Okay, so some of you are familiar with hypnotherapy. You've heard it can be used for curing a number of ailments including stress, alcoholism and the like. But, if I were to ask, how many people do you know who's been treated by a hypnotherapist, it's possible you may not recall any! Of course, you'd know those, who regularly visit a shrink or associations like the Alcoholics Anonymous . So, why do not people make a beeline for hypnotherapy? To find out the answer to this question, and also about what hypnotherapy has to offer, just read on.

Hypnotism defined

Mention hypnotism and you'll straightaway relate it to occult or magic, probably influenced by the famous magicians who manage to make whole buildings disappear right in front of your eyes! Despite these fantastic feats, hypnotism remains simply a method of bringing on an artificial state of sleep in the subject by the power of suggestion. That's why the word hypnosis, derived from the Greek word hypnos , means sleep. It induces a state of reduced consciousness, where the subject remains wake, can talk and move, but becomes highly intolerable to suggestions.

The origin of hypnotism

Hypnotism is nothing new. It has always been a powerful tool of the occult. Witchdoctors and shamans have used it for thousands of years. However, the first use of hypnosis was in the seventeenth century and that too on animals. It was successfully used to calm chickens by balancing wood shavings on their beaks or tying their heads to the ground and drawing a line with chalk in front of their beaks. The French farmers even used it on hens to sit on eggs not their own!

The modern history of hypnotism is nothing but a seesaw battle between the believers and the skeptics. Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer applied this science to humans, though he termed it as magnetism. James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, introduced hypnotism as a modern day concept in 1843. Prior to Freud, this was the only known method of psychotherapy and was even used for performing major surgical operations, including amputations!

The power of hypnotherapy

Why hypnotherapy is preferred to other forms of healing is because it typically speeds up the therapeutic process. What may take months or years of regular psychotherapy can usually be accomplished within weeks with this therapy.

Hypnotherapy is effective in curing addictions, phobias, stress, anxiety and insomnia. It has been used for providing motivation, and building self-confidence and self-esteem. It has even come to the aid of those wanting to lose weight, stop smoking, become a better public speaker and increase fear of heights.

However, hypnotherapy is no magic. And it certainly can not make you a superhero! For example, it can not make you run a cross-country out of the blue, unless you are already a runner. But to a cross-country runner it can give a psychological edge that may make a difference between a gold and a bronze medal. Hypnosis can be likened to a tool, like a knife. You do not expect a knife to cut vegetables for you. But its availability makes it a whole lot easier to cut them the way you desire, rather than using your own hands! So, in other words, hypnosis is the tool that a hypnotherapist wields in curing your ailments.

This brings us to the important issue of selecting the right hypnotherapist.

Selecting a hypnotherapist

A hypnotherapist is a person who induces hypnotic state in you. Now, this sounds dicey, because, once hypnotized, you may come under his will and bidding. It's this feeling of vulnerability, which discourages most from preferring this kind of therapy. And that's probably why people do not usually make a beeline for a hypnotherapist! However, the answer to the question, “Can I be made to do things against my will?” will come a little later in this article.

So, what's the method of selection? Well, there's no foolproof method of selecting the right hypnotherapist any more than there is a guaranteed way to select the right physician, lawyer, accountant or a mechanic! However, reputation counts and you may get to know of good hypnotherapists from your personal physician, family or friends, workplace or the Yellow Pages . You can also get hold of a list of professional associations or go through the International Registry of Professional Hypnotherapists .

However, whenever the recommended hypnotherapists measure up to your requirement will depend entirely upon you. Their suitability depends upon various factors like personality, ideology (that may affect a good rapport), and also the nature of your problem. Although the best indication of a good professional is his satisfied clients, in this case, this is not so, because of the highly personalized nature of this therapy. That's why someone's recommended hypnotherapist may not, at times, turn out to be good enough for you.

So, what're you to do? There's a number of ways in which you can choose a good hypnotherapist. In your first meeting have a long chat to find out your comfort level with him. Answer questions like: Do I feel welcome and accepted? Does their ignorance give me pleasant vibes? Does their office feel like a haven? Do they seem knowledgeable enough? Are they genially interested in my problems and me? Do they ask a lot about me and really listen? Do they appear hopeful?

