A Psychologist Breaks Down Hypnotherapy and What Really Happens During a Session

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Until I experienced hypnotherapy for the first time, I was under the stereotypical illusion that the process would involve a hypnotist waving a crystal in front of my eyes until I fell asleep.  

Instead, my first session was a meditative experience that allowed me to fully comprehend the power of the subconscious mind.  

We often forget that just as our thoughts can consume us, we have the power to control them. This is also true with habits. We develop habits from a young age and repeat these habits whenever the needs arise. Sometimes our habits (which reside in the subconscious mind), can become our own worst enemy! 

Veronica Engel is a psychologist and hypnotherapist who has had over ten thousand plus hours of experience with the hypnosis technique. “In essence, hypnotherapy seeks to rewire the brain out of unhelpful thinking patterns and into helpful thinking patterns that support you to feel better, live better and achieve your goals.”  

I first went to see Veronica for pain and gut symptoms I had been experiencing. Over time, these uncomfortable sensations caused me to develop unhelpful ways of thinking about my body, which led to a pattern of disordered eating.  

I noticed a change after a few short sessions. We slowly started identifying negative thought patterns which had become stuck in my subconscious. I book in to see Veronica when I find my thoughts are slipping into old patterns. This can happen quite quickly.   

Here, Veronica explains the power of hypnosis to shift negative thought patterns and behaviours and guides us through what a typical session involves.  

POPSUGAR Australia: Have you found hypnosis effective for treating specific issues? Anything that patients commonly ask for help with? 

Veronica Engel: Yes. In my experience of doing clinical hypnotherapy, there are significant benefits with gut disorders, anxiety and the associated conditions; OCD, phobias, panic and health anxiety and generalised anxiety. I often get patients who are dealing with certain traumas and phobias. I currently have a patient who is afraid of getting into a car. A very common one is also emotional eating, and I find hypnotherapy incredibly effective for this.  

PS: You speak about how hypnosis seeks to rewire the brain. Can you elaborate on this?  

VE: Our conscious brain is the chatty part of our brain; full of busy thoughts and constantly in action.  

The conscious part of the brain is what you tap into when you see a therapist; openly discussing issues you are having; in a conscious space. Hypnotherapy goes straight to the hard drive of your brain (your subconscious brain), which is in charge of everything that is habitual. Hundreds of habitual thinking patterns reside here hypnotherapy tackles this directly and works to reset thoughts.   

PS: Do your patients need to be committed to making a change in order for hypnosis to be effective? 

VE: Yes, absolutely it helps. When I first meet a patient, I am going to ask them to explain their wants and motivations. If they want to change but are not motivated, it is most likely going to be a very difficult process. If a patient is not committed, the subconscious mind may actively reject what is being said to them. This part of your mind is far stronger than the conscious mind.    

PS: Are there any specific sensations one might feel during a session?  

VE: Essentially it is entering an altered state of awareness. There are all kinds of changes that happen in the sensory system and the muscular-skeletal system. You may find that you start to feel heavy – this is your muscular system letting go, allowing gravity to pull you down. 

Because you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, you are getting out of fight and flight so you are going to experience positive sensory changes – everything feels nicer. You might experience sensations such as floating, drifting, warmth. The sensory system of sight can become particularly activated – lots of my patients report seeing beautiful imagery during a session.  

These are scientific biological reactions!   

PS: How does hypnotherapy have an effect on our physical body?   

VE: If you are experiencing pain, it’s likely you will feel a reduction in pain and/or perceived pain. We can see a reduction in blood pressure and a normalised breathing rate. This is why anxiety conditions benefit greatly from hypnotherapy.   

For any gut-related conditions, hypersensitivity to the area is greatly reduced, therefore lessening symptoms.  

We are taking the nervous system out of stress response and into a calm state.  

PS: Do you have any advice for anyone who might want to try hypnotherapy, but feels hesitant?  

VE: For anyone who is interested in but hesitant to try hypnotherapy it is important to realise you are always in control. Hypnosis is in fact very similar to meditation and if you chose a registered practitioner, who is highly skilled in hypnotherapy, such as a psychologist, doctor, or psychiatrist, they will personalise the hypnotherapy to suit your needs. 

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