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What is the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy?

Before we get into the topic of what is hypnosis and what is hypnotherapy, we need to have a close look at the human mind and how it works.

We have two minds, a conscious mind and an unconscious mind. By definition, the conscious mind is that part of our mind that allows us to be consciously aware at any given moment in time. The unconscious mind is everything else. Now at this point you might be wondering what we mean by the term "mind" in the first place. And that's a good question that I'll answer in a moment.

Before that though I want to use a simple metaphor to (literally) throw some light on the matter.

Imagine you're in a place where it's completely dark, but all around you there are all kinds of things to see; all kinds of things going on. But you don't know that they're there, because you can't see anything. Except you have a small torch or flashlight. And this torch has a very narrow beam, and as you move the torch around you can see a tiny bit at a time. So you know there's something there, but you have absolutely no idea of what's really out there.

What you can see at each moment in time with the aid of the torch is the conscious mind (what we're aware of), and everything else is the unconscious mind (what we don't see).

But what is the mind?

Well there are lots of dictionary definitions of "mind" and quite frankly nearly all of them are rubbish! Some dictionary definitions may describe or explain some of the functions of the mind, e.g. to think or to reason, but these don't define what we mean by the mind.

My explanation of the mind is this:- everything going on within our brain at any given moment in time.

Our brain is made up of around 100 billion brain cells, or neurons, and each one can be connected to thousands of others. So the number of connections in our brain is big.....really, really big. And these connections are very active, with a combination of chemical and electrical energy. (You may have heard of so-called neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which are involved in the chemical side of it).

Now of course the purpose of this activity in the brain is to keep you alive; to keep your heart beating, regulate your breathing, maintain a healthy chemistry in the body, allow you to digest your food etc. This is what we mean by the mind. But of course you don't need to be aware of any of these things because they happen automatically.

Furthermore, when you walk you don't need to think of all the muscle movements that need to be made in the right sequence, and to the right degree, to make it happen. So all of these things are unconscious. But there's much more to the unconscious mind than that, and I'll get to that shortly, because it's one of the main point of this blog. First, though we have to answer the impossible question that is....

What is the conscious mind?

Well, as I said previously, the conscious mind relates to what we are actually aware of at any moment in time. To understand the conscious mind, or consciousness, on a brain level is difficult to say the least. It's a phenomenon that neurologists have been trying to understand for decades and we still don't know. So let's leave it at that for now.

The "prime directive" of the unconscious mind.

The so-called prime directive of the unconscious mind is to keep you safe. It's to keep you alive. So it's all about survival; and if it wasn't about survival then we simply wouldn't be here. So hooray for the unconscious mind! But, as you'll see in a little while, this drive to keep us safe can sometimes cause problems.

7 other very important points about the unconscious mind:-

1. The unconscious mind stores all of our memories.

2. Emotions are created in the unconscious mind, e.g. anger, sadness, fear, etc. although you experience the emotions in your conscious mind.

3. It maintains habits – primarily for the reasons given above in that it feels safe with patterns. The unconscious mind loves familiarity.

4. The unconscious mind is non-rational. So it doesn’t know the difference between good habits and bad habits. It doesn’t recognise that smoking is a bad habit or that panic attacks are debilitating.

5. It does not process negatives. So you have to tell it what you do want and not what you don’t want. (In order to not think of a black cat you have to think of one first). So a suggestion to “not panic” would just cause panic, as opposed to the suggestion to be “calm and relaxed”.

6. The unconscious doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality. This helps to explain why, amongst other things, mental rehearsal is so powerful in sport etc.

7. A really important one to finish off with:- The unconscious mind takes us in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.

Putting all of this together we can begin to understand why people have certain problems, e.g. -

Habits such as over eating and smoking. The unconscious mind is always trying to keep you safe and so hates change. Instead it encourages you to stay with what's familiar. In addition, as stated above, the unconscious mind doesn't know the difference between a good or healthy habit, and a bad or unhealthy one. In fact it doesn't care! (Your conscious mind might care but your unconscious doesn't – it just want to keep doing what it knows).

Remember also that the unconscious mind doesn't process negatives. This gives us an additional problem;- to think about not smoking we have to think about smoking; to think about not eating a bar of chocolate we have to think about it first. And if we think about these things we're far more likely to do them.

Fears and phobias. The only fears we are born with are the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear that you have has been learnt at some time in your life; most of them in early childhood. Some of these fears are learnt with good reason and so are rational, e.g. lions, tigers etc. Some, however, may be irrational such as the fear of public speaking, flying, cotton wool...yes even cotton wool!

Remember that the unconscious mind is irrational and is always trying to keep you safe. Put these two things together and you can understand how phobias work. In addition, for some people, just thinking about flying or thinking about spiders etc. can set off a phobic response (increased heart rate, panic and so on). This is because the unconscious mind doesn't know the difference between reality and imagination.

But there's a further problem...

As I've hinted already, the unconscious mind is much more powerful than the logical conscious mind. Just to give you an idea of how much more powerful the unconscious mind is, and to give you an idea of how it all works, I'm going to use a simple metaphor...

