Science Behind Hypnosis
Memory & Learning
Science behind hypnosis
are many different theories as to what hypnosis is. Every day, every
single person experiences different states of mind. People can be very
alert and in a state of high concentration. We can be in a daydream
state. We go into different mental states when we read, when we work,
when we exercise, and we go into many different mental states going
into, during and coming out of sleep.
Hypnosis and Communication
of voice, body language and even aromas are all methods of
communication. Some of these are conscious, most are unconscious.
Congruency of communication means that all these methods of
communication say the same thing at the same time, e.g. if someone is
under threat, and they say “I’m not afraid of you” – and their voice is
shaking, they are sweating, their pupils dilated – they won’t be very
convincing! If that same person is under threat, but they think they
are stronger, fitter and better trained than the threatening person,
when they say “I’m not afraid of you”, they are convincing.
Words by their
very nature are only rough approximations of what we actually mean.
They have to be combined with context, with body language and tonality
for a better approximation. However, we all have our own unique
experience of each word, and we all have different internal
associations of each word. For example, the word “cat” may mean cuddly
creature to one person, a mangy smelly thing to another person, and
violent sneezing to another person who has an allergy to cat fur.
Hypnotherapy combines hypnosis (simply a relaxed daydream state), and
effective communication between client and therapist. Words generate
physiological responses, e.g. I bet you were not aware of that slight
tingle at the tip of your nose until I brought it to your attention.
Hypnosis can also be induced by a shock/surprise – a favourite method
of stage hypnotists. If someone does something unexpected, you may
freeze for a second while your mind/body decides what to do. This is a
perfectly natural response, a very primitive body reaction, even older
and quicker than the fight or flight reaction. (Some people have
theorized that hypnosis is a possum “play dead” response). If you
decide that the unexpected thing is a threat, your body’s fight or
flight response will kick in, to remove the danger either by attacking
it or running away from it. When you are safe, your thinking brain has
time to think about it, and will generate methods of dealing with the
situation if it arises again. You can learn automatic responses through
training. When you know what to expect, you can use your higher mind to
learn appropriate responses, which become automatic responses with
practice. When we don’t know what to do in an unexpected situation
which is not dangerous, we look to others for clues how to respond.
Hypnosis stage shows use this – as you are disorientated for a second,
the stage hypnotist gives you bizarre suggestions, and since the other
volunteers are going along with it, and you have not prepared another
response in advance, well why not pretend to be Madonna? You always,
always have the choice of free will. If a hypnotist approached you in
the street, tapped your forehead and shouted SLEEP!, you probably would
freeze for a microsecond of surprise before telling the hypnotist where
the clinical setting, hypnosis is a gentle and progressive relaxing
experience. Quick hypnotic inductions are better for people who are
experiencing pain, as it is difficult to relax and experience
discomfort at the same time.
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State Dependent Memory and
Our minds are
very complex. We are constantly being bombarded by information by our
five senses and also information about our spatial awareness (our sense
of balance and where we are in relation to everything else around us).
Our subconscious mind absorbs all this information, and filters out
everything except what it decides is important. This important
information is fed to our conscious mind, and that is what we are aware
of at that moment. Of course, we are also aware of our own thoughts
that are in conscious awareness.
At any moment
in time, our body is in a certain state. The next time our body gets
into that state, we tend to remember things from the last time we were
in that state. Quite a few people in this country go for a few drinks
sometimes. They tend to have conversations at these times. The contents
of these conversations are usually forgotten the next day. However, the
next time a few drinks are consumed, the conversation will come back to
Events that happen during physical states of high emotion tend to stay
remembered. Many people forget what they had in their lunch time
sandwich yesterday, yet their first kiss stays in memory. Emotional
news events tend to stay in the mind, e.g. many Irish people remember
where they were when Amhr�n na bhFiann was played in Croke park for the
rugby international against England in Feb 2007.
At times of
high stress and anxiety, memories get fixed into the mind. Sometimes
these memories are so traumatic that our subconscious tries to keep
them from conscious awareness. There are things that are too horrible
to think about because of the fear and/or guilt and other unpleasant
emotions and feelings associated with them. These memories burst
through in dreams, nightmares, symptoms (whether mental or physical),
inappropriate physical and emotional responses etc.
Post Traumatic Stress saves lives in the terrible circumstances that
started it. Soldiers who drop in terror at the sound of a cocking gun
will probably live longer that the soldier who says “what was that?”.
When the soldiers return home, this behaviour becomes PTSD. Now it’s a
disorder that decreases the quality of life.
The hand that is burned learns about fire better than the hand that is
warned. It is good to keep your hand away from hot surfaces. It is an
overreaction to run away screaming from any hot surface. It’s true, you
won’t get burnt, but it decreases the quality of life. Over
compensation, over reaction are common reactions, even at a lower body
functional level. For example, if adrenaline kicks in during when
running away from a tiger, your body takes away energy and oxygen and
food from your immune system, and sends energy and oxygen to your
muscles. After all, preventing that cold is not much use to you if you
are a tiger’s dinner, is it? When you are safe again, and the
adrenaline rush is over, your immune system overcompensates. It goes
slightly too high before everything settles down again.
