Altered States of Consciousness and Hypnosis Introduction Far from its one time connection with carnivals, mediums, and the occult, hypnosis and the altered states of consciousness it helps create have proven to be a beneficial framework of reality in a number of circumstances. For example, countless numbers of people with chronic pain problems have learned the benefits of self-hypnosis to calm themselves and their reactions to physical pain.
While the term “hypnosis” often carries a certain number of negative connotations that do not truly convey the beneficial and physiological relation response that is the legitimate hypnotic response, many people are still hesitant about the concept in general. The simple fact is that hypnosis is not a form of mind control and is not the will of one person being exerted over another. Hypnosis certainly cannot force someone to do something they would not normally do. It is neither a strange, mystical force or a state of being unconscious or out-of-control.
What is hypnosis it is what the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter (10/00) calls “really about a person taking control of his or her own mind and body” (pp. 4). Health professionals, mental health counselors, even sports performance consultants advocate hypnosis as a form of stress reduction, pain management and personal performance enhancement. The ability to harness and control one’s personal feelings and attitudes has proven to be immensely beneficial and offers potentials far beyond that of a some sort of self-proclaimed fakir performing tricks to make “members of the audience” dance on table tops or bark like dogs.
Hypnosis actually has little to do with performing tricks or mind control and everything to do with reaching the inner stillness that exists at the core of all human consciousness and can serve as a guide and comfort in countless situations. The Benefits and Processes of Hypnosis Hypnosis is a process that leads an individual into a deep state of rest and relaxation that allows him or her to “release” physical or psychic pain or emotional negativity. It is possible to say that the process takes place through the conscious access of the unconscious mind.
While such a statement may sound like double-speak, it is a verifiable and medically-proven means of relaxation, visualization, pain management, and self-awareness. Generally, the medical and psychological literature indicates that there are two primary characteristics of hypnosis. First, is the experience of steadily focusing on a specific “object. ” This is not the Hollywood-created watch swinging back and forth on a chain in front of a person’s eyes. Instead, it may be something as innocuous as the individual’s own hand or painting on the wall of a hypno-therapist’s office.
Focusing on a single object allows for a greater inward focus and the ability to ignore distractions. That ability and freedom then allows a person to better understand him/herself and their life. The second characteristic is that hypnosis actually leads to the experience of being relaxed and at ease. Under the best of circumstances, a subject’s body, mind, and emotions reach a natural, balanced state that can best be describes as relaxing, restful, calm, peaceful, and comforting.
Like meditation, hypnosis allows a person to experience a clear and focused mind and permits a separation from the necessity of attending to the multitude of extraneous thoughts and concerns that so occupy the consciousness of most people. In this sense, the experience is accurately considered to be a return to a natural and balanced state of being. Such a state of being is generally a rarity in the modern world of information overload and the constant need to “multi-task” in terms of work, relationships, and even self-care.
Hypnosis allows a person to disconnect from the chaos of the world and focus on the inner realities of his or her own consciousness. According to Jackson (1999), hypnotism has many applications in modern day life and researchers have repeatedly proven that therapists using suggestive techniques through hypnosis are able too alleviate pain and change behavior. He explains further that: “Psychiatrists, medical doctors and psychologists, along with a shadowy brigade of less credentialed practitioners, have used it for more than two centuries in one form or another to treat pain and illness.
Since World War II, it has slipped quietly and discreetly into the clinical mainstream, to the point where the American Medical Association, many HMOs and even Medicare now recognize it” (pp. 126) He goes on to note that not only is hypnosis a useful and effective tool in dealing with therapeutic concerns, it is “employed today in the treatment of a variety of physical and mental afflictions, in combating phobias, in the control of bad habits like smoking and overeating, and in the all-embracing area of ‘performance enhancement’ for strivers ranging from sprinters to stockbrokers.
