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Watching The Pocket Watch, From Misaligned Myth to Trusted Therapy

Article by Joanna Gibb, who joined us for a student placement from Chester University

The traditional image of hypnotherapy is one filled with mistrust; pocket-watches swinging to-and-fro before an expectant audience, onions becoming apples in the eyes of the beholder and grandmothers aping farmyard animals before the bliss of a snap-induced amnesia. In order to understand hypnotherapy and the reasons behind its continued use one must first understand what a hypnotic state is. The hypnotic state actually occurs naturally in our day-to-day lives, “if you’ve ever really gotten into reading a book or watching a television show and the rest of the world around you has sort-of gone away. Hypnosis is very similar to that” [Katie Durchester, Stanford University] . It may be described as a meditative state in which a person reaches an enhanced sense of relaxation, however on a psychological and biological front it appears to go deeper than that.

Physiologically, during a meditative state breathing, heart rate, and even the individual’s metabolism slow significantly. Mentally, the individuals brain waves make the switch between the hectic ‘beta waves’ that are typically found during active, waking life to slower waves that operate at lower frequencies, the exact nature of these waves however is still being debated. The primary effect of this switch in consciousness is a marked increase in suggestibility, which if utilised as part of a hypnotherapy session can make an individual more susceptible to treatment; the subconscious mind acts as a reservoir for negative emotions and repressed thoughts, but also for unrealised strengths, by using hypnosis a therapist may be able to access and confront these thoughts and even change unwanted behaviours such as addictions and phobias.

Due to the aura of mistrust that remains around the field of hypnotherapy it is important to remember that this hypnotic state occurs naturally throughout our daily routines and can frequently be instigated and influenced, both by you subconsciously, such as by reading a book, and by others who are able to identify times of common meditative states; when we watch television programmes we find ourselves sinking into a meditative state in which we are at a heightened sense of suggestibility, however when the adverts start rushing in our brains switch back to ‘beta waves’ and we again begin functioning at a higher level of consciousness. Marketing teams, when timing advertisements aim to air whilst the audience is still under the influence of this meditative state for maximum suggestibility, which is why you’ll find adverts flashing up immediately after a scene announcing a break in the programme as opposed to a brief period of warning: “[tea/coffee advert plays]…fancy a cuppa?”.

In terms of the brain’s ability to repress certain memories within a person’s subconscious, it is important to note that regardless of the depth of the client’s suggestibility within a meditative state it is impossible for a hypnotherapist to open a ‘box’ your subconscious doesn’t want open. In accepting a client, a hypnotherapist accepts the responsibility to explore that person’s subconscious as opposed to forcing open information or memories that the subconscious may be protecting them from. 

The largest advantage of hypnotherapy over more conventional therapies is that once that client has been guided into a meditative state, the therapist is able to communicate with a person’s unconscious, which may be the seat of phobias, addictions, or even repressed memories. A common area of treatment in hypnotherapy is the treatment of phobias, from minor anxiety inducing triggers to massively debilitating fears. There are two more primary advantages to this form of therapy, the first of which being that the enhanced meditative state the client goes into in order to achieve the necessary level of relaxation may be taught and therefore when a client is faced with a triggering situation they may be able to achieve a similar state of calm. Secondly in a hypnotic state a client may be able to achieve ‘hypnotic regression’, which means that the ability to visualise the original traumatic event or series of events, particularly if it has been repressed is enhanced thus allowing the client and therapist to better deal with it. The first goal of a session focused on tackling a given phobia is to uncover the origin of the trigger, for instance if a client were to suffer from Arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) they may have suffered a traumatic event during childhood involving a spider which they may have repressed, or simply been too young to consciously remember. The end goal is to recondition that person’s conditioned response to that particular trigger, be it an activity, an object, or a certain scenario. 

On one occasion, a woman engaged with a hypnotherapist in order to deal with her severe fear of flying; she feared that her paralysing phobia would end her marriage if she didn’t seek help as her and her husband had recently bought a house in France and were having to drive back and forth every weekend, as opposed to flying, in order to continue their renovations. She told the therapist that her fear was based on psychological trauma suffered during strong turbulence on a previous flight in childhood; possessing a fear that originates in past trauma is a common occurrence although occasionally clients are unaware of what triggered the phobia, for instance a repressed memory or even a scene from a film watched as a child. During her recantation of the past trauma, her therapist could feel the weight of her anxiety and the depth of her fear, through not only her words but also from her body language, she was no longer able to look her in the eye. In order to tackle her phobia, the therapist used a ‘new behaviour generator’, which is where the client is guided into a meditative state and makes a film of the past event in her head where she has the power to be the producer, director, and editor. 

  • First she was asked to cast a character to fill in for her role in the scenario, specifically a character with qualities she felt she was lacking, such as courage and bravery. 
  • By imagining another person in the same scenario, someone with almost super-hero-like skills, she was able to see the potential in the scenario instead of just her overpowering phobia.
  • In this scenario, the client was able to explore her feelings about the event whilst retaining a feeling of safety due to her investigating at a distance through the eyes of another. 

