What is hypnosis?
Hypnotherapy; the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes, but what is hypnosis? And can it be measured? Let me tackle these questions one at a time. First of all, what is hypnosis? Hypnosis can be simply described as a heightened state of suggestibility. Now that statement itself doesn’t sound very descriptive so I’ll expand. Hypnotherapists think of the mind as being two separate systems, two computers if you like, there’s the conscious with which we think. It is our conscious thoughts, it runs analytical programmes with which we make our conscious decisions. Then there is he subconscious, this runs the programmes in the background that look after our wellbeing, to keep us safe and alive. It also stores data such as memories so as to compare incoming data too. Scenario; you are visiting a safari park and you’re in the chimpanzee enclosure and one of the chimps has moved your wing mirror. Now you have a decision take make, leave it until you’re out of the enclosure or open the window and move it back. This is where you subconscious kicks in. It says to your conscious “there’s chimps out there, an adult chimp could rip your arm off” with that information your conscious makes the sensible decision to wait until it is safe. But the subconscious has its flaws, it basically believes the first thing it is told about anything and it can’t be told so easily that it is wrong. You see, between the conscious and the subconscious is the Critical Faculty (I’ll just refer to it as the CF from now on) and that acts like a bouncer. The CF will allow into the subconscious information that does not conflict with information already held in the subconscious and as the main job of the subconscious is to keep us safe it is much stronger than the conscious and will over rule it when it feels necessary and the conscious doesn’t stand a chance in that battle. These are the reasons it is so difficult to give up substances or behaviours. For instance when the smoker had his first cigarette he may have coughed and spluttered for a while but then the “buzz” kicked in. Because the subconscious had no information as to what happens to the body when smoking the CF allowed this information into the subconscious. At that point the subconscious thinks “this feels good” and over time it is reinforced in the subconscious. Then one day the smoker realises the damage caused by cigarettes, he reads of the chemicals in them and the illnesses they cause. The CF looks at this information and as it conflicts with the “known” facts already stored, so it rejects it instantly. This information never makes it into the subconscious. So at this point when the conscious thinks “I’m going to give up smoking” the subconscious thinks “no, it’s good for me” and it fights back. Ask any smoker who made that decision and they’ll tell you the first thing they did after making that decision was to want a smoke. That’s the subconscious fighting back. And it will win the war even if it loses that particular battle. Using hypnosis the CF is bypassed and the hypnotherapist can get the suggestion that smoking is bad and inform the subconscious of all that is bad about smoking and so rewriting the programme running in the subconscious about cigarettes from one that wants them and believes them to be good to one that rejects them and believes they bring harm. Of course it is not just smoking cessation this works with. This is how suggestions are made for all issues that can be helped using hypnosis. In short we bypass the CF to make suggestions to the subconscious, suggestions which otherwise would not get through and hence it is a heightened state of suggestibility.
This is as you know a blog and not an essay, and as it’s already quite long I’ll cover the second question, regarding the measurement of hypnosis tomorrow in my next blog.