I am often asked to help people who have a phobia, that is, an extreme fear of something.
A phobia is an unhelpful response to a stimulus like going in an aeroplane, spiders, or heights. This can become embedded in the mind as the person consciously decides that this is a permanent problem, and something to be avoided.
The good news is that we can change this, and re-wire the brain to think differently about something that seemed impossible or unbearable.
Our brains are “plastic” which means we can change them, and increase their power, however old we are, by creating new neural pathways. At the same time we can delete the unhelpful neural pathways that we have set up over time. Neural pathways are numerous in our brain and they are our habits. An unhelpful habit can be deleted from the brain, we don't have to keep it!
In Hypnotherapy we use trance to relax people, so that their brain is able to process the changes they want to make, the goals they have decided they want to achieve. During trance we can delete the memory that has been responsible for the fear, and then replace with a memory that the client would have like to have had from the time. So, a scary feeling when going up a high building would be replaced by a positive memory of the event, one imagined by the person.
It is a simple process that works very successfully. Firstly I have to work with the client to reduce any general anxiety they have, and this is helped by them listening to my recording every night at home in bed during the treatment – usually four sessions. All my clients have to listen to this recording, it is an important part of the hypnotherapy process.
So, if you have a phobia that is making life difficult for you, that is stopping you from doing things you would like to do, then Hypnotherapy can help!
People often ask me what happens in Trance, what is it like?
When they come for hypnotherapy, some people are quite nervous about it, concerned that they might find themselves in a situation where they are not in control of what is happening. The only experience they may have had of hypnosis is what they see on television shows where people are hypnotised and seem not not to be in control of what they do. For the audience it is jolly good fun, and it is meant to be good entertainment. The participants have agreed to take part and a degree of self-hypnosis has been involved on their part.
However this is far from what happens in a session of Hypnotherapy! My primary aim is to help people to actively take control of their lives and emotions themselves, and to be able to do what they want to do. The point of hypnosis, or Trance, is to enable the client to be relaxed, so their brain can process what they have decided they want to do, to achieve. Trance is not an unusual state for us, we go into Trance often, when we are driving, watching TV, running, walking, it is those autopilot moments when we are doing something but not thinking about it consciously. The subconscious takes over and the conscious mind drifts off to think about something else for a while. When we are in that state we can talk directly to the subconscious, tell it what we want, and how we are going to do it. The subconscious then passes that information to the conscious mind that then helps us come up with ideas and solutions to help us achieve our goals. This state of relaxation is a light Trance, and the client is always in control of him/herself and they can hear what I am saying. It is the part of the Hypnotherapy session that my clients usually look forward to as they know they are going to lie back and relax, chill out and feel great afterwards!
The second part of every hypnotherapy session is the trance bit, where clients lie back comfortably, covered by a blanket. I suggest that they might like to visualise what they have decided to do to move towards their goal, and while I talk to them gentle music plays in the background. It is very similar to the recording they receive at their Initial Consultation, that they will be familiar with as they listen to it every night in bed as they go to sleep.
It is important to remember too, that we can all use trance for our benefit throughout the day, helping our brain process thoughts, feelings and ideas for us. Taking time out from our work for a while, having a daydream or two, a power nap of 20 minutes or so, these times really help us deal with things. Take that lunch break, have a coffee break, take your mind off work and think about something else!
Mindfulness meditation is perfect for this, we focus our thoughts on one thing, and this frees the brain mind up to do what it does so well - come up with ideas and solutions for us.
Really we could just call Trance Relaxation - that is all it is. Make time to relax, it is good for you and you will notice the difference in the way you manage life.
I recently read an article by Jason Firmiger, a Hypnotherapist, who had been on a course to learn how to help people with Dementia. The course was run by Dr Daniel Nightingale who is a world leading clinical dementia specialist.
THERE are over 850,000 people in the UK diagnosed with some form of dementia. 22,000 of these have young onset dementia, which occurs under the age of 65. Dementia, as we know, is a growing concern for those suffering from the disease and for those who care for them. There is no cure for primary Dementia currently, although cognitive therapies, aromatherapy and reminiscence therapy can help. Jason Firmiger led research into Hypnotherapy for dementia at the University of Liverpool and this showed surprisingly good results. They demonstrated that a weekly session of hypnotherapy for 9 months, measured against a control and neutral group had a positive impact in seven key areas. They found measurable improvements in concentration, relaxation, motivation, activities of daily living, immediate memory, memory for significant events and socialisation.
Significantly these subjects still showed these improvements 12 months after treatment.
