What is hypnosis and what can it do?
There are usually fairly obvious signs that someone is in a trance. People tend to close their eyes. They sometimes swallow as their throat muscles relax. Their head tilts back and it looks a bit as if they’re nodding off to sleep. But what I find most striking is that the muscles in their face relax, completely changing its shape and giving them a neutral expression. It’s not that their faces don’t hold emotion – they do. In fact, it’s a lot easier to see where emotions begin and end when they let go of the repressive tension of the waking state: the face becomes a conduit for clean, truthful emotion. Or a hotline to other parts of the person that might ordinarily be hidden – from others, and perhaps themselves. After six years as a hypnotherapist to quit smoking, I’m pretty used to seeing these signs of trance in my clients. When they look like this, it usually indicates they are in hypnosis and feeling open and receptive to my suggestions and guidance. They are not asleep (at least not most of the time!). They are fully conscious and aware of what’s happening. That’s why no one does anything under hypnosis which they fundamentally do not want to do.
Is hypnosis safe?
I’ve always felt that this state is fundamentally safe, gentle and benevolent, as is (mostly!) the nature of those who practice as hypnotherapists. But some people have backed away from me at parties when I’ve told them that I’m a quit smoking hypnotherapist. They think that I must be some kind of magician or charlatan. Yup, hypnotising someone does look a little like I’m putting a spell on them. But that’s where the similarity ends. Although I admit that even I find the process mysterious. I don’t feel we’ve completely discovered its full potential, or indeed even know exactly how it works. But we know enough to give us a meaningful and safe foundation on which to practice it therapeutically. So I ask you gently, then, to allow me to reassure you.
A brief history of hypnotherapy
In the early 19th century, a few doctors started proposing radical theories about how illnesses that hadn’t responded to medical treatment could be healed with states that resemble hypnotic trances. Soon there were examples of patients who were calmly guided into a quiet trance and then reassured by the hypnotist that they would feel no pain for the next few hours. In this state, people had legs amputated or teeth removed without anaesthetic.
People thought that someone would have to be under a mind controlling spell to endure that kind of pain without screaming, shouting or passing out. Wouldn’t they? A bit later in the century, other practitioners wanted to really understand what the hypnotic trance was and what its limitations were as a tool for controlling human behaviour, so they designed experiments to find out. What they discovered was that people in a hypnotic trance could not actually be made to do anything that would physically harm them or that went against their own personal values: subjects cleverly sidestepped instructions to punch people they didn’t like in the face and would refuse to touch burning stoves. Basically, they wouldn’t do anything that they wouldn’t do in a waking state. This remains true today, despite the way many showmen claim to be able to use hypnosis.
But that doesn’t make any sense!’ I hear you cry. ‘How could someone not experience pain during surgery but then refuse to put their hands on a stove? And why would I bother to use hypnosis to improve myself or hire a hypnotherapist to quit smoking if it’s no different to what I can achieve by myself when I’m awake? Sounds like a load of nonsense’.
The healing principles of hypnotherapy
There is a principle in person-centred psychotherapies and it is this: most people will naturally move towards healing and wholeness if they are given the right conditions. The therapeutic power of hypnosis lies in the hypnotherapist’s ability to create the right conditions for healing for their particular client. Ultimately, clients heal themselves. While those experiments clearly show the limitations of the trance states, other experiments showed its striking potential as a therapeutic tool. Subjects with specific nervous system disorders who had been resistant to any other treatment achieved life-changing breakthroughs: chronic pain was significantly reduced and psychiatric patients were able to access buried traumatic memories and emotions, re-evaluate unhealthy relationship patterns and resolve debilitating neurotic symptoms. Gentle suggestions, metaphors and guidance from a trusted therapist were, in these patients’ cases, the right conditions they needed to heal. The hypnotherapy interfaced with their natural healing intelligence, amplifying and accelerating it, or perhaps even uniquely enabling it.
The surgery patients I mentioned earlier, while not being offered any drugs for anaesthesia, had actually been offered the best anaesthetic available at the time: a competent hypnotherapist and a sympathetic surgeon. We must assume that these patients’ innate healing intelligence recognized that the surgery was crucial for their survival – and that they knew that no other anaesthetic choice was on offer. Hypnosis, therefore, offered them the only way out of their pain. Of course, now that we use anesthetics in surgery, few would allow surgery to be attempted with hypnosis instead. And even if someone did, it almost certainly wouldn’t work – their brains and bodies would be screaming at them that this just isn’t what we do, and probably wouldn’t allow it. I’m sure my brain wouldn’t allow it.
So…can I use a hypnotherapist to quit smoking?
Because the hypnotic trance state is such an effective tool for healing, self-development, behaviour change and alteration of inner experience, it is used by practitioners of many kinds: traditional hypnotherapists, counsellors and psychotherapists as well as life coaches, self-development icons and spiritual gurus use hypnosis in different ways, to different effect. Among these are practitioners who use hypnotherapy to stop people smoking. That’s me. Even within this category there are different approaches: it’s likely that no two hypnotherapists to quit smoking will offer exactly the same approach. Some use hypnosis to fortify their clients’ willpower to not smoke, for example. I use hypnosis to appeal to that deep part of my client that understands nobody, including them, is naturally a smoker. The psychological landscape of nicotine addiction tends to actively drown this part out, but hypnosis can often amplify it, using the client’s inner resources to easily and naturally dispel the mistaken belief that smoking is in any way good or helpful.
I will only work with you if I am sure I will be able to help you, and if we decide to work together at Both Feet on the Ground, I will use all the tools I have to give you the best possible conditions for you to resolve your nicotine addiction. So that you can live a happier, healthier life.
If you’re looking for tips and strategies to quit smoking or vaping then check out articles about why alcohol can make it harder, why it’s so difficult to cut down gradually and the main things that are telling you that you are ready to quit.
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