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What is the difference between hypnotherapy and psychotherapy? I’m asked this a lot by potential clients or in interviews with the media. I wonder what on earth makes anyone think they’re the same! For me it’s clear and obvious but because the question comes up so often, this is the time and place to clarify it.

Firstly, hypnotherapy deals with physical as well as emotional complaints. That’s the part that seems to surprise the most people. Since 2007, hypnotherapists have participated in the national Pain Week conference, where pain relief specialists from researchers to physicians come together to explore techniques and share methodologies. With the recent scandals surrounding pain drugs, these practitioners are referring back to earlier in the history of medicine when pain was mitigated with the management of perception. That is, hypnotherapy uses the power of the subconscious mind to make conscious decisions about how certain stimuli are experienced as pain. In short, as Dan Cleary says, there is no such thing as pain; it’s how we respond to certain kinds of stresses on the body. He has successfully managed his own pain through hypnosis for decades and teaches others to do the same. I have taught clients to mitigate their own symptoms with his, and other, techniques.

Dentists and others use the ability of the mind to manipulate pain signals for anesthetic purposes. A video demonstrated how the pain and discomfort of tattooing can be ignored right in the tattoo parlor by walk-in customers who never had hypnotherapy of any kind before. On the lighter side, Wendi Freisen uses this ability of the mind to manifest physical reality to increase breast size and enhance sexual function.

So, while hypnosis IS head work, the physical stuff we do is as plentiful and permanent as the emotional change we help clients develop.

The second point is that hypnotherapy is task-oriented and creates real change in a short period of time. Psychologists may see clients for years with or without much fundamental positive change occurring. Many clients have, in fact, come to me after spending months or years in therapy because they feel that they just keep going over the same ground without a change in how their emotional state or its manifestation in their lives has changed. That is how I came to hypnotherapy myself: I wanted what I called the advanced course. I knew where my emotional problems came from and how they manifested but my life was uneffected; in fact, in many ways I became more vulnerable to my internal states. With hypnosis, I address a problem and a measurable change occurs.

I have always maintained that if you are seeing a hypnotherapist more than a dozen times for the same complaint, you need to find a new practitioner. With psychotherapy, at 12 visits you’re just beginning. In general, 6-8 visits will overcome most problems brought to me when the client is fully on board and has made a commitment to take responsibility for the change they desire. I think it is important to this result that hypnotherapists plan our sessions; we seldom just ‘wing-it’ and chat the hour away.

The third difference between psychotherapy and hypnotherapy is more fundamental. They deal with the conscious mind and we deal with the subconscious, where habits, mind-body connections, memories, all those internal things are created and develop into day-to-day reality, and thus problems, for our clients. Einstein said something like “you can’t fix a problem with the same consciousness or mindset that created it” but that is where psychotherapy lives: in the same level of consciousness where the problem lives. My own way of looking like it goes like this: mowing the lawn will definitely eliminate dandelions -for a while- but to really affect change, to get rid of the dandelions, you have to take out the root. Hypnotherapy does, by going underground to the subconscious mind and giving the client the true opportunity AND CHOICE to identify the root and pull it out.


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