By: Kate Ryan | health.good.is
I've seen it countless times driving from Calabasas to Los Angeles on Highway 101—a sign that reads "HMI, College of Hypnotherapy" right before an exit for Tarzana. For years, I wanted to take that exit. This past fall, I finally did. The self-hypnosis class I took was not only one of the most relaxing Wednesday nights I've had in recent memory, but it got me thinking about using self-hypnosis as a supercharged version of meditation. Looking at it that way, could we hypnotize ourselves into changing the way we think, and in turn, the way we act on our goals? GOOD spoke with seasoned hypnotherapist and HMI instructor John Melton about just that.
Are there instances in which self-hypnosis can be more effective than meditation?
I would say that oftentimes they have a different purpose—especially for people who are more in their heads or thinkers. To put it in simple terms, self-hypnosis tends to work better for them because they have a hard time shutting off their minds and engaging in meditation. They find it more difficult. Because self-hypnosis is a self-directed state where they're actually guiding it and in their head thinking, it tends to work better for that type of person. Some people are using meditation for managing stress or trying to clear their mind, and self-hypnosis is very similar, but we're attempting to put information in, if you will, and create change through that information. Whether it's a thought or a feeling or an imagination of a change the person wants.
What myths still surround hypnosis that you'd like to dispel?
People have a fear of losing control. Obviously, with self-hypnosis that's not as present because they're doing it themselves. Still, there are thoughts that they're going to reveal something they don't want to reveal or that they might get stuck in this state. But again, hypnosis is a natural state. We all experience it. It's really not so much a question of 'Can someone be hypnotized?' It's more a matter of if you can use it as a therapeutic tool or not—that's really the only question. So, the big myths are that they watch a stage show and they think someone is being controlled, but that's really an illusion. You can't make someone do something they don't want to do, that's the bottom line.
It's interesting when you put it that way, because none of us are afraid of zoning out in traffic, not realizing that is a state of hypnosis.
That's true. Because we are not not present, if you will, it's just that our critical thinking is focused on something else for a moment. But your mind is still taking in the surroundings, and if something happens in front of you, you snap into it right away. In your car, you don't have to think about making certain turns that you make everyday to your home or your work because it becomes unconscious. When we go to sleep at night, we go right through this state. It's a natural process between fully awake and present to a fully unconscious state. We experience it when we go to a movie and suspend reality. We know it's not real, so we go in with an intention to be entertained, to allow ourselves to be receptive to the information. If we went to a movie and kept telling ourselves 'this isn't real, these are just actors,' it'd ruin the whole experience. So, again, hypnosis is what I like to refer to as a consent state, meaning you have to want to be hypnotized. When we're talking about using it as a therapeutic tool, that is an important part of it.
You've talked about stage hypnotists being trained to find the right people in an audience to create the illusion of hypnosis being mind control. Who are these people and how do they spot them?
Well, we have a term called suggestibility, and there are different types of suggestibility. There is a suggestibility type that we refer to as a somnambulist. If you looked it up in the dictionary, it'd probably talk about sleepwalking. But in terms of hypnosis, a somnambulist is a certain type of person who processes information in a certain manner. These are the people you can quickly hypnotize if they want to be. But even these people can't be controlled. If you watch any stage show, the person will pull up people they feel are probably a somnambulist and then they peel off a few of them who just don't want to be there and aren't really following.
The thing about this type of person is that they can be taken into a deep hypnotic state quickly. And one of the aspects of depth is that when you wake up from depth, there's a tendency to forget what you're doing or what you did, much like waking up from a dream. And when you're in that deep state, there's a tendency to disconnect from your inhibitions. So you'll do things that you might not otherwise do to a degree. In other words, you wouldn't be as embarrassed to act like you're a silly alien or something. And in the moment, the person knows exactly what they're doing, they just don't feel restricted in doing it because of the dissociative state they've created. When they wake up, they forget they did it because of the state and it creates this illusion of control that doesn't really exist.
Can we use self-hypnosis to achieve our New Year's resolutions, and if so, in what ways?
Certainly, it's a tool that can be helpful for the average things people often want to gain greater control over. There are complexities that come into play sometimes when you're talking about someone trying to quit smoking versus trying to eat more healthfully. For instance, food is something you have to control. You can't stop it like smoking. But to improve your confidence, feel better about getting to the gym more often, or to eliminate or reduce your consumption of sweets—this is where it can be very helpful.
For someone who's interested in practicing self-hypnosis but not sure where to start, what advice do you have?
It really depends on what they're trying to learn. At the institute here, we have a large website with lots of information and videos, so that could be a place to start. With the internet, there's a lot of information out there, and some of it is better than others. You can Google the American Hypnosis Association, as there's some good information there. I would look at studies if you're interested in the science behind it and how it works.
Hypnosis is all about results, about creating change. It's a tool of not just analysis, but also action. In a world that I think is becoming more aware and more focused on natural ways of being healthy to ourselves, the people around us, and the planet, I think this is a naturally good tool to help people in that regard. I think it fits beautifully.