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A therapist performing hypnotherapy on a client
Alcohol and Health

What Is Hypnotherapy?

Published:
January 11, 2024
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34 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 11, 2024
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34 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
January 11, 2024
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34 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
January 11, 2024
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34 min read
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Reframe Content Team
January 11, 2024
·
34 min read

In the 2017 movie Get Out, the main character, Chris, visits his girlfriend's parents for a weekend. Her mother, Missy Armitage — a psychiatrist who uses hypnotherapy — offers to help Chris quit smoking through hypnotherapy. Without giving too much away, the hypnotherapy session quickly goes sideways, becoming much more sinister than a simple method to curb a smoking habit (it is, after all, a thriller). It's worth noting that this movie portrayal is not an accurate representation of genuine therapeutic hypnotherapy — Missy conducts the session without his knowledge or consent, a huge no-no for any respectable hypnotherapist. Rather, it becomes a plot device to build suspense and intrigue. However, it does provide a glimpse into the power of hypnotherapy in the 21st century context.

Now, if your idea of hypnotherapy is a stage performer making audience members cluck like chickens, think again! It’s not that either. In fact, hypnotherapy is a science-backed therapeutic tool that has proven effective for issues ranging from stress and anxiety to weight loss and habit-breaking. How can we use hypnosis to stop drinking? And what is hypnotherapy for alcoholism like? Dive in with us as we pull back the curtain on the fascinating science behind it and learn how it can help you in your alcohol journey and beyond!

The History of Hypnotherapy

A therapist performing hypnotherapy on a client

Before hypnotherapy was the scientific approach we recognize today, it had a long and winding journey through history.

  • 18th century. Fast forward to the modern age, and we meet Franz Mesmer (yes, where the term "mesmerize" comes from!). He believed in a universal magnetic fluid in our bodies, and his method, known as “Mesmerism,” was an early precursor to hypnotherapy.
  • 19th century. James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, is often referred to as the "father of modern hypnotism." Ditching the magnetic fluid theory, Braid proposed the idea of "neuro-hypnotism" (nervous sleep), which he later shortened to "hypnotism." He saw its potential for pain relief and surgical procedures.
  • 20th century. The use of hypnotherapy gained momentum, especially in the fields of psychology and medicine. Milton H. Erickson, an American psychiatrist, was a key figure during this period. His approaches have influenced many modern therapeutic techniques.

The journey of hypnotherapy, from ancient rituals to today’s clinical settings, shows the human fascination with the mind's power. And as we continue to learn more about the brain, who knows what the next chapter in hypnotherapy history might hold?

Hypnotherapy vs. Hypnosis

An important nuance to point out right at the start is that hypnotherapy and hypnosis — while sometimes used interchangeably — are slightly different concepts.

Hypnosis refers to a relaxed state of heightened focus and suggestibility. It's like a trance-like condition where an individual's attention is inwardly focused, making them more receptive to suggestions. Ever been so engrossed in a book that you didn't notice someone calling your name? Or driven to a location and hardly remembered the journey? These are everyday examples of trance-like states similar to hypnosis.

Hypnosis works by calming the conscious, analytical part of the brain, allowing for increased access to the subconscious. This makes the individual more receptive to suggestions. While it can be therapeutic, hypnosis is also used for entertainment (stage hypnosis), where participants might be suggestively influenced to act in funny or unusual ways. 

Hypnotherapy, on the other hand, is the use of hypnosis in a therapeutic setting. It’s conducted by certified, trained professionals who understand the intricacies of the human mind and are equipped with techniques to guide individuals safely through therapeutic sessions.

Unlike general hypnosis, which might be for relaxation or entertainment, hypnotherapy has a clear therapeutic intent. Whether it's overcoming a phobia, breaking a habit like smoking, or addressing emotional trauma, hypnotherapy aims to achieve specific outcomes for the client's well-being.

