Hypnosis is a state of the mind in which the individual enters into an altered state of the conciousness and becomes unaware of his immediate environment. Such a state is achieved though certain meditative techniques, not with the use of any mood altering substances. It is in such a state that the person is susceptible and open to suggestions and able to use them constructively. Hence this kind of a state is fertile ground for therapeutic process and is known as Hypnotherapy.
 Definitions of Hypnosis
"Hypnosis is a focused state of concentration." Medical Encyclopedia, US National Library of Medicine
"Hypnosis puts you in a deeply-relaxed state that can help reduce discomfort and anxiety." Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Cancer Institute
" 'Hypnosis' means a process by which one individual induces or assists another individual into a hypnotic state without the use of drugs or other substances and for the purpose of increasing motivation or to assist the individual to alter lifestyles or habits." Mental Health Professional Practice Act, Utah
 Behavioural Medicine and Hypnotherapy
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The ambit of psychology, essentially the application of its methods, is slowly extending itself to the medical world. This has led to the emergence of a new field called the behavioural medicine or health psychology. It involves the scientific application of knowledge about the working of the human mind to try and deal with the problems involving physical health and illness. The entire body of work in this field is premised on this belief that the mind and the body are inter-related and form a composite whole. Problems such as hypertension, headaches, asthma, diabetes, obesity, insomnia, and pain management in major illnesses as cancer and childbirth are addressed.
The body of behavioural science employs various techniques as part of its therapeutic range. Hypnosis is one of the techniques that are applied to the individual to aid relaxation, the others being biofeedback technique and relaxation techniques. Hypnosis is essentially an abbreviated term, borrowed from neuro-hypnotism, coined by James Braid in 1843, to mean ‘sleep of the nervous system’. Thus hypnosis is marked by a deeply relaxed state of the consciousness, where a person is relaxed both mentally and physically, to an extent that he is completely under the spell of the therapist. It is under such induced conditions that the therapist resorts to suggestions and modifications that can alter the person’s behaviour. The operative word here is ‘open to suggestions’, described clinically as ‘hyper suggestibility’. In the absence of hyper -suggestibility, the person cannot be called ‘hypnotised”.
 Brief History of Hypnotherapy
Hypnosis is different from mesmerism, although both terms have been used as synonyms for a long time. In fact, the confusion was allowed to flourish through popular fiction, magic shows, stage performances and the likes. Mesmer, the father of the form of mesmerism, channelised occult powers to lead to a trance like situation. However, this could not be established very scientifically. It was James Braid who finally explained the entire phenomenon in scientific terms, mainly by being able to establish links between the mind (psychological) with the body (physiological).
The importance of hypnosis as a tool was recognised and used most extensively by Sigmund Freud. In his initial years he used it on a lot of his patients. Later in his psychoanalytical approach, he underlined the use of free association to unearth and unravel the deep seated repressed thought processes. This was similar to hypnosis and induced a trance like state. However, Freud allowed for an unstructured expression of thoughts in this process and did not himself give any suggestions or leads.
Later Freud himself is understood to have restructured his use of hypnosis because the whole process of allowing a person express himself was time consuming and often did not yield complete results. Thus free association was administered with hypnosis, mainly to hasten the outcome of free – association.
 Areas of Usage
Most therapists use this technique to unravel or uncover repressed needs, desires or beliefs. This is mostly true for therapists who belong to the psychoanalytical school of thought. Within the fast emerging field of health psychology or behavioural medicine, there are two major reasons for the use of hypnosis. One, it is used to directly alleviate nausea, vomiting and the likes. This is used especially for patients undergoing chemotherapy and who suffer from nausea prior to chemotherapy.
The second and more important reason behind using hypnosis is that it provides a fertile ground for introducing behavioural modifications. The person in a hypnotised state is susceptible to suggestions and this is used to the maximum advantage by the therapist wishing to modify certain behaviour. This is of much importance in cases where the person has problems managing pain, stress, dysfunctional habits or personality maladjustments.
 Hypnosis and Stress management
In the world we live, stress had assumed immensely large proportions and it is considered the most dangerous of all the lifestyle diseases that have overtaken mankind so far. Stress today is considered a medical condition. Most of the time people do practice some form of stress management. However there are certain cases in which the individual finds it extremely difficult to combat stress and this interferes with his capacity to operate as a normal, functional human entity. It is under these extreme conditions that individuals resort to some form of medical help.