The elephant and the rider

Imagine you are riding an adult elephant. You, as the rider, are the conscious mind. The elephant is the unconscious mind. The elephant (your elephant) is there to take you to wherever you want to go in life. The elephant, however, also needs to keep you safe and is, of course, so much more powerful than you are. So the elephant has the final say. If, for example, you want to take your elephant down a particular path that is unfamiliar territory (e.g. you decide to go on a diet, or try to stop smoking) it will be very reluctant to do so. It will want to stick with what it knows because it feels safe with that. Furthermore, if you try to take your elephant down a path where it has been frightened in the past (e.g. speaking in public or flying on an aeroplane) it will be even more reluctant to do so.

So you need to learn to communicate effectively with the elephant to get it to go where you want it to take you. And this is where hypnosis and hypnotherapy come in.....

What is hypnosis

One of the best descriptions of hypnosis, and a popular one amongst therapists is:-

A state in which the critical faculty is temporarily by-passed and selective thinking is introduced. (Dave Elman).

So what do we mean by the critical faculty? Well the critical faculty is a part of the mind that compares what we're experiencing in each and every moment of now, with what we already know.

Let's look at an everyday situation; you are watching a movie and you become deeply engrossed, maybe even quite emotional. Your critical faculty knows it's only a movie, it's fantasy. But that part of your mind that knows that is being bypassed, and so you respond to the movie, to some degree, as if it was real.

So, by definition when you're engrossed in a movie you're in a state of hypnosis. Being engrossed in a novel or a computer game are further examples.

The main point here is that hypnosis is a natural state of mind that we all drift in and out of several times a day.

Now there are many myths and misunderstandings about hypnosis, partly due to stage hypnosis. Unfortunately this puts many people off from ever going to see a hypnotherapist. So let's dispel the most common myths and look at what hypnosis isn’t.

There is absolutely no control on the part of the hypnotist (or therapist)

A person in hypnosis cannot be made to do anything they don’t want to do

A person in hypnosis cannot be made to reveal their innermost secrets

Hypnosis is not a state of unconsciousness or sleep

In actual fact, all hypnosis is self hypnosis. The role of the hypnotherapist is to guide their client into hypnosis.

So why is hypnosis important and useful when it comes to therapy?

Well if you think about being engrossed in movie, for example, it's the more emotional part of the mind that takes over. This, of course, is the unconscious mind.

So you could think of hypnosis as being the 'gateway' to the unconscious mind. Put another way, using the metaphor described earlier, it's creating a closer connection between you as the rider and your elephant. This means it becomes easier to tell your elephant (unconscious mind) where you want to go, and to hopefully reassure your elephant that it's safe to do so (providing it is safe of course!).

So hypnosis opens up a channel of communication between your conscious mind and your unconscious mind.

How do you hypnotise someone?

With their consent! Although , in actual fact, I've never hypnotised anyone in 18 years as a therapist. That's because, as I explained earlier, all hypnosis is self hypnosis. So I guide people into hypnosis. Now there are many ways of doing this; there are many different hypnotic inductions and deepening techniques. These include mental confusion, conscious overload, shock and surprise based inductions and perhaps most popular of all, at least in the therapy room, good old fashioned relaxation.

I should point out though that I'm talking about mental relaxation rather than just physical relaxation.

So what is hypnotherapy?

Well we've established that hypnosis is the opening of a communication channel with the unconscious mind. The therapy is effectively what you communicate with it. In order to do so, however, you need to learn the language of the unconscious mind (you need to speak the language of the elephant).

There are several ways of doing this, but two of the most useful ones are:-

Positive suggestions and visualisation.

Remember I said earlier that the unconscious mind doesn't process negatives (it doesn't hear the word “don't for example). So what you need to tell your unconscious mind is what you do want, rather than what you don't want.

So, as an example, let's take the case of someone who is out of control when it comes to food and eating and is overweight as a result. If that person spends a lot of time thinking about food, or indeed trying to not think about food, they'll end up eating more food, and adding to the problem. If they spend a lot of time thinking about being overweight, fat etc. well guess what, they'll stay overweight.

Remember that the unconscious mind takes us in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.

What you need to do instead is think about what you do want. So, for example, the suggestions “you are a healthy eater”, “you are a slim person” etc. are required. Alternatively if you are using positive affirmations then you would word them in the first person; "I am a healthy eater", "I am a slim person" and so on..

Do affirmations actually work?

Well yes and no. For some people, positive affirmations can work very well indeed, and in some cases without the need even for hypnosis. For others though, it can take a long time, particularly where there's a strong belief that goes against the new belief that a person is trying to install.

And that's where visualisation can play a part. By imagining seeing yourself as you want to be, e.g. slimmer, healthier, fitter, then it becomes even more likely to become a reality. Better still, if you can feel excited about what you see / how you want to be that's even better. When you feel really good about doing something or achieving something then your unconscious mind will realise that this is something that you really want.

So what is hypnotherapy used for?

Well, actually it can be helpful in a number of areas, such as:-

Stopping smoking

Promoting healthy eating / weight loss

Overcoming anxiety, panic states and phobias

Increasing confidence

Pain management


Psycho-sexual problems

Sleep problems

Sports performance

and a lot more....

Hopefully this has given you some insight of what hypnosis and hypnotherapy are, and help you to understand a little bit about how the mind works. Maybe it will give you a few ideas as to how you can reprogramme your own mind for whatever you want to achieve in life.

Now if you want to discover how amazing you are and how much potential you have, or if you just want to experience hypnosis for yourself, you can download my free confidence programme. This short programme includes hypnotic downloads for confidence and also for positivity and abundance.

If you want to take a look just click the following link.

All the best,


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