Your eyes are getting heavy. You feel sleepy.
That is not hypnotherapy.
There is no mysterious mesmerizing figure waving a pocket watch that will goad you into behaving like a clucking chicken. In fact, hypnosis contradicts this concept of being helplessly controlled on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their therapist. They have absolute free will. And, they’re not really in a semi-sleep state. They’re actually hyperattentive.
Our understanding of hypnosis has advanced a great deal in the past century, but the phenomenon is still a mystery. Science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn’t clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle, which is, how the human mind works.
Psychiatrists 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 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.
Patients are fully conscious, but tune out most of the stimuli around themselves. They focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
Therapists focus on the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
In hypnotherapy, the client approaches the suggestions of the hypnotist, or their own ideas, as if they were reality. If the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you’ll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you’ll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel panicky or start to sweat. But the entire time, you are aware that it’s all imaginary. Essentially, you’re playing pretend on an intense level, as kids do.
In this special mental state, people feel uninhibited and relaxed. Presumably, this is because they tune out the worries and doubts that normally keep their actions in check.
In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is, when the hypnotist tells you do something, you’ll probably embrace the idea completely
The subject’s sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience, however. A hypnotist can’t get you to do anything you don’t want to do.