We are now at our final installment of our Exploring Therapy series at Wellness Wednesday, during which we are exploring different treatment modalities to assist readers in recognizing the variety of options available to them to support their needs and move forward towards wellness. We are also featuring the return of our first guest author, Michael Decaire, clinical psychologist, registered psychotherapist, and the founder of FLEX Psychology.
When people imagine what therapy looks like they probably picture a leather chaise lounge and a bearded man with a pocket watch. The chaise lounge or “therapists couch” image is a hold-over from the classic Freud-inspired psychoanalysis days of a half century ago, the majority of therapists I work with are women, which tends to impact the beard ratio at the office, and you are going to legitimately struggle to find a therapist who has been trained in hypnosis these days. I, however, love to be a contrarian and a stereotype at the same time, so I do have one of those couches, I definitely have a beard, and clinical hypnosis is part of my treatment toolkit. With the exception of the hypnosis, the rest of these therapy tropes are a bit of a facade. The chaise was purchased for wellness naps when my son was born, and the beard is mainly because I’m from the north and like to look like a lumberjack.
The use of hypnosis in treatment is also not all that consistent with the common stereotypes. The idea of using hypnosis to tackles life’s challenges is extremely attractive to some clients and terrifying to others. Those who are attracted to hypnosis often see it as a quick fix for longstanding problems, an idea that is commonly promoted by smoking cessation and weight loss programs (these people also suggest using lasers to treat these things, so I would be suspect of their claims). Those who are fearful of hypnosis worry about mind control and the idea that the hypnosis-informed therapist can make you do something against your will. Fortunately, both of these are extremely unrealistic perceptions of hypnosis and how it is used in treatment.
Hypnosis or hypnotherapy are treatment tools that can be integrated into a variety of other treatment methods. While it can be the main component of treatment, this is relatively rare and applies to only very narrow problems (e.g. a phobia) where a client, for whatever reason, is unable to engage in a more standard course of treatment. In most cases, hypnosis is used as a tool that augments or supports talk therapy. The aim of the approach is to assist an individual to enter a deep state of focus and relaxation that permits one to work on goals without being countered by their negative emotions or worries. Sometimes your internal thoughts can seem deafening. Hypnosis quiets the mind and allows you to do the meaningful work you have been struggling to get to. It allows any place and time to be the “right” place and time to resolve difficulties and move forward in a positive manner.
Aside from quieting the mind, hypnosis also uses “suggestions” that can be thought of as a signpost that directs you to a state or experience that you have decided you want to obtain. These “suggestions” are pre-determined between the client and their therapist, as attempts to suggest something an individual does not actually want will undoubtedly result in someone coming out of the focused hypnotic state.
The first time a client undergoes hypnosis they rarely report feeling that they are in a “trance” like you see in the movies. While a deeper state of focus and relaxation is possible and that state can look like a “trance”, getting to that level of focus generally requires multiple hypnosis sessions because the client needs to practice getting themselves to that state. The key here is that it requires the client’s efforts and work, as their therapist is really never controlling the situation or the deepness of the hypnotic state. That control always remains with the client. The hypnosis-informed therapist simply provides an opportunity to enter that state if the client chooses.
Hypnosis is not the right approach for every client or every problem. I generally incorporate hypnosis into treatment only a few times a year and always assess the benefit it may provide to my clients before I introduce the idea of using this approach to treatment. It is an approach with a efficacy in treating fears and phobias, the management of difficult but rare situations (e.g. anxiety around medical procedures or upcoming events), or providing momentary relief from high levels of stress.
If you think hypnosis might be the right tool for you, there is a good list of Ontario-based certified hypnotherapists available at the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
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Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.