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Science of Hypnosis

Science Behind Hypnosis
Hypnosis and Communication
State Dependent Memory & Learning
Mind Body Communication

Science behind hypnosis

There 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

Words, tonality 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 to go.

In 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 Learning

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 awareness!


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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Mind – Body Communication

We represent 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 thing.

Neurons 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 are one.


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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Salthill, Galway

085 - 1318344 dmadden@experiencetheworlddifferent.com