How Hypnosis REALLY Works (and why there's nothing scary about it.)
Hypnosis is a state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. In reality, it is more like daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a good book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
In the everyday “trance” of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world seems somewhat real to you, in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness, and you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a monster leaping from the shadows, for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis.
In conventional hypnosis, you approach the suggestions of the hypnotherapist, or your own ideas, as if they were reality. If the therapist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you'll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the therapist suggests that you are happy, you may feel excited or start to smile. But the entire time, you are aware that it's all imaginary. Essentially, you're "playing pretend" on an intense level, just as children often do.
In this special mental state, people tend to feel uninhibited and relaxed. This is because they tune out the worries and doubts that normally keep their actions in check. You might experience the same feeling while watching a movie: As you immerse yourself in the plot, worries about your job, family, etc. fade away, until all you're thinking about is what's up on the screen.
In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is, when the therapist tells you do something, you'll probably embrace the idea completely. This is what makes stage hypnotist shows so entertaining. Normally reserved, sensible adults are suddenly walking around the stage clucking like chickens or singing at the top of their lungs. Fear of embarrassment seems to fly out the window. The subject's sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience, however. A hypnotist can't get you to do anything you don't want to do.
Simply stated, hypnosis is nothing more than a way to access a person's subconscious mind directly. Normally, you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind. You consciously think over the problems that are right in front of you, consciously choose words as you speak, consciously try to remember where you left your car in the parking lot.
But in doing all these things, your conscious mind is working hand-in-hand with your subconscious mind, the unconscious part of your mind that does your "behind the scenes" thinking. Your subconscious mind accesses the vast reservoir of information that lets you solve problems, construct sentences or locate your automobile. It puts together plans and ideas and runs them by your conscious mind. When a new idea comes to you out of the blue, it's because you already thought through the process unconsciously.
Your subconscious also takes care of all the stuff you do automatically. You don't actively work through the steps of breathing minute to minute -- your subconscious mind does that. You don't think through every little thing you do while driving a car -- a lot of the small stuff is thought out in your subconscious mind. Your subconscious also processes the physical information your body receives.
In short, your subconscious mind is the real brains behind the operation -- it does most of your thinking, and it decides a lot of what you do. When you're awake, your conscious mind works to evaluate a lot of these thoughts, make decisions and put certain ideas into action. It also processes new information and relays it to the subconscious mind. But when you're asleep, the conscious mind gets out of the way, and your subconscious has free reign.
The deep relaxation and focusing exercises of hypnotism work to calm and subdue the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process. In this state, you're still aware of what's going on, but your conscious mind takes a backseat to your subconscious mind. Effectively, this allows you and the hypnotist to work directly with the subconscious. It's as if the hypnotism process pops open a control panel inside your brain.
The subconscious regulates your bodily sensations, such as taste, touch and sight, as well as your emotional feelings. When the access door is open, and the hypnotist can speak to your subconscious directly, he or she can trigger all these feelings, so you experience the taste of a chocolate milkshake, the satisfaction of contentment and any number of other feelings.