- Posted: January 2013
- By: Michael Carroll
Healing with Hypnosis
A short history
Altered states of consciousness have been utilised for centuries as a means of healing and creating change in individuals. Indigenous tribes used various dances and rituals to access trance like states. In the last quarter of the 18th century Anton Franz Mesmer’s animal magnetism became known for inducing altered states where healing occurred.
David Braid a Scottish-born physician practising in Manchester during the mid-nineteenth century sought to disprove the notion of ‘animal magnetism.’ Braid quickly established so-called ‘animal magnetism’ had nothing to do with the trance states people were entering when subject to Mesmerism. Having dismissed erroneous theories of animal magnetism Braid set out to establish scientific reasons for how people entered trance states.
Braid conducted a series of experiments where the subjects were instructed to gaze steadily at an object. He discovered the fixation of eyes produced a trance-like state. His first technique was to hold a small bright object between 8 to 16 inches (20cm-40cm) in front of his subjects’ eyes so that the eyes became strained, after which the eyelids would often close spontaneously. Believing that the ‘sleep’ resulted from fatigue of the eyes he concluded that the phenomena was a form of sleep. Dr Braid named the phenomena after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep and master of dreams.
As he continued with his experiments however he found he achieved trance states by suggestions alone. But by 1847 he discovered that all the major phenomena of hypnotism such as catalepsy, anesthesia and amnesia could be induced without sleep. Realising his choice of the term hypnosis had been a mistake; he tried to rename it to monoideism. The term hypnosis stuck. Braid is the grandfather of hypnosis in the sense of the process and name.
Freud studied hypnosis with Dr Jean Charcot in 1886 who at the time believed hypnosis and hysteria had similar qualities. Charcot thought he could use hypnosis as a means of inducing the hysteric state in people he was treating. Charcot did not consider hypnosis a cure. Freud initially used hypnosis as means to help people uncover what he considered to be repressed memories. Later in his career he dropped hypnosis in favour of free association. Freud described the unconscious mind as a store house of repressed memories and repressed sexual desires.
During the early part of the 20th century several experimenters explored the phenomena of hypnosis. Milton Erickson made the most valuable contribution in terms of research and discovering applications for health. Erickson was a psychiatrist who was interested in the clinical applications of hypnosis. Erickson believed patients were patients because they are out of rapport with their unconscious mind. He believed the unconscious had all the resources for healing emotional and physiological issues.
Trance is a naturally occurring state
Trance is a natural every day occurring event. Biologically the state of trance is similar to the hypnogogic state (transition from waking to sleeping). There is a considerable amount of research indicating strong similarities between hypnosis and dreaming. Throughout the day and night we cycle through biological rhythms known as ultradian rhythms. During ultradian rhythm transitions we go ‘off-line’, this is like a trance state. An example of this is when you are watching TV and your mind wanders, your attention is on your own internal world. When your attention is again brought to the external stimuli, you realise you have no conscious awareness of the TV programme. We have these internal moments at least every ninety minutes. Ericksonian hypnosis is about inducing and amplifying such states. Wellness and its converse are also states that have hypnotic tendencies. You could argue that dis-ease is a form of trance induced as a consequence of life circumstances. With hypnosis we harness a healing trance to move on from illness and maintain wellbeing.
Milton Erickson described trance as where you are narrowly focused and paying attention to what is immediately important. In this narrowly focused state you can access memories and resources that you have long since forgotten. Trance is usually an internally focused, amplified state. In trance the boundaries between the hypnotist and the subject blur so that the subject will follow the hypnotist’s lead.
Conscious and Unconscious Mind
All of human experience is mediated through the nervous system. The nervous system is a vast network that includes billions of neurological connections. When we talk of the mind, we refer to the totality of the result of potential connections within the human nervous system. In hypnosis and NLP we create a metaphor of the mind being in two segments, a conscious mind and an unconscious mind.