Hypnosis is an idea whose time has come and gone and come again, and this time it appears to be staying” (pp. 126) Larkin (1999) explains further saying that “there is now evidence of a neurobiological basis for hypnosis” (pp. 386). She then quotes Donald Price of the University of Florida in Gainesville as saying that: “People think that during hypnosis, the brain goes to sleep. In fact, specific brain areas become activated” (pp. 386). The results of a study utilizing “positron emission tomography scans” were conducted on volunteers who had been led through a hypnotic relaxation exercise.
The study’s results suggested that the “hypnotic trance state” differs from normal consciousness, and that it expedite the course of hypnotic suggestions. According to Larkin, Price says: “My idea is that when you’re hypnotized, you experience things automatically, not deliberately. If someone suggests that your arm is raising up, it’s as if your arm is doing it by itself” (pp. 386). Cowles (1998) explains: “The preconceptions of scientific, medical, and psychological professionals affecting hypnosis arise within a cognitive schema that details a particular view of the world we experience through our senses.
Cognitive schemas create a context in which sensory experiences are organized, classified, and categorized in a systematic way. This allows us to quickly and critically evaluate information and make comparisons” (pp. 357). Considering such a fact helps to explain the hesitancy some people, both therapists and clients, may feel regarding accessing a way of knowing that does not neatly fit into the file marked “cognitive” or “literal interpretation. ” Hypnosis is a state of focused awareness.
It is something everyone in every walk of life has experienced at one time or another, for example the process of waking up or in becoming thoroughly absorbed in a good book. The characteristics of the state vary from person to person; it cannot be pinpointed on an EEG and the experience is different for everyone even though there are common elements. But the fact remains that hypnosis does not have a unique and unmistakable insignia indicating its presence. Altered States of Consciousness and Hypnosis
Bancroft (1998) explains that altered states of consciousness can serve to promote psychological growth in a multiple of ways. “Altered states have the ability to change a person’s perspective of themselves. Consciousness tries to be objectified, but it is subjective. By changing one’s internal perceptions reality changes. Altered states provide the means by which the ability to experience a different self-image/concept is available” (altered_states/altered_states. html).
This allows a person to potentially manifest new abilities, move beyond limitations from past negative experiences, and break out of socially imposed constraints. Bancroft adds that: “Altered states can serve as a vehicle for a person to move beyond the confines of logical/rational thought. The ability to perceive a situation from an entirely different viewpoint is known to produce insights, creative solutions, and psychological breakthroughs. Rather than being locked into logical assessments a person can suspend deep seated assumptions (beliefs) through the use of altered states” (altered_states/altered_states. tml). One can address the issue of the value associated in the profession of virtually any form of psychotherapy from both subjective and purely objective viewpoints. It should be noted that the vast majority of those who enter the practice of psychotherapy do so because of their very genuine desire to help other people. Therefore, they are generally willing to explore what some may consider as “alternative” practices, the category hypnotherapy and hypnosis are usually classified under.
Far too often, the use of hypnosis in helping people has been damaged by ignorant or unscrupulous practitioners who put ideological and self-promotional goals before the welfare of their patients. The resulting backlash, causes those not involved in the controversy to question the importance or effectiveness of psychotherapy. What the general public needs to understand is that mental health counseling, psychotherapy, and other forms of assistance in dealing with the difficulties associated with daily life are all based on an understanding of conscious and unconscious mental functioning.
Clearly, one avenue of that functioning is seen in the process of hypnosis. Spiegel (1998) explains: The hypnotic state is one in which highly focused attention (absorption) is coupled, usually, with physical relaxation, heightened responsiveness to social cues (suggestibility), and an increased capacity to cut off from awareness certain perceptions, memories, and other aspects of consciousness (dissociation). The state can be entered and left in seconds; long-winded inductions and dangling watches are not necessary” (pp. 5).
