Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis. Most people, lay people and professionals alike, tend to think of hypnotism as a mysterious and somewhat dangerous phenomena practiced primarily by Las Vegas style entertainers who use it in the manner of mind control to convince grown men from the audience to cluck like chickens while on stage. There are stage hypnotists of this nature, of course, but hypnotism is also useful as a clinical tool, useful to both medicine and psychotherapy practices, and to people seeking to help themselves make life changes.
Hypnotism is an altered state of consciousness characterized by a feeling of peaceful relaxation and "letting go", and increased suggestibility. As experienced from the inside, you are conscious, but detached as though you are observing what is happening to you rather than being in charge of it. It's as though you've temporarily gotten out of the driver's seat of your body and mind and are taking a turn as a passenger.
When in this state, your body and mind are suggestible. Stage hypnotists may ask you to act like a chicken, but reputable clinical hypnotists are able to get more useful things done. Hypnosis may be substituted for light anesthesia during surgery, as a pain-reduction technique, and to induce a profound state of relaxation. It can also be used to plant suggestions for change.
Theories explaining how hypnosis works are still very much evolving. Hypnosis appears to be a form of dissociation. Dissociation, which is a condition in which parts of memory get split off from other parts, is the active ingredient responsible for creating some forms of amnesia, and, in severe cases, multiple personality disorder. The dissociation involved in hypnosis is far lighter and milder in nature than in these other disorders, however. The Dissociated Control Theory of Hypnosis (Bowers 1992) suggests that hypnotic induction temporarily dissociates or separates the brain's executive command functions (the parts that give orders) from other functions that take orders such as emotion-control, motor/movement and sensory perception functions. This temporary weakening of executive control allows the hypnotist to present commands more directly to a hypnotized person's brain, without that person feeling the need to criticize or examine those commands for reasonability or practicality. With the hypnotized person's censoring, judging and limiting executive mind out of the way suggestions are acted on directly, without testing.
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There is real potential for danger in hypnosis, especially when a hypnotist is either incompetent or unscrupulous, or otherwise attempts to coerce you into doing something you're not comfortable with. Use caution in selecting a clinical hypnotherapist. Make sure that any hypnotherapist you might use is also a trained medical doctor, psychologist or psychotherapist of the proper sort to address your issues without using hypnotherapy. No one should attempt hypnotherapy on you unless they are qualified to treat your issues without hypnotherapy!
In the right hands, however, hypnosis can be a useful tool to support your growth. You can learn to hypnotize yourself and provide suggestions to yourself, thus avoiding any possibility of abuse. Your self-induced hypnotic state will not be as deep as is possible when you are hypnotized by someone else, but then again, this is necessary, because you need to remain in control enough so that you continue to be able to make suggestions to yourself. Self-hypnosis methods can be used to reduce feelings of anxiety, and promoting feelings of confidence, self-efficacy and self-control.
Hypnotizing yourself requires only that you have a private quiet area and a place to sit or lay down. You relax yourself as completely as possible without allowing yourself to fall asleep, and then work to deepen your relaxation, usually by counting down from 100 or by thinking of yourself slowly sinking downwards. When you are very relaxed, you can think about a relaxing image, or an image of yourself as successful and happy and not worried. You can repeat to yourself affirmations you've previously prepared to the same effect (e.g., that will increase your confidence, "You are a capable person who can handle challenges"). When you are ready to end the session, slowly waken yourself, using images of ascent and waking to help your progress along. End by suggesting that you will open your eyes refreshed, awake and alert. Then open your eyes.
More involved instructions for self-hypnosis can be found in a variety of locations on the web, including here.