John Teleska, M.Ed., NBCCH
Integrative Medicine Department, Clifton Springs Hospital &
Private Practice, Pittsford, NY (near Rochester)
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Author: John Teleska, Rochester, NY
Where:Nature's Wisdom, vol. II issue X
Summer 2004 (p. 26-27)
“Hypnosis is art and science masquerading as conversation.”
A healthy man suffering from panic attacks, terrified of having a heart attack, came to see me on the advice of his cardiologist. After three sessions, he called to tell me, “I’m fine now, there’s no problem; I really don’t know what the big deal was. Thanks.” A young woman complained of exhaustion from not sleeping. Several sessions later, she began talking about other issues. I asked, “What about sleep?” She replied, “Oh, I’ve been sleeping fine.” A very competent businessman said he felt like a kid around his new boss: anxious, overwhelmed, and tongue-tied. After a couple of sessions he reported that he now comfortably negotiates with his boss about the work to be done. What is modern hypnotherapy and how does it support people in making changes like these?
In my practice, people call me because they want something to be different. They ask questions about what I do and how it might help them. This article is an imaginary conversation with someone asking about hypnotherapy. It is not grounded in someone’s specific interest and is necessarily a generalization. It is my intention to update old models and expectations of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, while providing a frame in which to consider how hypnotherapy might be useful.
What is hypnotherapy?
Change doesn’t happen when a therapist attempts to remove symptoms. It happens when the client gets the support they need to use what they know, both consciously and unconsciously, in new ways on behalf of the desired outcome. Modern hypnotherapy combines psychotherapy and hypnosis to help clients focus their attention and engage their conscious and unconscious resources on behalf of clarifying and promoting their interests.
What do you mean by “unconscious”?
By “unconscious” I mean everything that is not in our conscious awareness. Our unconscious intelligence includes the responsivity of our breathing and our heartbeat. It includes the expressiveness of our hands and facial gestures. It includes attitudes, abilities, and behaviors we accomplish without having to consciously think about them. For instance, we can walk or catch a ball—both are complex actions. Yet, we don’t have to think about all the steps involved in order to accomplish these tasks. We rely on our unconscious intelligence. Each of us has a lot of beneficial unconscious abilities! And yet, we may have unconscious learnings—understandings we came to as children about money, relationships, who we think we are, our own value—that have outlived their usefulness and now limit us in some way. Fortunately, unconscious learning isn’t just a developmental phase we go through and then that’s it, we’re locked in. Throughout life our unconscious retains its ability to learn something new, or use something we already know in a different way. Hypnotherapy engages these natural learning abilities on behalf of who we are becoming rather than who we’ve been.
What can hypnotherapy help with?
While hypnosis is commonly associated with habit cessation (losing weight, quitting smoking, etc.), many hypnotherapists have a much broader range of treatment. A well-trained clinician using hypnotherapy can help clients who suffer from physical symptoms and conditions (including migraine, sexual dysfunctions, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders), psychological symptoms (including anxiety, stress, insomnia, phobias, and depression) and life issues (limiting behaviors, career change, divorce, aging, relationship crises). Other medical applications include pain control, use during dental work, comfort during birth, and enhancing comfort and healing during and after surgical procedures.
Will you put me in a trance?
I don’t think of it as me putting you into a trance. If formal trance work seemed useful, we’d both learn together how you go into a trance. It’s different for each person. Most people learn how to go into a useful trance pretty easily. It’s a gradual learning. We didn’t learn the alphabet all at once and we don’t learn to do hypnosis all at once. Sometimes formal trance work (“…eyes closed, breath relaxing while you listen to the sound of my voice…”) is useful, but often it isn’t, nor is it necessary. There are so many other ways people learn what they are ready to learn besides something that looks like trance work.
It is hypnotherapy, isn’t it? How can you do hypnotherapy without hypnosis?
Hypnosis or trance work is nothing more or less than focused attention—and people do this all the time. There’s the movie trance: we focus on the movie and don’t notice the chairs or other people in the theater. Or the driving trance: we get safely to your destination and suddenly wonder how we got there—we don’t much remember the details of the driving. We don’t need formal hypnosis for that. In my experience, during a session, most people quite naturally focus their attention in a way that is useful.
The therapist can use stories, metaphors, questions, and what looks like normal conversation to help engage unconscious abilities on behalf of what the client wants. Such an interaction assists in discovering new perceptions and making new meaning of habitual experiences. Modern hypnotherapy no longer relies only on formal hypnosis. With or without formal trance work, here’s what makes it hypnotherapy: The client’s interaction with the hypnotherapist engages their natural unconscious abilities on behalf of accomplishing the client’s desires and well-being.
How many sessions does it take?
It depends—on what you want to accomplish, how what you want to accomplish is connected to the rest of your life, and how quickly you learn what’s important for you to learn in order to accomplish what you want. For things like gaining relief from migraine, quitting smoking, or hypnosis for expectant parents, it might be four to six sessions. Making changes in attitudes and behaviors which are limiting is more involved and may evolve over the course of months. On the other hand, I’ve worked with people who were so ready to make some change, one session was all the trigger they needed.
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Copyright © 2014 by John Teleska. All rights reserved. Updated 7/7/16.