Updated: May 3
Just before I started studying and practicing hypnotherapy someone asked me what I knew about hypnosis.
"Nothing really," I said. "It's all new to me."
And yet, a few days into my first intensive training program, I was surprised to find that hypnotherapy wasn't what I expected it to be. The techniques, the history, the applications, and especially the experiences I had going into the trance state itself, were not at all how I imagined.
Funny how I seemed to know so much about a subject I supposedly knew "nothing" about, isn't it?
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few."
~ Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
This is the opposite of what the Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, called Beginner's Mind-the attitude that each moment is fresh and new, full of possibility and wonder. We all have this Beginner's Mind all of the time. We have just habituated ourselves to squashing it down with all of our expectations, assumptions, prejudices, and deeply ingrained beliefs.
I brought all of these mental habits and more to my first experience of hypnosis. Many of these came from information I'd unconsciously picked up from movies, books, and television. Most of that information was simply misunderstandings that have been propagated as myths in our popular culture.
Here are a few of them:
The hypnotist will control my mind. No one can control your mind unless you let them. In fact, in a hypnotherapy session the client is always the one in control. They can decide what direction they want the therapy to take, when to slow down, go back, or even stop. The main thing that makes hypnosis work is the willingness of the client to participate. The therapist is simply the guide.
I can be made to do things against my will or that will embarrass me. No one can be made to do anything while under hypnosis that is against their personal ethics or that would harm them in any way. If you've seen or heard about people clucking like chickens at hypnotism stage shows, don't forget they volunteered to participate. Some part of them simply thought it would be fun to act silly in front of an audience.
Hypnosis is supernatural. Hypnosis has been scientifically studied and examined for the past 300 years. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Dr. Milton Erickson, Dave Elman, and many others have compiled large amounts of data in this field. And, contrary to popular belief, the hypnotist does not have "special powers".
I might not wake up. In the movie "Office Space", the protagonist goes to a hypnotherapist who suddenly dies in the middle of their session. He leaves the session still in trance. Comedy ensues. This is not the case in real life. No one has ever not woken up from a hypnotic trance.
I can't be hypnotized. Actually, we all experience hypnosis at least two times a day throughout our lifetimes. Once as we're falling asleep, and again just as we wake up. At these times, our minds and bodies are in a state of deep relaxation and openness. Other times we find ourselves in a hypnotic trance are when we're driving a familiar route home or to work, at the movies, or when we're engrossed in a good book. All you have to do to be hypnotized is to want it to happen!
The most important things to do if you're thinking about booking a hypnotherapy session are to have an open mind and ask questions. Talk to potential therapists and find one you click with. Talk to people who have experienced hypnotherapy for themselves. Do some research (see the links in myth #3 above for starters). Read some books on the subject. As they say, "Knowledge is power."
Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool for healing, transformation, and growth. If you maintain openness and curiosity about it and your experience as a human being, you will certainly get worthwhile results.