Cognitive hypnotherapy provides overworked minds with the toolkit they need to fix their own stresses and strains. It is based on modern psychology and neuroscience and, don't worry, there's not a pendulum in sight ...
Chances are, when you think of hypnosis or hypnotherapy, you either imagine a swinging pocket watch or a hapless audience member being made to cluck like a chicken on stage in the name of entertainment. Neither of these preconceptions is true. Cognitive hypnotherapy combines cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnosis with theories based on modern neuroscience.
We all go into natural hypnotic trances every day without even knowing it. It's comparable to being so absorbed in a book or film that the hours seem to fly by, or being in a meeting where your mind has wandered. It is this natural state of mind that is used in cognitive hypnotherapy. You never lose control and are certainly never put under the control of anyone else. Practitioner Katie Abbott explains: "There are no over-the-top, annoying motivational speeches or long, arduous hours of difficult analysis. Cognitive hypnotherapy is just an extremely effective way of making positive change."
Controlled trials have shown that hypnosis can reduce anxiety (particularly before medical procedures), although there is still some doubt that the hypnotic state actually exists. In the past few years, however, scientific research has become more credible, thanks to the latest brain imaging technology; brain scans now prove that hypnotised subjects are more susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. In one study, volunteers were given hypnotic suggestions to "see in colour". Scans showed that areas of the brain associated with colour perception were activated, even though the pictures they were looking at were black and white.
In the 18th century, Austrian doctor Franz Anton Mesmer used magnets to practise a form of hypnotism (hence "mesmerising"). His patients claimed they felt no pain while being treated under his trance. Mesmer was later dismissed as a charlatan, but his methods have since been investigated and developed into the form of hypnotherapy we know today.
In 2001, Trevor Silvester set up the Quest Institute (questinstitute.co.uk) and introduced the idea of combining hypnosis with cognitive behavioural therapy, tools from positive psychology, cognitive theory and neuro-linguistic programming.
Who can do it?
"We all see the world in different ways, so hypnotherapy works to readjust your particular frame of reference," Abbott says. "There's no one way to treat stress or to encourage relaxation, it all depends on the way you see things - your model of the world. As part of a session, the client is supplied with a toolkit for the mind. This enables them to use different tools to fix different mental states."
So the theory is that everyone has the capacity to adopt new mental tools, and anyone can be hypnotised. The only prerequisite is to be open to the process.
What results can I expect?
Usually, cognitive hypnotherapy needs two or three sessions in which the foundations for change are effectively put in place, although you are likely to feel relaxed after just one session.
According to Katie Abbott: "Most people report a change after their first meeting. It's a change of mindset, the move towards a goal. Hypnotherapy can teach you how to control your body's responses and reactions, and anchor you in calm when you become worried."
The hypnotic state is not dangerous, but people with severe depression, psychosis or epilepsy should consult their doctor before seeing a hypnotherapist.
From the Observer, 6 July 2008