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HYPNOSIS: THE QUIET REVOLUTION Something’s happening to clinical hypnosis. Once considered by most mental health professionals as unworthy of consideration,

it is increasingly recognised as an established and vital component of mental health and behavioural medicine programs in the finest academic and clinical institutions you can name, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford. But what is hypnosis,and how does it work?

by Michael Yapko

CONTRARY TO POPULAR MYTHOLOGY, people absorbed in the experience of hypnosis are fully aware of what’s going on and are fully in charge of themselves. But, they are deeply focused on listening to and absorbing the therapeutic ideas the clinician introduces, taking them in and using them at more profound levels than they otherwise might. Hypnosis isn’t magic; hypnosis simply amplifies what goes on in any good therapy when a skilled clinician introduces new possibilities to a client seeking positive change. Hypnosis involves selective attention, a narrowing of focus and an increased absorption in suggested experiences.

How does the hypnotised mind influence the brain in such extraordinary ways? Most interestingly, responses occur at levels outside of the client’s awareness that further intensify the hypnotic experience. Suggesting to a client in pain, for example, that he or she can, “detach from your body and allow a comfortable sense of numbness to gradually replace the discomfort” is not a rational suggestion to offer. But, to the person in hypnosis, it is one he or she can absorb and respond to with the development of an analgesia sufficient to even withstand surgical procedures done without the use of chemical anesthetics. That’s remarkable! How this change in sensory awareness occurs is not well understood at this time. There are neuroscientific studies going on all over the world employing sophisticated scanning technologies with hypnotised research subjects to try to understand how the mind in hypnosis can influence the brain in such extraordinary ways.

innate abilities. Hypnosis also makes it easier to learn new skills. Hypnosis isn’t the therapy, and hypnosis itself cures nothing. Rather, hypnosis is the vehicle for empowering people with the abilities and realisations that ultimately serve to help them. It isn’t the experience of hypnosis itself that’s therapeutic, it’s what happens during hypnosis in terms of developing new and helpful associations.

What happens in a hypnosis session? Sessions are most effective when structured according to the unique profi le of the client. This includes things like the client’s goals for the session, attentional capabilities, cognitive style, and personal interests. Generally, hypnosis sessions are about 20-45 minutes in length, embedded within the larger therapy session. Hypnotic procedures typically involve directing the client to close his or her eyes, relax, focus intently on the clinician’s words, and actively engage in the internal process of adapting the ideas and perspectives the clinician offers into a meaningful approach to resolving or changing the specifi c problems or symptoms under consideration. As a common example, a clinician might suggest to a client in hypnosis the idea that he or she be more deliberate about gathering objective information (‘reality testing’) before jumping to an erroneous and self-damaging conclusion.

A vehicle for empowering people Anyone who practices clinical hypnosis does so with the firmly entrenched and therapeutically invaluable belief that people have many more abilities than they consciously realise. Hypnosis creates an amplified experience for people to explore, discover, and use more of their

Why hypnosis isn’t a therapy Hypnosis is not generally regarded as a therapy in and of itself. Rather, it is considered a therapeutic tool for creating a more relaxed, focused and attentive context for absorbing the therapy. Thus, the salient question to ask is not, “How does hypnosis compare to cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) (or some other specifi c form of therapy) in treatment success rates?” Rather, the appropriate question is, “If CBT is performed without hypnosis and CBT is performed with hypnosis, does the addition of hypnosis enhance the effi cacy of the treatment?” The evidence is substantial that the answer is yes. No treatment is successful with all people, of course, but the ability of hypnosis to enhance treatment results in most individuals is impressive. Commonly, a clinician might suggest to a client in hypnosis the idea that he or she be more deliberate about gathering objective information (‘reality testing’) before jumping to an erroneous and self-damaging conclusion. Of course, a clinician might suggest without the benefi t of hypnosis, but the client’s absorption of the message is considerably more rapid and intense when focused in hypnosis.

What you focus on, you amplify There are many ways to use hypnosis in treating people with a wide variety of problems, mental and physical, especially given how fast-paced and stressful life can be for so many of us. Learning to focus, relax, and step outside your usual way of thinking can go a long way in helping people feel better. Likewise, when people can benefit by learning new skills for managing life more effectively, hypnosis is a wonderful tool. After all, people learn more easily when they’re focused and relaxed. .........

Hypnosis as a subject of serious study, both in clinical and neuroscientific domains, is already reaping great dividends, and, as new applications emerge, hypnosis has great potential to help people in ways they may never have considered before. The profile of clinical hypnosis

has never been higher. Today, there are sophisticated scientific journals dedicated solely to advancing clinical practice on the basis of research into hypnotic phenomena. There are national and international meetings devoted entirely to the subject of how hypnosis informs clinical practice and illuminates complex mind-body relationships.

Michael Yapko Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and expert on clinical hypnosis and its applications in psychotherapy and behavioural medicine, is the author of a dozen books, including the leading text, Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis (4th edition). He is conducting a three-day workshop in clinical hypnosis for qualified health care professionals in Melbourne in June as a guest of the Academy of Hypnotic Science.

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