Basics

Hypnotherapy vs. Psychotherapy

If we have a behavior that causes us grief – whether biting our nails or watching too much TV – we may arrive at the conclusion that we can’t make change by ourselves. In that case, we have many options for finding help.

Most of those choices boil down to finding a friend. Life coaches, religions, meetups and intramural sports: these are all methods for meeting new people that we hope will give us encouragement and direction for change.

But what if that still doesn’t work? What if there’s something wrong with our minds?

Now we know that same fear as it relates to our bodies. When I started having pain in my back, I worried that I had an injury – perhaps a slipped disc – that would require surgery. To my relief, I discovered that the pain went away through yoga. I stretched my back and strengthened the muscles of my abdomen. Problem solved!

As regards the mind, the same basic options are open to us. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have a special license to treat wounded minds – minds that are abnormal because they are missing parts or are overly sensitive to certain kinds of stimulus. They are the surgeons of mental health. Hypnotherapists – as encoded in California’s Business and Professional Practices Code Section 2908 – are allowed to support clients seeking “vocational and avocational self-improvement.” We are the yoga instructors of mental health. We help you change yourselves.

This is a critical insight. If I hadn’t taken my yoga practice seriously, I might eventually have needed surgery to correct misalignment in my spine. So also with behavior change: if we don’t deal with our TV addiction, we might get divorced and lose our job and then, sure enough, we have sufficient cause to be depressed and go on medication.

But the question still remains: why hypnotherapy as opposed to paying someone to be our friend? Irving Yalom in “The Gift of Therapy” describes psychotherapy as relationship modeling that builds relationship skills. If psychotherapy is another form of friendship, is hypnotherapy also just another way of finding a friend?

The answer is “no” because hypnosis is not a technique, it is a behavior that enables the client to learn with maximum effectiveness. When in hypnosis, the subconscious receives suggestions and immediately translates them into changes in our deepest behavioral programs. Those changes are made by reconfiguring the connections between our neurons, but also by modifying the flow of blood in the brain. This happens more efficiently in hypnosis because the conscious mind – while monitoring what goes on – is relaxed and comfortable and doesn’t chime in “well, we tried that before and it’s not going to work!”

In effect, when in hypnosis you learn like you did in elementary school, before you started to question authority. Or doubt yourself.

Let’s compare this to psychiatry, which uses drugs to modify the way the brain works. Our basic emotions are controlled by two chemical systems: the dopamine system that creates euphoria and the norepinephrine system that creates fear. The two are kept in balance by the reasoning part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. Several psychiatric disorders involve imbalances between euphoria and fear.

Where a hypnotherapist would use techniques and suggestions to strengthen reason and reallocate energy between euphoria and fear, the psychiatrist prescribes drugs that amplify the weaker signal. In physical terms, it’s like giving someone with a strong right side a brace to straighten their spine. Of course, the other option would be to strengthen the left side.

Just as in maintaining our bodies, it’s important to adjust the operation of our minds to prevent serious breakdowns. Hypnotherapists help you make those minor adjustments before they become major issues. Because hypnosis is only a learning process, if the changes don’t work, you can always over-ride them later on.

It is for this reason that I promote hypnotherapy as “mental hygiene.” Just as with dental hygiene, we should not be ashamed to come in to get our behaviors cleaned up every once in a while. In fact, it’s the best way to avoid more serious problems later on.

The root of many psychological and physical problems is unreleased anxiety. Even if you don’t have a specific behavioral challenge, every hypnotist will help you to remember what it feels like to be relaxed. So if you haven’t, contact a hypnotherapist today!

And Bring Your Whole Self to Life!