Beyond simple suggestions, hypnotherapists use a range of techniques, including regression therapy (to revisit past experiences), parts therapy (addressing conflicting parts of oneself), and future pacing (visualizing positive future outcomes). Professional hypnotherapists adhere to ethical guidelines, ensuring the client's safety, confidentiality, and well-being. This differentiates them from stage hypnotists or untrained practitioners.

Imagine hypnosis as a powerful, versatile vehicle, with hypnotherapy being used for a specific, beneficial journey guided by an experienced driver. While both are rooted in the principles of suggestibility and altered consciousness, hypnotherapy is purposefully tailored for healing, growth, and positive transformation.

Hypnosis vs. Hypnotherapy

Going Under

A person undergoing hypnotherapy is in a state of heightened focus and concentration. It’s similar to being so engrossed in a book that we forget our surroundings. Neuroimaging studies have shown that hypnosis alters the connectivity between various brain regions. This state makes the person more receptive to suggestions — hence its use in therapy!

Hypnotherapy doesn't work like an on-off switch; it's more like a dimmer, smoothly transitioning us from our conscious state to a deeply relaxed, heightened state of awareness. Here’s how this state can be induced:

  • Setting the stage. Before the induction begins, the environment is usually made conducive for relaxation: dim lighting, a comfortable chair or couch, and a quiet, undisturbed setting are all important components.
  • Building rapport. Trust is fundamental in hypnotherapy. The hypnotherapist spends some time building rapport, answering questions, and ensuring the client feels safe and understood.
  • Breathing and relaxation. Deep, rhythmic breathing often marks the start of the hypnotic induction. Breathing not only relaxes the body but also helps focus the mind.

Specific techniques of induction include:

  • Progressive relaxation. The hypnotherapist guides us to systematically relax each part of the body. As muscles unwind and tensions melt away, we become more receptive to the hypnotic process.
  • Counting down. Often used in conjunction with progressive relaxation, the therapist might ask us to imagine descending a staircase, with each step representing a deeper level of relaxation.
  • Visualization. The hypnotherapist may guide us to imagine a serene place, such as a quiet beach at sunset or a peaceful forest glade. The vivid sensory details help to distract and pull away from the conscious chatter, allowing for a deeper state of relaxation.
  • Voice techniques. The therapist's voice plays a critical role. A soothing, rhythmic cadence, often in conjunction with repetitive phrases, helps lull the mind into the hypnotic state.

Deepening the state involves:

  • Suggestibility tests. Once the initial induction is complete, the hypnotherapist might use techniques to deepen the hypnotic state. These can include suggestibility tests like imagining a balloon tied to one's wrist, causing the hand to rise.
  • Deepening scripts. The therapist might use phrases like "With every breath you take, you can go deeper and deeper into relaxation," which reinforce the depth of the hypnotic state.

Emerging from the session is just as gentle as the induction. The hypnotherapist guides us back to their usual conscious state, often using counting or suggesting feelings of refreshment and alertness.

The Brain on Hypnotherapy

All in all, "going under" in hypnotherapy isn't about losing control or being put under a spell. It's a collaborative journey into deep relaxation and heightened awareness, with our well-being steering the course. Now, let's unravel what really happens to our brain during hypnosis:

1. Brain Waves in Action. 

Brain waves are patterns of electrical activity in the brain that can be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG). They change according to what we're doing and how we feel:

Beta waves (14-30 Hz)

  • Characteristics: fast and small waves.
  • State of mind: active, analytical thought. This is your "awake and alert" mode when you're engaged in active conversations, problem-solving, or decision-making.

Alpha waves (9-13 Hz)

  • Characteristics: slower and larger than beta waves.
  • State of mind: relaxed, calm, and not thinking hard about anything in particular. Often associated with states of relaxation, mindfulness, or just about to drift into sleep.

Theta waves (4-8 Hz)

  • Characteristics: even slower and larger than alpha.
  • State of mind: deep relaxation and meditation, daydreaming, and the first stage of sleep. It's in this state that you can have bursts of creative insight.

Delta waves (1-3 Hz)

  • Characteristics: the slowest and largest waves.
  • State of mind: deep, dreamless sleep. This is the state where restoration and healing in the body occurs.

