The very mention of the word “hypnosis” elicits reactions ranging from ridicule to trepidation in people.
However, more often than not, the reactions have their roots in ignorance of the mental state, or the fact that it can even be used for healing!
On World Hypnosis Day, South First spoke to a few hypnotherapists from Karnataka, who helped dispel some myths.
“All those visuals of a pendulum oscillating, snapping of fingers, the rings on the forehead, etc, introduced in cinema, and the pop culture images of hypnosis, have kind of made a joke of an important tool of psychotherapy, which has been helping treat medical conditions since the late 1700s,” explained Shobha Srinath, a clinical hypnotherapist practising for eight years in Bengaluru.
What is hypnotherapy?
Certified Life Coach and Bengaluru-based clinical hypnotherapist Adarsh Basavaraj explained to South First that hypnotherapy is a mind-body therapy that uses hypnosis — a mental state of heightened attention, at the level of alpha, where the awareness of the immediate environment is reduced — to enhance the willingness to accept suggestions provided by the hypnotherapist.
It allows the therapist to make suggestions to one’s subconscious mind to make healthy changes in their perceptions, emotions, memories, behaviours, thoughts, sensations, and beliefs, among other things.
“It is like a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors, along with a few psychotherapy techniques, which work together to create a successful hypnotherapy session,” explained Adarsh.
In India, hypnotherapy is being used to manage health issues like obesity, bedwetting, trauma recovery, psychosomatic problems, migraine, childbirth fears, infertility-related issues, stress, addictions, insomnia, depression, gut healing, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, skin conditions like warts and psoriasis, and also phobias.
What happens in a hypnosis session?
While hypnotherapists whom South First spoke to worked on different kinds of mind-body issues of people, they said that each session varies, because there is no “one size fits all” in hypnotherapy.
The sessions are either client-driven or therapist-driven, they explained.
Vijay Sai, a certified hypno-regression therapist and faculty at the EKAA Integrated Clinical Hypnotherapy Foundation in Bengaluru, said, “Our brain is working at four levels of bandwidth. One is a beta state, which is the conscious state when any person is in conversation with someone or is alert on what they are doing, saying, or thinking.”
He added: “The next is the alpha state, where the person is taken into a trance-like state through few breathing techniques and suggestive instructions. This allows the patient to shut the outer environment and focus only on the questions posed by the hypnotherapist.”
First comes the “induction”, where the client begins to relax through a few breathing techniques, like inhaling over the count of four and exhaling over the count of seven.
They are then put through progressive muscle relaxations, like how one does in yoga.
Then comes the “deepener” or the “alpha stage”, where the person is asked to create mental images of coming down a hill or sinking deep into a comfortable bed.
Thereafter comes the actual stage where the therapist uses imagery and carefully-chosen language to make some symptom-focused suggestions.
While a majority of the clients can only reach the alpha state, in some cases there are further deepening sessions, where the client is taken into the level of theta-bandwidth activity in the brain.
Experts believe these brain waves are important for any kind of learning, and that they occur only when a person is sleeping, dreaming, or in a very relaxed state.
Adarsh explained that a trained and certified hypnotherapist would know how to guide the client into this deep state of focus through relaxation techniques, give verbal cues, and repeat positive affirmations and imagery.
“In this state, there is an intense level of concentration. All distractions are ignored. Many clients of mine will snore (in this state), but also respond to my suggestions and questions. I tell them to lift the finger if the answer is yes and another if it’s no. The person does it exactly that way. This is much more successful than other forms of therapy, like counselling and psychotherapy,” he added.
Then comes the “emergence”, where the patient comes out of hypnosis. There are some reverse-deepeners, like suggestions to climb up the hill or count from 10 to one.
Vijay Sai said most of his sessions last for an hour-and-a-half. Interestingly, the sessions can be held both physically and virtually.
Depending on the client’s condition, while some may need only two sessions, a few may need at least eight of them, added Vijay.
Can everyone be hypnotised? Who are the clients?
The person who can benefit more from this form of therapy is the one who is motivated to overcome a problem.
However, it also helps to be regular with the therapy sessions and be convinced about the mode of therapy.
Then again, it may not be appropriate for people with certain mental-health issues like psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions.
“Even people who are addicts will have to be detoxified — in other words, refrain from drinking alcohol for a minimum of three days — to be alert and follow the instructions of the therapist,” Vijay explained.
Meanwhile, Adarsh said that at each stage the hypnotherapist has to analyse what level of stress the client is going through.
The therapist would also have to monitor if patients are going through any physiological changes during the sessions.
“Sometimes, when we are dealing with cases related to post-traumatic stress, we do age-regression techniques where we put the person into the same room and situation where the trauma happened. But we are very careful about the language used, because it can trigger negative memories,” explained Adarsh.
“A trained therapist can identify all these signals and know how to handle them and when to stop sessions,” he added.
Therapists first screen a client for their ability to be hypnotised. If the ailment is more of a physiological nature, a medical test is also done.
“I have clients who are doctors, teachers, advocates, psychologists, psychiatrists, students, and software engineers. People from every walk of life are approaching hypnotherapists for their ailments,” Vijay said.
They initially have to go through a counselling session, where the hypnotherapists talk to them about what sort of sensory experiences make them feel safe — like a beach vacation, a mountain stay, or a garden full of flowers. Then they conjure that imagery.
“When hypnotherapy is done right, clients actually forget where they are and are transported to the sensory experiences they suggested. We use metaphors and images during our guidance,” explained Shobha.
Shobha, who practises hypnobirthing and has helped several people, is attached to some of the major Bengaluru hospitals, like Sagar Chandrama.
She said clients who had a fear of labour pains, the process of birthing, and going through IVF treatments, among other things, all found solace in hypnotherapy.
She claimed to have treated, over the last eight years, several such women who underwent hypnotherapy during childbirth and delivered or even conceived successfully.
“My sessions prepare moms for childbirth, both physically and mentally. They help eliminate fear, tension, and pain before and after birthing. I also assist women who are struggling with natural conception or having issues related to fibroids, PCOS, Menstrual cycle, and infertility,” explained Shobha.
“After six sessions of almost an hour, I also provide recorded videos and affirmation messages, as well as relaxation techniques, which my client listens to every day for at least two minutes and do self-hypnosis,” she added.
Who can practise hypnotherapy?
A degree in psychology is a must for a person to be a professional hypnotherapist, said Shobha.
After this, a diploma course in hypnotherapy from reputed institutes is a requisite.
However, in India it is not regulated, said Adarsh.
He explained, “At every nook and corner, as well as online, there are short-term courses that are offered for hypnotherapy. People just attend these sessions and claim they are professional hypnotherapists. This is one of the reasons several hospitals do not still consider hypnotherapists as part of their medical team.”
What are some myths about hypnosis?
Hypnosis is often seen as a form of entertainment on stage or some magical act. However, it is a kind of medical therapy that’s also a tool to aid in treatment.
Another myth is that hypnosis can make one lose consciousness and forget oneself.
Actually, hypnosis requires people to interact with the therapist, and they remember everything that happens during hypnosis at every level.
Yet another myth is that the client is under the control of the hypnotherapist.
In truth, the hypnotherapist guides the session and nothing is done against the client’s will.
There is no force to reveal anything that they want to be a secret. No experience that they do not want to be revealed should come up.