Should I be scared of hypnotherapy?
December 6, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Should I be scared of hypnotherapy/hypnosis? If not, how can I become less scared of it?

My therapist of four years has suggested that I might benefit from hypnotherapy to deal with longstanding emotional/anxiety issues, and he has offered to try it with me if I were willing. But the idea scares me. I'm scared of generating false memories; I'm scared of the power of suggestion, and doing things I didn't actually choose to do; I'm scared of going emotionally down some hole that I can't get out of. I think generally I'm scared of losing control of myself, being under someone else's power, and entering some sort of delusion that I can't escape. For some reason, all of this makes me really fidgety and uncomfortable and nervous.

I'm not sure whether I just have misconceptions based on the popular idea of hypnotherapy as making people do things they don't want to do, such as (to take an extreme example) barking like a dog when you hear a certain word, or whether my concerns are actually justified.

I've been doing a fair amount of meditation lately; is hypnosis is similar to it?

I've read a little bit about hypnotherapy online, and I've read some prior threads in AskMe. But I'm still not sure if it's right for me, because of my fears.

I'd be curious to hear about other people's experiences with hypnosis/hypnotherapy, or your informed thoughts and opinions of it.
posted by chameleon to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The main thing about hypnosis that most people are unaware of if that it is completely voluntary. I suggest you get a book about it and do some reading. You will not be "under someone's power" or be forced to do anything you would normally regard as wrong, it is not a form of mind control.
posted by catatethebird at 9:34 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, you will be awake and aware of what is going on, and remember it, but you can always ask to have the session recorded it that would help allay your fears.
posted by catatethebird at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

From what I know of hypnotherapy, it's not like in the movies. The therapist won't wave a watch in front of you and suddenly you'll fall into a zombie-like trance and be open to anything. The stuff you see on daytime talk shows with people going all nuts after being hypnotized? That's pretty much them allowing themselves to go all wacky because, hey, they're hypnotized and it's not like they're actually doing it. They drop their inhibitions because they've been put in a context where its okay.

You do most of the work in a hypnotic state, and if you're not open to it, it's just not going to happen. There's a lot of image-metaphor work in a hypnotic state -- climbing stairs, releasing luggage, whatever -- and the therapist is there to help you get the proper technique to use these metaphors. It's not an LSD trip where shit just starts being spontaneously generated out of your subconscious.
posted by griphus at 9:37 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, this book has helped me out with self-hypnosis. There's a lot of filler in there, but it's also a good lay-overview of hypnosis. The self-hypnosis guide is really useful, so you can try it out on yourself before doing it with someone else's guidance. It takes a lot of practice, though, so don't expect Big Results off the first run. Worst case scenario, you end up accidentally taking a nap.
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on December 6, 2011

I am a rather suggestible person when I am fully conscious. I would not have to give up much control for a hypnotist to acquire a great deal of control over me. So saying that hypnotherapy is voluntary and you need to be open to it doesn't give me any comfort.

I'm not the OP, though.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:44 AM on December 6, 2011

You might find this AskMe comment helpful.
posted by smorange at 9:46 AM on December 6, 2011

All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The hypnotist mostly serves as a guide. So learn to do it yourself. The only downside is the time you'll take to learn and practice.

There are zillions of resources out there that will teach you self-hypnosis. I know of no perfect, great one, but read skeptically, don't pay overmuch attention to details and theories, read widely, and you'll soon pick up the gist (it's an intuitive thing more than a rote learning thing). Then it's just a matter of trying it on yourself. Don't be too extreme in your hypnotic suggestions - make it mostly mild and comforting, especially at first - and it shouldn't trigger your anxiety alarms.

And it's a helluva good tool to have in your arsenal going forward, for all sorts of things. Really, everyone should learn this.

Once you do, it's very interesting to read up on Milton Erickson. His example (there are countless anecdotes about his brilliantly resourceful approach) will help you understand the power and potential of hypnosis.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:49 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done hypnotherapy under exactly these conditions -- in a therapist's office, to deal with longstanding emotional issues. I have crystal-clear memories of everything that went on while I was under hypnosis, there's no amnesia associated with it at all, and I was still myself for every minute of the session. Like, I was cracking snarky jokes and everything. What it did for me was to make me stop being afraid of feeling things, so I could really get down and work stuff out instead of sliding off to the side of my bad issues.

Setting a post-hypnotic trigger only works if the person being hypnotized likes the idea of having the trigger set. I did hypnosis for labor management with my second child, and we set a couple of triggers to help me relax and bliss out when a certain word was said or a certain gesture was made; those only worked because I was really, really interested in having them work, and in fact when my husband tried to use one of them when I was pushing and starting to panic juuuuust a little bit, I actually said "Fuck that trigger-word bullshit!" Even if you wanted the trigger set and you usually want it to fire, it won't work if you don't want it to in a specific instance.

Meditation is very similar to hypnosis -- in fact, I'd say it's identical. The difference between meditation and hypnotherapy is that in the latter, you have a trusted guide who will work with you to get you to where you need to be. Any reputable and ethical therapist should have no problem with you recording your hypnosis sessions, by the way; you might consider that if you want an objective confirmation that nothing goofy is going on.
posted by KathrynT at 9:59 AM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

The link smorange linked to is really great. I was recently hypnotized during a professional development thing. Not intense therapy or anything, but I did feel incredibly - and somehow actively - restful.

My guide explained that hypnosis is essentially guided meditation - similar to what I am sinking deeply into at the end of my yoga classes and likely a very similar state that you are in when you self-meditate. Whatever relaxation steps you take to get to that point - the hypnotist is essentially doing the same thing, just leading you in his/her way. My guide walked me through a landscape and described its outlines, but I found myself filling in the visual and other sensory details that meant something to me - and discovered it was a bit like being in a very clear dream where I was conscious enough to paint and change the course of it while being very open to exploring the world I'd created for surprises and new paths.

My guide also explained that hypnosis doesn't make you do something that you would never do or is contrary to your core. It allows you latitude, however, to do anything that you, yourself, are willing to do at that point in time - recognizing that what you are willing to do has some degree of mutability from moment to moment depending on your circumstances. I think this is where the healing power comes from - something that you're uncomfortable encountering in the real "awake" world, maybe you will be more open to exploring metaphorically or symbolically in a different way that could really powerfully help you.

I suspect your fears are partly about being somehow taken advantage of, but also worried about what you'll find if you "go under." My experience was that this meditative state can be a very calming world in which the kinds of discomfort and anxiety that twist up our everyday experiences fall away - a very freeing thing.
posted by sestaaak at 10:07 AM on December 6, 2011

If you are highly hypnotizable, consider yourself lucky, not everybody is. While there is nothing a skilled therapist can do with hypnosis that they can't do without it, if someone is susceptible to it, it is an amazing tool for a range of things from ego strengthening to pain relief. Hypnotic states, some stages of meditations, focus or immersion to the exclusion of stimuli, they are all forms of dissociation. I could go on at length but I really gotta run. I'd be happy to answer mail when I have more time.
posted by provoliminal at 5:43 PM on December 6, 2011

I learned of the "Oh No Ross and Carrie" podcast from a comment here recently (that pointed to their experiences becoming Mormons). In their end-of-year review they spoke fondly of the time they tried hypnotherapy. Maybe irreverent, but I imagine they will give all the details (I haven't listened to this episode).
posted by lakeroon at 7:19 PM on December 6, 2011

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