Whole-Being Hypnotherapy

Article by Deborah Marshall-Warren

Published in Here's Health magazine, August 1996

Picture the scene. On stage, next to a hypnotist, stands a young woman. Intensely serious, she tells the audience that she is a Martian. 'I came down on an elevator from heaven,' she says to howls of laughter. 'I've designed a spaceship, I've visited Venus, and I've been skiing on Pluto. Can't you tell by my suntan?' By now, the audience is rolling in the aisles.

Scenes like this have become all too common. There's no business like show business, and the 'showing' of hypnosis in a non-therapeutic light has damaged the public image of hypnotherapy. Potential clients of mine often seek reassurance: 'I won't show myself up, will I?' or 'I don't want to lose control' -- common concerns from people who only want to banish panic attacks. One client wanted me to help him stop nail-baiting had been given stern cautionary advice by a workmate: tape record the session, just in case!

Media exposure of showbiz hypnotists only add to the trepidation. Take the story of the man who claimed he had been regressed to childhood and allegedly could not return to his grown-up state. Press reports have fuelled the notion that you 'may not come round' afterwards, and could end up trapped in limbo forever.

Behind the scenes In public halls licensed for entertainment, stage hypnotists are given space to play with their audience's mind. They can be found as after-dinner speakers, and at student gatherings countrywide. The most famous may get to appear on TV, hypnotising star-struck volunteers in the blink of an eye.

In fact, many volunteers may have a sense of what they are letting themselves in for, and are 'ready to play'. Stage hypnotists employ a 'finger-lock' test to select audience members susceptible enough for their crude method: 'At the count of three you'll be unable to separate your hands.' Those that can't are asked on stage. But the hypnotist may also embed a command so that volunteers awake with no memory of what has taken place. A sensitive volunteer may be disturbed to learn of the ludicrous or even humiliating antics she's just performed in fronr of everyone.

A major worry about stage hypnosis is its humiliation of subjects, who may be tricked into doing things that they find repugnant. Earlier this year, the News of the World reported on a soft porn video that claimed to show the worst side of this exploitation, with hypnotised subjects stripping off and simulating sex on stage.

Stage hypnosis doesn't seek to given anything of lasting benefit to the subjects -- all it gives the audience is ephemeral fun at another's expense. It doesn't identify limiting beliefs or habits of mind that the subject is struggling with, and so can offer no help with solving those problems. In short, it doesn't try to be therapeutic.

What's the difference? In therapy, the hypnotist sees only one client at a time, and will gently lead her into a depth of hypnosis appropriate to her needs. On stage, meanwhile, subjects may be thrown in at the deep end, and the more susceptible of them may go too deeply into trance. Before an impatient audience waiting for the next performance, a hypnotist has no time to guide each individual volunteer through the process. Yet close attention to the individual is essential to reassure them about what may be an unusual and intense experience, and to help them cope with any repressed emotions or memories that may emerge. If necessary, the therapist can take prompt and appropriate action when an 'abreaction' or emotional upset comes to the surface. In contrast, the subject on stage may feel abandoned. A number of subjects have complained that stage hypnosis created a sense of panic as they realised they were no longer in control, and this fear may persist long after the show. In therapeutic hypnotherapy, the client is looked after continually throughout the session.

The regard that some stage hypnotists have for their subjects can even verge on callousness. In one case a hypnotist told a subject to act as if a 10,000-volt electric shock had passed through her chair. This was especially unfortunate as the volunteer had a fear of electricity -- which, of course, the hypnotist couldn't have known about because he didn't take the trouble to ask. That woman dies not long after; the coroner's verdict was death by natural causes. However, such a hypnotic suggestion should never have been made to anyone. It's the total opposite of the kinds of suggestion given under therapeutic hypnosis.

How hypnosis in therapy works Therapeutic hypnosis uses techniques to access parts of a person's subconscious mind that are getting in the way of their happiness and wellbeing. These troublesome parts may be making it hard for you to relax, to be more confident, or to overcome feelings of anxiety and nervousness.

Often these feelings come from strongly held beliefs we've filed away about ourselves. The root of the symptom may be a negative thought, or another's description of you that you've accepted as true -- perhaps a phrase repeated in childhood such as 'You'll never do any good unless you work harder.' Two outcomes are possible. The person may simply follow the script, and not achieve their potential. Or they may become highy successful, but still secretly believe that they're not good enough.