Hypnosis combined with psychotherapy can rewrite the associations with
past memories. PTSD is an extreme example, but everybody has had
traumatic things happen to them, which possibly still affect behaviour
today. You need to know something is there before you can change it.
In a nutshell, the theory behind hypno-analysis is that working
together Client and Therapist discover hidden memories and limiting
beliefs and subconscious sabotage (which usually has a positive reason
– your subconscious may be going about things the wrong way). When a
person is in a similar state to the original sensitizing event,
catharsis, adult understanding and relearning and various psychotherapy
techniques combined with any self forgiveness necessary have powerful
and dramatic effect. For memories that are too traumatic to come to
conscious awareness, there are techniques available to get improvement
at a purely subconscious level. The previously traumatic memory becomes
associated with milder and more comfortable feelings and emotions.
Compounding of a memory means that it had an original sensitizing
event, which could have been as simple as a throwaway comment by
someone with influence. The feelings and emotions associated with the
sensitizing event get compounded by other similar events, and build up
dramatically with each following event. For example, the family pet is
put to sleep by the vet. This is the sensitizing event. The child has
to go for surgery, and the family doctor says “You’ll go to the
hospital, and they’ll put you to sleep for a little while”. The
subconscious associates this comment with death, and the child becomes
terrified. Surgery day arrives, and the entire trauma associated with
it. Now that fear and terror may arise every time the child has to go
to hospital, to the dentist, to the doctor etc. The fear and terror
does not get less with each visit, it gets compounded and strengthened.
Using hypnoanalysis, when the memory of the pet being put to sleep is
isolated as the root of all this terror and fear, the misunderstanding
can be explained to the subconscious mind, and a kind of cascade
deflation of the fears and emotions associated with the other
compounding events can take place. The visit to the dentist can now
take place comfortably.
Hypnotherapy is also very useful at finding and resolving internal
conflicts. An internal conflict is like two warring parts of your brain
having different opinions on what to do, e.g. one part of you wants
instant gratification, and another part wants better health. Compromise
can be reached, and when both parts are going for the same goal,
success is assured.
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– Body Communication
everything we experience internally using our five senses and our
spatial awareness. If you imagine a lemon, you may see a picture of a
lemon. You may imagine the sharp tangy smell and taste of that lemon.
You may imagine the sound of a lemon being squeezed or peeled or
plinking into a drink. You may imagine the texture and the temperature
of the flesh of that lemon. Regardless of how you represent your lemon
internally, you also represent it in a location with reference to your
body. It could be near, far away, above or below, behind, in front etc.
Your body cannot tell the difference between something that is
imagined, and something that’s real. You have your mind to tell you
that. Everyone has physiological responses to things they imagine.
These responses can be as powerful as the physical reaction to the real
transmit information between other neurons using very fast
electrochemical transmission. Electrochemical signals are carried
across the axon of the nerve. At the end of the nerve, there are
branches of dendrites like a complex tree. Each nerve cell contains
countless synapses and neurotransmitter receptors which use chemical
neurotransmitters to send messages between nerve cells.
The highest function of our mind-body is our cortical system. This is
the seat of conscious awareness, as well as processing sight, sound,
touch taste and movement. It‘s what sets humans above animals. The next
level down is our limbic system. The limbic system controls
emotion, behavior, long term memory, and the sense of smell. Below this
is the hypothalamus which is responsible for certain metabolic
processes and other activities of the Autonomic Nervous System, e.g.
breathing, heartbeat, and perspiration. It synthesizes and
secretes hypothalamic-releasing hormones, and these in turn stimulate
or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones. The hypothalamus
controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, and circadian
(daily) cycles. The pituitary gland is the conductor of the endocrine
orchestra. The pituitary gland stimulates hormone secreting glands of
the endocrine system which send messenger hormones to different parts
of the body. These messenger molecules are designed to interact with
the appropriate receptors on cells. As these cellular receptors are
activated, messenger molecules inside the cell activate housekeeping
genes. Eventually, this leads to protein synthesis within the cell,
which generates new messenger molecules which flow to the brain. Thus
your thoughts can affect your body at the housekeeping gene level.
(Note: Not at genetic inheritance level, but at the level of
cell maintenance). In other words, your thoughts and emotions can
affect you at the cellular level, and what’s happening at a cellular
level can affect your thoughts & emotions. The mind and body
Your digestive system has a rich system of nerves, and though it is
connected to the brain, your digestive system can function
independently of the brain. And you thought “gut feeling” was just a
figure of speech! The heart works as a sensory organ and a complex
information encoding and processing centre. It contains more than
40,000 neurons, with a complex circuitry that enables it to sense,
regulate and remember. It can process information and make decisions
about cardiac control independently of the central nervous system. Of
course, we need our brain for all these systems to work together! A
person with a healthy mind and body has all the mind and bodily systems
working in perfect harmony. All the body rhythms are synchronized.
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