mind works in a way that might allow you make that decision for yourself.
We are, in a loose sort of way aware that we have a conscious and unconscious mind. As postulated by a chap called Paul Maclean, the brain can be thought of as three distinct parts. We shall concentrate on two. As a working model, the conscious part can be thought of as the Neocortex. In evolutionary terms it’s a fairly recent addition and is thought to be the part that is responsible for abstract thought, learning new things, and generally allowing you to get on with your day. It’s calm, measured and given the right information can generally be relied on to help make rational decisions.
A much older part of our brain is that of the Limbic system. It’s also capable of learning but combined with a much more emotional response. It’s also incredibly powerful. When presented with a threat it may override the rest of your brains response by initiating what many may be familiar with as, the fight or flight response. Indeed, thousands of years ago this was a super bit of kit when dealing with such impediments to our day as sabre toothed tigers and aggressively pumped up neighbours with spears. However it has since become a touch deficient when responding to more modern challenges to our happiness such as job interviews, board meetings and whether to ask out that scrumptious person in accounts. Now don’t get me wrong, there is in the modern world, a time and place for fight or flight. The problem is those occasions when we feel threatened but are not actually in physical danger that our brain doesn’t dial it down a touch. It doesn’t think, in the above cases- ‘If I don’t get this job, I can always get another one.’ Or ‘They are just people wanting to hear what I have to say; they are no physical threat to me.’ Or ‘So what if they don’t want to go for a drink with me? Next time I’ll ask someone out who isn’t married.’
Now I’m sure you’ve experienced, at least one of the above in similar situations and like me, been perennially frustrated at your body’s response- sweating palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea. None of which are any use in a non life-threatening environment, indeed seem to impede our performance. Ah, I hear you say, but some people can remain calm in such an environment. Singers, actors, stand up comics regularly perform in front of thousands of people whilst still apparently managing to keep emotional control. But as I said we are all different and chances are they didn’t always have that control. Like, when you first learnt to drive a car or ride a bike, there was the first few weeks or months of grinding gears, stalling the engine or falling off. Then gradually you stopped thinking about it and just did it. Control passed from one part of your brain to another and before you even realized it you were half way to the shops with no recollection of even getting in the car. This is the same process by which we all overcome difficulty. The process by which we all become good at something. This might be a good point to introduce you to your unconscious. It’s been reading this with you, sitting behind your eyes giggling away.
It always struck me as an odd name to give something so manifestly keen to stick its nose into everything you want to do as ‘unconscious.’ If yours is anything like mine there’s very little the damn thing doesn’t want to share with you an opinion of, stop you doing something you want to do, or force you into doing something you don’t. The good news is it can be overridden when necessary. This is where hypnotherapy comes in (you knew I had plug it somewhere.) The important thing to remember is that the unconscious is always driven by positive intention and learns from past experience. It does what it does to protect you. This is a hard thing to get our heads round because it is so often at odds with what we consciously want (stop smoking, stop overeating, panicking when we see a spider). Therefore the trick in hypnotherapy is not to work against what it wants but to either help change the way it interprets something based on its past experience or to ignore everything that equals ‘the problem.’ The first one might be easier to understand than the second. After all, many of our problems, fears, phobias or habits are inherited from childhood when we were too young to logically process what has happened to us. If that childish view of the world is not updated and carried into adulthood, then bingo, we have a lovely phobia or habit to kick. If we can explain to the unconscious why its view is out of date, then it updates its reaction.
So what if something happens to you when you’re an adult, or as a child and is genuinely traumatic? This brings me to the second point and requires a little knowledge about how we process information so if you’ll indulge me I’ll make this quick.
Your brain receives eleven million ‘bits’ of information from all around you every second. Through sights and sounds; through smells and touch and taste. We can’t possibly process all this information so we choose between seven and nine bits to take notice of and discard the rest. It’s the reason five different people who witness an accident may give five different versions of events, or why in a board meeting half might notice the annoying hum of the air con in the background whilst half won’t. Every day we pick and choose from a massive selection of sensual stimuli, which parts we want to make up how we see the world. Why is this useful?
Imagine if every morning you woke up, you were offered nine colours from a possible eleven million with which to paint a picture that best represented how your day is going to go. Imagine the number of possibilities; the vibrancy and texture that would arise from a choice of eleven million colours. Without changing the canvas- the background to your life- you can change the combination of colours you paint it with. The way you perceive the world simply by choosing which parts of it you want to notice. On other words, regardless of what is happening to you in your life, you have a choice. If you’re going to paint a picture why would you paint something you don’t want to look at? Why not paint something beautiful? Something inspiring?
For me this is Hypnotherapy in its simplest form. Stripped away from any techniques, this is what we want to achieve and we do it by either cleverly worded suggestion or engaging the unconscious so fast it has no choice but to respond. It’s a subject I’m passionate about so if you want to know more get in touch. Let’s paint that masterpiece.