By Wesley Anderson, DCH
Gertrude has been struggling for years trying to discipline herself into dropping 23 pounds. She’s tried various diets and exercised sporadically, with intermittent bouts of unrestricted eating and physical inactivity. She knows what she needs to do, but just hasn’t been able to make herself do it. She keeps asking herself, “what can I do to get control? Other people have lost weight and kept it off.”
Ted is an Olympic caliber triathlete. No matter how hard he tries, he never lives up to the promise that his coaches see in him, the potential that he deep down knows that he has. Somehow he always manages to buckle under the intense pressures of high level competitions and blow it at a crucial moment. He wonders if he’s sabotaging himself on purpose.
Joan is retired and spends three to five days a week on the tennis court. She is a fairly accomplished, although somewhat inconsistent player. Sometimes she has difficulty concentrating and playing her best game. Because of that, she occasionally gets frustrated with herself, and has long internal conversations about keeping her mind on the game.
So what do all of these stories have in common? They illustrate some of the issues that hypnotherapists routinely help their clients solve. If you have gotten most of your impressions of hypnosis from TV, movies, or a hypnosis stage show, it may not be obvious yet why someone would choose a hypnotherapist for help in losing weight, or improving tennis skills.
Hypnosis is a natural state of mind, familiar to all of us who have absent mindedly driven past our exit on the expressway, or been so caught up in a movie that we didn’t notice anything going on around us. The great discovery about hypnosis was that when someone is in hypnosis, they can change a habit, adopt a new a belief, or control bodily responses like pain, or allergies. By now, it’s undoubtedly starting to become obvious that contrary to a popular misconception, hypnosis actually allows the hypnotized person to have more control over their life and habits. It’s that ability to make a complete, easy, and quick change in a habit or belief that makes hypnotherapy so attractive when it comes to making permanent changes in lifestyle for those who are determined to control their eating, maintain their motivation to exercise, or wholeheartedly pursue an athletic goal.
What might a client expect in a first hypnotherapy session? First the hypnotherapist will make sure that the client is at ease by conversationally establishing rapport, and sharing a little information about hypnosis, and then the hypnotherapist will gather information by asking questions about the client’s goals. Once the hypnotherapist has gathered the necessary information it’s time to begin the formal hypnotic induction. The client, who will be seated in a recliner typically, will be asked to close the eyes, and relax. The hypnotherapist begins speaking in a soothing voice, which is usually lower in pitch than normal speaking tones. This begins to set the stage with the unconscious mind of the client for something different to happen, and separates the hypnotic situation from normal conversational interaction.
A common induction technique is a “progressive relaxation” in which the client is asked to imagine a wave of relaxation moving through the body beginning at the head, moving down into the facial muscles, neck, chest, and so on. Once in trance, the hypnotherapist gives direct and indirect suggestions to the client to make the necessary changes to accomplish the client’s outcome. While in trance the client is aware of what is being said to them, can choose to accept or reject any suggestion, and will usually remember what happened during the session, although spontaneous amnesia for a session is fairly common. It frequently surprises many to learn that someone in trance does not necessarily have any particular feelings of being “tranced out”. Hypnosis is similar to the mental states of common experiences like driving past an expressway exit, as mentioned earlier. We don’t feel tranced out then, even though our minds are “somewhere else”.
The body does not distinguish between imagination and reality. A good example of this is when we’re watching a movie and jump when something sudden happens on the screen. We’re watching imaginary events, mere projected pictures and recorded sounds, but our body reacts with a startle response. The state of hypnosis amplifies our responses to imagery and imagination. So when one is in a trance, the imagination can be used to intensify any feeling or thought, and through the suggestive guidance of a hypnotherapist attach it to an internal cue, like a thought, image, or feeling. The end result is that the client begins to effortlessly work out regularly, feel more satisfied while eating less food, or step into a winner’s mentality every time when setting up for a bench press.
So let’s take a look at how might hypnotherapy work for someone like Joan, who wants to improve her tennis game. She is hardly playing her best game even though motivated, and she practices regularly. For her, it’s a matter of keeping her attention focused on the game. Using hypnotherapy, it’s a relatively simple matter to teach Joan’s unconscious mind to habitually go back into the feelings and internal resources of the times when she played her best. What Joan needs to learn is similar to what we all do when we sit down behind the wheel of a car. All of the skills required for driving are unthinkingly there. We automatically coordinate our hands and arms to steer in harmony with our feet on the pedals, as we watch for traffic, and navigate. We can do all of that even while having an intense conversation with Uncle Fred sitting in the seat next to us! Joan just needs to automatically step into her “personal best” mind set whenever she starts a game.
One very powerful technique that a hypnotherapist might use with Joan is also one of the simplest. Once in a trance, Joan would be guided into a of series memories in which she played her best tennis, reliving the memories with hypnotically enhanced vividness. She would be instructed to unconsciously connect the internal resources to some cue that would always be present on the tennis court, like seeing the net, so that she automatically steps into the most effective focused mind set for tennis, in the same way that she automatically reaccesses her ability to drive when she sits down behind the wheel of her car.
Although a similar method might be enough to put Ted, the triathlete who buckled under pressure, in the winner’s circle, it’s quite possible that a different approach might be necessary. Ted may have unconsciously learned at some point to believe that he “wasn’t good enough” to be a winner. Or, he may have developed a habit of telling himself that he couldn’t take the pressure. A highly qualified hypnotherapist would help Ted resolve those issues, and help him build an unshakable resolve and determination that increases as competition get more intense. The mark of good hypnotherapy would be that Ted would just feel and act differently in competition without any conscious effort to maintain the new beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.
Finally, there’s Gertrude’s desire to lose 23 pounds. A hypnotherapist would consider whether Gertrude was simply eating too much nutritious food, making poor food choices, eating without hunger, or needing to resolve fears about being thin. Surprisingly, one of the easiest things to do is to change a food preference. It can be as simple as recoding the mind’s internal representation of chocolate (yumm!) To that of white rice (ho hum). After doing that Gertrude would lack any particular to indulge in chocolate. It’s obvious how that makes dieting a lot easier, especially since it’s possible to do the opposite and make low calorie foods like salads and vegetables a lot more attractive (yumm!) Than before.
Since the mind and body are so intimately intermingled, it is also possible to use hypnotherapy to increase Gertrude’s metabolism. The amounts of energy burned literally increases, so that fat is consumed at a greater than normal rate. That’s obviously to Gertrude’s advantage.
Of course, as with Ted and Joan, the hypnotherapist would make sure that Gertrude built and maintained a great attitude to support the new lifestyle that comes with permanent weight loss. That includes the sustained motivation to keep physically active and exercise regularly.