27 Aug You are Getting Very… Misinformed? The Truth About Clinical Hypnotherapy
In your classic portrayal of hypnosis, you might find yourself staring intently at a swinging pendulum, and listening to a series of repetitive phrases until you are lulled into a state of suggestibility. In this state, a hypnotist could make you sing opera or cluck like a chicken. This isn’t a new idea – hypnotherapy has a long history of being falsely represented as a form of mind control. Clinical hypnotherapy, however, is quite different.
Clinical hypnotherapists use hypnosis as a therapeutic tool. Hypnosis, a state of deep relaxation and heightened awareness, opens up the unconscious mind to suggestions. Unlike pop culture hypnosis portrayals, in clinical hypnotherapy, the client is always in control. The client’s brain is just more receptive to imagery, creativity, and new ideas.
Clinical hypnotherapy can be a valuable tool for breaking habits, promoting relaxation, and even relieving pain. Hypnotherapy has a long history, and in the 1960s, it gained medical recognition as a legitimate form of treatment. Hypnotherapy is currently not regulated by a medical board, but most clinical hypnotherapists are well-trained and hold Master’s degrees or higher.
I sat down with one of our practicing hypnotherapists, Stacey Fernandes (she/her/hers), who discussed with me the roots of clinical hypnotherapy, its applications, and misconceptions.
What is Clinical Hypnotherapy?
Like all legitimate therapeutic approaches, clinical hypnotherapy is grounded in scientific research. Clinical hypnotherapy has been proven to improve anxiety and depression, with or without adjunct treatment. It is thought to be most effective when combined with other talk therapy approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Hypnotherapy can be used in an individual or group setting. In both settings, hypnotherapy can be used to gain insight into one’s life, habits, and values. When hypnotherapy is done in an individual session, it is more tailored to the client, and parts can even be recorded and played back after the session is over. Often, participants in hypnotherapy groups will pursue individual hypnotherapy later.
The typical trope of a client getting very sleepy before slipping into a trance is misguided and misinformed. In fact, Stacey notes that clients often feel re-energized following a session. Depending on the goals of the client, a clinical hypnotherapist can tailor the session to renew energy or restore peace.
Each clinical hypnotherapist has their own style. Stacey shares that her own is very imagery- and nature-based, often involving meditations of forests, hammocks, or beaches. Some clinical hypnotherapists have more colour-based hypnotic scripts. Each hypnotic script is designed to evoke a feeling, action, or emotion.
How Does One Become a Clinical Hypnotherapist?
Stacey obtained her Master of Social Work degree before furthering her education as a hypnotherapist. It was through her college that she learned of a hypnotherapy training course in Costa Rica. The course was centred around “Breaking the Worry Trance” and was revelatory for Stacey. It was imagery-based, and has since informed Stacey’s own practice.
To become a clinical hypnotherapist, Stacey did over one hundred hours of clinical training in Ericksonian hypnotherapy. Ericksonian hypnotherapy uses techniques such as metaphor and imagery to alter behavioural patterns. There are other types of hypnotherapy, which combine other therapeutic approaches, such as psychoanalysis or solution-focused therapy.
How Does Clinical Hypnotherapy Work?
Clinical hypnotherapy taps into our subconscious mind, moving us away from our analytical brain and into our receptive, creative mind. Often, our brain can meet new ideas with resistance or skepticism. Clinical hypnotherapists ask us not to ignore or avoid these feelings, rather to observe and normalize them.
Stacey borrowed a metaphor from renowned hypnotherapist, Grace Smith, to describe how hypnotherapy works:
“Picture a bouncer (conscious mind) at a nightclub (subconscious mind). Inside the club all the people are smoking cigarettes and a non smoker approaches the bouncer stating ‘I can help, I’ve read lots of books on wealth.’ The bouncer denies the request because they are unfamiliar, despite this person being safe and offering valuable information. Everyone in the club is very familiar with each other despite it being an unhealthy behaviour. Anything new gets blocked. The non smoker tries to tip the bouncer $100 and gets into the club. The person interacts with everyone by speaking on the microphone and engaging them to drink water instead and providing the benefits of hydration. Eventually everyone starts drinking water and feeling much healthier. Now if a person who smoked tried to get into the club the bouncer would deny them – they are unfamiliar!”
This helpful metaphor illustrates how clinical hypnotherapy can be helpful for opening up and expanding our minds. Clinical hypnotherapy can be effective where other therapeutic approaches are not, and can be used to calm and alleviate anxiety. However, it is often met with resistance due to preconceived notions as well as unconscious biases. Yet, with an open mind and commitment to heal, clinical hypnotherapy can be incredibly effective.
What Should I Know Before Seeking Clinical Hypnotherapy Treatment?
I asked Stacey the question, “What would you tell someone who is thinking about starting clinical hypnotherapy?” and she had some great ideas.
First of all, do your research. Since clinical hypnotherapy is not regulated the same way social work and psychotherapy services are, literally anyone can claim to be a hypnotherapist. You want to seek out someone who has other credentials, such as a Master’s Degree in Social Work, or Registered Psychotherapist status.
Ask questions about your potential clinical hypnotherapist’s background, training, and experience. Many training courses have a required number of hours of practicing the craft; ask if your therapist has completed these, how many, and where. Inquire about their specialties, style, and interests.
Book a consultation with the clinical hypnotherapist to see if you two are a good fit. Like any therapeutic relationship, you want to ensure you have similar styles, goals, and interests. If something feels off, or you don’t feel comfortable opening up to this person, consider looking elsewhere.
Remember that clinical hypnotherapy is scientifically-backed, and evidence-based. Your clinical hypnotherapist should be adequately trained and qualified. Treat this like you are finding a new healthcare provider; you want to be confident that the provider has the skills and expertise you are looking for.
If you are a beginner to clinical hypnotherapy, consider looking for a practitioner trained in Ericksonian hypnotherapy; this is listed as one of the therapeutic modalities in Ontario, along with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). This means that it is recognized as effective by the regulatory board of Ontario for psychotherapy.
Most importantly, approach clinical hypnotherapy with curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to learn. Embrace and question your skepticism, and move towards healing with patience and wonder.
Interested in partaking in clinical hypnotherapy as part of your healing journey? Bliss is offering a virtual hypnotherapy group workshop this Fall, with the aim to Re-Charge and Re-Energize after a year and a half of pandemic life. Run by Bliss therapists, Stacey and Lindsay, it is an excellent opportunity to engage in clinical hypnotherapy.
Are you interested in joining the workshop? Sign up today! . Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 226-647-6000.
Written by: Catiyana Adam and Stacey Fernandes
Catiyana is Bliss Counselling’s Office Strategist, a music enthusiast, and avid writer. She has a keen interest in mental health, illness, and treatment, and is aspiring to be a therapist. Catiyana graduated from McMaster University in 2021 with a Honours Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She focused on courses in health and illness, as well as families and feminist studies. She hopes to pursue a Master of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University next year.
Stacey is a Registered Social Worker, traveller, and adventurer at heart. She is dedicated to learning and advancing her knowledge through workshops, courses, and travel. Stacey uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) as well as Hypnotherapy and other therapeutic methods in her sessions. She believes in communication, reflection, and slowing down.