What is Hypnosis?
The problem with the word ‘hypnosis’ is that it’s often used to point to both the way in which the process is induced and its results and methods.
To make matters complicated there’s the fact that all hypnosis is ultimately self-hypnosis. This is because it is the individual who is making hypnosis happen, whether a hypnotist is actually guiding the process or not.
Let’s start by explaining what a typical hypnotherapy session consists of. Here follows the main stages of a session:
The 4 Stages of a Hypnotherapy Session
The Induction is the way hypnosis is created. These can vary greatly. Some hypnotherapists think of the induction as the very beginning of a session when a client is induced into a very light hypnotic state followed by the deepening.
The deepening is often seen as the time when a deeper state of hypnosis is reached.
Other hypnotherapists think of the induction as the part of the session during which a medium state of hypnosis is facilitated in the client and the deepening is either seen as simply part of it or as an optional element that allows the client to enter a deeper state of hypnotic ‘trance’.
I don’t think it is particularly important which way we interpret it, as both understandings produce the same effect.
VARIOUS TECHNIQUES TO ACHIEVE PRE-DECIDED GOALS
After the induction / deepening phase comes the interesting part. This is when various techniques are used to achieve the goals that are pre-determined by the client.
The general public may assume that suggestions are all that is used in this part of the session but this would be a gross oversimplification.
There are a plethora of techniques skilled hypnotherapists use to create change in clients which are more or less interactive.
Hypnotherapy is less a science and more of an art, because each client is different and a good therapist will use specific techniques for specific clients at specific times even if the general procedure might be very similar for similar ailments.
This is to ensure the therapy is well timed and fits the client’s specific personality and needs.
After this part is over the client is guided back to ‘normal conscious awareness’ and helped to transition smoothly to everyday external reality.
This structure is always used in any type of hypnosis although the length of each phase may differ.e that suggestions are all that is used in this part of the session but this would be a gross oversimplification.
The next most useful way I can categorise hypnosis is to divide it into ‘guided’ and ‘unguided’ . Let us look at ‘guided’ hypnosis first.
- Guided by the hypnotherapist in person
- Guided by the hypnotherapist in absentia ( recorded by the hypnotherapist )
- Guided by the client ( recorded by the client )
Guided Hypnosis : by the hypnotherapist in person
Remember: there is a lot more than simple suggestions a hypnotherapist can use to further the client’s aims. The advantage of this type of hypnosis is that it is truly tailored to the individual and so it is the most complete and versatile. As a rule of thumb a good hypnotherapist is one who prepares a course of treatment tailored to you which would include a few sessions.
On this note I would caution anyone against trusting a hypnotherapist who suggests one session is enough to ‘fix’ all your problems.
These individuals are most likely solely relying on the power of positive expectation and will only be able to help you superficially. They may be able to get rid of your symptoms but if the cause of the issue is not properly treated the problem will come back in a different forms.
Guided Hypnosis : by the hypnotherapist in absentia
The other issue with them is that often these audios claim to solve a complex problem with just one audio download! This is highly unlikely and although one hypnotic recording may well deal with one part of the issue it may well leave the rest behind and untreated.
Guided Hypnosis: by the Client
The third scenario involves you recording a simplified session for yourself using a smart phone or similar device. You would either read a professional pre-written induction or simply leave a blank space at the beginning of the recording so you can induce hypnosis on your own.
The latter option would only work if you knew how to self hypnotise without an induction. This is something you would learn from a qualified hypnotherapist.
Once the induction is recorded you would record your autosuggestion or use a simple affirmation either in the first or second person, focussing on one issue at a time. In order for this to work you would need to know how to record the induction properly so hypnosis is induced successfully.
Finally you would also need to know how to structure your autosuggestion or how to formulate your affirmation in a way that ensures success and is not counterproductive.
Now let us have a look at unguided meditation most commonly referred to as self hypnosis.
Unguided hypnosis refers to self hypnosis that is happening without any external guidance. This would still involve the phases described above (induction / deepening , suggestions / affirmation and ending) but they would all be guided internally by you.
This kind of self hypnosis is quite advanced and only possible after a fair bit of practice. If you want to become fluent in it I would suggest you start first by seeing a hypnotherapist who will teach you how to successfully use guided self hypnosis. Once you are feeling confident with that you can proceed to this more advanced technique.
Differently from self hypnosis, meditation is not usually divided into formal ’stages’ although you normally will be invited to relax and sometimes focus on an object at the beginning. Meditations can be guided or unguided and you can find out about the different types and how to get started here.
Guided Meditation vs Self Hypnosis
Central to both hypnosis and meditation is the practice of developing concentration. Concentration is the result of directing attention towards one idea at a time with as little effort as possible and with as much self compassion and kindness as possible.
The idea is not to always be perfectly focussed on the idea chosen but to practice maintaining focus and re-directing attention whenever we become distracted. Concentration is essential to both hypnosis and meditation because without it neither is possible.
The difference between the two here lies on what we are concentrating on. For meditation we are focussing on developing full awareness of ourselves and others in the present moment because the ultimate goal is realise our “Buddha nature” and become enlightened and fully awake beings .
In Hypnosis the ideas we concentrate on are usually specific goals pre-chosen before each session. These ideas can range from the practical to the spiritual and there is no real limit to what we can work on.
The skill of concentration is then applied to contemplation in both hypnosis and meditation. Contemplation is what happens when although we are controlling what we are paying attention to (concentration) we are also open to receive new information with a curious and accepting attitude.