Philosopher René Descartes did not have access to neuroscience in the seventeenth century when he hypothesised that mental experiences are separate from body experiences. This mind-body dualism was widely adapted by many scientists and psychologists for some three hundred years. Very few (if any) scientists now hold true the dualism presented by Descartes. However, a lot of psychological approaches have been built upon an alleged superiority of conscious thinking, with therapists using methods to get the clients to think and talk their way out of a problem. The challenge is, as you will read in the next paragraphs, thinking and its derivate talking (conscious mind), is such a small part of the intelligence of the whole mind that therapies that are restricted solely to conscious mind analysis are not successful.
The conscious mind has limited processing capabilities, compared to the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is dominated by the logic of natural language partitions represented as the narrative of the linguistic representation. George A Miller’s paper ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two’ is often cited in NLP as a reference point for research into the limitations of our capacity for conscious awareness.
We refer to the conscious mind as the representations you are aware of in any given moment i.e. the immediate map you have conscious access to. Your conscious mind expresses itself through your internal running commentary on the events you experience in any one moment. Your conscious mind is the part of your mind that you are using to read and process these words. As you look at this page you are saying the words in your mind, and as you derive meaning from the text, you establish how the meaning relates to you. Your conscious mind is linear, sequential and logical and likes everything to make sense. You may have heard the expression “he has an overactive conscious mind”. This means the person seeks to logically understand everything (a real paradox), wants a label and explanation for his experience. A person with an overactive conscious mind finds it difficult to be in the moment or go with the flow, is stuck in their internal dialogue and is often less aware of sensory experience. Hypnotic trance is useful to distract the conscious mind when working with clients, so the suggestions are accepted by the unconscious mind.
We say that somehow your unconscious mind has the complete knowledge of the system that is you. The unconscious mind is everything else in the mind body system that is not conscious in that moment. Your unconscious has amazing processing capabilities compared with the conscious mind. Research shows the unconscious mind absorbs millions of bits of sensory information through the nervous system in any one second. Given the name ‘unconscious mind’ you will not be aware of a lot of the processes that the unconscious mind engages in. Some people are more aware than others of the functioning of the unconscious mind. These people have what’s called good communication with their unconscious.
On the physical side, at this moment your unconscious is regulating the functioning in your body, pumping blood from your heart, digesting your food, cleansing the lymph cells, healing any cuts, and counteracting any antibodies that come into the system. You don’t consciously have to think about making your heart beat; your eyes blink or your lungs fill with oxygen. All this happens unconsciously. Through hypnosis you can harness the power of the unconscious to access the healing properties of the unconscious.
The components of your past experiences and what you have learned in life physically and mentally are within your unconscious. If I was to ask you to think of your first day at school, your first kiss, a representation (or series of representations) may come to conscious attention. These representations of past events are located in the unconscious mind. The past representation came from the unconscious to be the current representation, and became what was already there.
If you have a phobia, every time you experience that phobia you are physically and mentally matching current stimuli (VAKOG) with an unconscious reconstruction of a past representation. The unconscious mind is habitual and learns easily when stimulated. In the case of the phobic it’s usually one experience that creates the learned behaviour of a phobia. It’s amazing how the unconscious mind remembers to activate a fight or flight response every time the phobic comes into contact with the phobia stimuli. Introduce the phobia stimuli and no matter what the phobic is doing, his conscious attention will be jammed with the fight or flight response. Even though intellectually the phobic understands the spider/mouse etc cannot hurt him, he cannot override the unconscious response with conscious will. The logic of the conscious mind does not work when dealing with problems.
Your unconscious mind expresses itself through feelings, habits, and sensations in your body i.e. pain, light-headedness, muscle tension etc. So-called emotions such as happiness, sadness and so on are the conscious mind labels assigned to unconscious processes such as electrical chemical reactions in the nervous system. The emotion is felt in the body as sensations; we nominalise the experience in the body and talk about emotions, often losing touch with the true feeling.
Often a physical symptom is like a cover for an emotional issue. Both the physical and emotional aspects of the condition have formed and will need healing. If a practitioner works with healing the physical issue without healing the emotional aspects, there is chance a physical issue will manifest again. It’s as if the physical issue is a signal, to pay attention.
The unconscious mind has within it enormous potential for change and is able to learn positive new responses easily. It’s a question of stimulating the unconscious mind through effective communication to create change. Hypnosis therefore is an excellent means of harnessing the power of the unconscious mind to heal