Hypnosis: Hope or Hocus Pocus?

Chaplain-Paul_DurbinWhen it comes to hypnosis, our communities tend to have more misconceptions than knowledge. Some consider hypnosis as mind control, hocus pocus, or a tool of the devil. Do these misconceptions prevent us from using hypnosis as a valuable tool of pastoral care? Or do we educate our people about the useful benefit of hypnosis?

I believe we should educate people how they can effectively use hypnosis for overcoming unwanted habits, phobias, fears, and blocks to a wholesome life, for improved concentration, memory, study habits, and athletic ability, and for pain reduction, weight reduction and weight control. Of course, the reduction and elimination of pain should not be done at the expense of proper professional medical care. Self-hypnosis may be used when the problem calls for an aspirin or other non-prescription medication, but if the problem persists, one should see a doctor, as pain is an indication that something is wrong and one needs to know what is causing the pain. Hypnosis to relieve pain can still be used to augment proper medical care.

Understanding Hypnosis

What mental picture comes to your mind when you think of hypnosis? The understanding many people have of hypnosis is based upon the performance of a stage hypnotist or a movie they have seen or a novel they have read. These sources can lead to a misunderstanding of hypnosis. Clinical hypnosis is quite different from that of the stage hypnotist or the image of hypnosis as presented in movies or novels.

Hypnosis is really a very common experience which each person goes through from one to many times each day. It is like watching television and becoming so interested in the program that someone can talk to you and it just does not register. Has that ever happened to you?

Hypnosis is similar to traveling to a place you have been before, but your mind is on something else and, without realizing it, you have passed where you wanted to go. Even while you are not paying attention to where you are geographically, you are driving safely. Your subconscious mind is protecting you, keeping a safe distance between your car and the car in front of you, functioning quite efficiently on automatic pilot.

Your subconscious mind will also protect you in hypnosis, for it will not allow you to do anything against your personal or moral convictions. If a suggestion is given that is against your personal or moral convictions, you will either disregard the suggestion if it is a minor thing or you will come out of hypnosis if it is a major concern. Hypnosis is not mind control. You are in control. The hypnotist is only a guide. Some people believe that, when you are hypnotized, you are unconscious or asleep, but such is not the case. You will hear everything that is said and you will remember much of what is said. Even though I tell each client this, sometimes they will say, “I don’t think I was hypnotized. I heard every word you said!”

Conscious and Subconscious Mind

How does hypnosis work? Though we have only one mind, our mind is made up of two parts. We have a conscious part which consists of about 10% of our mind power (the mind’s ability to influence our inner and outer world), and the subconscious part consists of about 90% of our mind power. Our mind is kind of like an iceberg, for only a small portion of the iceberg is above the water (conscious mind) while the great majority of the iceberg is below the surface of the water (subconscious mind).

The conscious mind is the logical, analytical, reasoning, two-plus-two-equals-four part of the mind. The subconscious is not logical; it is habitual. It controls our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. It contains our emotions, habits, automatic responses, feelings, instincts, impressions, and memories. It seeks to meet our deepest needs, expectations, and desires. It performs and perpetuates anything habitual.

One of the peculiarities of the subconscious mind, which helps us in hypnosis, is that the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. When the subconscious mind believes something to be true, it directs the body to act as if is true, whether it is or not. One day, while running, I saw a long crooked object which I perceived to be a snake. My heart beat increased, my breathing changed, and I felt fear. I was ready to run in the other direction until my eyes focused and I realized it was a stick. As long as I saw that stick as a snake, that is the way I reacted.

In regards to memories, fears and expectations – a thought, image or idea, whether real or not, when repeated often enough or when emotionally charged, becomes real to the subconscious mind. We can use this to our advantage in hypnosis by guiding the subconscious to focus on imagining positive outcomes and perspectives.

Hopeful Expectation

Does this mean that we should live our lives in a dream world of wishful thinking? “I wish I had this. I wish I had that.” Is that what hope is all about? No. Hope in biblical language is not wishful thinking, but hopeful expectation in the power and goodness of God, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Hope is the outreach of our inner life for courage, meaning, and wholeness. Hope is the reality which transforms mere existence or even self-destructive tendencies to a life lived by positive affirmation. This positive life affirmation is more than giving lip service to hope but it is a way of life. Sometimes our hoping is for something specific while, at other times, it is more our openness to life’s opportunities. In either case, the person of hope lives in a world of open doors and hopeful expectation for the good in life.

