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Frequently Asked Questions

Hypnosis is a Bridge to the Subconscious Mind


What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a natural state of awareness which can be described as becoming deeply absorbed in something. It is commonly experienced while daydreaming, reading a book, watching a movie, driving a car, or any other activity that a person becomes deeply absorbed in. We all shift into this state when crossing over into sleep each night and beginning to awaken each morning.

We all have the ability to pay attention to some degree. Sometimes our attention is diffuse and spread out, when we are aware of many things going on around us. At other times our attention becomes more focused on one particular thing and other distractions are tuned out or ignored (like zooming in with binoculars). Focusing on one thing and sustaining this state of intense concentration is what is known as hypnosis.

Actually, the word hypnosis is a misnomer. In 1842, Dr. James Braid, a British neurosurgeon, named the phenomena after Hypnos, the Greek god or spirit of sleep, because it looked like sleeping. He soon came to realize that people experiencing hypnosis were not at all sleeping or unconscious. On the contrary, they were extremely awake and alert. At that point, he did attempt to change the name to monoideism (meaning one word or one thought), but by then, the word hypnosis had become widely accepted, and it remains with us to this day.

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What happens during hypnosis?

While in a hypnotic state, your awareness increases and you have greater access to all parts of your mind. You can concentrate intensely on a specific thought, feeling, sensation or memory, while blocking out other unnecessary distractions. In this state of deep concentration, you are more open than usual to suggestions, and you have a greater receptivity to making changes in how you think, feel and act.

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How do our minds become more open to suggestion during hypnosis?

When we speak of the mind, the whole mind, we usually divide it into two parts: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.

Some people use the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the whole mind, with the smaller, visible portion above water representing the conscious mind, and the greater portion hidden below the water's surface (below the level of conscious awareness) representing the subconscious mind.

The two levels of mind are intimately connected and integrated together within the whole mind, but they each have very different functions.

The conscious mind is above all a problem solver. It analyzes and evaluates situations in order to make decisions. It has been described as logical, rational, intellectual, linear and verbal. Its language is words. The conscious mind uses will power to act, and while changes can be made in this way, very often those changes are not long lasting. Eventually old habits and ways of thinking chip away at what has been consciously achieved through will power, setting up an internal battle, and eroding to a great degree whatever had been accomplished.

The subconscious mind encompasses all the parts of the whole mind that are outside of a person's conscious awareness. It holds the memories of everything we have learned or experienced in life. It holds our habits, our values and our beliefs. It is the seat of imagination and emotions. It also regulates all the automatic processes that take place within our bodies, like our heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. The subconscious mind is truly a person's internal caretaker. It has been described as creative, intuitive, receptive, emotional, non-linear and nonverbal. Its language is images, metaphors and symbols, and it is most easily communicated with through imagination and visualization. In order for real lasting changes to be made, the subconscious mind must be willing to accept new ideas and beliefs.

Change can seem difficult or elusive. Our minds have protective safeguards built in to prevent change from happening too easily. While the subconscious mind is, in many ways, the protector and caretaker of a person's wellbeing, the conscious mind, in turn, is the protector and caretaker of the subconscious mind and its functions. There is a part of the conscious mind called the critical factor. It is like a gate keeper and it functions as a screen or filter for the subconscious mind, analyzing and evaluating any new thoughts and ideas to determine whether or not they are in agreement with the information, values, and beliefs already held in our subconscious mind. If they are in agreement, the messages are allowed to pass through. If not, they are rejected.

This creates order out of what could be chaos, and enables us to maintain integrity and stability in our thinking and feelings. The paradox is that it can also become an obstacle to making changes that we truly desire. This innate resistance to change can at times be difficult to overcome.

When the gatekeeper of the conscious mind, the critical factor, is temporarily relaxed and becomes less dominant, it is possible to communicate more directly with the subconscious mind. This is hypnosis: bypassing the critical factor of the conscious mind, clearing the path so to speak, and establishing direct communication with the subconscious mind, presenting new suggestions for possible acceptance. Changes made in this way are much more apt to be long lasting, because they are made with the acceptance and powerful support of the subconscious mind.

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Can a hypnotist control a person's mind?

Of course not. While a person experiencing hypnosis often becomes more open to suggestions, they are fully awake mentally. They hear everything that is said, and they themselves choose which suggestions they will accept and which they will reject. If a hypnotist were to make a suggestion that their client does not like, the client can simply ignore it.

The hypnotized person retains complete control. In fact, the purpose of hypnosis is to help you gain more control over your own thinking, emotions, behavior and physical well-being.