You may also need to find out about his background, professional qualifications, years in practice and experience with your kind of problem. In addition:

    -Find out if your problem can be treated without hypnosis. -B clear about the hypnotherapy procedure. Will hypnosis be physically induced or help of audiotapes be taken. -Know if personalized service, tailor to your needs, will be provided. Settle for nothing less. -Ask if someone can accompany you for the session. Genuine hypnotherapists would have facilitated to find a friend or relative with you. -Find out if the session can be tape-recorded. Well-meaning hypnotherapists would let you do it for later use at home, as reinforcement. -ASK for references and memberships in hypnotherapy associations. -Know wherever self-hypnosis will be taught. Hypnotherapists with your interests at heart will automatically do so to help you become self-reliant. -Find out about the fee structure, but do not be overly concerned with the per session fee. If you're able to get cured in the appropriate number of sessions, a high fee would seem like a bargain!

However, do not be overly worried about the time or the number of sessions your problem may take, as there are far too many variables. Also, do not ask about the success rate, as this is no indication for your chances of success.

The methods employed by hypnotherapists

A hypnotherapist has a choice of a number of techniques for hypnotic induction. The six main induction categories are:

    a. Eye fixation or fixed gaze method: As the name implies, in this method the subject is required to gaze at a spinning disc, or some such thing, to get into a trance. However, it's not a very successful method as most subjects fail to respond to it. b. Progressive relaxation and imagery method: This involves having the subject imagine being in a safe or peaceful place, and then awakening him or her to full consciousness. c. Mental confusion method: This is designed to confuse the conscious mind, so that it simply becomes easier to just relax the mind and make it 'let go' into hypnosis. d. Mental misdirection method: This symbols active use of the imagination, coupled with response, to hypnotize through responding to suggestions. e. Loss of equilibrium method: This makes use of gentle rocking to get the subject into a trance. f. Shock to nervous system method: This exercises a mysterious emphatic command given in a surprising manner. The subject experiences a moment of passivity during which he 'either resist the trance, or let go and drop quickly into hypnosis.

Hypnotherapists may combine two or more methods to achieve the desired results. The combinations of methods may be as limitless as the imagination of those employing them!

What to expect in hypnotherapy

To find out how it feels to be under the sway of a hypnotherapist, let's see how a hypnotherapy session is conducted:

    -First, the hypnotherapist will discuss in detail the problems afflicting you to determine the nature of your problem. -Next, he will explain the process to ease your anxiety and prepare you for hypnosis. -This done, he will guide you through some exercises to determine the degree of physical and emotional suggestibility to gauge your threshold to suggestions. -after this, he will put you into a hypnotic state by using individualized methods and techniques. -As you begin to slip into the hypnotic trance, your body will relax and your mind will detach from everyday concerns and responsibilities. This will be accompanied by increased muscle relaxation, a feeling of well being, increased threshold to pain and diminished ability to vocalize. -Now, the hypnotherapist will apply his power of suggestion, telling you to focus on things you'd like to change. He'll then proceed to show you the way to achieve those changes. You may have flashbacks of stressful memories and you may become almost childlike in accepting ideas or suggestions about yourself.

So, when'll you start noticing the changes? It depends upon the intensity of your session or the number of times you're made to listen to your audiotape, which can be for up to a month. You'll begin noticing behavioral changes spontaneously popping into your conscious mind almost immediately. Your subconscious mind will help you out of your old patterns with these cues.

The risks of hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is not dangerous and, till date, no one has been seriously hurt (except some in the region of the pocket because of unscrupulous hypnotherapists!). Even the Council of Mental Health of the American Medical Association has approved hypnosis as a safe practice with no harmful side effects. The reason is the great resilience of our subconscious that always has our best interest as its main concern. The only danger is from ignorance and misconceptions about this procedure.

Coming to the most dreaded question, “Can I have made to do things against my will?” The answer is a resounding no! Most people develop these false beliefs by witnessing stage hypnosis performed by magicians, which is pure fun and entertainment. Under hypnosis, no one can make you do anything against your will or contradict to your value system. No one can make you unknowingly reveal your deepest secrets either. People are also known to tell lies under hypnosis, and that's why, the court of law does not admit testimony under hypnosis!

Some people fear that hypnosis may lose their will and make them dependent on the hypnotherapist. Nothing can be further from the truth. Hypnosis is, in fact, a tool to gain more self-control, and can actually help improve one's focus in life!

What if you do not wake up? There is not a single case where someone has refused to rise and shine after the session. Hypnosis, as explained earlier, is akin to falling asleep and you get up, as if you've awakened after a nice long nap.

So, for those in dire need of help and wanting to try out something different, hypnotherapy may come as a shot in the arm. It's quick, it's safe and it's effective.