Participants were introduced to the process of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to help them relax enough to engage with this process. This is a gradual process of relaxation from the top of the head, through the body and down to the feet that we always use with clients. The therapeutic stage allowed participants to listen to suggestions made through the use of direct suggestions, relating to the 7 key areas, along with additional suggestions relating to Calmness, Relaxation and Confidence. Hypnosis sessions usually lasted about an hour.
The symptoms of dementia are exacerbated by two main factors - fear and anxiety. Hypnotherapy is extremely helpful in managing those two emotions. Alzheimer’s disease is also exacerbated by a lack of production of the neurochemical acetylcholine. When we experience REM sleep our brain gets a a large amount of this neurochemical. We know that many people with dementia find undisturbed sleep very difficult. It is therefore possible that through hypnosis, the client is receiving acetylcholine that he/ she may not otherwise receive. In addition to this, instead of the person spending their cognitive resources in negative thought, they are freed from this during their session of hypnotherapy.
It is good to know that the work we do with clients, whatever their problems, is also working well for those with dementia, and the neuroscience behind what we do reinforces the importance of positive thinking, positive action and positive interaction, being relaxed and calm, sleeping well, and giving the brain “time out” to do what it does best.
Well Spring is really here and May, my favourite month, is around the corner with my favourite flowers and shrubs and all the trees are turning green! It is so much easier to be positive and happy at this time of year, especially with the lengthening days and sunshine!
So it makes me wonder how we can still have such negative conversations with ourselves, often being much harder on ourselves than we would be with our friends and families. We remind them how good they are at things, and how well they have done, we encourage them and support them, but do we do the same when we talk to ourselves? What do you say to yourself? What words do you use?
I love explaining to my clients how their brain works, and when they understand that, they know that the most important conversations that they have are the ones they have with themselves. What we tell our brain about what we are going to do, and how we are going to do it, how we feel, and what we are good at, determines how successful we are.
Positive thinking is key for all of us, and because the brain can't tell the difference between imagination and reality (really!), we must give it positive messages in order for to it know what we want, and that are we confident that we can achieve it. So tell your brain what you want it to hear!
Think about the words you use – are they positive? “I can do this”, “I will make that work”, “when I pass that exam” “ I did this before, so I can do it again..” Be kind to yourself, remember what you have done well this week, what you have achieved, what you are good at.
If you remember to focus on what you are doing well, and what good things have happened for you, you will create new neural pathways in your brain so that thinking positively will be a habit for you, and life will be much easier because you will be successful!
One of the first questions most new clients ask me is “How many sessions do you think I will need?” A perfectly understandable question, but not always easy to answer – everyone is different.
If they want to quit smoking, then the answer is one session, if they want to clear a phobia, then four sessions should be enough.
For less specific problems it is likely more sessions are needed, because I will be working with the client to look at changing their thinking and behaviour, as their problems are likely to originate from unhelpful patterns of thinking that have become embedded in the brain. They will probably have created negative habits of thinking that the primitive part of the brain will repeatedly offer them when they feel anxious, as these neural pathways will have been long established. Thinking positively reduces anxiety because anxiety is created by negative thinking. Looking on the bright side of life is important – the more we do it the happier we will be!
Hypnotherapy offers the client an opportunity to understand how the brain works and to consider their thinking patterns, and how to think more positively, and forecast their future optimistically, giving the brain new messages so it can create new neural pathways. Learning to think differently, positively, takes time, and we have to create this new habit through repetition. Learning anything new takes time and practice, driving a car, learning to play an instrument, learning any new skill, it doesn’t happen overnight, we need to do things over and over again. The more we do it, the easier it gets, and after time it becomes automatic, we have learned it!
Research by neuroscientists has shown that to improve the neuroplasticity of the brain – creating new neural pathways, is always something we can do, whatever our age, but it takes time, and we should realistically expect to need up to 12 Hypnotherapy sessions to deal with long established negative emotional problems and behaviours. If we cease therapy too soon, the new thought processes will not be embedded and habitual for us and we could revert to unhelpful behaviour again. When these new habits are firmly established, we will have “deleted” the old neural pathways because we have ceased to use them, and the brain will therefore no longer refer to them.
The great thing with Hypnotherapy is we use Trance, or Hypnosis, to talk to the subconscious, the most powerful part of the brain in order to tell it what we want, and how we are going to positively go about it. This strengthens and underpins our own efforts, as it reinforces our new thinking.
Here is a useful explanation of Neuroplasticity..