Look into my eyes:
The myths & truths of hypnosis
Like many people I entered the world of hypnosis with a mixture of fascination and fear - and, it has to be said, with some scepticism too. Like you I’d watched stage acts where people run around like chickens and see things that aren’t there and go to sleep at the snap of the hypnotist’s fingers. That had to be a con, surely? And anyway, although I wanted to learn more, no way was anybody going to put me under and make me do things against my will! With that decided, I enrolled on a training course.
I was interested in hypnosis and hypnotherapy for four reasons:
I was simply curious about the phenomenon itself and the part of the mind - the subconscious - that it was supposed to access. I wanted hypnotherapy to resolve a couple of personal issues. I had thoughts of quitting the day job, and the notion that as a hypnotherapist I could earn some money rather appealed to me. I had read about links between hypnosis and paranormal phenomena, in which I have a long-standing interest, and I wanted to explore that idea.
To cut a long story short, I trained as a hypnotherapist, qualified in 1990, and have been working with clients ever since. I used hypnotherapy to explore my personal issues - it worked with one, the other is still ongoing. I have learned a great deal about how to apply hypnosis and other mental skills in a practical way so that people can help themselves, and I’ve embodied my ideas in educational books and supernatural fiction, which I write for both children and adults.
Over the past couple of years my interest in hypnosis/paranormal connections has grown. That led me to join ASSAP, and that in turn has resulted in this article. I intend it to be a brief introduction, with further articles and information available elsewhere, perhaps on the ASSAP website or my own. For now, I’d like to cover just a few main points.
The two main principles underlying hypnosis / hypnotherapy are:
The mind and body are fundamentally linked, so that thoughts, feelings and physical states are interconnected. Each of us has a conscious and a subconscious part to our lives. We can therefore (for convenience) distinguish between conscious thoughts, feelings and physiological processes, and subconscious ones. Our conscious life contains stuff that we are aware of at the time for reasons we largely or fully understand. This gives us a high degree of control over conscious patterns of behaviour. Our subconscious life consists mainly of patterns of thought / emotion / physiology of which we are usually unaware at the time, and maybe always. It is the part of us that runs automatically behind the scenes.
Practically speaking, there is a constant flow of information between these two areas of our personality. Our conscious thoughts can and do direct some subconscious responses, while subconscious behaviours influence what we do consciously and deliberately. If I’m driving my car I can choose to turn left rather than right. I then carry out the procedure without really making any further decisions. That is, I drive automatically (hopefully in a resourceful state of ‘relaxed alertness’!). Similarly, I might become aware of hunger pangs. These may have been there for a while, but I only notice them now. This prompts me consciously to seek out some food.
So we are complete beings, integrated wholes - though also ‘bundles of contradictions’, as I think Somerset Maugham once said. The conscious / subconscious division is a model, and like any model it’s not the real thing and it’s not as elegant and complex as the real thing. It simply serves our purposes in utilising the practical tool of hypnosis.
The function of the conscious mind is like that of the captain of a ship. The captain stands on the bridge (thinking he’s in control), with hands on the wheel, taking information from the outside world and using that information to make logical and reasoned decisions. The determination to carry out decisions is will-power, the energy that drives us through life.
The subconscious mind is like the crew of the ship. It is a busy and efficient crew that performs thousands of tasks under three main headings. The crew carries out the captain’s instructions. I decide to climb up the stairs, and with very little or no further conscious thought I get to the top of the flight. The crew runs the ship automatically, so I never have to make decisions about the routine functioning of my body. The crew absorbs huge amounts of information, far more than the captain ever notices or evaluates. While we consciously forget most of what we see, hear and do in our lives, subconsciously we remember virtually all of it.
And so our subconscious life is very different from our conscious reality. Consciously what’s real for us is outside - the external world - and here and now. Most of us (especially if we’ve been raised in Western cultures) regard time as a line. The future is ahead of us, we can look forward to things. The past is behind us, we can look back to things we’ve done. If experiences happened long ago they are ‘distant’ memories. And our recall of the past is fairly limited.
Subconscious reality is far more elaborate, far richer and more holistic (wholistic). Rather than a linear view, the subconscious has access to what I call the ‘map of reality’. This is our own individual deep-rooted understanding of what the world is like and how we fit into it. Thus our sense of self-identity, our beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, values and opinions all derive from that map and are woven back into it moment by moment.
Like any map, the one in each of our heads has on it some big places like cities and some little places like villages. All of these places are connected by either major routes - very direct, lots of traffic - and minor routes, rambling lanes that are not often used.
These ‘places’ are our experiences, of course, drawn on the map as they were interpreted at the time they happened. Their size is related to their significance. Their proximity to each other is a correlate of how similar they are.
So the subconscious map is not chronological in the conscious sense. An experience I had when I was two years old can sit next to an incident that happened to me last week. There may be a motorway between them, and the traffic (information flow) influences my personality in a minor way or a profound way, in a way that I consciously recognise, or in a way that I may never even know about.
There is a huge amount more that needs to be said, I feel, before someone coming new to the field could or should use hypnotic techniques to explore people’s minds and / or paranormal phenomena. It is my intention to write more extensively elsewhere, as I have said. But the model I have laid down does allow us to understand a number of phenomena that people usually associate with the mind, and often using hypnosis as an investigative tool.
This means ‘to step back’, and I distinguish between two sorts: age regression and past-life regression. In either case, the purpose is to take the subject’s conscious point-of-awareness back to a memory of some previous incident and have the individual associate with that incident to a greater or lesser degree. A person fully regressed to, say, age three, would relive
the target incident as a three-year-old, completely immersed ‘in the first person’ and with only a toddler’s resources to deal with it (unless suggestions were made otherwise).
Similarly, someone regressed to a previous existence - assuming such things were true - and encouraged to associate with the past-life persona, would experience extracts from that life in startlingly vivid detail.
As a therapist, I use recall much more frequently than regression, allowing memories to rise up to the adult’s conscious awareness in the here and now. And I never invoke the idea of past lives in therapy unless the client mentions the notion first: it is a golden rule that the therapist should not impose his / her own beliefs on a client, nor ask leading questions or make suggestions reflecting those beliefs.
Many studies have been carried out and much speculation generated along the lines that someone in a state of hypnosis is more sensitive to psi phenomena - telepathy, premonitions, awareness of synchronous events, etc. C G Jung’s idea of a collective unconscious offers a framework for understanding how such capabilities might be possible. In my working with clients we have experienced several incidents which lend tantalising evidence that hypnosis can evoke and enhance such abilities.
Seeing Ghosts, Auras, etc:
This is an extension of the above. Since the subconscious notices and processes far more information than the conscious mind, it is likely to be aware of ongoing external phenomena which arrive subliminally, below the threshold of conscious awareness. A related notion is that working directly with the subconscious may allow innate psychic abilities to manifest themselves more readily.
Recovery of Lost Memory re UFO Abductions, etc:
Memories are usually lost only to the conscious mind, though can usually be recovered and brought to conscious awareness through hypnotic techniques. However, sometimes the subconscious represses memories to avoid conscious trauma or hurt. My one ASSAP case involving alleged alien abduction, for instance (the client was introduced to me by Terry Hewitt) only ran to three sessions as the individual was too frightened to recall details of a number of abduction events, some that he consciously knew about (though only partially), and a number that were entirely subconscious. There’s no doubt that ‘lost’ memories can be drawn out through careful use of hypnosis, but one must always beware of fabricated scenarios (as in a case I dealt with which I’ve called The Raunchy Geisha Girl of Ancient Japan!) and so-called False Memory Syndrome.