Once the series of events became clear to her, she was asked to ‘slip’ into the body of her character in order to see the scenario through their eyes. Over and over she was asked to replay the scene, all the while new neural pathways were being created that reinforced the imagined character’s qualities such as bravery and strength within the mind of the client. 

A year later, a man came into the hypnotherapist’s office and identified himself as the woman’s friend; by using the ‘new behaviour generator’ and instilling within herself new behavioural qualities when confronted with her trigger (flying), she had conquered her fear. The man went on to tell the hypnotherapist that the woman had in fact gone on to hold a private pilot’s license in order to make travelling back and forth from England to France even faster. By conquering her reservations enough to win the battle against her phobia with the help of a hypnotherapist, she was able to win the war on her own. 

Another spectrum of hypnotherapy is the treatment of addictions, from gambling to chemical dependencies such as alcohol, cigarettes, and food (sugar and fat in particular). In the case of chemical dependency, the introduction of such substances to the body prompt the release of ‘feel good hormones’ such as dopamine; over time our bodies become less reactive to these prompts and so we crave even higher quantities of the substance in order to mimic the initial flood of hormones. Whilst this response is perfectly natural to certain substances, such as sugar and fat, in the case of addiction, specifically chemical dependency an individual exposed such stimuli is unable to function normally without access to a specific substance. A large portion of the treatment of addiction comes from ‘left brain logic’ advice and by working on the premise of ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ mentality; the principle of ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ is based upon a story in which a bell chimes every time a dog is just about to be fed making it salivate, however it was noted that regardless of whether the food was present or not if the bell chimed the dog would salivate and expect food shortly after. By taking this principle forward into the treatment of addictions therapists will advise their clients to avoid associated practices, such as bars in the case of alcoholism and to change their routines, for instance if a smoker were to have a particular chair they favour for smoking then they would be advised to avoid it. One hypnotherapist when interviewed strongly advocated this kind of technique as she had identified within her routine many unhealthy ‘Pavlov’s Dog’-like associated practices, for instance she found that every time she went to fill up her car with petrol, regardless of whether she was hungry or not, she would buy a bag of crisps; in this case the bell from Pavlov’s story was substituted for the petrol station, and the dog salivating became a bag of crisps. 

Once guided into a meditative state the client is at an enhanced state of suggestibility and openness, and using this heightened sense of ease a hypnotherapist may be able to uncover the underlying reason as to why the individual may have developed an addiction to begin with, however this role is generally more suited to a counsellor or broad-span therapist. A more accepted use of the hypnotic state is a treatment based upon the Pleasure/Pain principle in which the therapist guides the client through two paths, one with and one without their addiction present; these paths take the form of a look at how their lives may be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years from that moment. The ‘Pleasure/Pain Principle’ works upon the belief that ‘every decision leads to either: short-term pain, short-term pleasure, long-term pain, or long term pleasure.  A therapist may guide their client through different scenarios such as how certain relationships may develop, both with and without the addiction present such as how romantic, professional, and social relationships may develop if shown side by side as two linear, contrasting progressions over time. By giving a hypothetical ‘start and finish point’ during a state of increased suggestibility and receptiveness, an individual is able to see how ‘cause and effect’ their addiction has become and why small changes to their addictive patterns for the better may have big impacts further down the road. 

Of course, hypnotherapy is not the only source of support for the challenges you may be facing. Hypnotherapy is effective in dealing with a specific issue in a short space of time, however it is possible that the issue we bring to therapy has its roots deeper in our lives and may not be The Problem but rather a symptom of something else. It is not always easy to talk about what’s really bothering us and perhaps sometimes we don’t even know that ourselves. This is where counseling or psychotherapy over a longer period can be beneficial. The role of the therapist is to create a safe space where such feelings can be explored; the role of client is to be prepared to do just that  - find, confront and work with the things that are causing pain and distress.

• Psychotherapy at The Hope Street Centre. Your therapist works with you to help you discover your patterns of thoughts and behaviors and what you really, deep-down believe about yourself and who you are. When we become consciously aware of our patterns then we have a choice about if and how we change them. He or she will ask about your family and your experience of growing up in your family and help you to notice what you notice about the patterns of behaviors, thoughts and beliefs that your family has. He or she will ask about your own experience of life and help you to notice where patterns are the same or different from family patterns. Your therapist will help you be curious about these patterns and help you to notice which ones are helpful and which are less so.

• Low cost counseling at Brightstone Clinic. Brightstone Clinic offers counseling at a lower cost to those people who would not normally be able to access it. Based at The Hope Street Centre each weekend, Brightstone can offer sessions at just £25, which is half the rate of usual therapy.   

• Coaching with The Resilience Programme. Sometimes, we are looking ahead to the future rather than trying to resolve issues from our present or past. At these times, coaching is ideal, as it opens up choice, enabling you to be the master of your own destiny. Where this will lead is up to you - it could be more creativity, more fulfilling relationships, more success, more rewarding work, more fun and relaxation - all these are possible for you. Coaching can help you to unlock your potential, help you to get the most out of your life and work, and create the satisfying life you have always wanted. 

If you would like to talk with us about how we might be able to help you, or someone you know at this time then please get in touch by calling 01270 764003. 

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