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What Is Hypnosis?

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"What is Hypnosis?" Describe the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis and discuss the role of relaxation in Hypnotherapy.

The tern Hypnosis often stirs up quite strong images and feelings in people who have a variety of views on the subject. In this essay I will attempt to give a definition of the term and will aim to provide an explanation clarifying the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis. I will also discuss the role of relaxation. Finally I will provide a conclusion.

Before I attempt to define Hypnosis it is necessary to briefly track the path of its development over time. Historically, various forms of hypnosis or trance like states have been used in different cultures and for hundreds of years. Essentially Hypnosis is not quantifiable and its use over time has not only been flexible but has altered and evolved to become what we consider it to be in the modern world today. The origins of hypnosis can be traced back to 'witch doctors' and 'medicine men' where to be a healer Shaman achieved heightened powers of concentration where they were strongly focused and able to enter a trancelike state. Mesmer, who was an Austrian doctor, developed his healing using magnets and the belief that 'cosmic fluid' could be stored in inanimate objects and transferred to patients to cure them of illness. Essentially it was the powers of concentration that held the healing effects. His success was due to the fact that his patients fully held the expectation that they would be cured. The success of what Mesmer and his followers termed 'animal magnetism' was in fact due to 'suggestion' and the term 'mesmerising' was born.

What Mesmer had taught caught on and was practised all over Germany and to some degree in France, but it was an English Doctor James Braid who gave us the name Hypnosis. Various other practitioners and doctors, including Freud, studied or practiced forms of Hypnosis with ranging degrees of success or following. Although Freud was not a great Hypnotist he was convinced that humans have powerful hidden mental ability. It was these studies and influences combined that led Erikson to his work on the suggestibility of an individual to access the subconscious. This formed the basis for modern hypnosis as we know it today.

'Hypnosis is a psychological phenomenon' (Heap 2012 p.1) The psychological aspects of hypnosis however, are not easy to quantify and experiences remain very individual. It is clear though that hypnosis is a state of mind somewhere between being alert and asleep, put simply it is an altered level of consciousness such as we experience when day dreaming or when in automatic mode. It is perhaps best explained as "a state of mind brought about by the use of a set of techniques. It enhances an individual's concentration and increases their responsiveness to suggestion in order to make the beneficial changes that an individual may wish to make." (Chrysalis study notes, Year One, Module One p.9) The impact of hypnosis on a person or their subsequent actions is dependent on how suggestible that particular person happens to be. The most important psychological effect, almost

defining hypnosis itself, is hypersuggestibility. 'Few hypnotic phenomenon are spontaneous but occur at the suggestion of the Hypnotist' (Waterfield 2002 p.33) Suggestibility is a quality that can differ from one person to the next. It is clear that anything that improves the mood, emotions or general well being of an individual has profound and desired psychological effects. Another common spontaneous phenomenon is time distortion. Superlearning and creativity too may be enhanced. Psychologist Pat Bowers suggests that 'hypnosis triggers networks in the brain which are beyond our conscious control' (Waterfield 2002 p.34) Spontaneous age regression for example, is when in trance something can trigger the recall of events from years before not readily available or acknowledged by the conscious mind. Psychosomatic healing is a phenomenon that is worth mentioning. Hypnosis has cured or healed a wide range of illnesses or ailments. By means of suggestion and acceptance by the patient, healing takes place through a gentle and non invasive procedure and is focused on dealing with the cause of a problem rather than dealing with the symptoms, so often the reverse in traditional medicine.

The boundaries of psychological and physical effects of hypnosis are tightly interconnected and difficult to definitively segregate. The immediate physical effects of hypnosis are vast and varied. Although the heart rate and respiration rate may be measurably slower, these are merely consistent with relaxation and not necessarily a direct product of hypnosis. Apart from being in a relaxed state 'sleepiness, a rigidity or limpness in the muscles of arms or legs, skin warmth or coldness, sensations of tingling or feelings of electricity and narrowness of attention' (Hadley & Staudacher 1996 pg 13) may all be observed. Historically it has been less easy to determine the exact physical effects of hypnosis however with modern science, by means of an EEG, it has become possible to measure brain waves and therefore analyse more accurately the physical aspects of hypnosis with greater certainty. Brain waves vary in frequency and depending on levels of alertness flow in different cycles. These are divided into 4 main types. Beta Waves the fastest, characterising the focussed mind, Alpha Waves indicative of a less aroused state, Theta Waves are those associated with our subconscious and Delta Waves are present during a deep state of rest when no other waves are present, 'possibly representative of very deep hypnosis'.(Chrysalis study notes, Year One, Module One pg 10) It is the aim of the hypnotherapist to assist a client to achieve brain wave patterns that enable them to reach their subconscious. For this to be achieved an individual has to display an openness to

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