Hypnosis has enjoyed something of a chequered past. I use the word enjoyed as it has gone from sorcery and magic, stage shows and quackery, to psychiatry and medicine. It’s been around the block a few times.
Hypnotherapy, the use of hypnosis with a therapeutic endpoint, is a form of therapy used to readjust and to reprogram the subconscious mind. A hypnotic trance is an entirely natural state that we all drift in and out of many times a day. For instance, when you have been absorbed in a good book or movie, lost in thought, engrossed in music, driving to your destination (and not really remembering quite how you got there), and meditation. In hypnosis, your body relaxes and your busy conscious thoughts quiet down, allowing your subconscious mind to enter into a heightened state of learning. It is in this state that you become more open to positive suggestions for self-improvement or behaviour modification. The goal of hypnotherapy is to rebalance mind and body so that they work together harmoniously which, in turn, helps give you greater control over your emotional and physical wellbeing.
Hypnosis is nothing new. Ancient cultures, including the Sumerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman used hypnosis in one form or another, and 4,000 years ago in Egypt, Greece and the Middle East, people would visit sleep or dream temples, where the sick and ailing would go to be ‘cured’ by hypnosis.
The scientific history of hypnosis took shape back in the 18th century when the German physician Franz Mesmer devised a theory that he called ‘animal magnetism’, later known as mesmerism. He believed that in order to have optimum mental and physical health, one needed to be magnetically aligned. Mesmer gave his patients a medicinal cocktail containing high doses of iron. He would then pass magnets over their bodies with a view to attain alignment. During his ‘treatment’, Mesmer noticed that his patients entered a trance-like state and emerged feeling a great deal better. What he hadn’t realised, however, was that he was demonstrating more the power of suggestion rather than of magnetism. Mesmer was criticised and ridiculed by his peers and yet the inconvenient truth remained, mesmerism worked, which in turn created an interest in the prospect of its use in surgery.
Scottish surgeon James Esdaile, while practising medicine in India from 1845 to 1851, performed over 300 major, and 1,000 minor, operations using hypnosis as the only anaesthesia. The operations he performed included arm, breast and penis amputations, dental surgery and tumour removal. Esdaile reported that by using hypnosis he was able to cure 18 nervous and medical complaints, including headaches, tics, convulsions, sciatica and inflammation.
Despite the success of hypnotic anaesthesia, by the mid-19th century mainstream medicine discovered the heady effects of nitrous oxide (more commonly known as laughing gas), and began to use it routinely in surgical operations. Enter the modern pharmaceutical industry aka ‘Big Pharma’.
Fast forward to the 21st century where hypnosis is once again, gaining some well-deserved ground. More and more evidence is proving hypnosis has a valid place in medical therapy: helping doctors perform surgery with fewer side effects, minimising pain, reports of less blood loss, less anaesthesia needed, improved recovery times, keeping costs down and now, potentially, aiding the global opioid crisis. Hypnotherapy is recognised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the NHS now train midwives in what has become known as ‘hypno-birthing’.
There has been some outstanding research, clinical studies and physical evidence regarding hypnosis and its use in the operating theatre in place of anaesthetic in recent years:
- A surgical team from the University Hospital of Jena performed deep brain surgery using hypnosis instead of anaesthetic to cure an elderly patient’s tremor
- The Journal of Neurosurgery reported using a combination of hypnosis, pain relievers, and local anaesthetic—referred to as ‘hypnosedation’—in place of traditional general anaesthetic on 37 patients who underwent surgery to remove brain tumours
- At Lille University Hospital, an 88-year-old patient underwent heart surgery under hypnosis, a medical first
- At the 2018 Euroanaesthesia conference in Copenhagen, a team of researchers presented an evaluation of 150 surgeries performed on cancer patients which relied on hypnosis. In 99% of cases, they found the method worked absolutely fine
- Doctors at the Institut Curie in Paris regularly use hypnosis to help patients control the pain of surgery
The benefits of hypnotherapy do not stop at the physical and physiological. It has proven invaluable in the treatment of many psychological conditions such as smoking cessation, weight control, addictions, fears and phobias, insomnia, anxiety, PTSD, sexual dysfunction, obsessive thinking, OCD, depression, and stress-related problems.
So given the overwhelming benefits of hypnotherapy you might be wondering why the NHS doesn’t offer it as a standard complimentary service. Those in my industry, myself included, have wondered why for years.
Clinical hypnotherapy—practiced by qualified, registered and approved practitioners—could save the NHS millions of pounds and hundreds of valuable hours every year, leading to a smoother, more streamlined service, creating more availability for appointments in hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries, as well as making sure that the general public are aware of alternative and more natural approaches to healthcare.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps now more than ever is an ideal time to raise the curtain on clinical hypnotherapy, so that it can enter the stage as an integral part of our healthcare system.
Health, Wealth & Hypnosis by Gail Marra is released on July 31st, 2020, published by That Guy’s House. It is available for pre-order now on Amazon , priced £9.99 in paperback, £12.99 in hardcover and £7.99 as an eBook. For more information, visit www.gailmarrahypnotherapy.com
Q and A with Gail Marra
We speak to Harley Street clinical hypnotherapist Gail Marra about how she found her calling, how hypnosis works and what to expect during a hypnotherapy session, among other things…
Q. You used to work in the City before making the move into clinical hypnotherapy. What prompted the career change?
A. I was a divorced, single mother, trying to balance a demanding career with the demands of family life and all that went with it. Banking and finance was, and still is, a highly competitive industry and certainly back in the ‘80s you were only as good as your most recent success. Burnout was not an option, yet there I was, about to burnout; the pressure was overwhelming. Other than prescription medication, performance drugs or alcohol, there was little else out there to help me get through, and so I had no choice but to look for an alternative way to move forward. I bought and read every positive thinking book I could get my hands on, listened to all the recordings, practised meditation, yoga and Tai Chi, and finally stumbled upon a course in corporate stress management. This was the turning point for me. I went on to teach stress management in the workplace, I studied and developed a passion for psychology, which led me quite naturally, on to clinical hypnotherapy.
