Treatment Definition and Background:
Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses hypnosis in its treatment. Hypnosis is a state of consciousness that allows for heightened attention and concentration, allowing for the person to focus on specific thoughts or memories. It is used to create new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or feelings in a patient.
For those interested in venturing deeper beyond their day to day mental realms, we spoke to Fiona McKeand, a clinical hypnotherapist based in Central, to get an in depth overview of how the treatment works and its background.
What is hypnotherapy useful for? Why should people go? How does it help people?
Hypnotherapy is useful for anything that involves the subconscious mind. I suggest it for those seeking help with behavioural modification, for issues such addictions, weight management, smoking, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome.
Because the treatment concept is based on changing patterns in the mind, it is great for chronic conditions that are both mental and physical. Oftentimes, you’ll find that the underlying root problem is stress. The solution for this is to find a way to reduce and manage stress through the changing of mental patterns.
For example, with IBS, patients are typically in constant anxiety, worrying about the next potential episode. Ironically, this adds to the likelihood of an episode due to the increasing stress levels. The treatment would target this root fear and help the mind retain a less stressful state to avoid the creation of another episode. A lot of chronic physical problems begin with mental stress. Research and studies continue to point to stress as one of the world’s leading causes of cardiovascular and other medical diseases; the link between a person’s emotional state and physical state is more entwined than most would assume. When a person is in a stressed emotional state, their physical one immediately reacts; hormone levels fluctuate, adrenalin rushes and pulses change.
By focusing on the patient’s emotional and mental state, hypnotherapy aims at resolving problems that are likely physical manifestations of stress.
Of course, I always recommend seeing a medical practitioner for physical ailments first before going to see a hypnotherapist to ensure that a professional medical opinion has been established. Hypnotherapy should be seen as a complementary therapy; not a replacement for a doctor. It’s common for hypnotherapists to work alongside doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists to fully understand the scope of the patient’s problem.
What are the risks associated with hypnotherapy?
There are definitely certain conditions where careful approach is needed. Ie. With depression, each and every patient is different. Because hypnotherapy often deals with memory regression (going into one’s childhood and past memories stashed away by the conscious mind), the therapist has to take the time to understand the background of their patient’s depression or anxiety in order to avoid creating new traumas by accidentally reviving memories that cause intense emotional arousal.
For example, if a patient is depressed because they are suffering from a repressed childhood incident, remembering that incident may cause more harm in their current adult life. I strongly suggest that the patient focus on the present and future – the past cannot be changed and what matters most are the choices that the patient makes for themselves, here and now.
A good hypnotherapist will ensure that the situation is appropriate before applying techniques such as age/ memory regression. One fact I would need to point out is that there is a common misconception is that memories resurfaced through hypnosis are always 100% accurate – it is not.
Memories are in a constant state of alteration; false memories do exist and can be very dangerous.
This is why the use of hypnotherapy to extract testimonies are no longer viable in a court of law these days – there is a huge risk of emotional trauma to affected parties from fabricated or inaccurate issues.
What should patients expect in their first session of hypnotherapy?
The session should start off with a discussion with patient about what they expect, why they are there and what they are hoping to achieve. A good hypnotherapist will explain the background of the treatment to manage their expectations; what hypnotherapy is or isn’t. I always point out during this time that a level of self-commitment is needed from the patient to ensure optimal effectiveness.
I do find however, that those starting with an optimistic attitude tend to enjoy more positive outcomes as they begin the treatment with a heightened state of mind – this allows for more receptiveness during treatments.
The first session includes talking in-depth to the patient to understand the history behind their issues in varying levels of detail. This is the “Intake” process. Some individuals rarely talk about their problems, so this opportunity alone is an excellent time to offload some stress by sharing. It also provides the therapist the opportunity to identify emotional triggers and keywords that the patient prefers to use as this is later applied back to their subconscious. Your brain understands its own language best – using familiar words helps the mind accept suggestions more easily.
During this time, I also teach the patient NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) or other techniques that act as useful tools to use during the day to assist them when they are not with me, for example breathing techniques, tapping and other bilateral stimulation that help the brain connect patterns to induce a desired state of mind.
After this, the patient lies down comfortable on the bed in my office. Being comfortable is vital for the mind to begin relaxing as well as the body. I usually begin with slow induction to allow the patient’s mind to settle comfortably before bringing them into a deeper hypnotic state. Sometimes I may bring them back and forth between hypnotic depth levels to prep the mind for even further states in following sessions.
The treatment itself consists of direct suggestions, affirmations, stories and metaphors as well as indirect suggestions. The subconscious mind is a like a child; it accepts items that the conscious mind would usually process and question. Direct work takes around 20-25 minutes.
Once I have finished, I usually do a slow count (1-5) to bring them back out of hypnosis, depending on the patient’s state – for those who are in deeper hypnosis, I count slower.
All sessions are recorded and I send the recordings to my patients after each session so they can listen to it again, before bed or when they have a quiet moment to help continue the guidance.
What type of qualifications should a hypnotherapist have?
In my opinion, it is very important to check the background of a hypnotherapist before commencing treatment. They definitely should have more experience in the field than a weekend course – because hypnotherapy is not yet mainstream, patients should check the therapist’s qualification as well as the accrediting body behind that qualification. I recommend therapists that have at least 400-500 hours of experience and education within their course, as well as past working experience with existing clientele. Another important factor to note is how much ongoing education the therapists have as it is vital to keep updated within the field. New research is being published every week; a good hypnotherapist should be up to date in their knowledge.
What differentiates hypnotherapy from other forms of psychotherapy?
Hypnosis works on an alpha, dreamy brainwave state. This is a state similar to when a patient in the midst of meditation. Interestingly, there is not much difference between meditation and hypnosis in terms of mind state; it is more what is being done with it. Meditation uses the state to focus on the present and ‘empty’ the mind, whereas hypnotherapy uses the state to input suggestions and ‘fill’ the mind with guided techniques. It is more of a therapeutic intervention than self-reflection.
Hypnotherapy is also focused on the part of the mind that controls patterns. This is the baseline for a lot of repeating behaviors such as habits and chronic issues. If successfully changed, the effects should be noticeably visible after a couple of sessions, which is quite fast in comparison to other forms of psychotherapies.
Fiona McKeand is based in The Sanctuary, Central.
Fiona is a member of the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council of the UK, the Hong Kong Guild of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists. She is committed to continuously researching and acquiring new knowledge and skills in order to support her clients.
- Address: 29/F, Unit 2905, Universal Trade Center, 3-5A Arbuthnot Road, Central, Hong Kong.
- Tel: 2537 1373
- Website: www.thesanctuary.com.hk