Updated: Mar 27, 2019
The differences between modern clinical, traditional and stage hypnosis.
The term hypnosis conjures up the image of swinging fob watches held by men in waistcoats, sporting goatees, of audiences clucking like chickens, and proposing marriage to complete strangers. Some of the main misconceptions around hypnosis are that you will be ‘made’ to do something you would not otherwise do, that you will lose control, or that it's some form of magic, manipulation or control.
This is exactly what the stage, or entertainment style of hypnosis has banked on for decades; the hypnotist amazing crowds with their super powers of persuasion, through perpetuating these myths and stereotypes.
The history of hypnosis dates back to ancient times, with references in the Bible, the Talmud and from Egyptian artefacts, that are 3000 years old. It was explored as a healing art in Europe in the 16th century, and called ‘Mesmerism’ which eventually transformed, by Braid (1795-1860), a Scottish surgeon into the term we now know and use, ‘hypnosis’. Braid used hypnosis for anaesthesia during surgery, as well as self-hypnosis to ease his own arthritic pain.
Still, the medical fraternity did not accept his findings, even though he is now known as the ‘Father of Modern Hypnosis’. Many and various doctors and healers throughout Europe then used hypnosis, over hundreds of years, to eventually end up where it is today. The history of hypnosis is a trail that is long and winding, and not entirely clear in it’s path.
The reality of modern clinical hypnosis is a far way removed from the old fashioned stereotypes and, has undergone a metamorphosis into an effective therapeutic modality, used by modern doctors and therapists alike, for its non-invasive, results driven approach at relieving their patient’s presenting issues and conditions.
So what is hypnosis then?
Hypnosis is a trance state of consciousness that involves relaxed, focused awareness and an altered consciousness. These states differ from waking and sleeping states of consciousness, as the hypnotised person is still aware of sound, sight, touch, hearing and smell, but, the senses are changed. They can become heightened or diffused, and time distortions may occur. Trance can be induced by permissive suggestion, and through relaxation techniques.
There is not one ‘type’ of person who can be hypnotised, as we all experience various forms of trance, everyday. Think about brushing your teeth, daydreaming on the train, driving in heavy traffic, and the most common, watching television. People who are willing to ‘play’ and to be hypnotically induced, and/or who therapeutically have a pain point to be resolved, like cessation of smoking, are ideal candidates. They however, must be willing, and come of their own free will, as choice is a very powerful component of a successful hypnotic session.
Hypnotisability has nothing to do with a person’s level of ‘intelligence’, or being strong or weak willed, and yet some people will just not come with the therapist during hypnosis, as they feel they have something to prove, or are not ready to let go of their issue. Researchers have found the more compliant a person is to authority, the more ready they are to change, the more they meditate or use relaxation methods, use their own style of self-hypnosis, or mindfulness techniques, the easier it is for them to reach trance states.
Even though most everyone can be hypnotised, it is not recommended for those in the population who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, such as clinical depression, Multiple Personality Disorder, a personality or mood disorder, or a condition such as epilepsy. A client who is drug or alcohol affected should not be worked with hypnotically, as they may not be able to follow hypnotic instructions; and people with these health conditions may go into an abreaction or triggered state, which is contrary to healing.
Like wise, a client who does not have a ‘point of conflict’, which is a term used to describe their perspective about their issue, will not be suitable for hypnotherapy. If they do not feel they have a problem, or conflict, in their eyes, there is no need to change, which would render hypnotherapy redundant.
Often, the differences between hypnosis and hypnotherapy confuse people. Think of hypnosis as a tool, and hypnotherapy as the therapeutic application of that tool, within a psychological healing process, used to achieve a desired result, such as pain reduction, addiction cessation, or minimisation of anxiety. Hypnotherapy doesn't exist without the process of hypnosis, as it is the gateway in. In other words hypnotherapy is the nail, and hypnosis is the hammer.
Research from Harvard Medical School, Stanford Medical Schools and the American Psychological Association, continue to bring hypnotherapy and hypnosis into our collective awareness as a reputable, outcomes based therapy, in its own right. It is also, used effectively in complement with other more traditional methods of medicine, such as by Anaesthetists during surgery, in pain management in oncology and rehabilitation wards, with PTSD, depression and anxiety symptom reduction, and during pregnancy, to name a few.
These conditions are not the majority of the average client’s focus of treatment, so in a typical Hypnotherapy clinic, common life challenges and issues are more prevalent. These include issues and challenges related to:
gambling too much
redundancies and career concerns
chronic weight issues and disordered eating
and the list goes on...
The power of modern hypnosis is, that pretty much, whatever challenge or issue is causing disturbance, discomfort and pain in your life, it can be treated.
Positive results are attained when the hypnotherapist creates a specialised, tailor made, and specific to your exact needs, personality, and traits, hypnotic experience. This style of modern hypnotherapy has a success rate of above 90%. Compared to the old fashioned style of ‘scripted hypnosis’, where one size tries to fit all, and which only has around a 30% success rate, modern hypnotherapy could be considered a secret weapon, in helping clients to live free from cognitive distortions, discomfort and pain.
Modern Hypnotherapy is a co-operative therapy, and clients are encouraged to take responsibility for their own process by doing after session tasking set by the therapist, which makes this a very empowering experience, rather than a silver bullet, ‘Can you just zap me out of it, while I lie here?’ approach.
The forms of hypnosis have evolved over time from a very authoritarian, tell the client what to do strategy, to a more inclusive, choice driven, permissive style seen in the Ericksonian approach. This impresses upon the client that they have choices, and the power to make the changes, without dragging through their terrible past traumas and stories, again and again.
Modern hypnosis asks ‘how do you do that?’ and seeks to understand the client’s behaviours in the present, for utilisation towards positive outcomes, rather than being focused on the ‘why do you do that?’ questions, which are seen in many traditional psychoanalysis type therapies. This is a powerful difference, as is encourages the client to get out of their past that they can’t change, address their skills gap in the present, through strategic, directed psychotherapeutic hypnosis, and create a strategy with the therapist, to have positive results in their lives, in the present and future.
Circling around to the first point, regarding stage hypnotism versus clinical hypnotherapy, you would be excused for thinking these don't seem to even belong in the same category. Yes, they both use the process of hypnosis, but for very different reasons and for very different outcomes. When choosing a Hypnotherapist to work with, ask them how they were trained, what style of hypnosis they use, and above all else, ask them about their results.
Modern hypnotherapy is much more than leaving clients feeling relaxed, and calm, through visualising lying on a beach with a calm blue ocean lapping at their feet. Effective modern hypnotherapy will be a holistic, inclusive, empowering approach to the presenting issue(s), which delivers real life, determinable results.
Perhaps hypnotherapy all boils down to how the person, a highly trained therapist, or a stage performer, choose to use the tool of hypnosis. For entertainment, to create relaxation, or to make positive, tangible, change in people’s lives.