Most people have at some time in their lives seen theatre shows, moving celluloid stories or television programs that feature a hypnotist and one or more individuals who allow themselves to be hypnotised. The end of these sessions is nothing more than entertainment, but the somewhat filmy idea that we can execute actions against our will while sleeping peacefully is nowhere near reality. This is part of magical shows with a certain esoteric component that is very popular. At the same time, most people ignore the therapeutic possibilities of clinical hypnosis, practised mainly by psychologists and psychiatrists to relieve some symptoms of both organic and mental illness. Mental.
Although there are still some unexplored fields where it could be applied, hypnosis is well established as a tool for dealing with chronic and acute pain, anxiety and depression, insomnia, smoking and obesity, and in other areas of medicine such as preparation for surgery or childbirth, in oncology, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma or hypertension. It can also be used in conversion disorders (psychosomatic) and to promote changes in specific aspects of the personality, such as self-esteem, security or test phobias. But it is never a curative therapy.
“In reality, hypnosis is a natural and inherent process to the human being. It is nothing more than the ability to focus attention on something very specific. For example, suppose we connect with certain problems more emotionally than rationally. In that case, it is as if everything were flowing. It was more natural and simple”, says psychologist Lorena Belmonte, professor at the University of Murcia (UMU) with extensive experience in clinical hypnosis, who assures that From a scientific point of view, “hypnosis is a tool of psychotherapy that, well understood and worked on, indirectly gives the person access to their mind, allowing more natural, easy and rapid changes”.
Hypnosis works the unconscious information.
The hypnotic process works from understanding the unconscious brain, which is usually more connected with emotions, with our automatic parts. According to Belmonte, information is stored throughout our lives in the brain area that we usually identify as the right hemisphere. Much of it has been conscious, but it may stop being so due to certain circumstances or because we make associations that we are unaware of. “And in the end that, from a cognitive point of view, is transformed into thought schemes, associations, ways of feeling, thinking and acting that are connected to our personality”,
There are two types of hypnosis: the classic one, which has a more directive and general approach, with specific and clear suggestions about the subject that leads a person to the mental health consultation. It is the hypnosis in our heads, with phrases like “you will feel that the arm weighs more and more…” while the patient perceives that his concentration capacity increases. And the so-called Ericksonian hypnosis is also worked on, which uses metaphors tailored to the patient and, in addition to helping him connect with his problem, has a symbolism that allows a better adaptation of the unconscious. It is more subtle than classical hypnosis.
“When working with hypnosis, we seek to understand the meaning of the symptom if the person has them because they do not always come to the consultation due to a psychological disorder. Some people want to work on their concentration, for example, in the face of opposition, or who want to improve specific parts of their self-esteem”, he points out, summarising that the hypnotic process is about “breaking down what happens to the patient and the meaning of what happens to him, something similar to what is consciously worked on in psychotherapy”.
Main myths of hypnosis
Belmonte wants to clarify that hypnosis is not a process where control or voluntariness is lost, nor where one falls asleep. “We are all hypnotisable since all hypnosis is self-hypnosis because it is a mental process that one generates, a process of attentional focus. It is false that in a state of hypnosis you can say or do something against your will, nor that you can remain in a trance state”, he stresses, adding that hypnosis does not cure disorders, that it is a tool of psychology that serves, together with psychotherapy, to treat symptoms or generate changes. “And it doesn’t allow you to increase your memory beyond what you have, or remember things that have been forgotten, or raise past lives,” he insists.
On the contrary, there is sufficient scientific evidence on the benefits of this psychological tool in various disorders and contexts:
- It enhances psychological treatment.
- The effects of therapy are more prolonged over time.
- The duration of treatment is reduced.