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Frequently Asked Questions

Hypnosis is often misunderstood due to exaggerated and fictional portrayals by theatre and the media. In an attempt to separate fact from fiction, below are answers to questions frequently asked about the process, experience, and effects of hypnosis. If you have a question that is not addressed in this list, please send your question in email to Transformative Living and every effort will be made to answer it factually. If new questions are repeated frequently, they will be added to this list over time.

1. What is hypnosis?
2. What does hypnosis feel like?
3. Does a hypnotized person give up control?
4. If I can be hypnotized, does it mean I have a weak mind?
5. Can a hypnotherapist make me do something I don't want to do, or say something I don't want to say?
6. Can a hypnotherapist make me stop smoking, lose weight, or make some other change in my life?
7. Can hypnosis be risky or even dangerous?
8. How do I know I can be hypnotized?
9. How long will it take before I notice a change?
10. What is medical hypnosis?
11. Can hypnosis stop pain?
12. How is hypnosis different from guided imagery or meditation?
13. How is hypnosis different from cognitive psychotherapy?
14. I've seen or heard of people doing embarrassing things at a hypnosis stage show. Will that happen to me?
15. Do I need a hypnotherapist or will mass-marketed audio CDs work as well?
16. Why do I need an individual session if you offer FREE group sessions?

1. What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is not sleep, but a natural, normal, relaxed, and focused state of attention that is often referred to as a trance state. The term trance refers to the day-dreamy but highly absorbed state of mind we often experience when meditating, listening to music or a long lecture, driving on a freeway, doing a task that absorbs our attention, undergoing a hypnotic induction, or waiting patiently in a waiting room for an appointment. The only difference between these various types of trance is what facilitates it. Whether facilitated by a hypnotherapist or induced by a repetitive task, a trance is a trance. The trance state is characterized by:

  • Feelings of well-being
  • A steady, passively observant, and focused inner awareness
  • Increased muscle relaxation
  • Increased pain threshold
  • Free access to subconscious abilities and resources
  • Ability to accept new ideas and beliefs about yourself if they are sufficiently emotionalized and not in conflict with your values

Simply put, people in a hypnotic trance are better able to play closer attention to their own inner resources for potential information, guidance, and healing and apply these resources to the issue at hand.

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2. What does hypnosis feel like?

Mentally, it is similar to the feeling you often experience in the morning when you are aware of yourself lying in your bed with eyes closed, not quite asleep, but not quite awake either. The mind is peaceful and calm and the body relaxed. Physically, you can usually feel hypnotic relaxation in your body in some way. Your limbs may feel heavy like lead, or light and tingly. You may feel a gentle warming or cooling sensation in your body, or sometimes even feel numbness or a lack of awareness that you even have a body. Sometimes a good indicator of deep hypnotic relaxation is experiencing slight twitches in your body as your nervous system shifts from the stress response to the relaxation response which is often characterized by abdominal breathing. All of these mental and physical indicators are similar to what we all experience just before falling asleep at night or just before fully waking up in the morning.

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3. Does a hypnotized person give up control?

Absolutely not. Contrary to media depictions and what many fear, people under hypnosis are not under the control of the hypnotherapist. They cannot be made to do something they do not want to do. Instead, hypnosis is used to help individuals gain more control over their behavior, emotions, and even some physical processes that may be causing discomfort for them. When in a hypnotic trance, you are often completely aware of yourself and your surroundings and can go in and out of your trance state anytime you wish. Consider this: the last time you were completely absorbed in a good movie, you did not lose control of your mind or ability to choose. You still got up and answered the phone if it rang (or at least were aware you had a choice to do so), or you got up to use the restroom, or to get a snack. Afterwards, you went right back into your "movie trance". Similarly, people under hypnotic trance choose to relax and focus their attention and they can also choose not to; remember, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Now, you may be thinking, "Yeah, but I saw a guy hypnotized on stage and he did some really weird things!" Stage hypnosis is different than therapeutic hypnosis in that its goal is not healing but entertainment. To that end, the stage hypnotist knows how to pre-select individuals that are naturally exhibitionists, that is, they want to be the center of attention and have a good laugh. They also know how to make the audience believe that the hypnotist is all powerful which is easy to do since the audience is already predisposed to that belief based upon fictional theater and media depictions of hypnosis.

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4. If I can be hypnotized, does it mean I have a weak mind?

No, as a matter of fact, it means just the opposite! Remember, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and it takes a good deal of intelligence to hypnotize yourself including focused attention, powers of abstract reasoning, a creative imagination, and intelligent collaboration with the hypnotherapist. The ability to go deeply into a hypnotic trance is an indicator of a strong and intelligent mind - not a weak one.

