Like many people, my first impressions of hypnosis were on TV, on stage, and in the movies, where it was used almost exclusively for entertainment. It wasn’t until I studied therapeutic hypnosis in graduate school that I saw how truly ubiquitous hypnosis is; much of it is negative.
Hypnosis operates on the power of suggestion. In one sense, everything is a suggestion: you wear matching clothes, you shower regularly, you respect laws and boundaries, etc. These are all suggestions, and most of these are positive and prosocial. However, negative suggestions are just as pervasive. Addicts get negative messages reinforced not only by others, but by their own negative self-talk, which is the ultimate hypnotic voice. My work comes in to attune that negative inner voice to a positive, encouraging, life-affirming one. Imagine being able to let go the programming of: “You are a hopeless drug addict” and listen to your own truth of, “I have everything I need to remain in recovery.”
You could say that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, because one will never take a suggestion that he or she does not really want to take. In other words, no hypnotist can control a client; a hypnotherapist facilitates the process, yet the client’s own mind is allowing the positive change. Much like a teacher: the students really do all the work. Or not. It is always one’s choice.
The beauty of hypnosis is that it is a briefer therapy than many other modalities, and empowers the client. In the initial session, I fully explain how the mind works and how hypnosis works scientifically to affect positive change. This allays any lingering fears, dispels any myths about the dangers of hypnosis, and allows the client to know that they are “in charge.” Understanding that all behavior comes from the subconscious, which is fully 88%-90% of our mental capacity, allows clients to grasp the fact that beliefs can override genetics. Indeed, DNA can be re-coded by “unplugging” from negative beliefs and plugging into more positive ones. Obviously, these must be realistic beliefs. Yet, beliefs are not scientific facts. For example, one certainly may be biologically predisposed to be an alcoholic, yet shifting beliefs from “I can’t help it. I’m Irish … we are all alcoholic. If I see alcohol, I have to drink it,” and then to “I’m choosing to override my genetic coding and resist alcohol.” Of course, this is easier said than done, yet with time and reinforcement, recovery is possible.
In the clinic, I train clients how to be their own self-hypnotist to continue their success. They are able to begin to shift their self-talk, which is how we create and hold beliefs that drive behavior to supportive and healthy messages. Every client is unique, but many times I move the client through a mental body scan to apologize to the organs that have suffered, recommit to allowing them to heal, and express gratitude for the chance to recover. Further sessions afford the opportunity to integrate the Higher Self, the Inner Child, and repair trauma(s) that drove the addict’s need to escape. Understanding the “why” behind the using allows the “how” to be self-evident.
Dr. Nancy Irwin is a primary therapist and hypnotist at Seasons Malibu, a luxury rehab center in Malibu, California. She runs a private practice in Los Angeles and is a bestselling author of You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife. Dr. Irwin has appeared on numerous national TV programs, including Anderson Cooper, The Doctors, CNN, CNBC, MSN, Bravo. Visit her website at www.drnancyirwin.com.