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What to expect from Hypnosis

man gesturing

In a clinical sense, hypnosis is the medium from which a therapeutic intervention (hypnotherapy) takes place;

But what happens next and why are interventions necessary? 

I always ask a prospective client if they have experienced hypnosis before, mostly they say no. The next question is, what do you know about hypnosis, the most common answer is not much or nothing? Surprisingly in 20 years, I have never once had a client who said they'd been hypnotised on stage! So, it surprises me that when people generally think of hypnosis they tend to think of stage hypnosis, where one engages in hypnosis for the purpose of entertainment; a laugh and giggle, so to speak. However, the largest use of hypnosis worldwide focuses on its clinical significance, i.e. a method of delivering a therapeutic intervention. Naturally, this site and this article, in particular, will focus on its clinical significance!

So if you are thinking of seeking hypnotherapy for help with a life issue, it is likely that you may have a few questions? One of the questions you may ask is, “what can I expect from hypnotherapy?" That may sound like a question that is easy to answer but experience has taught me differently. Mostly this is because clients focus more on what they do not want than what they do, but let me explain. Let’s say you have a debilitating anxiety disorder and you are asked, “what do you want?” The most usual answer is something like, "I don’t want to be anxious any more!" That sounds both logical and reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, the absence of anxiety is not what you want, it’s what you don’t want. The evidence for that is in the answer itself “I don’t want to be anxious!” The relevance of this is how the brain processes negatives and this is encapsulated in the research of a phenomenon called negativity bias. The brain's ability to focus on negativity in deference to positivity is an evolutionary hangover from our ancient ancestors when their everyday exposure to certain death was a given. While we no longer face the everyday threat from a predator, plenty of negativity still abounds and this is the source of much of our anxiety! Therefore, if anxiety is what you don’t want, then what do you actually want? Obviously, it's the opposite of anxiety and that is found in states we refer to as; peace, calm and relaxation. Essentially it is the presence of the resplendent states of inner peace that we experience on the ocean of tranquillity!

However, there is a secondary anomaly with, “I don’t want to be anxious any more". This is because anxiety is a natural preemptive, anticipatory human experience, i.e. the presence of the fear response (fight or flight). Essentially, anxiety is a consequence of the anticipation of danger, not the actual presence of it. In the face of a real threat to our life; that is actual fear and both involve the fight or flight response, just for differing reasons. That is why, in the everyday course of life, you may just need a little of that anxiety one day? So, the idea we can live without it is both absurd and, potentially, dangerous! As is someone suggesting or promising to give you a stress-free life! Adversity is the teacher; life is the classroom!

Another response to the "what do you want" question, is, “I want to be happy.” That’s great I say but what is happiness? At this point there is almost always a long pause and very seldom is there a definitive answer! The problem is in the pause because the brain will seldom afford us the luxury of time to think! In neurological terms, happiness is the presence of the chemical correlates of the emotion of love, aka a satisfying feeling of wellness. Evidentially, it seems, that if you cannot define what happiness is, your brain will attempt to provide it for you. That may be a new: pair of shoes, wallet, trousers or handbag etc. On occasion, it does this in very extreme and bizarre ways! My theory, is if you can't define what you want, in simple, clear, unambiguous terms; how can you expect your brain help you achieve it? It is the vagueness and ambiguity that creates the disclarity of our life's purpose. This can, and often does, result in psychological or mental imbalance; aka a problem! If you have ever considered goal setting, you'll know it centres on the clarity of mind, purpose and action. A common acronym for goal setting is SMART: Specific - Measurable - Attainable - Realistic - Timed. The reality, at least in terms of my experience, is that clarity applies to many more aspects of life than goal setting. Hypnotherapy helps you create that clarity of mind! As a consequence, you become SMART about life and living!

However, I am not saying this is easy but that doesn't necessarily mean it's hard either! This is mostly because knowing what you really want is sometimes complicated, maybe even a little confusing! The reasons for this are usually discovered in the way your life has represented itself within your brain. From the day we are born we are exposed to the vague and ambiguous anomaly of life! It starts with parents, teachers and other people of influence in our life. These are rarely bad people, mostly the exact opposite. Very often these are the people who love us, care for us, want the best for us, so what's going on? Well, remember what happens when I ask a client what they want, mostly they don't know, where or how do you think they learn this linguistic aberration? Consequently, we end up thinking we know what we want but state it in the opposite (negative). We ask questions in the form of a statement, e.g. a man goes into a store to buy a widget, approaching the salesperson, he confidently says, "you wouldn't have a widget, would you?" We answer questions stating what we were not, e.g. I asked a client, "how was your vacation?" She replied. "I was so not stressed!"
Now to be fair, if you're in a great mood, having a wonderful day, these types of vague/negative statements are unlikely to have a lasting negative effect. But then, I don't get that many people coming to therapy, who are in a great mood, having great days, or whose life is mostly positive.