So for example, we may be noticing a certain tension in the area of our heart. We concentrate on this area and on the feeling and sensation around it. We are not thinking about our to-do list in this moment or judging what we are doing or anything else.
If we realise we have drifted towards some other subject we gently redirect our attention towards the tension in the heart. Then we open up to receive information around it and learn something new about it. What is emerging around this feeling or sensation?
This is something that both hypnosis and meditation foster but once again in meditation there are pre-determined areas we would most likely concentrate on, such as ideas and metaphors that teach spiritual concepts such as detachment or equanimity whereas in hypnosis there are no limitations: we could contemplate an event, a relationship, a feeling or any other idea that is useful for understanding ourselves and overcome a specific problem.
Multitasking is not good for you
Now, it has to be said that sometimes people pride themselves in being able to think about two things at the same time. The reality is we often just travel very swiftly from one idea and then back to another, back and forth, several times.
This involves a lot of mental energy however and it stops us from fully engaging with one idea. It’s kind of like mental multitasking. Nothing receives the proper attention.
In both hypnosis and meditation this is actively discouraged and one pointed attention to one idea at a time is encouraged.
When you practice meditation and hypnosis you are effectively going to ‘mind gym’ and developing a muscle, except the ‘muscle’ promotes mental agility rather than physical agility.
Mantras serve the same purpose as affirmations
Another similarity between meditation and hypnosis is that they both work with repetition. Mantras are nothing but affirmations , also called suggestions.
The difference is that mantras are given by teachers and are determined by specific spiritual traditions whereas in self hypnosis the suggestions can be either given by the therapist or you can create your own ones using specific rules .
Prayers is a form of hypnotic suggestion
Incidentally ‘prayers’ could be seen as another form of suggestion or affirmation. The idea is that when you enter a concentrated state of mind where you are solely focussing on your wish and you are directing your mind towards paying attention only to the idea at hand.
You are not thinking about what you are going to have for dinner or what you’re gonna watch on TV. It has to be noted however that since prayers don’t follow particular rules you may end up getting what you ask for just like with self hypnosis, so be careful not to ask for what you don’t want or you may get it!
Meditation and Hypnosis: similarities and differences
As it is becoming more apparent meditation and hypnosis have a lot more in common that anticipated.
It could be argued that they both induce or work with the same mental process or produce the same mental state (depending on how whether you choose to see hypnosis as a state or as a process) but the ways in which they are induced differs. Let’s look at these more in depth:
Focus on the breath and point of focus
Both hypnosis and mediation work with the breath. Typically when you first enter hypnosis you will be taking some deep breaths while focusing on a spot.
This is because deep breathing is relaxing and focusing on a spot helps concentration. In hypnosis this is called diaphragmatic breathing with eye fixation.
Meditation also often starts by taking a few deep breaths, and sometimes we are asked to look at an object, such as a candle, a picture, or a blank wall, but focusing on the breath may not stop after the first deep breaths are over and we may be asked to continually be aware of the breath as an anchor to present moment awareness.
Body Scan vs Progressive relaxation
We have already discussed what the body scan is. Progressive relaxation is not quite the same thing. The difference is that during progressive relaxation we focus on relaxing each and every part of the body in turn by either physically tensing and releasing each muscles or imagining it or else using other visualisation techniques to allow the muscles to relax.
A body scan on the other hand, although it may result in relaxation, is not aimed at it. Rather, it involves simply observing what is without wanting or needing to change it.
Other induction techniques
Hypnosis uses a variety of induction methods that are not utilised by meditators. These can involve using memory recall or imagining scenarios that are found to be relaxing by the client in order to enter the hypnotic state.
Language and tone of voice as well as speed are also used very specifically to induce hypnosis quickly.
There are shock techniques that can be used to induce hypnosis as well as tricks that can confuse the conscious mind and bypass its critical factor to accept suggestions more readily.
These would never be used in a meditation session but are sometimes necessary with clients that are very analytical and anxious and find it hard to switch off and tune in.
Spiritual bypassing vs dealing with the emotions
One of the main goals of meditation is to be able to detach from our thoughts and emotions and let them flow and pass by without becoming attached to them.
The idea is to not engage with them but to simply observe them as temporary manifestations. This can be very beneficial because it can help us stop catastrophizing and worrying about the future or the past and it anchors us in the present moment.
However there is a danger of using this technique to run away from our emotions especially if they are unpleasant. When we do this we are ‘spiritually bypassing’ unresolved and uncomfortable feelings and although we may feel great in the short term as a result of it, these feelings will still affect us negatively.
In fact they may cause even more damage by going underground and wreck havoc by creating psychosomatic illness or self sabotaging behaviours.
Hypnosis on the other hand promotes emotional exploration and release. The idea is that it is healthy to experience emotions and allowing them to flow. In fact hypnotherapy works with the emotions, using them as agents of inner healing and transformation.
While meditation’s main aim is to achieve ‘enlightenment’ hypnosis’s aim is to allow us to achieve our own personal goals, which we can decide in advance.
These goals could be spiritual or may be emotional or behavioural or practical or they may involve some or all of these elements at one time.
The difference is the goal is determined by you: you decide what you want to use hypnosis for and this will determine the content of the hypnotic session itself to suit those goals.
Meditation vs Self Hypnosis Summary
Here is a summary of similarities and differences.
Although both meditation and hypnosis access a similar state of mind, the way in which this is done and how the state itself is used is different.
Most importantly, if you want to achieve pre-determined goals and get specific results hypnosis may be the best fit for you.
“All problems in life are problem trances, and all solutions are solution trances .”