It's thought that your mind works on two levels. The uppermost level is your conscious mind, which is very rational and sensible, is pretty much responsible for taking your routine, day to day decisions, like whether your socks match and what to have for tea.
Beneath or behind that is the unconscious (sometimes called the subconscious) mind. Your unconscious is responsible for things that you don't really make decisions about - imagination and dreaming, emotions, and automatic functions like breathing or blinking. It also stores the 'data bank' of memories and information which the conscious mind uses to make its decisions.
A lot of issues that bring people to therapy start in the unconscious mind. For example, the same part of the unconscious mind that is responsible for automatic body functions also controls habits and behaviours we carry out repeatedly. In time, they become just as automatic as blinking so we don't even think about it when we're doing them. That's OK when it's balancing as we ride a bike; not so good if it's smoking, or over-eating when you're stressed.
Or sometimes a piece of information you have in your memory is misfiled, misunderstood or out of context. Then the conscious mind can't make its rational decisions properly, because the data it's basing the decisions on is unreliable or unhelpful. This is how a phobia can make you feel afraid of something even when you know logically that it's harmless.
What is needed is a way of changing what's in the unconscious mind. And that is where hypnosis comes in. Being in trance makes it easier to access the unconscious part of your mind. It allows you to change what's stored there, so you can be happier, more positive and more confident.
There are a number of different ways to bring about hypnosis, including relaxation and narrowed attention; the method used for you will be chosen to suit your personality and ways of thinking.
When you are in hypnosis you remain in control of your own thoughts and actions. In fact, the success of hypnotherapy depends on you being willing to make different choices from those you've made in the past, just as it is with any kind of therapy or counselling.
Different people do experience hypnosis differently. However, there are some things that tend to occur quite often.
During hypnosis, your attention is focussed very narrowly, a little like getting engrossed in a book, computer game or film. Some people say these activities do bring on a level of trance.
This narrow focus is why, although you are aware of your surroundings, you may not pay as much attention to them as usual. You continue to hear my voice, and when you come out of trance you usually remember what has been said.
Hypnosis is not the same as sleep. If you are asleep, you don't really know what's going on around you. If anything is obvious enough for you to notice it, you wake up.
You are likely to feel physically relaxed. Some people notice their body feels heavier or lighter than usual, or a slight tingling or changes in temperature, especially in their fingers or toes.
Your imagination may seem very vivid: if asked to think about relaxing on a beach, for example, you may feel as if you're actually there, just as you do when dreaming.
You can never get lost in trance. If you were to drift deeper you would simply fall asleep and wake up normally.
Hypnosis is not a psychedelic, weird or 'trippy' experience. You will not feel as if you are 'under a spell', out of control or being compelled to do anything you do not wish to do. There is more about this on the Chickens, Elvis and other worries page.
Some people will go more deeply into trance than others, and most find it gets easier with practice. Despite these variations, many people find hypnotherapy an effective way to treat their problems.
The Loft Complementary Therapies Normanton, West Yorkshire, WF6 2DB
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