Self-Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy
This page is part of a series of articles covering relaxation techniques especially suited to managing and reducing stress.
If you are worried about your stress levels or those of somebody you know then you should seek professional help from a doctor or counsellor. Stress left untreated can be dangerous to your health and wellbeing.
Self-hypnosis or hypnotherapy can be a successful way of reducing stress and opening the mind to new ideas or thought processes, especially when dealing with problem behaviour such as certain addictions.
Hypnotherapy is essentially a way of reprogramming how we think. There are many self-hypnosis resources available including CDs, tapes, MP3s and other recordings. Before using any such materials ensure that the recordings have been produced by a reputable and trained hypnotherapist. Before attempting any self-hypnosis read this page fully and understand the processes involved.
A Brief History of Modern Hypnosis
There exists a lot of scepticism and suspicion around the subject of hypnotism, especially in Western cultures. This scepticism stems partly from hypnosis being used as a form of entertainment and also from some of the original theories on the subject.
Franz Anton Mesmer is often considered the forefather of modern hypnosis theory and probably responsible for some of the scepticism surrounding the subject. Mesmer, a German physician, had a keen interest in astronomy and believed that there was an invisible force - a channel for energy - to be transferred between all objects in the universe. This ‘cosmic energy’ coming from celestial bodies could be harnessed by one person to influence the behaviour of another. Mesmer called the result of this energy transference ‘mesmerism’ which explains the origin of the word ‘mesmerise’. We now know that Mesmer’s theory was utter nonsense but his ideas may still influence how hypnosis and hypnotherapy are regarded today.
Today, however, hypnotism has been accepted by conventional medicine as a way to treat a number of problems including: relieving stress and therefore high-blood pressure, migraines, sleep disorders and helping people to beat addictions, such as smoking. Furthermore, hypnosis and hypnotherapy can be used to help boost self-esteem and personal confidence as well as to overcome related problems, such as a fear of public speaking. Today hypnosis is taught in colleges worldwide and has become one of the most popular and widely known complimentary medical techniques.
How Hypnotherapy Works
Based on the work of Sigmund Freud - the human mind can be split into three distinct areas of consciousness; the conscious, subconscious and unconscious. It can be useful to think of each part of the mind on a scale of depth.
Freud believed that the conscious mind is the top or shallowest part of the mind and is responsible for making sense of the things we are directly aware of – like stress levels.
The subconscious mind is below consciousness most of the time, a deeper level – it is therefore not so easily accessible and controls how we may feel or react to certain situations or circumstances, based on what we have learnt through experience, in the past. It also controls and regulates our essential bodily functions, such as breathing.
The unconscious mind is the deepest part of our mind and is much more difficult to reach – it can include suppressed memories of traumatic events.
(See our page Counselling Approaches for more information about the role and approach of the psychodynamic counsellor).
Hypnotism works by reaching a relaxed state whereby it is possible to sink deeper into our minds and rewrite or reprogram our subconscious.
Through physical and mental relaxation, self-hypnosis can allow people to bypass their conscious minds and introduce positive thoughts and ideas into their unconscious. Upon ‘awakening’ from the hypnotic state the new thoughts and ideas in the subconscious will, eventually, affect the conscious mind and can, in turn, lead to changed behaviours.
Hypnotherapy does not claim to be a ‘quick fix’, such methods require perseverance and practice in order for the subconscious mind to pick up and apply the new messages.
Using Self-Hypnosis or Hypnotherapy
In order for self-hypnosis or prescribed hypnotherapy to work successfully it is important to approach the process with an open mind. To do this you need to:
- WANT to be hypnotised
- Not be overly sceptical
- Not be frightened of being hypnotised
- Not over-analyse the processes involved
You also need to think about why you are going to use self-hypnosis and what messages you want to give yourself – what ideas you wish to plant into your subconscious. Work on some short statements that you are going to use when you reach a hypnotic state.
Such statements need to be:
- Genuine and honest – you will not be successful in planting ideas of things you really do not want to do or achieve into your subconscious.
- Positive – your statements need to be of a positive nature
- Simple – your statements need to be very straightforward no more than a few words long
Some examples of personal hypnotic statements include:
- To relieve stress at work you may use: ‘I am relaxed at work’
- To help with an addictive habit, like smoking, you may use: ‘I am a non-smoker’
- To help reduce your nervousness before a public speaking event you may choose: ‘I am a confident speaker’
Remember these statements are messages to your own subconscious – use ‘I’, focus on specific actions and always prepare your statements as present-tense facts. Concentrate on one or two statements to start with – commit these to memory and focus on them in your mind.
Steps to Enable Self-Hypnosis
Before you attempt self-hypnosis for the first time it is useful to have told somebody else in the nearby vicinity what you are doing. Reaching a hypnotic state is a little like sleeping and you may be more comfortable telling somebody else that you are going for a nap. By telling somebody else, you are not likely to be disturbed or worried that you may be disturbed. Part of the point of self-hypnosis is that you will become less aware of your immediate surroundings – like when you sleep – so if there was an emergency then somebody nearby will be able to ‘wake’ you.
- To start the process you need to feel physically relaxed and comfortable. Try using a basic relaxation technique such as the one outlined on our Relaxation Techniques page.
- Find an object that you can focus your vision and attention on – ideally this object will involve you looking slightly upwards on the wall or ceiling in front of you.
- Clear your mind of all thoughts and just focus on your object. This is obviously quite hard to achieve but take your time to let thoughts leave you.
- Become aware of your eyes, think about your eyelids becoming heavy and slowly closing. Focus on your breathing as your eyes close, breathe deeply and evenly.
- Tell yourself that you will relax more every time you breathe out. Slow your breathing and let yourself relax deeper and deeper with every breath.
- Use your mind’s eye to visualise a gentle up and down or sideways movement of an object. Perhaps the hand of a metronome or a pendulum – anything that has a regular, slow and steady swing. Watch the item sway backwards and forwards or up and down in your mind’s eye.
- Softly, slowly and monotonously count down from ten in your head, saying I am relaxing after each number. ’10 I am relaxing’… ‘9 I am relaxing’ etc.
- Believe and remind yourself that when you finish counting down you will have reached your hypnotic state.
- When you have reached your hypnotic state it is time to focus on the personal statements that you prepared. Focus on each statement – visualise it in your mind’s eye, repeat it in your thoughts. Stay relaxed and focused.
- Relax and clear your mind once more before bringing yourself out of your hypnotic state.
- Slowly but increasingly energetically count up to 10. Reverse the process you used before when you counted down into your hypnotic state. Use some positive message between each number, as you count. ‘1, when I awake I will feel like I have had a full night’s sleep’ … etc.
- When you reach 10 you will feel fully awake and revived! Slowly let your conscious mind catch up with the events of the day and continue feeling refreshed.
The more you practise and repeat the self-hypnosis routine the more successful it will become and the more easily you will be able to reach a hypnotic state.
Remember hypnotherapy does work for a lot of people and it may work for you – the power is in the believing.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.