Over the next few months I intend to offer up some self-help tips to Southampton Clinical Hypnotherapy Blog readers.
Included will be various hypnotic and behavioural strategies for tackling some of the more common problems people face day to day.
In order to make the most of these offerings I want to begin by providing you with a simple self-hypnosis technique that I teach my clients in practice. This will give you a nice frame for future self-help work.
What is self-hypnosis?
Self-hypnosis gives a person the ability to enjoy all the great benefits of hypnosis without the aid of a hypnotist. There are many ways that a person can learn to enter and exit hypnosis. Entering hypnosis is most commonly done via what is known as a ‘hypnotic induction’.
The man considered by most to be the father of modern hypnosis James Braid described hypnosis as a form of “mental concentration”. After coining the term “neuro-hypnotism” meaning nervous sleep, or sleep of the nervous system he later relabeled his work “monoideism” meaning to concentrate on a singular idea.
A hypnotic induction begins the narrowing of our focus towards an idea and in effect helps us enter hypnosis.
So learning self-hypnosis helps a person to enter hypnosis without the assistance of a hypnotist.
Why use self-hypnosis?
Without further discussion of what hypnosis ‘is’ (that discussion goes way beyond the pages of this blog) it would be useful to explain my reasons for using hypnotic techniques in therapy.
I believe that hypnosis should be primarily used as an adjunct to therapy rather than be considered a therapy in and of itself. Put simply I believe hypnosis is best considered a tool for supporting, improving and exaggerating the beneficial effects of therapy.
Although my work and programmes are influenced and draw from a wide range of therapeutic approaches a large majority of the techniques I commonly use stem from the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I choose to use CBT approaches as there is a large body of research supporting and demonstrating the effectiveness of their use in practice.
CBT is largely concerned with left-hemispheric brain function (in right-handed people). This simply means that CBT is primarily concerned with syntax or self-talk.
This is where hypnosis comes in –
Neuroscience tells us that hypnotic processing has significant influence in the right-hemisphere, the side more concerned with imagery.
Imagery based approaches to therapy have demonstrated good efficacy rates with medical and psychiatric disorders (Sheikh, 2003) making hypnosis a valuable clinical tool.
This helps us to understand how combining CBT with hypnosis gives us a more complete therapeutic model.
This understanding also gives a rationale for using hypnotic imagery outside of the clinical domain, such as in sports performance for example.
Hypnosis does not only help us overcome problems and gain relief, it can also be used to improve performance and achieve many ambitions and goals.
So now we understand how hypnosis can benefit us let’s look at how a person can use this powerful tool for themselves – Self-hypnosis!
How to use self-hypnosis
It is important to understand that hypnosis is not dangerous and no one has ever become stuck in a trance. It is however always worth considering your environment before practicing self-hypnosis. For example hypnosis can be very relaxing and you should allow sufficient time between practicing and driving, give yourself a chance to reacclimatise before doing anything that could pose a risk.
If you are prone to falling asleep easily, practice self-hypnosis sat upright in a chair.
Top Tip: I believe the best position to practice self-hypnosis is seated with feet flat on the floor and hands placed comfortably on your knees.
Learning to enter and exit hypnosis can be a very enjoyable experience but without a goal it will not serve you incredibly well. So set a goal before starting.
Setting goals & planning –
You can choose almost anything to be your goal with in reason. Try to make your goal realistic and specific. An example goal might be to learn how to become better at public speaking. So don’t set the goal at speaking to 1000 people, make it 10 and work upwards.
Now you have your goal you’ll want a basic plan for your session (I will be providing plenty of ideas and plans in the next few months on this blog so subscribe to keep up to date).
Your basic plan for becoming better at public speaking could involve the use of hypnotic imagery, in which you imagine yourself speaking with confidence in front of a small group of people.
How to use imagery –
Have a rough idea of what you might want to imagine before beginning but expect it to develop as you go.
Imagery can mean different things to different people and once you start using it you will find what suits you. Some basic pointers are:
Create imagery that suits you, images don’t have to be exact or even clear just notice what you notice.
See if you can notice visual images, sounds, maybe you can imagine smells, you may notice temperatures or even physical things such as the floor you stand on. You might just get a feeling or can imagine how it feels.
The more you practice the better you will become at using imagery.
Mantras and statements –
Some people like to create statements to tell them self in hypnosis. These statements are like mantras, for our example we might state “because I am practicing hypnotic public speaking I am improving at public speaking….I am improving at public speaking”
There are loads of tips and things that you can do in self-hypnosis and we will explore those in further blogs.
So now we have a goal and a plan lets learn how to enter and exit hypnosis.
A nice simple way to start your journey with self-hypnosis is to learn what is known as an ‘eye fixation’ induction. The eye fixation induction was James Braids’ original and preferred method of induction. Below is a simple version I have adapted and use a lot in practice.