Gamma waves (30-100 Hz)

  • Characteristics: very fast, small, and involved in higher processing tasks.
  • State of mind: associated with perception, problem-solving, and cognitive functioning. They're also linked to feelings of happiness and superior cognitive functioning.

When we're fully awake, our brain primarily produces beta waves. However, during hypnosis, our brain shifts towards producing more theta waves, which are associated with relaxation and deep daydreaming states. This explains the calm, focused awareness many people experience during a session.

2. Changing the Control Center

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) — the part of the brain that plays a role in focus and attention — becomes more active during hypnosis. This increased activity allows the individual to concentrate intensely on a specific thought or memory while blocking out potential distractions. This enhanced activity can lead to

3. Engaging the Imagination

The thalamus and the primary somatosensory cortex — regions involved in interpreting and processing the physical world around us — show changes in activity during hypnosis. This means that, under hypnosis, imagined scenarios can feel as vivid and real as actual events, aiding in therapeutic interventions:

4. Emotion and Memory Lane

The amygdala and hippocampusparts of the brain linked to emotions and memories — can also be accessed more easily under hypnosis. This is why many people can confront and reframe past traumatic events or deep-seated emotions during a hypnotherapy session:

  • Revisiting memories. Under the guidance of a skilled hypnotherapist, an person can revisit specific memories to get a better understanding of the emotional context. This exploration can help make sense of current behaviors, fears, or beliefs rooted in the past.
  • Emotional detox. Sometimes, memories come with baggage — unresolved feelings, regrets, or traumas. Hypnotherapy offers a safe space to confront these emotions, process them, and release their grip — kind of like emotional spring cleaning!
  • Reframing narratives. One of the most empowering aspects of hypnotherapy is the ability to reframe traumatic memories. For example, a past event viewed as a failure can be seen in a new light, with a focus on the lessons we learned or the strength we garnered from the experience.

5. Decreased Analytical Thinking

Amid the bustling activities of our daily life, our brains are constantly analyzing, assessing, and making judgments. From critical tasks at work to deciphering social cues during conversations, analytical thinking is the powerhouse that keeps our lives moving smoothly. But sometimes, this analytical mode can become overwhelming, leading to overthinking and skepticism. This is where the gentle touch of hypnotherapy comes in, dialing down the analytical noise and opening the door to deeper introspection.

The primary player in our analytical endeavors is the prefrontal cortex. Located at the front of the brain, it's responsible for executive functions like planning, decision-making, problem-solving, and critical analysis. The prefrontal cortex excels at logic, reason, and complex thinking. It's the part of the brain that helps us balance our finances, plan projects, and make strategic decisions. However, when it's always in high gear, the prefrontal cortex can lead to chronic overthinking, “analysis paralysis,” or heightened self-criticism.

During a hypnotherapy session, there's a noticeable decrease in the activity within the prefrontal cortex:

  • Subdued critical analysis. By turning down the volume on the analytical chatter, hypnotherapy allows for a more relaxed mental state. It's less about reasoning and more about feeling and intuiting.
  • Heightened introspection. With the analytical guard down, other parts of the brain, especially those related to emotion, memory, and sensory perception, become more active. This shift allows individuals to connect more deeply with their emotions and subconscious patterns.
  • Access to subconscious beliefs. The quieting of the prefrontal cortex creates a bridge to the subconscious mind, unveiling beliefs and patterns that often operate below the level of conscious awareness.

While the analytical brain is crucial for many aspects of life, achieving a balance is key. Hypnotherapy provides a counterpoint to our often analytical lives.

  • Problem-solving from within. Sometimes, answers and solutions emerge not from rigorous analysis but from deep within, from insights and realizations that surface during introspective moments.
  • Enhanced creativity. As the analytical chatter diminishes, creative and intuitive parts of the brain gain prominence. This transition can lead to bursts of creative insights and novel solutions to longstanding challenges.
  • Emotional healing. Without the constant analytical evaluation, emotions can be felt more purely, paving the way for emotional processing and healing.

