It's important to remember that hypnosis, a medium through which you may become more alert to your own thoughts and feelings, is a not a treatment or a therapy by itself. It can help relieve symptoms, reduce pain and even sometimes speed healing. It's also been effective in changing unhealthy behavior. If, however, you are considering hypnosis for a medical condition, you need to consult with your health care professional, who will most likely recommend that you also continue your regular treatments.

If you are seeking relief for a medical condition, you probably want to find a health care professional—such as a physician, nurse, psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker— who is trained and experienced not only in hypnosis but also with your particular symptom or ailment. Always seek people who have had the maximum training possible in the area in which you are seeking help. Remember, it is your mind they will be working with.

Finding a qualified hypnotherapist isn't that hard. Many health care professionals licensed in other fields practice hypnosis, so chances are good that your health care professional can give you a referral. Two major organizations that are recognized as having high professional standards are The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) and The Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH). Both can provide the names of qualified practitioners in your area:

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis
Phone: 630-980-4740

The Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis
Phone: 508-598-5553

Licensing and governmental regulation vary by jurisdiction. Training requirements vary as well. The ASCH holds members to the following standards:

  • ASCH certification requires at least a master's degree in a health care discipline considered appropriate by the society; licensure/certification in the state of practice; membership in a professional society consistent with degree; 40 hours of post-professional-degree workshop training; 20 hours of individualized training and consultation with an ASCH-approved consultant; and two years using hypnosis in clinical practice.
  • Recognition as an approved consultant necessitates all of the requirements for ASCH plus at least 60 hours of post-degree education and training; five years of practice in clinical hypnosis; and five years of membership in the ASCH, SCEH or an equivalent organization.

The First Session

Most practitioners spend the first session or part of the first session getting to know you, making an assessment of how hypnosis can help you and generally explaining what hypnosis is all about.

It's important that you use this time, before beginning therapy, to determine whether you have a good rapport with the therapist. The therapist will go through the process with you, answering questions and letting you know what to expect. Together, you will discuss what suggestions will be made while you are hypnotized. The therapist may also run a few preliminary tests to determine your ability to be hypnotized. You must be willing to be hypnotized, or it won't work.

When therapy begins, you'll sit, recline or lie comfortably. The room will be quiet, with gentle lighting.

The process begins with what is called induction—that is, being brought into a hypnotic state. To accomplish this, the therapist may use one of several induction techniques that serve to focus your attention. Many of us have seen depictions in movies or TV of hypnotherapists swinging a pocket watch, but today it is more common for a therapist to ask the subject to stare at a small, stationary object—such as a colored thumbtack on the wall. Most therapists use suggestions for relaxation, calm and well-being. Your therapist may ask you to count backward from a certain number. Or perhaps, the therapist will simply direct you to relax, breathe deeply and listen. However it is done, the point is to ease you into a trancelike state in which you are extremely focused and, often, deeply relaxed. Induction can take a few seconds or several minutes.

What does it feel like? It's a very subjective experience that varies depending on the degree of hypnotizability. Some people say it feels like an altered state of consciousness. Others disagree, simply saying they feel focused, calm and relaxed. According to the American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association (APMHA), hypnosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon that we go into and out of constantly—for example, while watching an interesting program on TV, reading a book, driving a car or daydreaming. In fact, most people describe the experience as very pleasant.

Being hypnotized is not the same as sleep, becoming unconscious or "passing out," and it's not like an anesthetic. You do not lose control over your mind or your feelings. You do not weaken or surrender your will to any other person. In fact, your willpower may be strengthened with hypnosis, according to the Australian Society of Hypnosis.

Once you are focused, the therapist may, during this or later sessions, make suggestions relating to your particular condition; most likely, the therapist will use mental imagery and visualization exercises. Some of these suggestions may be posthypnotic suggestions: This means that you receive a directive to follow at some later point. You may not remember receiving the suggestion, but if it's something you want to do, you'll carry it out—without necessarily knowing the source of the instruction.

At the end of the session, the therapist will teach or guide you to enter and exit the state of hypnosis. This should be done before the end of the session. You may feel drowsy when you finish the session. You might feel very relaxed or have a strong sense of well-being. If you are seeking pain relief, you may notice less pain. Or you may not feel any immediate change. And you may not remember what transpired during the session—this is called posthypnotic amnesia.

A session can last up to 90 minutes. The number of visits you make depends on what you hope to accomplish. You and the therapist will discuss the details in the first session. The cost of hypnosis varies depending on where you live. Most insurance companies will cover 50 to 80 percent of the therapy, especially if your therapist is a licensed health care professional (and you should only be seeing a licensed health care professional).

During your sessions, the therapist will probably teach you about self-hypnosis. (You can learn this technique from tapes, but most experts advise learning from a qualified therapist.) Self-hypnosis sessions take 30 to 40 seconds to a few minutes and can be done daily. Sometimes, five to 15 minutes or longer may be more therapeutic depending on the problem.

Your hypnotherapist will teach you the proper technique. But the basics are simple: You will sit or lie in a comfortable place and focus intensely. Using imagery, relaxation and breathing techniques, you will bring yourself to a hypnotic state. Once there, you will tell yourself what you need to hear—or listen to a tape with that message.

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