There is more to you than you know about consciously. Your conscious intelligence is like the branches and leaves of a tree, while your unconscious intelligence is large and out of sight, like the tree’s roots, providing support and nourishment for what is visible above.
In my private practice and as a clinician at the Integrative Medicine Department at Clifton Springs Hospital, I help people engage their natural abilities, both conscious and unconscious, on behalf of sustainable, life-improving change. In other words...
“My job is to help people learn to use who they are in ways they like better.”
Hypnosis, broadly defined, is state of focused attention. These states are already part of our day, occurring in those moments when we find ourselves daydreaming, spacing out, or lost in thought—or when we watch a movie and lose track of our immediate surroundings. Such states yield an openness in which learning can occur.
“I could try and figure something out all day long, but then if I just allow myself this kind of time and space, I get this deeper understanding that changes things.”
— client learning to use hypnosis as part of his therapy
What is hypnotherapy?
Modern hypnotherapy combines psychotherapy and hypnosis. Change doesn’t happen when a therapist attempts to remove symptoms. It happens when the client gets the support they need to use what they know, both consciously and unconsciously, in new ways on behalf of the desired outcome.
Client and therapist collaborate to create a focus of attention that engages the client’s conscious and unconscious resources on behalf of clarifying and promoting their interests, their well-being, and their confidence to competently attend to important life issues.
Milton Erickson, M.D pioneered the methods of modern hypnotherapy. He affirmed that the unconscious is not an evil force trying to thwart our best intentions, but instead harbors the very resources necessary to support an individual's desire for change. The hypnotherapist helps the client harness these resources to create new options and change.
By “unconscious” I mean everything that is not in our conscious awareness. Our unconscious intelligence includes the responsivity of our breathing and our heartbeat. It includes the expressiveness of our hands and facial gestures. It includes the attitudes, abilities, and behaviors that we exhibit without having to consciously think about them.
For instance, we can walk or catch a ball—both are complex actions. Yet, we don’t have to think about all the steps involved in order to accomplish these tasks. We rely on our unconscious intelligence.
Each of us has a lot of beneficial unconscious abilities! And yet, we may have unconscious learnings—understandings we came to as children about money, relationships, who we think we are, our own value—that have outlived their usefulness and now limit us in some way.
Fortunately, unconscious learning isn’t just a developmental phase we go through and then we’re locked in. Throughout life our unconscious retains its ability to learn something new, or use something we already know in a different way. Hypnotherapy engages these natural learning abilities on behalf of who we are becoming rather than who we’ve been.
While hypnosis is commonly associated with habit cessation (for example, losing weight or quitting smoking), many hypnotherapists have a much broader range of treatment.
A well-trained clinician using hypnotherapy can help clients suffering from physical symptoms and conditions (including migraine, sexual dysfunctions, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders), psychological symptoms (including anxiety, stress, insomnia, phobias, depression, and the effects of past trauma) and life issues (limiting behaviors, career change, divorce, aging, relationship crises). Other medical applications include pain control, use during dental work, comfort during birth, and enhancing comfort and healing before, during, and after surgical procedures.
Each client may experience sessions differently depending on his or her desires, psychology, and unique resources. We will sit and talk—and have a conversation that engages your natural abilities, both conscious and unconscious. For some, the experience may involve a heightened awareness, for others, a profound relaxation. Others have the experience of being in an engaging conversation—that has the effect of promoting their desired change.
Will I be put into a trance?
I don’t think of it as putting a client into a trance. If formal trance seems useful, we will both learn together how you go into a trance. People use words like “relaxed,” “comfortable,” “natural,” and “peaceful” to describe their experience of formal hypnosis. It’s different for each person and, for most, it is learned gradually and easily.
Hypnotherapy does not require what most people think of as formal hypnosis (hypnotist saying “…eyes closing, breath relaxing while you listen to the sound of my voice…”) in order to effectively engage the unconscious. There are many other ways people learn unconsciously what they are ready to learn.
The therapist can use stories, metaphors, questions, and what looks like normal conversation to help engage unconscious abilities on behalf of what the client wants. Regardless of the methods used, hypnotherapeutic interaction assists in discovering new perceptions and making new meaning of habitual experiences. Click here for more about hypnotherapeutic interaction.
It depends—on what you want to accomplish, how what you want to accomplish is connected to the rest of your life, and how quickly you learn what’s important for you to learn in order to accomplish what you want.
So, of course, the number of sessions varies from person to person even if they have similar interests.
For things like gaining relief from migraine, quitting smoking, or hypnosis for expectant parents, it might be four to six sessions. Making changes in attitudes and behaviors which are limiting is more involved and may evolve over the course of months. And, although it doesn’t happen often, I’ve worked with people who were so ready to make a change, one session was all the trigger they needed.
“When contractions came I just went with them. I had the sense that my body was talking to me... and I was listening.” — client and mother talking about giving birth to her daughter using self-hypnosis
“The pain is just as intense, but now I have to consciously think about it to feel it.” — client, using hypnosis to learn to manage the chronic pain of a back injury
“I had internalized you—so I wasn't alone going into surgery. Then, as a result of your visit after my surgery, I went from being totally agitated and miserable to totally fine!” — client, using hypnotherapy for comfort before, during, and after surgery
“You worked with me in a way that I felt like I did all this—it's not your will it's mine. And it's solid—I don't feel in danger of losing anything that I've gained.” — client, 5 weeks after quitting smoking
“I never suspected I had the power and the resources within me to have what I need and want—and that includes my ability to not have these migraines. I gained a new way of accessing what was there all along.” — client, learning to gain relief from migraine headache