These linguistic anomalies are often predicated on false, vague or ambiguous, subconscious, interpretations of sensory stimuli that have become entwined with an emotional bias towards negativity. In that sense, language acts as the interface between cognition and emotion but emotions are almost always our primordial default position. Initially, sensory stimuli almost exclusively come from the external environment and are dependent on how the brain then interprets that into our experience. However, it also comes in the form of stored memories based on what we saw, heard, felt, smelt or tasted. Memories are merely algorithmic short cuts, time-saving functions that work on stored elements of previous experience! In that sense, much of our life is a replay of these stored algorithmic memories. However, the brain also knows how to use past experience to interpret similar or novel experience. This is the essence of both learning and problem-solving! This is not uniquely human either, because some animals also display these abilities.

As such, many of the issues we face as adults are, in some way, related to those earliest moments of our life. As nascent beings, we have an immature and undeveloped brain that has to learn to survive. Nevertheless, it has to make sense of the world it lives in and does so in a rather arbitrary and illogical way. This is because the logical processes of cognition, reasoning and analysis have not developed in the early years of life, As such, it is not uncommon that the infant's brain makes illogical and irrational choices or decisions? But hey, we’re kids, so that’s OK, isn’t it? Well in most cases it is but in others, it is seemingly not so OK? Children, at least Christian children, mostly believe in Santa Claus and some even in the tooth fairy (remember what I said earlier, about “false, erroneous” info)? Yet I have never met any adult with an issue/trauma relating to these seemingly innocuous childhood fantasies. Therefore, the later discovery that Santa and the tooth fairy are not real people is seemingly not a life destabilising experience? But what about people with a spider phobia? Every client that I have helped with a spider phobia has said something like, “it’s ridiculous, I know they won’t hurt me!” Some even quote their intelligence as a reason why they shouldn't be afraid (despite this being factually incorrect)! But their cognitive, intellectual systems of logic, reasoning, critical thinking etc. didn't create the fear; it was their emotional system! The emotional system is pretty simple, albeit, in an incredibly complicated way. It works on a shoot first, ask questions later basis, we, on the other hand, just love to ask questions. When we respond in an emotionally overwhelming way, one that clearly doesn’t make sense, we are often thrown off-kilter. That is why, despite believing a spider won’t hurt them, a spider phobic will totally freak out at the sight or mere mention of a spider! But their statement, " I know they won’t hurt me" is not actually true but it's very close! There are over 43,000 different species of spiders, a relatively small number are dangerous and less than 30 responsible for human deaths. Fortunately, despite some spiders being really dangerous, spider phobias are relatively rare!

The reason I go into so much detail about spiders is quite logical. It's because similar, mental or emotional processes are at play for many of the malaise that humans suffer. Sometimes this can actually start in the womb before we are born. For example, we know the foetus experiences its mother's emotions, it hears the sounds of the world outside. When the spider phobic mother has a phobic response during the pregnancy, the baby feels the emotion and hears the screams of panic etc. However, it has no context. After birth, the mother has another phobic attack, the baby now observes this but doesn’t directly feel the mothers emotions. However, babies Intrinsically have a tendency to get stressed when they see their mother in distress. At this stage, both mother and baby are in fight or flight (the same or at least very similar to the in-vivo experience). Now the baby has the inkling of an issue but still has no context. Somewhere along the line, the infant discovers the object of this abject terror is a spider, and the phobia can develop! This is now locked in emotional memory (mostly implicit, nondeclarative memory) and is thus, beyond reasoning, logic, analysis and/or intelligence. They can know that logically, reasonably and analytically the spider won’t harm them; they just don’t know it emotionally!