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5. Can a hypnotherapist make me do something I don't want to do, or say something I don't want to say?

Absolutely not. While experiencing hypnosis, you can never be made to do anything against your will or contrary to your value system; in that regard, social pressure or consumer marketing is much more dangerous than hypnosis! Also, you would not unknowingly reveal your deepest secrets either. On the contrary, it is even possible to lie while in a hypnotic trance, which is one reason why legal testimony obtained through hypnosis is not admissible as evidence in a court of law. Under hypnotic trance, a person will only act upon suggestions that serve him/her in some way - the subconscious will just ignore everything else. Most people develop these misunderstandings about hypnosis from seeing or hearing about a stage hypnosis show, which is done solely for entertainment.

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6. Can a hypnotherapist make me stop smoking, eat healthier, or make some other change in my life?

This question reveals a person’s level of motivation. It tells me that they are not very motivated to make the change they say they want to make. Hypnosis cannot make you want do something that you really don't want to do. All change to mental and behavioral habits like smoking and diet, require the deep desire to change, the effort to make the lifestyle changes, and the perseverance to see it through. Hypnosis is a tool, like a paint brush. You don't expect the paint brush to paint the room for you by itself. But it is a whole lot easier using a paint brush than just using your hand. Hypnosis is not an easy substitute for making efforts. However, hypnosis can provide you with a mental edge by sustaining and energizing your existing motivation, mobilizing your subconscious resources, and focusing your efforts toward the outcome you desire.

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7. Can hypnosis be risky or even dangerous?

Scientific research has indicated that hypnosis is a relatively safe complementary treatment for a variety of mental, behavioral, and medical issues or distresses. That being said, it is also true that nothing we do in life is 100% safe 100% of the time. For example, research also suggests 9-15% of individuals reported short-term, mild, physical or cognitive side effects both during and after hypnosis. However, as long as you choose a trained and experienced hypnotherapist, and you participate fully in the hypnosis process by taking responsibility for your own self-care, your hypnosis experience will most likely be safe and positive. By taking responsibility for your own self-care, I mean that you:

  • Do not engage in any process or practice that causes you real or perceived physical discomfort or undue emotional distress
  • Inform the hypnotherapist of any concerns or questions you have concerning your ability to engage in the process or practice in which you have chosen to participate

As mentioned before, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis; therefore it requires collaboration between the client and the hypnotherapist. Also remember not to underestimate the power of the subconscious to protect you from any unwanted suggestions, in other words, no one can make you do something you don't want to do.

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8. How do I know I can be hypnotized?

There are only three types of people who cannot be hypnotized:

  1. A person in a psychotic process or with a thought disorder
  2. A person with a low IQ
  3. A person who really does not want to be hypnotized

The truth is: all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Therefore, outcomes and effects of hypnosis are much better if a person:

  1. Wants to be hypnotized or is at least very open to the experience
  2. Participates in the process with their full attention
  3. Is motivated to make the change they are seeking to make
  4. Is motivated to listen to their recorded CD between sessions

Finally, altered states of consciousness or trance states are normal. In fact, we experience a variety of trance states throughout the day such as: daydreaming, being so absorbed in a task that we lose track of time, doing a task automatically like driving and suddenly realizing you are at your destination, watching TV, and sleeping. So, chances are that if you have had such experiences in the past, then you can learn to hypnotize yourself with the help of a facilitator.

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9. How long will it take before I notice a change?

The real answer is: no one knows for sure because it is different for everyone depending on the nature and complexity of the issue, motivation and effort, and possibly even personality traits. Just like people respond differently to medical treatments due to biological diversity, people also have different responses to hypnosis due to psychological diversity. In my experience, there have been times when a single session not only made a difference for a client but actually resolved the problem, and there have been other times when it took months to notice changes due to the complexity of the issue. Nevertheless, I can say that in one session you will very likely become more relaxed which can be an important first step towards improving your health and well-being.

Hypnosis is not magic - it is a tool to help you make the changes you want to make. Depending upon the intensity of your session or the number of times you have listened to your CD, you will begin to notice suggestions for the desired changes spontaneously popping into your mind. For example, if your desire is to eat a more healthy diet, the suggestion to choose a salad over a pizza may pop into your mind spontaneously as you look at a menu. In this way, your subconscious mind will attempt to prompt you out of your old patterns causing you to "wake up" to the habit - this is the first step in making any change. Next, it is up to you to consciously act upon these new cues. If you do not act upon them, that is, if you do not choose the salad, then you will push these cues back down below your level of awareness, and you will not see any noticeable changes. However, each time you do act on the clue the suggestion is: consciously reinforced, it is moved from the unconscious to the conscious, and a new habit is formed.

