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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971


The Magic of Hypnosis


Remystifying hypnosis - some reflections on the language of our minds


By Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar



In our contemporary, scientific world, where magic is condemned as obscene, happiness considered a luxury, and only dollars and pounds are taken as punctually reflecting reality, I would like to draw your attention to Wishes. Throughout our lifetime we struggle with routines and survive boredom, sadness, difficulties and grief only thanks to those unique, uncommon moments that are bigger than life - the few enchanting moments. Whether it is birth of a child, falling in love, watching the sunrise or engaging in creation, we draw our everyday energy from these peak moments. And these moments, immeasurable as they are, unscientific by nature, these moments are magic.


To most people, the word hypnosis carries with it shadows of witchcraft and mind-control. It seems mysterious and magical, but also unscientific and deceitful. For this very reason, many hypnotists, hypnotherapists and lecturers on that subject tried their best to dismiss the mystery and magic of hypnosis as a means of regaining scientific respect. By yielding into the scientific paradigm, practitioners and theoreticians of the art of hypnosis hoped to bring about a change. Since I see no need to demystify hypnosis in order to proof its efficacy, I will try to have it both ways.


In this short paper, I hope to bring you some of my understandings of the language of our mind and show you, that while the methods used in hypnotherapy and NLP may be systematic and methodological, the content of our Self, as the universe's greatest creation, sometimes requires just more than that. To me hypnosis is magical since it is concerned with opening the gates to the loveliest of wonderlands, to the understanding of the language of our mind.   


Each of us receives information about the world through the senses, and interprets it in a different and individual way. Many factors influence the way we receive and process information: our biological structure and genetic heritage, our parental and caregivers' influence, childhood experience, nutrition, socio-economic status, the environment, and indeed many other factors. Our behaviour and thoughts are the result of that interpretation, but most of the motivations are still unknown to us.


When we open the refrigerator in search for something to eat, we are unaware to the specific need we answer (is it sugar? Proteins? Sexual satisfaction?). We only know that we are hungry.


We know when we are cold or hot, but are unaware of the homeostatic systems that maintain our body temperature.


We strive for love and sympathy; we are sometimes happy, other times jealous or emotional. We can ascribe to one theory or another of human motives and behaviours, but can anyone sincerely claim for fully understanding the causes for her own or his own states? I truly hope that we will never decipher the mystery of our being.


In a way, our consciousness is like the tower of Babel: hundreds of languages are being spoken around. Thanks to the self-awareness, we are using reflection to notice many languages, but we understand only a few - through resemblance in processes, similar words, postures and gestures - since our consciousness is limited in its capacities. Nevertheless, unlike Babylon, our body is usually functioning in an amazing synchronicity. There are several somatic (or subconscious) mechanisms, which integrate many processes and understand a number of languages simultaneously: the binary neural language, the protein dialect of hormones, immune system and informational substances, the emotions jargon, the language of senses, consciousness, English, and more.     


It is important to understand that all these procedures are taking place in every person. And, of course, they are all metaphors. Existence is not referable in any language; language reduces the impact of existence. Nevertheless, there are similar principles of functioning at the basis of these processes. Hypnosis had created - and is still intensively learning to perfect - the Esperanto of mind-body connections; we are translating these principles and - via language - affecting somatic systems and processes.


The dialogue between the hypnotherapist and the somatic systems consists of harnessing conscious processes and utilising them, going beyond conscious processes and introducing information to somatic systems and internalising and amplifying the new ideas.


As I mentioned already, the consciousness is weak, limited and small-portioned compared to our entire Self. Hypnotherapists strive to act upon these processes to bring about change. It is usually quite difficult to affect somatic systems (such as bad habits, fears and illnesses) because the rapport between conscious and somatic mind is often implicit, and resistant to external influences (for example, the critical faculty, which is responsible for many self-limiting beliefs). It is rather difficult to stop smoking, for instance, since our conscious decision is weaker than the habitual somatic systems.


Induction’s, as I see them, are the communication processes that are taken to access somatic scenarios and encourage the client to influence these processes without cognitive disruptions. 

Relaxation, for instance, inactivates many bodily processes. It is easier to gain acceptance and belief when the body is at ease. By applying convincing methods and creating rapport, the hypnotist further enhances the person's readiness to accept the suggested changes.