Spiegel (1998) also points out that hypnosis typically occupies an “unusual place” in that dynamic of understanding of conscious and unconscious experience and reaction and that it is “sometimes overvalued and sometimes given no respect at all. Both its benefits and its risks have been exaggerated, but hypnosis persists despite excesses of flattery and contempt because of its many clinical uses. It an excellent way to mobilize a patient’s resources to alter physical sensations, moderate stress reactions and other psychiatric symptoms, and enhance emotional sensitivity” (pp. ). Such a process of alteration then leads to a new way of thinking and a new way of directing intention and attitude that can help break negative patterns of thinking and/or behavior. Certainly, no reputable counselor would suggest that hypnosis is the proverbial “be all and all. ” It is, however, and effective tool and the person who most wants to assist others in their cognitive and emotional responses should take full advantage of any tool at their disposal that could help in the process.
Being in an altered states can promote psychological growth through the freeing of a passageway for cognitive and emotional expression. It is important to understand that the release of stress, emotional hardships, mental confusion, and negative thoughts is much more easily attainable in an altered state. A person’s dreams present a healthy channel for the expression of unconscious concerns and ideas. And meditation serves as a valuable tool for the expression of one’s spirituality and self-awareness.
Therefore, a combination of both dreams and meditation can produce a remarkably advantageous experience for the subject since hypnosis serves as that sort of blend. Mentally (and artificially) constructed barriers may rapidly fade away in an altered state resulting in the always-gratifying experience of interconnection, peace, contentment, and a sense of unity with the universe. Cowles (1998) also believes that hypnosis is often disregarded and undervalued because it cannot be currently explained by natural science or scientific method.
He suggests that perception prefigures embodiment and, therefore, creates the power of suggestion. “As an individual’s preconception of hypnosis often makes him or her wary and mistrustful of undergoing the experience, so too, scientific researchers’ preconceptions can prevent professionals from fully accepting the actual observed phenomenal experiences of hypnosis” (pp. 357). Regardless of such a concern, the fact remains that hypnosis can serve as a valuable means by which a therapist and client may work together in a realm that lies outside what would be most often thought of as daily reality and conscious thought.
Access to such a different “channel” of awareness cannot help but assist in the larger processes of people understanding one another and themselves. Conclusion Hypnosis has few downsides other than how it is perceived by many. Baker (1998) makes an extremely valid point when he notes: “Ultimately, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. It is a serious misunderstanding to credit hypnotists with special powers or arcane techniques. Hypnotic subjects are always in control of their mental processes. They have made a kind of social contract to comply with the hypnotist’s suggestions, which in effect are merely requests” (pp. ). Hypnosis allows for the greatest possible use of the imagination and encourages a relaxation process that cannot often be equaled in any other framework of consciousness. Baker also comments: “The legendary psychotherapist Milton Erickson, when asked to provide his definition of hypnosis, responded, It’s concentrating on your thoughts, values, memories, and beliefs about life. This definition is the simple truth” (pp. 6). In accessing that “simple truth” both the client and the hypnotist are able to gain a greater understanding of the processes and the motivations of the person under hypnosis.
Often, the clarity presented through a hypnotic state allows for an emotional or intellectual breakthrough in understanding that serves to help a person expand beyond whatever constrictions had been holding them back from being more closely aligned with their true nature and more aware of the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that they most value. BIBLIOGRAPHY Baker, Robert A. (1998, February) A view of hypnosis. Harvard Mental Health Letter, v14 n8, pp. 5(2). Bancroft, Mark (1998) Altered states and psychological growth, EnSpire Press, http://www. enspire. com/hypnosis_information_articles/altered_states/altered_states. tml Cowles, Richard S. (1998, July) The magic of hypnosis: is it child’s play? The Journal of Psychology, v132 n4, pp. 357(10). Jackson, Donald Dale (1999, March) You will feel no pain (hypnosis), Smithsonian, v29 i12, p126(1) Larkin, Marilynn (1999, January 30) Hypnosis makes headway in the clinic, The Lancet, v353 i9150, pp. 386(1). Spiegel, David (1998, September) Hypnosis. Harvard Mental Health Letter, v15 n3, pp. 5(2). _____, (2000, October) Hypnosis: Controlling the pain, controlling your health, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, v18 i8, pp. 4.