What comes to mind when you picture a hypnotist? Perhaps it’s someone who can lull you to sleep with a swinging pocket watch and who has the power to make you do something against your will. But this is far from the truth.
“In reality, people undergoing hypnosis are always in control and aware of what’s going on around them,” says Jab MacCardy, Principal Hypnotherapist at The Hypnosis Clinic. “They’re simply in a deep state of relaxation.”
Altered state of consciousness
Hypnosis isn’t mind control, especially since it requires a person to work with a hypnotist to achieve a goal. However, it does involve altering the mind on some level.
“Hypnosis is the journey of tapping into the parts of your brain that are responsible for your automatic responses,” says Jab. “Just like meditation and mind-altering drugs, it’s a way to induce altered states of consciousness.”
An altered state of consciousness (ASC) is any condition that is different from a normal waking state. Dreams, hallucinations and even epileptic seizures are some examples.
Jab says the science behind hypnosis is the same behind any type of ASC. And if you’re wondering, there’s a difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
“Hypnosis treats the symptoms of unwanted behaviour. It can be used to modify unwanted behaviour patterns such as smoking, alcohol dependence or phobias,” he explains.
“On the other hand, hypnotherapy examines the actual causes of the behaviour pattern and rectifies the imbalance. It’s a form of clinical psychotherapy and can be used to treat patients with psychosomatic conditions (illnesses caused by mental factors).”
No pocket watch needed
But just how do hypnotherapists induce an ASC in patients? Forget the pocket watch – they use something called progressive language.
“Language is our first line of defence when it comes to change. Progressive language is used in hypnosis to maximise the outcome,” says Jab.
“For example, instead of saying, ‘You are feeling calm, and when you open your eyes, you’ll feel even calmer’, I say, ‘From this day forward, and throughout your entire life, you’ll feel progressively calmer, especially in situations where your patience is tested.’”
He points out that the key is to remove negative words as they have the ability to elicit negative feelings, and emphasises how a outlook can make a much bigger impact than we think.
“Our own voice is more authoritative than any boss, doctor or family member,” he adds. “We develop our beliefs based on what we want to believe.”
Can’t fake it
A hypnotherapist can tell when ASC has been induced.
“During a consultation, I monitor, measure and record my patient’s mannerisms, respiratory rate and heart rate to establish a baseline,” says Jab. “The average adult’s baseline heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute, and the respiratory rate is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. In deep hypnosis, the baselines completely change. The heart rate can go down to 30 to 40 beats per minute, and the respiratory rate, nine to 12 breaths per minute.”
“If someone isn’t in hypnosis, their baselines would reflect no changes. In essence, they’re just sitting there with their eyes closed, not feeling relaxed,” says Jab.
He adds that he also monitors something called the ideomotor response (IMR) – responses from the subconscious mind. They usually appear in the form of body twitches, raising of limbs and even clenching of fists.
How it can help
While many of Jab’s patients see him for relationship-related issues, he also works with patients to help them get over phobias, resolve anxiety issues and quit smoking, among other things.
According to Jab, hypnosis can even help give you better skin. “In hypnosis, when we visualise a desired result of how our skin could be, we become motivated by the desired outcome. As such, we become driven to make the necessary changes to our habits, diets and grooming routines–factors that all affect the quality of our skin,” he explains.
Jab says that everyone is “hypnotisable”, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to enter an ASC if you wish to give hypnosis a go.
“If you’ve ever entered a state of sleep, you can be hypnotised,” he says. “I can’t stress this enough – hypnosis is a natural state in which the subject is completely relaxed.”
He adds that it only wouldn’t work with people who don’t wish to be hypnotised.
“You cannot change someone against their will or make them do things they don’t want to do,” he says. “The key difference is intention or consent.”
An earlier version of this article first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of CLEO magazine.