Stress can be handled effectively by hypnosis. The individual is put into a complete state of relaxation with the help of certain deep relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and self hypnosis. This process is called hypnotic induction. This happens in three steps. One, the patient is asked to concentrate on a certain point, say a spot on the wall or ceiling or board. Second relaxation instructions are given by focusing on the body in parts, starting with the muscles in the feet and gradually progressing upwards. Finally visualization or relaxed imagery is provided so that the person feels as if he is in a more positive environment. These sessions last for 30 minutes or so. Due to increased receptiveness to suggestions, the individual is given certain guided instructions to weed out the source of his tension and to help him cope better with the stressors.
 Insomnia and hypnosis
Insomnia is the inability to go to sleep as well as an inability to maintain sleep. It is therefore an extended period of wakefulness. The chronic prevalence of insomnia usually interferes with the normal funtioning of the individual and his ability to cope with his environment. Insomnia is mostly due to stressors present in the life of the individual which he is unable to cope with. Alternatively it can also be due to certain malfunctions in the brain wave pattern. Usually a person passes through 4 main stages to fall asleep. They are : Thinking, fantasy, hypnoidal and unconcious sleep.
In the thinking stage, a person thinks of the events that have occurred in the course of the day or his schedule for the day that is to come or other thoughts associated with himself and his environment.
In the fantasy stage, unconsciously, the individuals thoughts are tuned towards those thoughts that are relaxing in nature. This is also called the ALPHA state. In the third stage, the individual enters in a state that is hypnotic in nature, that is his time – space orientations gradually get blurred. His mind and body release tension and go completely relaxed and lulled into a state that is akin to what is achieved in hypnosis. This stage is an important state and from hereon the person goes into a state of complete sleep. Since all of this happens in a haze, the individual is disoriented.
The last stage is the unconcious state where the person momentarily loses his grip on the environment. Physical processes become involuntary and the person falls asleep.
In insomnia, the brain has difficulty entering the fantasy stage from the thinking stage. The conscious process taking place in the brain keeps the brain and other associated physical functions in a wakeful state. This deters sleep setting in. Thus it is imperative to facilitate the brain processes so that it reaches the fantasy stage effortlessly. Here subconscious activators have to be employed to reduce stressors. One way to do it is to induce relaxing imagery. This is where hypnosis can help. Hypnosis, with its principal of suggestibility impresses upon a person that he is actually sleepy. Relaxation techniques, visualisations and imagery help individual relax enough to be able to enter the fantasy and the hypnodial stage. The later state is where suggestibility works to the maximum effect. The conscious and the subconscious at this stage are divorced from each other. The conscious state is altered and pushed to the background. The subconscious portions are worked upon. The subconscious cannot differentiate between real and imagined events and so a condition is created in which the suggestion given by the hypnotherapist is impressed upon so much that the mind actually accepts it as a reality. The person falls asleep.
Self Hypnosis works very well in cases of insomnia. The individual is taught how to relax the muscles, starting with the toes right up to the shoulders and neck. He is asked to visualise, breath deeply, concentrate on the breathing pattern, and as he finds himself go limp, he is asked to tell himself that he is sleepy. This usually takes a good amount of practise and concentration. However, once the individual masters it, he can not only fall asleep, but also is able to maintain his sleep through the night.
 Hypnosis and Pregnancy
Pregnancy is one of the most miraculous events that can happen to a woman during her lifetime, provided she is ready for it and the pregnancy has occurred under happy circumstances. However it is also riddled with physical and psychological distress. This is especially true for first time mothers to be. Hypnosis can play a big role, provided the mother to be recognises its potential and practices it regularly so as to enjoy its benefits. Called Natal Hypnotherapy, this kind of medium endeavours to make childbirth a positive, pleasant and most importantly, an empowering event where the woman has complete control over her body. Natal Hypnotherapy can be a useful tool for a woman at the time she is ready to start a family. The reasons for it are fairly simple; hypnotherapy helps to recede the stress level in an individual. High stress decreases the chances of conception. Thus with the help of self inducted hypnotherapy, a woman can improve her ability to conceive. With time the ability to go into a deeper trance is also expected and this works to the complete advantage for the expectant mother.
The first trimester is associated usually with morning sickness. While this generally occurs in the morning, in some cases it can also continue well into the day. This is a source of extreme distress for the pregnant mother. In addition there is an overall feeling of lethargy and listlessness. Usually the root cause for all these problems is the secretion of the hormone HCG ( Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin). HCG promotes the secretion of oestrogen and progestrogen. There is also an increase in the hormone Cortisol which is known to be associated with anxiety and stress. Thus during the initial days, every woman feels stressful, anxious and unsure of her decision. Coupled with nausea and a feeling of physical lethargy, the first trimester poses a lot of difficulty.