Many of the other issues we face can be similar in nature. For example, you are the eldest of three children, say 4 years between you and the next and 7 to the youngest. For 4 years you are the apple of your parent's eye, you have them all to yourself, then along comes this sibling. You are obviously too young to appreciate the complexity of this new relationship. As such you will neither know, nor care, about how useless this new addition is or why your parent’s attention is now fixated on this new arrival. But, relative to your perceptions about how little time you are receiving, compared to the new arrival, your brain will make decisions! Of course, now with 4 years experience as parents, they'll likely be more confident, maybe a little less paranoid about everything the new arrival does. This can be translated by you as, different treatment and by the time your next sibling arrives a whole lot of other stuff can happen. One of the reasons that it's complicated for you is because at 7 many of your core logical and analytical processes are now coming online. Nevertheless, your brain is still very young, immature and does not function the way an adult brain does. Your parent’s, on the other hand, may find it difficult to function at your level and will mostly use their logic to figure out your illogic. For the most part, this all turns out quite well; a derivation of the Santa Claus theory of parenting! However, experientially, it appears that many parents face their own emotional hangovers from their own childhood experiences. Consequently, this can affect both their own, yours, even the entire family's mental stability. Do you know any families like that?

As another example. Let’s say your father felt neglected and unloved as a child, a consequence perhaps, of his younger brother/sister getting more and perceptively better treatment than him? As such, rejection (the apparent absence of the chemical correlates of love) can play a critical role in his feelings of love and safety. Your mother, through mother/infant bonding (an effect of oxytocin/vasopressin), is focused on the new arrival. The father believes the new arrival is now the focus of all her love and attention. Consequently, subconscious, latent childhood emotional memories, are aroused, often relating to a perceived lack of love, neglect, rejection and abnormal behaviours develop, e.g. jealousy! It is unlikely that this will be the first time such behaviour has been experienced by him. The degree to which it manifested, developmentally, is often the degree to which his now/then cognitive processing can distort or corrupt those childhood memories? As we experience sensory stimuli that activate latent childhood memories, the memories go through a process of recall and reconsolidation as we sleep. This is known as sleep-dependent memory consolidation/reconsolidation. The newly reconsolidated memories, having been updated, maybe distorted or corrupted, can mean future recall is no longer of the original childhood memory? Instead, it is the recall of an adult reconsolidated version of a childhood memory! In that context, we now talk about that memory using adult language, logic and reasoning. The potential problem, is, that we can be unaware of the newly experienced nonconscious process and still think of it as being the recall of a childhood memory. Hopefully, it is now somewhat easier for you to better understand these processes and how they relate to any issues you may be facing?

Conclusion
Getting back to the original question, what can you expect from hypnosis? It is the desire that the process of therapy, brings about a better understanding of how problems can manifest. And why, if only sometimes, visiting the past can be of importance in discovering how your young brain converted a childhood experience into an adult problem?

The process of learning through observation and experience when we are young ultimately influences the way our brain develops. If any of these experiences are high in negativity (or positivity), they have the potential for drastic emotional responses to seemingly unrelated nonemotional events later in life. As adults, this can result in conflictual relationships as well as moral and ethical dysfunctionality. Hence why people's reactions to novel experience can occasionally seem so out of place or context! I believe that if in early childhood, we experience emotional yo-yoing (flitting between negativity and positivity), this could explain the diverse emotions experienced by people with Bi-Polar Disorder?

So, when preparing for therapy it can be useful to be open-minded and willing to explore the realms of your deeper brain/mind. And, perhaps, guided to do this in ways you have never experienced before? There is also a possibility of discovering that life may not be the way you perceive it to be, at least from the inside out? That, fortunately, is the abstract nature of therapy! Hypnotherapy has the added potential to change the way your brain processes information, information that may have been erroneously encoded when you were much younger. That said, it may not have been so erroneous back then because the brain that encoded it was undeveloped, immature and lacked intellectual capacity. These capacities are gradually acquired over the course of the developmental stages of your life. As mentioned, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are mild examples of beliefs that harmlessly evolve during childhood and safely transmute into an adult understanding of fantasy. Spider phobias are examples that do not. So, in preparation for therapy, be prepared to be Trans4ormed with hypnotherapy! Because what you know logically and intellectually, may just not be what you know emotionally!

Trance-formation is available right here in Singapore by Thom Bush, your resident, the UK trained, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Certified Hypnotist!

Note: The laws of attraction and abundance mostly exist, for us, in the presence of clarity of mind and purpose and the more clear that is, the better. When your mental understanding correlates with your articulation of that which you want, you have a purpose and you have clarity. It is from within this perspective, internal and external, that synchronicity occurs. synchronicity is the meeting of mind with the forces of the universe. When mind meets the universal elements of life; then you are living!

So, to answer the original question, "what can you expect from therapy" the answer; whatever you want!

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