Quite often in psychology they compare the mind to an iceberg in the ocean. It was Freud who originally came up with the analogy. But why, and what purpose does it serve?
Well, very simply put, there is about ten percent of an iceberg above the waterline. You can see it. But, there’s about 90 per cent of that iceberg hidden below the waterline, and you can’t see it. It’s what can make them quite tricky buggers (or bergs) to navigate.
And there are two parts to your mind (again, very simply put): the conscious and the unconscious, but it’s not a fifty-fifty split.
Which is where that analogy comes in.
Your conscious mind is like the ten percent part of the iceberg visible above the waterline. It’s responsible for all your short-term memory ‘stuff.’ It’s responsible for your everyday thoughts. It’s the part of you that remembers that appointment you have at 1.30pm (if you remember that appointment, that is) and that phone number you only need to use once. It’s also the part of you that remembers to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home from work because your other half asked you to (and, because it’s cheeky and not entirely reliable, it sometimes only reminds you of that just as you cross the threshold to your home). And it’s also the logical, rational and analytical part of your mind.
But, what about the hidden bit?
What is actually going on with the 90 percent of the iceberg below the waterline? What is your unconscious mind responsible for?
Well, the short answer is, “everything else.”
Right now, as you read this article, you are blinking and breathing and regulating your body temperature, together with a thousand other process that you don’t consciously think about: your unconscious mind simply takes care of the for you. But, it’s also the database of everything you are. Everything you’ve ever learned and experienced, all of your skills and habits and all that you have seen and done.
To put it into a context, a 2017 study by tech giant Huawei found that whilst the brain actually makes around 35000 decisions every single day, we’re only ever conscious about a hundred of them. Most of our daily decisions then are made by the unconscious. We are not consciously aware of them. That means there’s a hell of a lot going on with that hidden beneath the surface part of you.
Now, a very nice thing happens in hypnotherapy and it happens to your mind. Hypnosis itself is a trance-like state, very similar to nodding off, daydreaming or losing yourself in a really good book. In this nice-and-dreamy, trance-like state, your conscious mind becomes more passive. It kind of takes a back seat for a while. When that happens, the unconscious part of your mind (that big old database of everything you are) becomes more alert and receptive to positive suggestions.
Especially when those suggestions are tied to goals you already know you want to achieve.
So, in a hypnotherapy session, the hypnotherapist can communicate directly with your unconscious mind and suggest new thoughts, feelings, behaviours and ideas. And these suggestions take hold because you are motivated for change; they take hold because those suggestions are totally in line with what you want to happen and how you want to be.
Pretty cool, huh?
I’ve been in practise as a hypnotherapist since 2004. Over those years, I’ve lost count of the amount of articles I’ve read on the subject, written by journalists who all seem compelled, somehow, to kick start said article by saying, “You’d be forgiven for thinking that hypnosis is all about swinging pocket watches and pendulums but, it’s isn’t.” And, by doing so, perpetuating the idea that, somehow, hypnotherapy is, or was at some point, all about swinging pocket watches and pendulums. Again, and again, I’ve read the same stereotype being perpetuated, for over thirteen years. Enough, already!
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking, “Hang on a minute, but isn’t he starting his article off that way too? The hypocrite!” Well, yes. Yes, I am. But and the point really needs to be made, finally and for the last time, so that it need not ever be mentioned again: Hypnotherapy is not about being hypnotised by a hypnotherapist with either a swinging pocket watch or a pendulum. Except.
Except, it can be.
I have a pocket watch. A friend bought one for me as a present when I graduated from hypnotherapy college. And I have hypnotised someone with it, once, but only because they asked me to. I’ve also hypnotised someone with a sonic screwdriver. Not a real one mind, but one of those £10.00 plastic replicas. But, that’s only because A: I had one in my possession at the time and B: the person concerned was a Doctor Who fan and was absolutely over the moon when I waggled it in front of him.
The point of swinging pocket watches, or pendulums, or Doctor Who sonic screwdrivers, or anything waved rhythmically, side to side, in front of someone’s eyes, for that matter, is to tire those eyes; to make someone want to close their eyes, preferably with some relief. “Thank god they’ve stopped waving that bloody thing in front of me,” they mentally sigh.
This is known as inducing trance. It is the first stage of hypnosis. Once someone’s eyes have closed, once a trance has been induced, it can be deepened to the appropriate level. Once it has been deepened to the appropriate level, the therapy part can take place.
You can also induce a trance but having someone stare at the palm of your hand, or the back of their hand, or a spot on the wall, or by holding their arm in the air, or by listening to the sound of your voice, or to a specific sound around them and more. All to the same point: inducing trance, getting someone to close their eyes and begin to comfortably relax.
So, to journalists everywhere, I say this: You’ll be forgiven for thinking that hypnotherapy is all about swinging pocket watches and pendulums because it can be. And, now that you know that, you need not ever kick off an article about hypnotherapy that way again. Much to the relief of actual hypnotherapists everywhere.
Now, do not get me started on that old, “look into my eyes, not around the eyes, in the eyes you’re under” malarkey.
It’s cold, it’s wet, winter is on its way and it’s getting darker for longer. Seasonally Adjusted Disorder aside, there’s a lot to feel down about this month but there is also a lot you can do about it as, mental health and wellbeing-wise, there’s quite a bit going on this October. Not only do we have World Mental Health Day, but we also have that perennial NHS stop smoking initiative, Stoptober. Stopping smoking will do wonders, not only for your physical health but also for your mental health. But, what exactly is the link between smoking and mental health?
Most people who smoke say smoking relaxes them but it can’t. It just can’t. Nicotine is a stimulant you see, not a relaxant. Smoke too much and you become over stimulated and more prone, therefore, to stress and anxiety. Studies have also shown that, over time, smokers are more likely to become depressed than non-smokers.
When you quit the fags, however, you’re more likely to feel more calm and positive. There’s a strong correlation between quitting and improved life satisfaction levels. You’ll feel more in control for a start. Some studies have suggested that the beneficial effects of stopping smoking on anxiety and depression can equal that of medications often prescribed for the two conditions.
By the by hypnotherapy (of which I am both a proponent and a practitioner) is one of the more successful methods for stopping smoking.
World Mental Health Day, meanwhile, is an opportunity for us all, at both a professional (i.e., at work) and personal level (i.e. in our day-to-day lives), to increase awareness of and decrease the stigma attached to mental health issues.
I personally would like to get to the point where going for a mental health check up is seen as just as important and just as routine as going to the doctors or the dentists.
Held every year on 10 October, the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide (and more importantly) suicide prevention.
Every year 80,000 people around the world take their own life and many more attempt it. Here in the UK, it is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years.
Do you have a mental health advocate where you work? If so, ask them what they have planned for the day.
Or perhaps, think about what you can do to help.