Who's running the show? Hypnotherapy lets you tap into your own power and design your own labels, ratrher than resting content with ones given early in life. Contrary to stage hypnosis, the client runs the show. If you want to build confidence, you'll hear words to boost confidence. If you go to lose weight, you'll hear words that promote weight loss (without any suggestion to buy weight-loss products!). If you're facing a tough public-speaking engagement, you'll get words to help perfect you presentation. You get only what you want, which is why suggestions sometimes seem to fail. I've had clients who say they want to change a part of their behaviour, such as drinking, but in the first session it becomes clear that, in their hearts, they don't really want to change. The therapy can work only if there's a genuine desire on the part of the subject to make the change.

Hypnoanalysis (or advanced hypnotherapy), another tool used by therapists, emphasises the gulf that separates therapy from showbiz. It's more effective that the technique of direct suggestion -- direct commands made to the subconscious mind -- used in stage hypnosis. For, as the finger-lock test shows, people differ in the degree to which they respond to suggestions.

The technique The hypnoanalysis technique I use was devised by hypnotherapist and trainer Valerie Austin. It involves calling forward the 'active parts' of the subconscious which are preventing the client from changing. A 'part' is rather like a file in a computer. Each part that appears has a name and a function in the person's mind. That name may be an emotion (such as fear), a personality trait (perfectionism), a colour, an image or symbol like sunshine, or a personal name.

Whatever part is appropriate for the individual will step forward. One of my clients had a subconscious part called 'Gertrude', who made sure my client 'didn;t get too out of hand' -- so impeding her from fully realising the self-expression she wished to enjoy. Once the file is open in the subconscious mind and can speak its purpose ('Gertrude' spoke in restrained and strict tones), the part is gently and respectfully challenged, and advised that now that the client has decided to progress her life, this part is not supporting her in the best way possible. The part can choose to take a rest, or be more active in a positive way. Most parts want to be team players and will agree to change. 'Gertrude' agreed to allow my subject to grow and made a wish 'for sunshine to nurture her'. Each part is asked to suggest three positive changes to help advance the client's life -- for instance, more rest and relaxation, regular swimming practise, 'I will congratulate myself on my successes' -- and then choose the most advantageous one. Then the sub-conscious is asked if it's ready to make the change. If not, other parts are invited forward. The same process is repeated with each until the change is done, and the sub-conscious is asked to confirm that the work will be done permanently and correctly. Since the subconscious will attempt to find any weakness in the contract, it's important to guide the part so that there's no loophole.

Finally, visualisation is used to carry the client forward into the future so that they can see themselves as they will be with this new script embedded deep in the mind.

Since much of our present behaviour begins as a script written in infancy, hypnotherapy allows you to over-write the script with a new one for the benefit of the person you are now and want to be. It's not unusual for changes to occur almost instantly, because the choice comes from within: you're using your own power to choose change for the better. The subconscious is in control and runs only on the scripts it has inside.

All of which is a far cry from the stage volunteer convinced that the onion she's crunching on is really a big, juicy Granny Smith. Whereas stage hypnosis mocks tehdignity of the individual, the aim of hypnotherapy is to respect and bolster it.

Deborah Marshall-Warren offers advanced hypnotherapy to individuals and groups. She's a member of the British National Register of Advanced Hypnotherapy (NRAH) and the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD). Contact her at her central London practice [at HB Health on 020-7838 0765].

[Telephone number updated since publication]


'I'll lose control -- I wouldn't want anyone controlling my mind
You can't be controlled or manipulated. In hypnosis you are in control of all your faculties except one. You can hear, see, feel, taste, and speak. The single exception is the critical faculty, the part of you which normally puts up resistance. If you're given a suggestion that pleases you and which seems emotionally and morally reasonable, you will accept it.

'I'll be fast asleep or out cold'
In hypnosis, you're neither asleep nor unconscious. In fact, you're fully aware and focused, and will usually hear and remember everything that's said. Clients are often more aware of what is taking place than usual.

'I'll be made to do something I don't want to do'
The whole of the hypnotherapy session is centred around what you genuinely want to do. All the suggestions made to you will relate directly to a prior discussion of what you want to achieve through hypnosis.

'I can't be hypnotised -- nobody can put me under'
You'd be surprised -- most people can and do enjoy deep relaxation in the state of hypnosis.

'I might blurt my secrets out'
Be assured that your subconscious will only communicate what you're ready to reveal, and only what will bring clarity to your understanding in the here-and-now.

'I won't allow someone to make invasive suggestions without my permission'
Isn't it more 'dangerous' to watch commercial television? That's when you really lose control of what goes into your subconscious mind!

Whole-Being Hypnotherapy formed 1995. Web site © 1996-2011, by Metronexco Ltd.