Benefits Galore

As you can see, the benefits of hypnotherapy aren't just limited to relaxation (although it’s certainly one of them) — they span across physical, emotional, and cognitive realms, offering a comprehensive approach to personal well-being. Hypnotherapy can help with a broad spectrum of concerns:

Safe and Sound

When conducted by trained and qualified professionals, hypnotherapy is a safe procedure. You’re always in control and can't be made to do anything you don't want to. It’s like having a helpful guide leading you through your mind.

The environment in a hypnotherapy session is typically calm and relaxed. Think dim lights, comfy chairs, and a soothing voice guiding you. You'll be in a state of deep relaxation, but you're not asleep. You're hyper-aware and attentive, just in a very relaxed way.

Hypnotherapy and the Alcohol Journey

Whether you're looking to put a stop to those boozy nights or just want to cut back a bit, hypnotherapy might be the secret sauce you've been searching for. For many, a glass of wine or a cold beer becomes synonymous with relaxation or celebration. But sometimes, what starts as occasional indulgence can turn into a more frequent habit. This is where hypnotherapy for alcoholism enters the scene, offering a fresh perspective on our relationship with alcohol.

How can we use hypnosis to quit drinking? Hypnotherapy dives deep into the subconscious, the very place where many of our habits and associations reside. By reframing and understanding our triggers and emotions linked with alcohol, hypnotherapy can help alter our reactions and choices.

Many have credited hypnotherapy for their decreased alcohol consumption or even quitting entirely. These people often mention a shift in perspective — seeing alcohol not as a crutch or reward but as just another beverage.

While hypnotherapy for alcohol misuse can be mighty on its own, it's even more potent when combined with other therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, or even journaling can amplify the benefits. So if you're on a journey with alcohol and want a companion to guide you towards healthier choices, hypnotherapy might just be the right fit!

The World Wide Web of Hypnotherapy

The digital age has transformed countless aspects of our lives, including how we seek therapy and relaxation. A notable wave in this sea of transformation is the rise of YouTube and audiobook hypnotherapists. Whether you're looking for a quick stress reliever after a hectic day or a deep dive into your subconscious, these platforms have become a go-to for many.

  • Glenn Harrold’s hypnotherapy recordings. Glenn Harrold is a name that stands out when discussing digital hypnotherapists. An author and British hypnotherapist, Harrold has gained immense popularity for his self-help and hypnosis recordings. His soothing voice, combined with powerful affirmations and high-quality production, has endeared him to many. Whether it's for boosting confidence, combating anxiety, or improving sleep, his audiobooks and apps have become staples for many seeking self-improvement. (Harrold’s seven chakra solfeggio sound healing meditations are an absolute delight, with soundscapes and guided imagery taking the listener on a tour of ancient temples, magical forests, and peaceful mountain streams).
  • Michael Sealey hypnosis. On YouTube, Michael Sealey has carved a niche for himself with his hypnosis and guided meditation videos. Covering a vast range of topics, from insomnia relief to self-healing, Sealey's calm voice and methodical approach have amassed millions of views, solidifying a dedicated following.
  • The Honest Guys. Another YouTube favorite, The Honest Guys offer a blend of guided meditations, visualizations, and hypnosis recordings. Their productions, often backed by calming nature visuals and sounds, transport listeners to tranquil spaces, aiding relaxation and mental clarity.
  • Thomas Hall (Minds in Unison). Another YouTube sensation, Thomas Hall's channel "Minds in Unison" is an oasis for those seeking relaxation, sleep, and positive change. His extended videos, ranging from one to eight hours, offer listeners the opportunity to immerse themselves in therapeutic sounds and affirmations. With a wide variety of topics — including ones dealing with addiction, alcohol use, obsessive thinking, and habit change — Hall's channel has become a haven for many in need of mental tranquility and positive reinforcement. (Many of the sleep hypnosis sessions are subliminal and sound like white noise or softly chirping cicadas to the ear. Say what you will, but users can vouch first-hand that they wake up with the urge to drink or engage in another habit they’re trying to quit noticeably quieter! The panic attack and anxiety relief videos are also a godsend).

