To understand how hypnotherapy works, we first need a general understanding of the conscious and subconscious mind.
The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is the logical, rational mind that asks critical questions and analyzes situations. It also stores our temporary memory, which enables us to remember, for example, what we had for breakfast, or a conversation we had last week.
Many of us rely on our conscious mind when we first attempt to deal with a problem. Sometimes we try to analyze the problem, sometimes we rationalize our behavior in light of the problem, and, in the case of a bad habit, we might try to exert willpower to change it. Unfortunately, our conscious mind can’t always get in touch with what is really motivating us, and we are therefore unable to resolve our problems. Willpower ultimately always proves to be futile as well because by nature it is temporary and doesn’t last.
Hypnosis is an effective tool because it bypasses these limitations of the conscious mind in order to utilize the gifts of the subconscious mind, which help us make authentic realizations and permanent change.
The Subconscious Mind
While the conscious mind is analytical, rational, and logical, the subconscious mind rules over our emotions and intuition. While we might think of the conscious mind as a flash drive with just enough room to store the memory of our more recent experiences, we might think of the subconscious mind as an enormous computer that stores the memory of all of our experiences from the time we first became conscious beings.
In addition to storing the memory of our experiences, the subconscious mind also stores all of our core beliefs and our habits, which grow out of those experiences.
The subconscious mind also has an important protective feature. When it perceives a threat to our emotional or physical security, it will create a belief or a habit to keep us safe. Here’s an example: A five-year old girl experiences some sort of trauma that leaves her feeling insecure. (Keep in mind that what is traumatic from a child’s perspective may not always be traumatic from an adult perspective.) The subconscious mind goes through its files in search for something that made her feel secure in the past. One of the earliest sources of comfort for all of us is food and the subconscious mind activates the habit to eat to find security. This may be just what the girl needs to see her through the trauma and give her a sense of security, but because the subconscious mind doesn’t realize when a threat is no longer present, and she gets stuck with the habit of overeating when she feels stress.
The good news is that through hypnosis, the subconscious mind can identify and let go of those habits or beliefs that we have outgrown.
The Critical Factor of the Conscious Mind—The Gatekeeper to the Subconscious
From the time we first become conscious beings until about the age of six, our subconscious mind is wide open to receive those suggestions and influences that establish our self-esteem and habits. At about the age of six we develop what hypnotherapists refer to as the critical factor of the conscious mind. You might think of this as a gatekeeper who stands between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind and who decides what suggestions and influences get let in.
Unfortunately, when we experience trauma, the gatekeeper doesn’t do a very good job at keeping the negative influences out. I imagine him being knocked over by an experience, and in a daze, unable to do his job. While he’s collecting himself, in goes the negative suggestions that have a hand in shaping us.
Positive suggestions—suggestions for healthy change are another story. The gatekeeper has his wits about him and scratches his chin. He evaluates the suggestion, analyzes it, and takes his time as he decides if, indeed, the suggestion is a good one. If the suggestion is allowed into the subconscious mind, the good news is that the subconscious will accept it and feel it, and it goes into the computer forever.
Bypassing the Critical Factor of the Conscious Mind—Getting Past the Gatekeeper
The key to hypnotherapy is getting past the gatekeeper and into the subconscious mind. You can do this by going into hypnosis, also known as a trance state. All that really means is getting relaxed both physically and, more important, mentally. You won’t be asleep, and you won’t feel like you are in some strange, altered state. It’ll just be you, with your eyes closed, sitting comfortably in a recliner, letting go of that analytical part of you that’s running through tomorrow’s schedule and questioning everything around you. With the volume of your conscious mind turned down real low, you can focus all your concentration on the words and directions of the hypnotherapist.
For a suggestion to get past the gatekeeper, and for hypnosis to work, you also must have the right mental attitude. You need to be able to say, I like that idea, and I know this will work. That gatekeeper is going to detect any hesitancy or reservations that come from your conscious mind and will prevent any suggestions from getting through that you don’t like or are uncomfortable with. You must be ready to make a change and believe that hypnosis will make that change possible.
Speaking with Your Subconscious Mind
Once you are in a trance state and have accessed your subconscious mind, there are a couple of options. The first option is for the hypnotherapist to help you simply cancel out old suggestions and influences and replace them with the new, healthier ones that you desire. The second option is for the hypnotherapist to help you to find the file with the experience that has caused a problem. Once the file is found, the hypnotherapist has techniques to help you explore the experience, heal, and gain a new perspective, strengthened by positive suggestions.
Your imagination plays a very significant role here. To effect change, you need to be able to see yourself or, if you are not a visual person, to imagine yourself having successfully overcome your obstacles. Bringing your goals to life in your subconscious mind turns them into reality.
The amazing thing about hypnotherapy, and why it is so effective, is that once a suggestion gets past the gatekeeper and is visualized or imagined in the subconscious mind, it will be accepted as if it were true. This means that the changes you make with hypnosis involve no willpower. For example, a person who has been smoking for years can become and non-smoker and never again feel the urge for a cigarette.
Feeling the Truth from Your Subconscious Mind
Because the subconscious mind is the emotional mind and without a critical factor, you can depend on it to tell you what you really feel about a situation or a decision you must make. You will feel the truth to the core of your being. This makes hypnosis an effective tool for someone who doesn’t necessarily want to change a habit but is interested in self-exploration and general growth.
Dr. Dave Hill, DCH
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney