Hypnosis: Nature’s Swiss Army Knife


With its myriad combinations of attachments and implements, the Swiss army knife is truly a versatile and nifty device, allowing us to easily accomplish numerous tasks, from filing nails to opening a bottle of wine. If only there were such a device to help us tackle the bigger issues we face — you know, the stuff like negative habits, feelings, behaviors, and physical conditions that hold so many of us back. Well, there is, and it’s called hypnosis, a naturally occurring state of consciousness that, in clinical applications (hypnotherapy), is safe, painless, and powerfully versatile in facilitating behavioral, emotional, and physical change — like a Swiss army knife for the mind.

A Long History of Healing

The recorded use of hypnosis as a tool for transformation and healing dates back more than 7,000 years. Through the millennia, hypnotherapy has ebbed and flowed in popularity, sometimes flourishing, sometimes almost disappearing, but always surviving — across cultures, geographies, technologies, and time itself — and for a very simple reason: It works!

Today, hypnotherapy is once again resurgent. Researchers and practitioners worldwide are uncovering the scientific basis through which the brain creates and benefits from hypnotic trance, thus taking hypnosis and hypnotherapy out of the realm of the esoteric and metaphysical and into the mainstream of modern health care and wellness.

Shattering the Myths

Notwithstanding the new science, however, for many, hypnosis still evokes images of piercing eyes, swinging watches, goofy stage-show shenanigans, bad plot lines in bad movies, or — even worse — the specter of losing control and being programmed to act against one’s will, getting stuck in some zombie-like netherworld, or being possessed by Satan.

Fortunately, these notions — all archaic and absolute nonsense — are rapidly succumbing to the cold, hard logic of modern science. It is fact that no one can enter hypnosis against their will, and they cannot lose control of their mind, or get stuck, or be possessed, period. Ironically, the whole purpose of hypnotherapy is to help clients increase control over both their minds and bodies, and thus, by extension, their lives.

We Are All Hypnotized Every Day

Most people are surprised to learn that virtually all of us experience hypnosis all by ourselves, every day of our lives. Anytime you get engrossed in a good book, zone out or daydream, find yourself pulling into your driveway but don’t remember getting there, watch a movie or TV show and laugh, cry, feel excited, or happy, sad or terrified, you are in fact in hypnosis; you are hypnotized!

Of course, there appears to be a big difference between our blubbering when ET goes home or zoning out on the freeway and transcending a life-limiting issue. But it’s just that — appearance. Since hypnosis is merely a state of consciousness that can happen automatically or be induced on purpose through a guide (hypnotist), or on one’s own (self-hypnosis), like the Swiss army knife, its effect is all about how it’s applied.

Try a Little Self-Hypnosis

Sit comfortably somewhere without distractions or disturbance. Close your eyes and relax them completely; let the lids feel so heavy that they cannot open. Now, do the same with your jaw — l et it droop as if the bones and muscles are jelly. Breathe slowly and gently, and relax your neck and shoulders, then arms and hands, torso, hips, upper and lower legs, and feet. Refocus attention to your eyes; gently look up toward the inside of your forehead and breathe in; as you release the breath, silently say, “Totally relaxed, deep sleep.” You are in light hypnosis — nothing more to it. To come out, count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, eyes open, wide-awake.” You’re back. Congratulations, you just hypnotized yourself.

Deep Sleep: How it Works

Entering hypnosis involves both the conscious and cognitive and the subconscious and automatic parts of the mind, engaging and creating a neurological bypass to homeostasis, our inborn and sometimes tenacious resistance to change and the unfamiliar. We thus enter a state of altered but cognizant consciousness almost identical to that achieved through meditation — highly focused, open, and wonderfully receptive to new thoughts, ideas, behaviors, and feelings both emotional and physical, as long as they are in line with our desires.

With homeostasis essentially turned off, the conscious and subconscious minds conduct a sort of neurological summit meeting — a new “policy” is suggested, negotiated, and ratified, and then, with appropriate reinforcement (usually multiple sessions combined with simple, daily exercises), the brain essentially reprograms itself. In essence, we purposefully exploit and manipulate both neural plasticity — our brain’s ability to rewire itself — and the power and potential of the mind-body dynamic. Yes, we can teach old dogs new tricks!

Almost Limitless Applications

The potential applications for clinical hypnosis are extensive. Just a partial list includes: overcoming unwanted or unhealthy habits (e.g., smoking, nail-biting); changing behavioral and emotional patterns; conquering fears and phobias; increasing self-confidence and self-esteem; improving focus, concentration and performance in sports, school, or at work; analgesia and anesthesia for medical/dental conditions and chronic pain; minimizing tissue damage, blood loss, and accelerating healing from dental and surgical procedures; easing the side-effects of chemo and radiation therapy; managing (sometimes eliminating) many traditionally difficult-to-treat ailments like migraine, IBS, immune disorders, asthma, allergies, sexual dysfunction, and many more.

No Silver Bullet

Naturally, like any tool or technique — however versatile — there are limits to the efficacy of hypnotherapy. It is not a panacea — some people and conditions do not respond — and it is certainly not magic, although it can work so quickly it may feel that way. Success requires genuine desire, willingness to experience induced hypnosis, belief in a positive outcome and commitment to the therapeutic process.

Of course, to the millions who do benefit, these requirements seem a small price to pay for such a potentially wonderful result — feeling empowered and living life the way they want to, rather than feeling stuck and helpless. It is a delicious way to feel, and something we all deserve to experience.

John McGrail, Ph.D., is a renowned clinical hypnotherapist, self-improvement expert and spiritual teacher, and author of “The Synthesis Effect: Your Direct Path to Personal Power and Transformation.” Find Dr. McGrail on Twitter@DrJohnMcGrail.

This article was first published in the print edition of Brain World Magazine.

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We believe that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier, and that advances in understanding the nature of the brain, consciousness, behavior, and health will transform human life in this century.

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