Why the popularity? YouTube and audiobooks bridge this gap, allowing users to access quality content anytime, anywhere. With a plethora of topics and approaches available, users can pick and choose content that aligns best with their needs.

A word of caution: While these platforms offer a wealth of resources, it's essential to exercise discretion. Not all content is created equal, and it's crucial to rely on trusted, reputable sources. Always consult with professionals if unsure or if you have underlying conditions that might be affected by hypnosis.

Steps to Make the Most Out of Hypnotherapy

If you’re considering giving hypnotherapy a whirl, here are some action steps to get you started:

  • Research qualified hypnotherapists. It's essential to find someone with the right credentials. Look for professionals with certifications from recognized organizations.
  • Set clear goals. Understand what you want to achieve. Whether it's quitting smoking, overcoming a phobia, or simply reducing stress, having a clear objective can increase your chances of success.
  • Stay open-minded. Remember, hypnotherapy isn't magic. Approach it with an open mind, but don't expect instant results.
  • Create a comfortable environment. For online sessions, find a quiet and comfortable spot in your home. This ensures you get the most out of your session.
  • Practice regularly. Hypnotherapy can be more effective with repetition. Consider scheduling multiple sessions or practicing self-hypnosis.
  • Combine with other therapies. Hypnotherapy can be combined with other therapeutic approaches for added benefits. Discuss with your therapist for recommendations.
  • Follow through with recommendations. Post-session, your hypnotherapist might give you some suggestions or exercises. Make sure you follow through to see the best results!

Exploring Your Mind

As we can see, hypnotherapy is more than just a party trick — it's a scientific and deeptly therapeutic tool that can lead to profound changes in our life. So whether you're looking to break an old habit or just curious about exploring the depths of your mind, why not give hypnotherapy a try? Dive deep, stay curious, and you might just discover a treasure trove of insights within you!

The exciting news is that the world of hypnotherapy has now expanded well beyond the confines of a therapist's office. With digital platforms bringing therapy to our fingertips, the journey of self-improvement and healing has never been more accessible. So whether you’re on a journey to cut back or quit alcohol or make any other changes in your life, give hypnotherapy a try!

Summary FAQs

1. What exactly is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is the therapeutic use of hypnosis. A trained hypnotherapist uses the relaxed, focused state of hypnosis to help clients address specific challenges, from breaking habits to managing stress, by tapping into their subconscious.

2. How is hypnosis different from hypnotherapy?

While hypnosis refers to the trance-like state of heightened focus and suggestibility, hypnotherapy is the professional application of this state to achieve therapeutic goals. Think of hypnosis as the vehicle, and hypnotherapy as the purposeful journey guided by an expert.

3. Is hypnotherapy like what we see in movies or on TV?

Not quite. While Hollywood often dramatizes the process, real hypnotherapy is a collaborative experience and doesn't involve making anyone act against their will. It's more about relaxation, heightened awareness, and positive change.

4. How does hypnotherapy impact the brain?

Hypnotherapy induces changes in brain waves, leading to a relaxed and receptive state. It can also decrease analytical thinking, engage the imagination, and allow individuals to connect more deeply with emotions and subconscious patterns.

5. Can hypnotherapy assist in cutting back or quitting alcohol?

Yes, hypnotherapy has been employed in the journey against alcohol addiction. By addressing underlying emotions, beliefs, and triggers, hypnotherapy can support individuals in reducing or eliminating their alcohol consumption.

6. Are YouTube and audiobook hypnotherapists legitimate?

While platforms like YouTube do host reputable hypnotherapists like Glenn Harrold and Thomas Hall (Minds in Unison), it's essential to do thorough research. Ensure any online hypnotherapist has appropriate credentials and positive reviews.

7. How does a hypnotherapist induce the hypnotic state?

The hypnotic state is often induced through a combination of a relaxed environment, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and guided visualization. The hypnotherapist's soothing voice and rhythmic cadence play a pivotal role in this induction process.

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