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Why Hypnosis Works, the Simple Answer

Updated: Jan 15

Hypnotists are not on the same page about why hypnosis works. There are many theories, and they differ dramatically. If you watch YouTube videos or read about hypnosis, you'll notice that when people describe it, they do it in different ways and use different metaphors. They attribute it to all kinds of phenomena. Yet when they talk about it, they speak as if they know exactly what's happening. One of the best ways to determine if someone is good at hypnosis is if they state that there are some unknown elements to it. I've noticed that the best hypnotists will say that the exact reason is still a mystery to them. Still, you can simplify things and sometimes through that process of simplification come up with a distilled, meaningful observation that is universally true, and that's what I'm going to do here.

There are some things about being in a trance that is universal. Your thought process is slowed down. You feel relaxed. It's a feeling that you don't experience frequently and possibly ever. Your anxiety level drops significantly - if not disappearing entirely. These are the things I'm going to focus on. Other items include difficulty speaking, extreme focus on one or two things, and increased proclivity to comply

So imagine you're relaxed, the thought processes that you're used to are gone, you're very calm and able to focus, and any voices and thoughts that usually pop up in your mind don't appear. The last point about not having your usual ideas and agents is the big one. It means that your normal way of blocking and excepting information is fundamentally different. In that state ideas that you would normally reject all of a sudden become open to consideration. The voices and thoughts that would generally impede certain ideas don't appear. On top of that your mind is very focused, so it's not distracted and going even further, unable to distract itself - even if you ADHD (I'll write about this in another posting).

Like magic, you no longer need to interject your thoughts, given that you are relaxed, calm, and simply open to learning. Typically, when someone is talking and especially if they are telling you instructions that touch on your beliefs or on how you frame the world mentally, you will be compelled to provide feedback about how you see the world. These things are very intimate to who we are. Not when you're hypnotized. When you're hypnotized, you can listen quietly for hours at a time absorbing information with an open mind and with a decreased level of defensiveness. Used appropriately, this is an opportunity to change how your thoughts work fundamentally. The suggestibility increases because the normal processes that protect our beliefs and worldview are basically diminished for a while in the hypnotic state. And what this means is that real change that would be resisted in a normal situation becomes possible. It's that simple.

The catch is that even in a trance, a very deep trance, there is a part of your mind that is paying attention, but it is deeply hidden. If that part feels like what is happening is not in its interest it will reject what is occurring. This results in the person waking up or becoming resistant. Usually, this is a good thing unless resistance is the thing that the patient wishes to change. That is when the skills of the hypnotist are really important, as that part of the mind needs to be put at ease. A good therapist knows how to work through such an impediment in such a way as to allow new ideas to be accepted at the deepest levels.

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