Hypnosis can very well address the issue of nausea and listlessness. Suggestions to stop emission can be given as also those that advocate the release of stresses and tensions. Self hypnosis can be very relaxing and therapeutic and can recharge the mind and body of the expectant mother.
This is also a time of huge emotional turmoil. If it pertains only to the woman’s expectations from herself and her anxities regarding how well she will be able to manage her duties as a mother, then hypnotherapy may be the perfect way to ease such tension and help her relax. However some emotional turmoil could also be due to her own experiences. Past life traumas may also be another reason for emotional upheavals. Such cases need to be investigated using the method of hypoanalysis and depending on the results, the patient could be given an opportunity to express her repressed thoughts, relieve the pain and trauma and then through suggestions, purge the person of her troubles and help her be happy wholesome self again, something very important at the time of pregnancy.
It is a known fact that the more a client practices hypnosis, the greater the depth will be achieved. Thus over a period of time even clients who can only achieve light trance will soon allay there fears of the hypnotic state and will easily enter the deeper states needed for analgesia/anesthesia and or pain relief. The second trimester is relatively uneventful and this time can be fruitfully used to increase the time and depth of trance. Here the woman can be taught elf hypnosis so that at an appropriate time she can produce analgesia and anesthesia.
The third trimester can be the most tiresome of the entire stretch because the baby’s growing weight adds to a lot of problems. The expectant mother suffers from flatulence, heart burn, acidity, high blood pressure, increased blood sugar level. The baby’s weight puts pressure on the spinal cord, on the back and pelvic region. The feet often swell up and the frequency of urination also increases. Movement becomes difficult. Hypnotherapy can be used to eradicate most of the problems, more successfully if the patient has been doing it since conception.
The last few weeks can be utilized to get the woman ready for the birthing experience. With the use of visualization, the therapist may be able to alter the notion of birth as a painful process. The woman can be taught to visualize and experience contractions as tingling sensations as opposed to the painful experiences that they usually are. In addition, the therapist may also work with the birth partners, midwives etc. to teach them ways to induce hypnosis in the woman and reduce discomfort to a great extent.
The time of birth is the most crucial of all events and marks the end of a long wait for the expectant mother. Hypnotherapy during the process of birth can help in many ways, most notable among which is the ability to feel decreased pain. The contractions that are painful for most women are felt as bearable contractions. The woman is fully aware of all the changes occurring inside her as well as out side of her. This makes the experience a highly pleasurable as well as a memorable one.
Till the onset of established labour, hypnotherapists do not induce the woman into a trance. However this can be a non invasive and an effective way of handling the entire process without being deluged by it. The trance state, if initiated can be extended till the birth of the placenta. Most hypnotherapists do not themselves advocate it. Instead they work alongside the team of medical practitioners to ease away the pain, discomfort, stress and fatigue during childbirth.
The post natal hypnotherapy as the name suggests takes place after the birthing process and is very effective to heal the woman and renew her energy levels. More importantly, it can be useful to stimulate milk secretion by way of suggesting a tingling feeling in the breasts. Blood flow, pain and dizziness can also be effectively controlled by post natal hypnotherapy.
Natal hypnotherapy is an extremely innovative way to help a woman during the most wondersome time of her life. The process is not an end in itself, rather is a means to an end, the end being easy stress free childbirth. Although in theory it seems slightly improbable, yet in practice many have been able to do it. Even if it may not be of great help during the birthing process, it definitely can assist in creating an easier, stress free, healthy time in which the mother too experiences a sense of well being and happiness.
Hypnotherapy perhaps is one of the most non intrusive and relaxing ways to induce changes in one’s own self. It is especially true in cases where the individual seeks to kick away dysfunctional habits. By putting the person into a trance, the therapist suggests ways to the person to do away with ill habits. For example, to treat obesity in a person, a therapist may suggest that the person will not feel hungry any more. Such suggestions usually yield the desired results. Thus an individual is able to change himself and create a more positive self image.
As it is with other such alternate healing procedures, hypnotherapy too is met with a lot of skepticism. Most of it is due to the fact that there is not much empirical evidence to support the efficacy of such a therapy. Psychologists themselves such as Smith and Glass, 1977 and Shapiro and Shapiro, 1982 evaluated a variety of therapies and found that the most reliable among them were the cognitive behavioural and humanistic theories. Among the therapies that form the core of behavioural science, biofeedback technique scores the most. However it would be unfair to do away with a therapeutic process that has been used most extensively by Sigmund Freud himself. Lack of empirical evidence may not be a surefire base for dismissing it. A lot of its success depends on faith in the process itself. This is precisely why self –hypnosis works the best, primarily because the person is most in tune with himself and is able to change himself in the best way, in the best direction. The effects in such a case are more long term.
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