Focusing attention. The Hollywoodish pendulum restricts all the limited conscious attention to one direction, thus enabling the hypnotist to turn off the criticising, censuring and guardian processes of consciousness. Hypnotherapy often uses more subtle and creative devices. The principle, however, is the same.


Imagination:            By using imagination, we keep occupying our conscious processes while attending somatic systems simultaneously. A main feature of somatic language is its sensory basis and its affinity to imagination.


Analogies and metaphors, so often used by hypnotherapists, are therapeutic tools intended to bring about change. Our somatic intelligence undresses the analogies' clothing and applies the content to oneself. As remarkable as it might seem, our somatic self is constantly looking for meaning. 


The new ideas can be introduced to our somatic mind in many ways. The most common are suggestions, which are built in accordance with the somatic grammar, and imaginations - mind pictures, sounds and feelings, and some more complicated structures, which hypnotherapists learn and practice. 


For an idea to be then accepted, a necessary precondition must be fulfilled: the client's readiness to accept it. The harmony and effectiveness of any new idea depends on the "owner's" basic approval. Whenever we introduce a new element into the system - it must be congruent with the structure, dynamics and aims of the entire system.


Each new idea and suggestion we introduce would compete with other ideas, of which some are more established (even in bodily terms and neural paths) and superior. Suggestion such as "my fingernails are naturally growing, healthy and beautiful" can encounter an old patterned one like "when I need to relax, I bite my fingernails", which is far more powerful. What is the solution? How can therapy ensure the long-term effect of these changes?


As if conducting organ transplantation, we have checked the basic accord before introducing it to the body (Is our suggestion congruent with the person's belief system?). We have cleaned the body and anaesthetised the parts that might hurt too much and introduced the new organ (induction and suggestions or other change-delivery methods).


Now, in order to give this organ a fair chance to survive, we actively reduce the immune response to it, until the transplanted organ is steadily established. We use hypnotic techniques to enhance our suggestions' power and to extinguish resistance: the methods used might be repetitions; confusion; overloading; using various representation systems; creating associations to other ideas and many others.


An important feature of most of the methods is the creation of positive feedback loops. If, for example we wish to help the fingernail-biter, we may present to him the idea that every time he abstains from biting he will feel extremely satisfied and contented, and that after each 10 clean days, he will buy himself a small present. The satisfactions will lead to further avoidance of biting and so on. When combined with other suggestions, specially tailored for the person's needs and character, we create a context in which changes can readily occur.


What can be accomplished by using these methods?


The Self is a powerful generator, it keeps us alive and functioning; it maintains our health and performs millions of actions each and every second. Hypnotherapy harnesses the mind's potential power, and as long as the language is accurate and suits the person's needs, the border of hypnotherapy is the limit of natural phenomena; the boundary of the mind is the limit of imagination. Hypnotherapy can help treat psychological problems, and intervene with biological processes and emotional states. We can also influence cognitive aspects of the mind.    


There is a concept in Buddhism called 'Bodhi-Chitta' - (the thought of enlightenment). Within each and every one of us lies the face of Buddha; divinity can be found within us all. Each of us is an incredibly complex wonder, an unbelievably intelligent system (or self), which is inevitable beyond comprehension. The somatic systems of a toddler are more powerful than Einstein's cognitive mind. And we might as well use those powers!


Although we are only beginning to comprehend the language of our somatic processes, we are already able to look at ourselves in a whole-new and magical way, and to utilise our powers for our own benefits. Hypnotherapy and NLP use somatic-language in order to utilise it. I admit that suggestions, systematic as they might be, are not as scientifically impressive as an MRI scan, and that guided imagination may not be as mathematically replicable as an EEG, but this is the only way to establish a fertile, applicable and reciprocal dialogue with our inherently mysterious self.


No matter what scientists will ever say, nothing is as mysterious as a smile, and in order to understand smiling, neither checking chemical substances nor psychological analysis is enough. To completely and thoroughly understand it, to be able to claim knowledge on the field of smiling - you must twitch your lips to the sides and upwards with a genuine intention and awe - and smile. You must understand language from within its natural habitat, and that is exactly what I've been talking about - Magic.



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