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When you hear the word "hypnosis" you most probably picture the hypnotist figure portrayed in movies and television or perhaps even the stage show hypnotist you may have seen.

This image bears little resemblance to the hypnotherapist and, in fact, current understanding of hypnosis contradicts the popular concept of being under control of the hypnotist. People while in a hypnotic state have absolute free will and are actually hyperattentive and more aware. All senses are heightened.

People have been trying to explain how hypnosis works for over 200 years and while it is unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation in the near future, psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis and have some idea of how it works.

Hypnosis is a trancelike state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination and senses. It is not really like sleep because the subject is alert and aware the entire time. You are actually fully conscious but you tune out most of the stimuli around you and are able to focus intently on the issue at hand.

It is this ability to focus so intently while under hypnosis that allows the hypnotherapist to help the subject work on goals or problems and achieve results much quicker than through traditional methods.

Milton Erickson, one of the premier hypnotism experts of the 20th century, contends that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. This theory can be easily demonstrated. Have you ever been driving your car down a long stretch of highway or over a route that you take repeatedly and after arriving at your destination realized that you have no clear memory of how you got there? You were in a light form of hypnosis. We all go into hypnosis just before falling asleep and immediately after waking. It is the state that allows the mind to move from sleep to fully awake or vice versa.

In the everyday trance of a daydream or a movie, the created world often seems real in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness. This is another form of self-hypnosis.

While in this relaxed state you are highly suggestible.

Hypnosis is a way to access a person's subconscious mind directly. Normally you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind, however the conscious and subconscious portions of the mind work hand-in-hand. The subconscious part of your mind does the "behind the scenes" thinking. The subconscious can access the vast reservoir of information that let's you solve problems, construct sentences or even locate your lost keys. The subconscious is also in control of the autonomic portion of your mind such as breathing, pumping blood through your veins, etc.

Psychiatrists theorize that this state of relaxation (hypnosis) works to calm and subdue the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process. In this state you are still aware of everything that's going on, but your conscious mind takes a back seat to your subconscious and allows you and your hypnotherapist to work directly with the subconscious.

The subconscious regulates your bodily sensations such as taste, touch and sight, as well as your emotional feelings. Additionally, the subconscious is the storehouse for all your memories.

The hypnotherapist uses his or her access to the subconscious mind to affect short and long term changes in the subject. The most widespread example of changes such as these are demonstrated in hypnotic behavioral modification of habit control treatment. This is used to help subjects stop smoking, lose weight, and in connection with a 12 step program overcome other addiction concerns. A hypnotherapist can be effective in addressing phobias, negative behavior patterns, ease pain, improve self-image and self-confidence, and the list goes on and on.

In choosing a hypnotherapist, it is important to be aware of accepted membership requirements for the Hypnotherapists Union AFL CIO.

Hypnotist: has completed a basic course in hypnotism from a school approved by a State Department of Education or other regulatory agency and holds a business license.

Master Hypnotist: has completed a minimum of one hundred (100) hours of instruction in hypnosis from a school approved by a State Department of Education or other regulatory agency, holds a city business license, and passes an exam approved by the Membership and Qualifying Board of the Union.

Hypnotherapist: has completed a minimum of three hundred (300) hours of instruction in hypnosis from a school approved by a State Department of Education or other regulatory agency and will have a minimum of two hundred (200) hours of practical experience under the direct supervision of a Hypnotherapist who is certified by the Hypnotherapists Union Local 472 or a state-licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, medical doctor, clinical social worker, or marriage, family, and child counselor OR holds a state license as a psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage, family, and child counselor (and has fulfilled his/her state hypnotherapy certification requirement), and in addition, has completed a minimum of fifty (50) hours of instruction in hypnosis from a school approved by a State Department of Education or other regulatory agency.

Don't be afraid to ask whether the therapist you are considering is a member of the Hypnotherapist Union, certified and if they are a hypnotist, master hypnotist or hypnotherapist.

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