It is *not* like stage hypnosis.
Clinical hypnotherapy is a growing practice. It can help treat a wide variety of health problems, such as phobias and irritable bowel syndrome. Plus, it can help break unhealthy habits, such as smoking. Unfortunately, portrayals of hypnotherapy in movies and on stage have created many myths about hypnotherapy.
“The aim of hypnosis is to help people change unwanted behaviors and overcome physical, mental, and emotional challenges. This is all achieved through guided relaxation, visualization, and positive suggestions,” says Mark Stephens, hypnotherapist, meditation expert, author, and creator of the MindFree App.
Here are some of the most common myths about hypnotherapy, according to actual hypnotherapists:
MYTH #1: Hypnotherapy is like stage hypnosis.
For most people, their only reference for hypnosis is stage hypnosis. In these stage shows, a hypnotist puts participants in a trance and has them act out silly situations for an audience’s entertainment.
Clinical hypnotherapy could not be more different. In fact, it is a type of psychotherapy, so you and the hypnotherapist will be in a private room (no audience!) to work together to find healing.
“No clinical hypnotherapist will make you dance like a chicken, bark like a dog, or talk into an imaginary shoe phone,” says Stephens. “They are there to help you overcome your challenges.” For example, find out how hypnotherapy can help with irritable bowel syndrome.
MYTH #2: Being hypnotized is like being asleep.
“The basis for the word, hypnos, is Greek for sleep. In reality, it is not like sleep like when you go to bed at night,” says Roger Willard, hypnotherapist in Conestoga, PA. “In hypnosis, you can hear what is going on around you. If you open your eyes, you would see normally.”
In fact, Willard says hypnosis is actually “a heightened sense of awareness,” and not the unconsciousness associated with sleep.
MYTH #3: Hypnotherapy makes you act against your will or share your secrets.
Your hypnotherapist is there to help you—not manipulate you. “Many confuse ‘mind control’ with hypnosis. Hypnosis enhances one’s self-control,” says Nancy Irwin, PsyD, CHt, certified therapeutic hypnotist.
Dr. Irwin likens the state of hypnosis to praying, getting a massage, or even having sex. “The subject is always in control, free to stop the process if they hate it,” she says.
MYTH #4: Hypnotherapy doesn’t work on “smart” people.
One persistent myth is that you have to be gullible to achieve hypnosis. In fact, studies have actually revealed the opposite. “People with low IQ are notoriously difficult to hypnotize,” says Steve Webster, CHt, hypnotherapist in Los Angeles. “Smarter people are generally easier, possible because of the greater overload of messages they incur every day.”
MYTH #5: Hypnotherapy helps you lose weight fast.
With the cultural obsession with weight loss, it’s not surprising that many people turn to hypnotherapists for help with their weight.
“Most clients expect to lose weight fast. They expect a magic wand or miracle,” says Steph McGee, clinical hypnotherapist in Oxford, England. McGee says this is neither healthy nor realistic. Unfortunately, people who seek this therapy specifically for weight loss tend to be disappointed and give up when they don’t see results after a couple weeks.
“The focus of work is on mindset and wellbeing,” says McGee. “One study showed that you’re more likely to do well with weight loss if you go to a hypnotherapist for something other than weight loss!” In other words, treat the underlying problem—such as depression—and you may be better able to repair your relationship with food.
MYTH #6: Hypnotherapy is a “quick fix” for your problems.
“While hypnotherapy alone can create dramatic shifts and real change for clients, it is not always the cure-all alternative to other forms of treatment. It sometimes better serves clients when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment,” says Charleeta Latham, MNLP/CCH, clinical hypnotherapist and founder of The Mustard Seed Method.
For example, if you are seeing a hypnotherapist for an anxiety disorder, you may still benefit from regularly seeing a psychologist for talk therapy. Additionally, you might also find relief from medications, such as antidepressants.
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