Here’s how to do it –
Before you start pick a cue word or short phrase, something like “hypnosis now”. You can use this cue word whenever you choose to enter hypnosis.
Get yourself into a comfortable position, feet flat on the floor, hands resting on your knees (if you practice self-hypnosis laying down try not to get into your preferred sleeping position).
With your head remaining comfortably looking forward, raise your gaze upwards as if you were looking out of a window in your forehead (remember keep your head looking straight forward, don’t move your head as you raise your gaze upwards).
Pick a spot on the ceiling or high on a wall and concentrate your focus upon it.
While you complete the following counting exercise, keep your eyes focused on that spot and only allow your eyelids to close when it becomes too much effort to keep them open (you will notice your eyes begin blinking a lot and start to feel tired).
Ok, so you’re now sat comfortably, staring upwards, next you will need to begin counting downwards in your mind starting with the number 5.
As you think the number 5 in your mind try and visualise it. Perhaps notice if it looks bold or has a colour, make it as vivid as you can, perhaps imagine seeing it written in bright lights.
Next think and visualise your cue word. Again if you can, try and notice what your cue word looks like, make it vivid.
Then do the same with the number 4.
Follow this by thinking and visualising your cue word.
Repeat this all the way down to zero, closing your eyes at which ever point feels comfortable to do so (when you’re finding it too much effort to keep them open).
Top Tip: To get into a nice rhythm as you do this pair the number with a nice deep breath in and when you are ready exhale slowly thinking your cue word.
A nice easy formula for this is –
- Deep breath in = think and visualise the number
- Slow breath out = thinking and visualising your cue word
Once you have completed your induction you will need to deepen the hypnotic experience, using what is known as a ‘hypnotic deepener’. This allows the level of focus to be increased ready for you to implement your plan.
Here’s how to do it –
First imagine yourself standing at the top of a set of 10 stairs.
Each step represents a level of hypnosis.
In your mind you will then imagine stepping down, one step at a time.
Each step you take will help you to go deeper into hypnosis.
See if you can match your descent downwards with feelings of relaxation, telling yourself in your mind statements like “9, I am feeling more and more relaxed….8, feeling more peaceful and calm.
Trust that by the time you reach the bottom you will be sufficiently hypnotised to implement your plan.
Top Tips: Absorb yourself in the image as best as you can (remember not to worry too much if the imagery is not crystal clear just notice what you notice, that will be enough for you).
Things you may notice – the surface of the floor (carpet, wood, tiles etc), what it feels like under foot (hard, soft, cold, warm etc). Can you hear or feel your feet as you move them? Is there a hand rail (if so, what is made of and what does it feel like)?
Some people imagine a grand staircase, like that found in a posh hotel, others picture a familiar staircase, perhaps your staircase at home. It’s up to you, experiment, try different ones.
Implement your plan
Once you have completed your deepener you can begin to implement your plan. In this case see yourself in the scenario (in front of 10 people) successfully delivering your speech. Run the whole scene from start to finish stating your mantra. Repeat the scene a few times until you feel comfortable that it has sunk in. Again, make the scene as vivid as you can. What do you see, feel, hear, notice? Are you alone in the scene? Etc.
It is important to have belief in what you are doing, trust that doing this will help you, be positive about it and expect to experience positive changes.
Remember that the use of hypnotic imagery intensifies change work (Boutin, 1978).
As I stated earlier you can not get stuck in hypnosis, in fact if you wish to stop at any point just open your eyes and allow yourself a moment to reacclimatise.
Many people do however like to have a structured way of emerging from hypnosis.
Here is a nice way to do it –
Simply begin counting from 1 up to 5. With each number you count allow yourself to feel more alert. It maybe useful to imagine feeling more energised, becoming more alert with each number, before opening your eyes.
That’s it, that’s how to use and experience self-hypnosis!
But how do I know it worked?
Hypnosis is subjective in that everyone has their own experiences when practicing it.
Some people report feelings of dissociation, perhaps like daydreaming or that moment just before you drift off into a light sleep. Although often associated with sleep hypnosis is definitely not sleep. You will be aware of the things you hear, many people even notice a heightened awareness of the senses or focus of attention.
Often people report a feeling of being deeply engrossed in the experience, like being absorbed in a good book or film. Others simply report feeling deeply relaxed.
You may find you experience one or more of these sensations or something entirely different.
Whatever you experience it is important to trust that it is enough for you and what you are doing. Approach the experience with a positive expectancy. Bandura (1977) highlighted the importance of expectancy in therapy.
You will notice I use the word “practice” a lot, that is because you can develop and improve your hypnotic skills and hypnotisability (Gorassini & Spanos, 1999).
Adopt a willing positive attitude towards your experience rather than just ‘waiting to see what happens’.