So it’s no surprise that there’s a healthy amount of scepticism about it. But hypnotherapy is recognised as a talking therapy by the British Psychological Society, and is considered a useful treatment for issues including anxiety, addiction and even IBS.
Lily Allen and Geri Horner have turned to hypnotherapists to lose weight, while Kate Middleton reportedly used hypnobirthing techniques to help with labour pain (maybe Meghan’s asked for tips – her birth plan is rumoured to include it).
And we can all use self-hypnosis to get ahead – whether it’s to ace a scary work presentation, stick to our gym goals or feel less stressed.
“The unconscious mind is incredibly powerful, and by tapping into it you can really super-charge your goals,” says Glenn Harrold, a clinical hypnotherapist and author of De-Stress Your Life.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s about people being manipulated into doing whacky things. But self-hypnosis is nothing like that.”
The idea of hypnotherapy is to induce a mild trance – meaning a relaxed state, a bit like when we allow our minds to wander or switch to autopilot – and then introduce suggestions for how we’d like to feel or behave by listening to or thinking of mantras.
It’s thought that we’re more open to suggestion in this deeply relaxed “hypnotic” state.
“Up to 90% of our behaviour is governed by the unconscious,” says cognitive hypnotherapist Fiona Nicolson, co-author of the The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
“We all have a belief system about ourselves and about the world around us that sits in our unconscious mind, driving our behaviour. Sometimes it comes with negatives ideas about ourselves, such as: ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘I always fail.’
Think of the brain as a computer – it’s not the computer itself that’s the problem, it’s more likely a software programme that has bugs in it. That’s what hypnotherapy aims to fix.”
Boost your mood
“The key to self-hypnosis is to keep it simple, short, and frequent – every day, if possible, for 10 minutes,” says Fiona, who recommends adapting the following simple exercise when you want to feel less anxious or boost your mood.
“Sit in a chair with your hands in your lap and think about how you want to feel. Then pick a memory of when you felt that way,” she says. “For instance, you might want to feel less stressed, so imagine a peaceful holiday with the sun on your face.
“Next, take four deep breaths in and out through the nose. This encourages the body to relax. Then start to count slowly back from 10, and after each count tell yourself: ‘I’m going deeper down.’ When you get down to one, take a very deep breath and, imagining the peaceful memory, repeat to yourself: ‘I’m safe, I’m calm,’ for a couple of minutes.”
She advises that it helps to say the words out loud, but if you’re worried you’ll be overheard it’s also fine to do it in your head.
“Before you start, give yourself a mark out of 10 for how stressed, tired or anxious you are, and then again after the exercise,” she adds. “You should notice a difference (a decrease).”
This exercise can also be used to improve relationships. For example, if you have a short fuse, picture yourself reacting the way you’d like to.
“When couples get angry with each other, the unconscious takes over,” Fiona explains. However, she advises that for deeper relationship issues it might be worth seeking the advice of a professional hypnotherapist, as “there can be complex issues and patterns of behaviour involved”.
If you’ve got a nerve-wracking presentation coming up, it’s natural to worry about it going wrong or try to push it out of your mind. Instead, Glenn recommends using self-hypnosis to focus on it going brilliantly.
“Picture yourself standing at the front of that room feeling confident and calm,” he says. “Try to make the image as detailed as possible – think about exactly what you’ll see, even what you’ll smell, such as the meeting room coffee.”
Self-hypnosis in this context works like a powerful short cut to build skills in something you’re not confident about, Glenn explains.
“The mind doesn’t always distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined, so when you visualise it going well a number of times, you’re priming yourself to be in a peak performance state.”
Likewise, before a job interview, try using self-hypnosis for a week or two beforehand. “I do this if I’m being interviewed on TV or radio,” he says.
“Take yourself off somewhere quiet for 10-20 minutes and lie down. After taking some deep breaths and relaxing, visualise the whole interview process, from leaving home feeling energetic and confident to shaking hands with the interviewer – even what the chair you’ll be sitting in feels like. With clients I often repeat the words: ‘You’re in control, you’re confident, you’re enjoying the process.’
“Another trick is to use an ‘anchor’ to remind yourself of that feeling. While in your relaxed state, pinch the back of your hand. Then when you pinch it just before the actual interview, those feelings should come back to you.”
Super-charge your health
Hypnotherapy with a trained professional has been found to help with all sorts of physical conditions, from back pain to headaches to insomnia.
One recent study from the Netherlands found that six sessions of hypnotherapy was more effective for IBS than standard educational supportive care, with more than 40% of hypnotherapy patients reporting relief from symptoms, often for months afterwards.
It’s thought that it may change patients’ mindsets and enable them to increase control over gut activity.
Research also suggests hypnotherapy could be useful for weight loss. A study published in the journal Obesity last year, found that dieters taught self-hypnosis techniques to use before eating felt more full than dieters who weren’t, and had a better quality of life.
What’s more, those who habitually practised self-hypnosis lost more weight over the course of the study.
Using self-hypnosis to help with your own health and fitness goals is all about making definable aims that are achievable, explains Fiona.
“It’s no good saying: ‘I’m going to run a marathon next month,’ if you’ve never run before,”
she says. “Instead, it’s about making daily changes. So it could be: ‘I’m going to eat less chocolate, or I’m going to walk every day and in six months I’ll feel fitter.’”
She recommends using her daily self-hypnosis technique, but repeating the words: “I’m healthy, I’m happy,” while visualising how you’ll look and how your life will be different.
Glenn recommends self-hypnosis at bedtime if you struggle to switch off at night, too. “The thing that often stops us sleeping is a mind that’s too busy,” he says.
“Hypnosis relaxes the mind and the physical body.” Closing your eyes and focusing on breathing can help, or try a hypnosis recording for sleep, such as Glenn’s Relax & Sleep Well Hypnosis app (free, iTunes).
Try this instant de-stresser
“This is a technique I always teach my clients,” says Fiona. “Breathe in through your nose for seven counts, hold for four, then out through your nose for 11. Try to breathe from your stomach, not from your chest. If you make yourself breathe more deeply, you’re almost forcing yourself into a relaxed state.”
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