What Is Hypnotherapy and how does it work?

An introduction to the conscious and unconscious mind

The conscious mind is used to think logically, such as when learning something new or undertaking a difficult task.  You may remember when you first learned to drive, or prepared a meal, how hard you were consciously thinking about what you were doing.

Now bring yourself back to the present and ask how much you have to consciously think about doing those things.  While you are, of course, focused when driving, you are now also to listen to the radio or hold a conversation with a passenger.  Driving requires much less of your conscious effort than it used to do.

It is believed that after you’ve done something about five times, it becomes a habit.  That activity has transformed into a “learned behaviour” or “belief” through the repeated experience.  It has passed from your conscious mind into your subconscious and so you now hardly even think about it.

But obviously you do think about it, otherwise you couldn’t do that activity at all.  Like riding a bike, once you’ve learned it, you do it without much apparent thought.  Somehow it just happens and that’s because the thought process has transferred from the conscious to the subconscious.

The role of hypnotherapy

A lot of the learned behaviours outlined above are helpful, but some aren’t.  A helpful learned behaviour would be to know how to ride a bicycle.  An unhelpful behaviour would be eating chocolate for comfort, or smoking at times of stress.  Even our reaction to pain is learned; have you noticed how some people seem to suffer more than others?  It is the desire to change learned behaviours that brings most people to hypnotherapy.

A clinical hypnotherapist will first ask what you think about your learned behaviour (or belief), how you’d like to change it and then how you envisage yourself after successful treatment.  Treatment is usually only effective if it is tailored towards your personal situation and acknowledges the historic cause of the issue for you.  The resulting therapy plan will be discussed and agreed so you have full control over the process.

The original learned behaviour is either replaced with a harmless alternative, or simply erased. 

Self help or hypnotherapy

The intention behind self help books, or diets, is undoubtedly positive.  The problem lies, however, in forcing your conscious mind to over-ride the years of re-enforced programming of your subconscious.   Hence, telling yourself to feel great will only last so long and why stopping smoking or losing weight is so difficult (an estimated 95% of diets fail): it is because an unhelpful belief is “programmed” into us.

The objective of the hypnotherapist is to work with you, making positive changes to the unhelpful beliefs.   It is possible to feel clean and healthy without cigarettes, look good without the extra weight, or feel socially confident.

Giles Norbury is based at the Holistic Clinic in Ludlow, Shropshire.