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10. What is medical hypnosis?

Medical hypnosis is the specific application of hypnotic techniques to assist in the management and/or relief of health related challenges such as:

  • Preparation for surgery
  • Preparation for invasive or unpleasant medical tests or treatments, such as MRI, chemotherapy, radiation, biopsy, spinal tap, etc.
  • Management of pain
  • Management of disease symptoms
  • Management of treatment side effects
  • Compliance with physician instructions, such as diet changes, taking medications, etc.

Research has indicated that hypnosis can be safely combined with any medical treatment to achieve relief from a variety of illnesses. The practitioner of medical hypnosis should have specialized training and certification in medical hypnosis from a licensed school of hypnosis and should have experience working with patients, with medical professionals, and in medical settings. Caution: Pain and other physical symptoms are indicators that the body is injured or not functioning properly. A well-trained and ethical hypnotherapist will not attempt to remove or reduce physical symptoms through hypnosis without first requiring the client to seek medical treatment from a licensed medical professional.

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11. Can hypnosis stop pain?

Pain is a warning that something is wrong with the body, and it needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional prior to engaging with a hypnotherapist. Any competent and ethical hypnotherapist emphasizes the importance of requiring potential clients to be examined by a physician before ever using hypnosis to reduce pain or other physical symptoms. The exception is if the examining physician is physically present and/or is supervising the hypnotic process, or if the patient has already been treated by a physician for the pain. In the latter case, the hypnotherapist may inform the physician that his/her patient is seeking relief of pain or other physical symptoms through hypnosis.

The experience of pain is a complex process that includes physical, perceptual, and emotional components. These different aspects of pain are processed in different parts of the brain and the central nervous system. Hypnosis may not be able to change the physical component of pain, that is, it may not be able to stop the neurons from firing and the signals from reaching the brain. However, research has indicated that it can and does successfully affect how that signal is processed and perceived by the brain. Think of the pain signal as a letter that needs to be delivered and the nerves that carry the signal to the brain as the route the letter takes to its destination. Once delivered to the brain, hypnosis can affect how or even if the letter is opened, read, and interpreted. In this way, hypnosis can help you change, reduce, or even eliminate your perception of pain. In this regard, hypnosis is an effective, safe, and relatively inexpensive form of pain management.

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12. How is hypnosis different from guided imagery or meditation?

Hypnosis, guided imagery and meditation are all techniques that facilitate various trance states or altered states of consciousness. Hypnosis is unique in that it is the only one of the three that uses specific post-hypnotic suggestions to set in motion the changes you are ready to make. To better understand this process, you need to have some idea as to how the conscious and subconscious minds work together. The conscious mind is what you use to plan, solve problems, interact with your environment, and execute tasks throughout the day. Right now, you are using your conscious mind to read and understand this website. Your subconscious mind provides your conscious mind with a vast storehouse of information, skills, abilities, and experiences that are beyond your awareness. For example, do you consciously think about digesting your food, breathing, or pumping your blood? Do you intentionally drive your car or is most of it an automatic skill that is just there when you need it? Do you ever have a response to a smell or a sound or a sight without knowing why? Do you consciously control the content of your dreams or do the images and stories just appear spontaneously? All of these things and more are stored within and controlled by your subconscious mind. In proper balance, your subconscious and conscious minds work together to provide you with all you need to successfully live life. When you desire to make a change but find it difficult to do, it is often because your conscious and subconscious minds are not working together in harmony. The purpose of the post-hypnotic suggestion is to provide your subconscious mind with suggestions that are crafted in the language of the subconscious and support the changes you are ready to make. This language of the subconscious includes body sensations, images, metaphors, allegories, and remembrance of experiences that are emotionally meaningful to you. These suggestions are offered to the subconscious while you are in a trance state. They work below the surface of your awareness until they gradually begin to break through into the conscious mind as "clues" for you to act upon. Once acted upon, the suggestion is reinforced and becomes even more conscious, until a new habit is formed in accordance with the change you wanted to make.

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13. How is hypnosis different from cognitive psychotherapy?

Cognitive counseling often deals with issues at a conscious level, and many of life's problems require just that. When someone has to problem-solve or make difficult, rational decisions, competent professional help can be essential. For example, hypnotherapy is not a substitute for marriage counseling. It is also not a substitute for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness by a licensed mental health professional. However, when it comes to changing habits or behaviors regulated by the subconscious, competent hypnotherapy can effectively and efficiently facilitate that change.

