What is Hypnosis?
by Felice Austin, CHt
Hypnosis is often associated with a deep, pleasant state of calm and relaxation. It is a natural state that many people enter while watching television, driving, meditating, participating in religious ceremonies, falling in love, and every night on the way to sleep and upon wakening. It is a receptive state in which your unconscious mind is open to receiving suggestions—which makes it a powerful therapeutic tool for making positive change, as well as physical and emotional healing. Hypnosis has been used for thousands of years under many different names including: guided meditation, trance, imagery, guided imagery, altered state of consciousness, flow, religious ecstasy, and more.
One of the natural effects of hypnosis is an anesthetic effect, and has been used effectively as anesthesia for more than 100 years, Dr. James Esdaile performed more than 300 major surgeries including leg amputations with nothing by hypno-anesthesia. Hypnosis for comfortable childbirth also has a long and distinguished history. The first documentation is from the 1920’s in Russia. Dr. Platanov was well known for successfully using hypnosis in his obstetric practice. In the early 1900’s, Ferdinand Lamaze learned hypnotic techniques when he visited Russia and brought them back to France where he developed the Lamaze Method, that is still used today. He called it “childbirth without pain through the psychological method.”
Today, hypnosis for labor and childbirth is widely accepted and has been widely studied. In July 2007, the British Journal of Anesthesia published the most comprehensive study to date. Their conclusion was: “hypnosis reduces anesthesia and analgesia requirements in labor.” They also reported that subjects who used hypnosis had an overall more positive feeling about their birth experience.
The reason that hypnosis is surrounded by misconceptions is mostly thanks to stage hypnotists, who perpetuate the idea that they can control another person’s mind or actions using hypnosis. The reality is that stage hypnotists are like magicians. It’s a trick. They know how to choose the 5% of the audience that is most suggestible and who also want the attention. However, a person never loses control and will not do anything that they don’t want to do or that is against their morals. This story from Sheridan Ripley is a perfect example:
“I actually have been on stage quite a few times in hypnosis shows. I am very suggestible. Once during a show the hypnotist said, ‘there is a rated X show on the ceiling – you are all watching it.’ Everyone else was looking up, but I looked down and covered my eyes. Because I would never watch a rated X show….So they are not in control…. I don’t mind being silly on stage, but I stick to my standards.”
Certified hypnotherapists as well as childbirth educators have ethical standards by which they must abide. There are also laws governing the used of hypnotic techniques by unlicensed professionals. For most daily life issues (smoking, fear of spiders, confidence, motivation, habit control) hypnotic techniques are perfectly legal by an unlicensed professional (although I recommend making sure they are certified by a respectable organization), but if there is a mental or emotional disorder or a medical ideology, your hypnotherapist or other professional needs to work under a medical or psychological referral. This agrees with the Church handbook on hypnosis:
“The use of hypnosis under competent, professional medical supervision for the treatment of diseases or mental disorders is a medical question to be determined by competent medical authorities. Members should not participate in hypnosis for purposes of demonstration or entertainment.” (Church Handbook 2: Administering the Church. 21.3.5)
Since pregnancy is not a disease and most doctors and midwives know that it is not contra-indicated to pregnancy (or anything else except some anti-seizure medications), there is no need for doctor supervision. However, it is a good idea to let your doctor or midwife know if you are planning on using hypnosis for comfortable labor and childbirth.
To read more about what to consider when looking for a hypnotherapist or a Hypnosis for Childbirth Program, click here.