It has been said that there are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about their situation. In the light of experience, it is easy for us to despair when things go bad. There are times when we are tempted into a cynical acceptance of a situation and to say, “What is the use?” These are the times when we are tempted to accept a defeated attitude that neither people, nor the world, nor our situation will ever be better. I believe that, if we earnestly seek an open door, we can have hope and find meaning in our life. Someone once wrote, “If God shuts one door, He opens another.”

“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We are discovering that many of our body’s functions which we felt we had no conscious control over can be significantly influenced by our mental attitude. Through relaxation and visual imagery (elements of hypnosis), we can learn to control body functions to include the ability to raise or lower temperature and blood pressure, to reduce tension, stress, and pain and to speed up the healing process. By the use of relaxation, imagery and hopeful expectation, we can have greater affect upon our body and life than we ever thought possible.

Lew Miller, who was told he would never walk after being wounded in World War II, began to imagine himself, walking, running, driving a car, raising a family, and working. He believed that he would be healed and said, “To believe is to have complete faith in your prayers (thoughts). To believe that you have already received, you need only to visualize yourself as processing it now. Belief in your mental images is the perfect expressions of faith.”

This hopeful expectation and visualize imagery enhances a person’s own immune system, which helps fight germs and infections, decrease tension and stress, and alter the stance of helplessness and hopelessness. These methods, along with traditional medical treatment and faith in the God who cares, can help in healing. Even with those illnesses and injuries which cannot be helped, hopeful expectation brings about an improved quality of life.

We can use hopeful expectation to improve our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The God of hope will cause our hope to grow. The horizons of our hope will expand as God is allowed to be creatively at work within us. In the midst of frustration and conflict, there is hope for inner unity and harmony. In the midst of destructive and threatening human relationship, there is the hope for mutually enhancing and fulfilling relationship. In the midst of the pain and doubt, we live by hope which is based upon faith in God.

Whereas the person of despair lives with a sense of being trapped, the person of hope feels that somehow there is a way out or a way through, and there is the potential for meaning in his or her situation. The person of hope is able to wait, not simply in defeat and resignation, but in anticipation of what is not yet, but can be. This hopeful expectation can be used, not only for health, but for every aspect of your life. See what you want to happen in your life, not as daydreaming, but as a goal to attain. By doing so, your subconscious has a mental image to reach for. What you think about deeply enough and often enough, you tend to become.

It is extremely important that we allow ourselves to be confronted with the radiant hope of the early church. In the time of the church’s beginning, when social, political, and economic conditions often seemed intolerable, the people of faith maintained their hope. Radiant with hope, those early Christians talked about hope, sung about hope, and lived hope. We can also live in hopeful expectation because of God’s love toward us as shown in Jesus Christ. So let us hear St. Paul once more, “Let hope keep you joyful, enduring in troubles, persist in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Self Hypnosis

Hypnosis can help us strengthen our faith and live in hopeful expectation, with a calm enduring strength. The imagery and proper suggestions help to bring about desired changes in a person’s life. To practice self-hypnosis, become as relaxed as possible in either a bed or a chair. When you are comfortable, close your eyes, relax, and let your mind’s eyes begin to help you. Imagine any discomfort vanishing, see your illness healed, see your broken bones mended and your wounds healed. As you visualize these things with hopeful expectation, your body begins to respond in a positive helpful way. Suggestions should be stated in believable positive statements instead of negative ones. (The mind tends to cancel out the word NOT and focus, instead, on the word which follows.) Repeat the positive suggestions.  Visualizing or imagining what you want to happen, as if it has already happened, adds to the success of the suggestions by providing the subconscious mind a model to work toward.

We can enhance our life through meditation, prayer, and hypnosis. When one is functioning in all levels – body, mind, spirit – life is more joyful, more productive and more healthy. We should allow positive thoughts of health, love, trust, faith, righteous living, and confidence to be our first thought in the morning and our last thought before going to sleep at night.

D. Henry Knight Miller states, “By faithful reiteration, build into your mind those qualities you desire to express in your life: thoughts of love, health, happiness, success and power. These thoughts are the raw material with which the mind, the master builder, the God power within, constructs or reconstructs your life. Give the Builder evil material and the house he builds will be on sand. It will fall. Give the Builder good material and the house not made with human hands will withstand all the storms and ravages of time; firm, strong, and unyielding as the Rock of Gibraltar.”

God created your powerful mind with the ability to help you improve and heal.  It is part of God’s healing plan. Jesus said, “I am come that you may have life and have it more abundantly”. Hypnosis is one of God’s gifts for the more abundant life. Education on the positive uses of hypnosis to improve life will benefit our congregations and the Christian community. Use hypnosis properly and it will lead you to experience a better self and a better quality of life.

Chaplain Paul G. Durbin, Ph.D.,  1992, adapted.

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