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14. I've seen or heard of people doing embarrassing things at a hypnosis stage show. Will that happen to me?

No, absolutely not. Stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy are not the same! Remember that stage hypnosis is performed with one goal in mind: entertainment. That goal is achieved by 1) convincing the audience that the hypnosis entertainer has "secret powers" that can "control others", 2) setting the context of the performance correctly, and 3) carefully selecting the volunteers. In order to "hypnotize" a person into performing silly or bizarre behavior on-stage, the context for the show must be set correctly. The hypnosis entertainer takes the stage with much charisma and confidence as he executes his agenda in front of an inquisitive and expectant audience. He relies on the emotionally charged atmosphere to motivate his "subjects" to conform and act out his "commands" much the same way an excited and passionate mob of people at a protest rally can influence a law abiding citizen to say or do things they normally wouldn't (mob mentality). However, in this case, it is all done in good fun, and the increasing laughter and applause serve to spur on the expected silliness. In reality, the Stage Hypnotist is simply giving adults an excuse to act silly, and they do!

The Stage Hypnotist always asks for volunteers. In other words, whoever responds to the invitation wants to be up on stage and they want to be part of the silliness. After the initial hypnotic induction, the Stage Hypnotist will then ask all noncompliant volunteers, meaning those who didn't follow his directions, to exit the stage leaving only those who are primed and ready to be part of the entertainment by doing whatever he says. In other words, the volunteers are already predisposed to partake in the silliness. Further, the people left up on stage are anticipating the fun because they want to be there, while the rest of the audience grapples with their projected fear of embarrassment or losing control (remember, they don't want to be up on stage!). Finally, the Stage Hypnotist doesn't educate the audience on how it all works, thus creating an aura of mystery, surprise, wonderment, and awe similar to a good magician. After all, the Stage Hypnotist wants to book more entertainment shows, not to help people.

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15. Do I need a hypnotherapist or will mass-marketed audio CDs work as well?

That depends on the nature and complexity of your problem. General hypnosis and/or guided imagery CDs will provide a "one size fits all" set of suggestions for a particular issue such as insomnia, stress, or surgical preparation. They will also utilize metaphors and images that are not necessarily in the language of your individual subconscious. In other words, the metaphors used on the general CDs may not hold any emotional meaning for you and therefore may not be effective. General CDs may help you to relax, but may not facilitate the specific change you desire to achieve. In my experience, individualized sessions yield the greatest effect in the most efficient manner because they are customized for the language of your subconscious and targeted specifically to achieve the change you desire. All of the individual sessions offered by Transformative Living are digitally recorded on a CD for your continued use. If there is not a qualified hypnotherapist in your area, you may want to consider individualized phone sessions with Transformative Living. For more information about phone and in-person sessions contact Transformative Living.

If you think your problem may be solved by a general CD, then give it a try. However, if you think you need a private session, then choose your hypnotherapist carefully. Be sure you feel safe enough with them to uncover potential underlying causes of the problem and be sure you feel they really listen to you and understand your needs. You should also feel comfortable with your hypnotherapist's techniques, education, experience, sound of their voice, and level of professionalism.

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16. Why do I need an individual session if you offer group sessions?

Hypnosis is most efficient and effective when targeted to your specific needs and framed in the language of your subconscious. We are all physically different and because of that difference, we don’t all respond the same way to the same physical treatment. Well, we are also different psychologically and so we will not all respond the same way to a group hypnosis session. The group sessions offered by Transformative Living are relaxing and helpful for overall stress relief. They are also a low-key way to experience the hypnotic trance, meet Dr. McDonald, and to generally satisfy your curiosity about hypnosis. However, they are not designed to address your specific challenges or catalyze the specific changes you desire to make. Group sessions use general imagery and general suggestions for relaxation that may not be delivered in the language of your subconscious, that is, the imagery, metaphors, and experiences described in the group session may not be meaningful enough to engage your subconscious. Also, there is little time for individual dialogue during the group sessions and CDs are not included as part of the experience.

On the other hand, individual sessions are customized to speak in the language of your subconscious by:

  • Focusing on the specific changes you desire to make
  • Utilizing metaphors, images, and experiences that are meaningful to your subconscious
  • Fine-tuning the induction through individual dialogue
  • Creating a customized CD recording of your induction for your personal use
  • Teaching you how to master self-hypnosis so you can apply it to any situation

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408.307.3183
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