The key benefit of hypnotherapy, other than it simply works, is that its results come quickly and the results are permanent. Let us now look generally at the steps in successful hypnotherapy. Each person is different and each challenge facing that person is different, so we can only offer a broad framework of what to expect during hypnotherapy. If you are new to hypnotherapy, here is what you can expect.
The first goal of the hypnotherapist is to know his client. The therapist will be interested in your age, family life, educational background, work history, likes and dislikes, and personal interests. Eventually, the therapist will focus his attention on the conditions for which help is sought. You and your therapist will talk about the nature of the problem and the desired outcomes you are looking for. The therapist will want to know your history of the problem, your battles with it, and your prior attempts to overcome it. You may discuss the causes of the problem, but there is a strong distinction between hypnotherapy and other approaches, such as psychotherapy. Many other behavioral therapists focus on the origins of a problem with the intention of unearthing past triggering events in order to heal the here and now. Hypnotherapy, however, provides a very confident, future-oriented approach. The hypnotherapist may not dismiss or ignore a past event. In fact, in some cases the therapist may offer specific strategies for dealing with the residue of original causes or events. Hypnotherapy, however, is a tool that can change the future without dwelling on or in the past. It is a unique approach in its future orientation.
Another focus of the hypnotherapist in the first meeting is the observation of the way the client communicates, both verbally and nonverbally. The goal will be to speak the client’s language. If the overall goal is to change that “little voice” in your head, it needs to be phrased so that you readily understand the new voice.
From these early observations the hypnotherapist will work with you in developing a game plan to achieve your goals. The game plan, among other things, will possibly address developing aversions to behavior/thinking associated with the problematic behavior and in creating positive responses to improved behavior. In my case, these aversions centered on foods I needed to avoid instinctively. I also needed a whole new mindset when faced with vegetables and other beneficial foods, and I needed to lower my caloric intake and to be happy doing so. This game plan then becomes the suggestions which will be essential in the ongoing hypnotherapy process.
After the initial session, client and therapist will use later sessions to discuss progress, the focus of the problem, and any new thoughts or experiences a client may have that may be relevant to the game plan. Session by session, your therapy will mature or refine as your Middle Mind gets fine-tuned. Usually, a session will end with a brief use of hypnosis of no more than ten to fifteen minutes. Because the therapist will use relaxation to introduce the hypnosis, he will adjust the setting, muting external sounds and light, and possibly adding light background music. Throughout the sessions, the therapist will speak quietly, peacefully, and slowly. The loud, boisterous, demanding voices often characterizing Hollywood’s depiction of hypnotism or the outlandish showmanship of stage hypnotists have no place in real client-oriented, objective-focused hypnotherapy. A client is involved from the first step in changing his game plan, and he will remain in control throughout the entire process.
Having never been hypnotized before, I wondered if I was even been under any hypnosis as I began my sessions. I still heard and understood every word my therapist was saying. I was aware of everything that was happening, and I was in full control of all of my faculties and my decision-making. Never did I become unconscious, like sleep or chemical anesthesia produces, which I now realize is a state of mind very different from that of the Middle Mind. In time, I realized two things: First, during sessions, I was highly focused on both the issue I was dealing with and the voice of my therapist. As James Braid’s term monoideism suggests, the process creates a highly relaxed state that permits a single (mono) thought (idea) to be the sole focus for the hypnotized subject. Second, the changes that hypnosis worked in me were subtle, yet profound. I began to make better decisions about my eating. I avoided those foods which were bad for me, and I enjoyed foods that were better for me. Attempting new vegetables become almost an obsession, and I loved the new tastes I was experiencing. I paid closer attention to my food intake, and my entire approach to eating became more balanced and sensible. I began to view food as a fuel source and my body as an engine that I wanted to keep running smoothly, as it was manufactured to do.
As so often happens, one action impacting my behavior created unanticipated rewards. One simple reward, but a profound one in my case, is that as my diet became cleaner, my palate became cleaner, as well. My ability to taste and enjoy the natural and healthy foods improved dramatically. An apple or a tangerine made my taste buds dance, rather than the chips and dips I had grown accustomed to. Bananas rather than chocolate have now become nature’s candy to me. But it was not only the enjoyment of the food that changed. My clothes fit so much better. I felt so much better. I could move more freely because my joints functioned like those of a teenager! My confidence soared with all of these changes.
During a therapy session, once you are relaxed and focused, the hypnotherapist will provide you with suggestions culled from your earlier discussions. The Middle Mind does not work logically; with suggestions, we are simply adding new ingredients to the recipe. The Middle Mind, in its own extraordinary way will take these suggestions (ingredients) and use them to create new behaviors. Hypnotherapists themselves marvel at the Middle Mind’s incredible ability to alter our behaviors so quickly and efficiently.
Clients experience different depths or levels of hypnosis. Hypnotherapists can monitor your depth level by observing you and your responses. The ability to enter into a hypnotic trance quickly and the ability to reach deeper depths of hypnosis vary from person to person. The good news is that for many behavioral changes, the slightest levels of hypnosis are sufficient to effect changes. I assume, in looking back on my first experiences as a subject, that I was in a light trance. I really did not believe that I had been hypnotized, rather that I was just agreeably cooperating with Ken. In retrospect, I am sure that my level of relaxation combined with my singular focus on his voice and my cooperation with his suggestions all indicate that I in fact had been hypnotized. In later sessions, I experienced even deeper relaxation and characteristics of deeper levels of hypnosis. With each succeeding session, two things will happen. First, a person relaxes faster, leading to a speedier entrance into a hypnotic state. Second, she experiences a deeper level of hypnosis. As a result, clients make quicker progress with each session.
Sessions are just the first step to successful changes in behavior. The therapist may record the hypnosis portion of a session and then instruct the client on how to use the recordings to achieve behavioral changes. The goal is not to simply change. The goal is to make a permanent change. Think of it as creating “muscle memory” for the Middle Mind. Every repetition is reinforcement. Every repetition builds permanence. No client wants to go through this effort for a temporary change. For me, my yo-yo dieting was over!
Besides the follow-up sessions with the recordings, clients must apply their newfound behavioral changes regularly. For the dieter, these changes mean dealing with the daily food intake and monitoring the correct foods in the correct amounts. For a smoker who is trying to quit, changes mean addressing those cues that trigger the desire for a cigarette. For someone dealing with an irrational fear of heights, the changes mean facing the tests of elevators, escalators, or other challenges that the therapist outlines.
All of these applications secure the changes that a client desires. They also, session by session, measure the progress a client is making. The therapist will help pinpoint weekly progress, record the history, and help to refine or tailor each session and the post-therapy session applications. With each session, the client will begin to see changes happen. As behavior change, confidence grows. Soon, the client will boldly embrace the new behaviors and rejoice at each new benchmark he reaches.