Q. What are the most common reasons that someone consults a hypnotherapist?
A. There is no common reason why someone would seek the help of a hypnotherapist. Everyone is a unique individual with their own unique set of circumstances, issues, demons, trials and tribulations and, more often than not, when clients come to consult with me their original problem turns out to be something much more complex. It’s like peeling back the skin of an onion: we humans have so many layers.
Q. Nobody knows for sure how hypnosis works. What is your own theory?
A. Science and theology will probably be at odds forevermore, as to how and why hypnosis works. What we do know from a scientific standpoint is that it does work, and we can even measure the effects of hypnosis on the brain with MRI technology. My own belief, based on my personal and professional experience, is that the subconscious mind is a supercomputer, beyond our comprehension but which is entirely programmable. It’s been programed from birth by our parents, caregivers, teachers, peers, siblings, the TV, the internet and goodness only knows what else, yet our subconscious mind also came fully loaded. It’s been millions of years in the making; it’s responsible for 95% of everything we are, think and do. Our subconscious mind operates on auto-pilot. The programs that have been added, and those that we were born with, follow a speciﬁc route which we can’t deviate from unless we change or update the programing. Hypnosis operates on theta waves. Theta is the brainwave frequency between wake and sleep and it is at this frequency that you can reprogram your subconscious mind without the interference of the conscious mind, judging, applying doubt, reason and logic. You can eliminate self-limiting beliefs and mental blockages that could be sabotaging your life and change the pattern. It’s a system reboot.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your work?
A. When I see the phenomenal changes people are able to make in their lives. Clients often come to see me when they are at their wits’ end, believing hypnotherapy is their last hope. When they discover that the answers, the ability to change, to reboot, was in their control all along – that is the most rewarding part of my work.
Q. What is your assessment of stage hypnotism. Can people really be fooled into believing they’re chickens, for instance?
A. I write on this subject in my book, Health, Wealth & Hypnosis – The way to a beautiful life and so here is an extract:
“Stage hypnosis is entertainment. Unlike hypnotherapy, which is designed to achieve a positive therapeutic outcome. As with any other stage show, the audience will consist of people of all ages and from all walks of life. Members of the audience will be selected to join the hypnotist on stage and every participant will have their own reasons for wanting to take part. The selection process for participants will include a series of suggestibility tests, these people may just be curious about hypnosis and want to experience it first-hand, some might be shy, reserved characters who have been presented with an opportunity to behave outrageously without taking responsibility for their actions. There could be highly compliant people who go on stage, those who are game for a laugh and then of course there may just be the occasional plant. Suggestions are made by the hypnotist to the participants and the audience delight in their subsequent humiliation. It is a bit of fun. We all enjoy watching people do funny things. That said, hypnosis is a genuine psychological phenomenon and most of us can be hypnotised, but only if we give permission.”
Q. What is the strangest issue that you have been able to solve through hypnotherapy?
A. After many years of practice, I can assure you, there are no issues strange to me. We are all one of a kind and I embrace the uniqueness and diversity in everyone, including myself!
Q. How easy is it for people to hypnotise themselves? Are there any risks in doing so?
A. It’s actually very easy to self-hypnotise, as long as you are focused on what it is you want to change, and then persevere until the changes have materialised. Some people think all they need to do is try hypnosis once and, hey presto, everything is exactly as they wanted. But hypnosis is a practice, and much like mediation, once you get to grips with it, you will use it often, and it can transform your life.
There are no known risks or side effects from self-hypnosis or hypnosis in general.
Q. Can you explain how a hypnotherapy session works in practise? How many sessions do people usually require before they are ‘cured’?
A. At the initial consultation we spend the first half an hour or so discussing the presenting issue and the desired outcome. I take time to explain hypnotherapy, what to expect during and after their session, and answer any questions. You are then gently guided into a deep relaxation, using breath work and creative visualisation. It is important to understand that in hypnosis you will not be asleep but in a state of heightened awareness, in complete control and fully conscious at all times. When the body is relaxed the conscious mind can relax and the subconscious mind is then open to positive suggestions for change. Clinical hypnotherapy is a ‘brief therapy’, unlike traditional psychiatry or counselling where you could be in therapy for many months or even years, so depending on the presenting issue, three to six sessions is an average time scale for any one issue to be resolved.
Q. What motivated you to write your new book, and what would you say readers will gain from reading it?
A. My hope is that by bringing scientific theory and practical instruction together in an entertaining way, readers will be encouraged to become curious about the workings of their subconscious mind and learn how to take full advantage of it. Between the pages, you will discover how simple it is to reprogram your subconscious mind, connect with your inner-intelligence and release your true potential.
My motivation in writing this book was, and is, to spread a message and create awareness. The message being that the power of your incredible subconscious mind is there for you, waiting patiently in the wings, ready to be of service and all you need to do is wake up to the fact that you have all the answers already, you always have and you always will; all you need do is re-learn how to do it and then use it.
Q.What’s next for you as an author?
A. I’m writing my next book as we speak. It’s a guide for teenagers and young adults to help them circumnavigate life and the world around them with confidence, explaining and demonstrating how easy it is for them to harness the power of their subconscious mind and go on to become the best version of themselves. Young minds are incredibly impressionable and, for the majority, their view of the world and their place in it has yet to be tainted and so, anything still seems possible. I’m super excited about this next project.
By Gail Marra