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What about stage shows where people do silly things like quack like a duck?

People go to stage shows to be entertained. Some of these people volunteer to actually be part of the entertainment. It is important to realize this. They are willing to accept the suggestions to be a part of the show.

Going to a hypnotist for help in making changes is entirely different. Suggestions given are specifically tailored to help a person achieve what they desire. And even then, those suggestions can be accepted or rejected.

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Can hypnosis make a person reveal personal information?

Not at all. While in hypnosis, you are in complete control of what you say and do.

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Can a person become stuck in hypnosis?

No. The hypnotic state is very pleasant, and most people enjoy staying in it as long as they can. You have the ability, however, to end your hypnotic state whenever you wish. If there were to be an emergency, you would simply open your eyes and deal with the problem.

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Will my church have a problem with hypnosis?

Most religions support the use of hypnosis for helping people. This would include Protestant and Orthodox churches, Catholic churches (sanctioned by the Vatican), as well as Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto and Muslim religious communities. (Excluded from this are Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Science, Scientology, and some Assembly of God Churches.)

Most people opposed to hypnosis are operating under some of the misconceptions already discussed. If hypnosis actually did what some people claim for it, the objections would be valid. But that is not the case. A person in a hypnotic state of awareness remains in complete control of himself or herself. Their will cannot be taken over by a hypnotist, nor do they become psychologically or spiritually defenseless or open to nonhuman influences.

Hypnosis is a tool which can be used to help people live more full and comfortable lives. In the words of Rev. Scot Giles, "Hypnotic words can be words that give life, and such words are blessed by Scripture."

"Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."
(quote from the Christian Bible, New Testament, Romans 12:2)

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Is hypnosis the same as relaxation?

Not exactly. Becoming physically relaxed often leads to a hypnotic state, but it is by no means necessary. Hypnosis is a shift in awareness of the mind. It is true that many people learn how to relax more deeply and completely while in hypnosis.

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What is the difference between hypnosis and self hypnosis?

You may have heard the line, "All hypnosis is self hypnosis." This is true, as hypnosis is something you do. It is not something that can be done to you. A person makes the shift in awareness within their own mind. A hypnotist is simply a guide, leading the person through the process. If a person decides not to follow the guide, the hypnotist may as well be talking to the wall, as nothing will happen.

These days, there are many good resources available that can help a person learn how to enter the hypnotic state when they wish and to present suggestions to themselves.

There are some occasions, however, when it is better to have a guide.

Sometimes when a person is learning self hypnosis, they are not quite sure whether or not they are really doing it. Shifting back and forth between the functioning of the conscious mind and subconscious mind can be confusing or distracting for a person. In this case it can be helpful to have a session with a hypnotist. Once you have experienced hypnosis, you can more easily recognize what it feels like, and be able to enter it on your own whenever you choose. As part of the learning session, the hypnotist can also give you the suggestion that you will be able to enter the state easily on your own.

Self hypnosis works best when giving simple suggestions to yourself. If your intention is to explore your mind to discover insights that will help to make a change in your life, or if you want input from another person in creating and presenting you with suggestions to help you move towards your goal, then sessions with a hypnotist will probably be more helpful than doing it on your own.

You can accomplish much on your own with self hypnosis, but some people simply enjoy the luxury of having a guide.

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Can anyone be hypnotized?

Shifting your mind into the state of awareness called hypnosis is a normal human ability. It is a skill that everyone has to some degree, and which can be learned and increased with practice. Some people are concerned that they will not be able to make this shift of awareness, either because their mind is "too strong" or "too weak". But it is a capacity, not a measure of strength or weakness. Actually, the more a person is able to use both sides of their brain, the more easily this skill seems to come to them. Anyone who has the normal ability to concentrate will be successful. Remember, most people do this frequently throughout the day.

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Are some people more talented than others at entering hypnotic states?

It is the power of the imagination that allows us easy access to the subconscious mind, and generally speaking, young children are masters and mistresses of the imagination. A child playing a game knows perfectly well that a stuffed animal is not alive, that a doll tea party has no real tea and cookies, or that he or she is not a real superhero. But this does not interfere with their throwing themselves wholeheartedly into creating these scenarios in their minds, because the powers of their imaginations are so fresh and vibrant. William Butler Yeats referred to this inner creative capacity of the imagination as "the brightening glance." Adults have not lost this ability, but it has often grown dimmer through lack of use.

The brightening glance.

It is a sense of awareness which can be reawakened, and hypnosis is one of the ways of doing this.

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