Louisa J Evans | Dip CBH, Dip SMRB
“Look into my eyes, not around the eyes... into the eyes...”
I hate to shatter the illusion but as a Hypnotherapist I have never uttered this phrase and nor do I use a swinging fob watch... sorry to disappoint. I am a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist and run a clinic based in Gloucestershire, in the UK, where I help people with habit change and use a combination of CBT and hypnosis to do this.
We’re now approaching Stoptober, which is an amazing way to take a mindful break from alcohol, but how do you ensure it’s going to be as life-affirming and rewarding as it has the potential to be? The answer is with the right mindset and this is where hypnotherapy can help.
When people find out what I do for a living they tend to have an idea of what they believe hypnosis to be based on what they’ve seen in films or on television. Maybe they’ve attended a stage show where they’ve witnessed people barking like dogs or mysteriously falling asleep at the instruction of the performer. A big part of my job is debunking some of those myths so that we get the best results.
In my experience, hypnosis is one of the most misunderstood forms of therapy and some people have even confessed to me that they’re scared of the idea, somehow believing they are handing over control to another person.
Quite simply comedy or stage hypnosis has little to do with clinical hypnotherapy and has been shown to foster misconceptions which can prevent people from benefiting from treatment. I’d personally advise anyone considering it to take what you see on television, on stage or in the media with a generous pinch of salt.
I had my first hypnosis session 20 years ago for a fear of flying and I was amazed by how deeply relaxed I felt in the session and how my phobia disappeared almost instantly. I was hooked on that feeling and loved listening to the recording most evenings, long after my fear had gone, as the deep and restful sleep I achieved afterwards couldn’t be beaten.
Of course, these days deep relaxation and meditation are widely accepted as being beneficial to physical and mental health so when I talk of this state with clients they are more than happy with the idea but back then it was all new to me.
It was once I studied and became a hypnotherapist myself that the veil lifted and I understood more about how it works and to be honest, the more you understand hypnotherapy, the more effective it is likely to be.
So how does it work?
Hypnosis is a special way of using various naturally occurring psychological and physiological states. It isn’t about mind control, nor are you placing control in the hands of the hypnotherapist. Rather it’s a collaborative process in which you allow yourself to follow the guidance of the therapist, using your imagination to evoke positive emotions and to rehearse behaviour change.
I will go one step further and say that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Whether you’re listening to a recording alone in your room or working with a therapist in a session with a script that’s been written and designed just for you, the person who makes the most difference to the outcome is you.
We all know the power of a positive mental attitude and how that can shape your experience. Fears, phobias, bad habits and low mood or anxiety can be increased and influenced by the way that you negatively talk to yourself. Hypnotherapy simply uses deep relaxation and a set of pre-agreed positive suggestions to rewire your neural pathways around certain triggers so that you have a different response and the results can be amazing.
Essentially, we are all walking around in our day-to-day lives listening to our thoughts and absorbing those suggestions. If those thoughts are negative then it’s like a form of negative self-hypnosis drip feeding into our subconscious and so listening to a hypnosis recording or going to a session is reversing this effect.
Thoughts aren’t facts and they can be challenged and changed.
So, can anyone be hypnotised?
Yes, everyone can, in theory, be hypnotised. It has been shown to help you relax, think positively and imagine the things being suggested. However it is worth reinforcing that hypnotic ‘trance’ is not a trancelike state, it is simply an increased ability to respond to positive suggestions, usually accompanied by your relaxed attention on the ideas being suggested.
Hypnosis is definitely not a state of sleep or unconsciousness. Roughly 90% of people report being aware of everything that happens and whilst relaxation helps, it is not essential.
It’s also definitely not a state of mind control. You can’t be made to do anything against your will. On the contrary, you must want to accept the suggested ideas and actively imagine responding to experience their effects.
Hypnotic suggestion is a means of experiencing certain helpful ideas at a level profound enough to directly influence our emotions and behaviour. Psychological and emotional problems can be seen as the result of negative thinking, whereas hypnotherapy aims to suggest positive ideas which can lead to improvement.
So, how can it help with sober stints, moderation or sobriety?
When it comes to any way of thinking or any unhelpful habits, at the root of them will be a set of beliefs you hold. It could be that you believe a drink is essential to enjoy an event or to relax, you may believe that once you have one, then you have to finish the bottle, or on a more generic level, that life just won’t be as fun without alcohol. Hypnosis can reinforce the opposite and more positive viewpoint that you are in control, you can take it or leave it or equally, you don’t want it at all and that you enjoy the freedom sobriety or moderation brings.
Alongside cutting down on alcohol or stopping drinking altogether, you will often find that there are other issues that you may need support with such as sleep disorders, anxiety, confidence issues or other unhelpful habits around food. Again, hypnosis is incredibly effective at helping with all these things.
Whether it’s to help overcome bad habits or to make other positive life changes, seeing a hypnotherapist in person, online or listening to self-hypnosis recordings can be a powerful tool in your mental health toolbox.
So, can it stop you drinking?
If you want to stop and are prepared to challenge any thoughts holding you in a negative habit pattern then yes, it can! It can help you achieve whatever it is you want... from a sober stint or moderation through to complete abstinence if that’s your wish.
I personally used self-hypnosis in my sober journey and it has made a world of difference to my experience but I also use it when other things come up like when I found myself eating through boredom, when I was struggling to sleep or needing to keep calm in stressful times. It’s definitely my ‘go-to’ tool for the mind.
Backed by science
Despite being much misunderstood, hypnosis isn’t ‘woo woo’ and it isn’t magic. Thousands of positive experimental and clinical research studies on hypnosis have been published. It was recognised as an effective treatment by the British Medical Association (BMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) in the 1950s and, more recently, by the American Psychological Association (for obesity) and NICE guidance (for IBS) used by the NHS.
It is essentially a simple, down-to-earth and common-sense therapy. By relaxing, thinking positively and picturing your goals, hypnosis can help you to progressively improve your habitual feelings and behaviour.
If you’d like to experience the power of hypnosis yourself then head to Louisa’s clinic website www.herefordshirehypnotherapy.co.uk where you can book online or face-to-face sessions and you can download self-hypnosis recordings on a variety of topics from her shop to try at your leisure.
AMA (1958) ‘Council on Mental Health: Medical use of hypnosis’, JAMA, Sep 2013, 1958: 186-189.
BMA (1955) ‘Medical use of Hypnotism: Report of a Subcommittee appointed by the Psychological Medicine Group Committee of
the British Medical Association’, Supplement to the BMJ Apr 23, 1955: 190-193, Appendix X. BPS (2001) The Nature of Hypnosis. Leicester: BPS.
APA (1997) Update on Empirically Validated Treatments, The Clinical Psychologist, 1997.