But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
Before people subject themselves to hypnotherapy they are advised to learn as much about the process and about the chosen therapist as is necessary to feel comfortable. Rapport and trust are two key ingredients in making a potential hypnotherapy patient comfortable. Therapists should be open and willing to answer all questions regarding qualifications, expertise, and methods used. A well-qualified professional will not undertake the use of hypnosis without interviewing the patient to ascertain their level of understanding of the process. This is very important for two reasons. First, it allows the patient the opportunity to have questions answered and to develop some rapport with the therapist. Second, it is important for the therapist to know the patient's expectations since meeting these expectations will enhance the likelihood of success.
Hypnosis might not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should be used for pain control only after a doctor has evaluated the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment. Hypnosis also may be a less effective form of therapy than other more traditional treatments, such as medication, for psychiatric disorders.
The British Psychological Society commissioned a working group to survey the evidence and write a formal report on hypnotherapy in 2001. They found, “Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy.”
Many of us know exactly what we should be doing to address the situations we're uncomfortable with. When we want to lose weight we know we shouldn't eat emotionally, and that we should finally get around to joining that Zumba class or hiking group. We understand that logically, it's extremely unlikely that we'll be involved in a plane crash, so we should just book that long-awaited holiday. And when we're ready to quit smoking we know that we simply shouldn't light up that cigarette!
Although there are different techniques, clinical hypnotherapy is generally performed in a calm, therapeutic environment. The therapist will guide you into a relaxed, focused state and ask you to think about experiences and situations in positive ways that can help you change the way you think and behave. Unlike some dramatic portrayals of hypnosis in movies, books, or on stage, you will not be unconscious, asleep, or in any way out of control of yourself. You will hear the therapist’s suggestions, but it is up to you to decide whether or not to act on them.