• Stressed ?
• Can’t sleep ?
• Need to reduce anxiety and panic ?

The understanding of hypnosis has come a long way since the mid-nineties. It was then that MRI and PET scanning enabled us to finally lay to rest the claim that there is no such things as a hypnotic trance. As is typical with good evidence though it meant we had to re-assess exactly what we mean by the terms trance and hypnosis.

The same science showed that the changes in brain activity that take place in trance happen when we are in REM sleep. Now our understanding of the function of REM sleep has also developed so this has important implications for understanding trance.

It now seems very likely that REM sleep (about 20% of our sleep time) has the function of clearing out stress and anxiety from experiences during the day. It ‘defuses’ them as it were and transfers them for storage in the higher brain.

I should add here how very common trance is. If you have ever got home and not remembered driving, daydreamed or not heard someone speaking to you when you are deep in thought you have been in trance. In fact it appears we jump in and out of REM states quite frequently, something which has been verified by the same technology as that mentioned above. Though of course brain scans have not been carried out on people driving home.

Intriguingly it has also been shown that REM states use up more energy than doing a maths exam for example. Einstein’s school report said ‘appears to spend most of his time daydreaming’. It’s probably safe to assume that quite a lot is going on in this state.

When we wake up tired and already feeling down we may well have exceeded our REM quota and still not have been able to clear our accumulated stress. This means that further incidents have much more power to affect us negatively adding to the stress we already have. It’s not hard to see how this can become a vicious circle.

Research by the US military has shown that the ability of people suffering from stress (which drives reactions by the instinctive ‘limbic’ brain) results in a catastrophic collapse of decision making capabilities. These all reside in the higher cortex, a huge engine the capabilities of which we may not very often fully employ.

Trance states allow us to access that engine and more. They also allow us to help focus on defusing our accumulated stress AND developing techniques for both negating stress ourselves as well as accessing more of the higher brain functions.

Because of the ability of the trance state to access the subconscious it is also possible to focus on detailed recall in a psychological space which is safe for the person and can be beneficial in allowing potentially traumatic experiences to be defused of their emotional intensity.

For people in high stress circumstances hypnotherapy carefully used can help to produce more resilience, calm and better considered reasoning.

Indeed judicious use of hypnotherapy could make the difference between an already fragile person being able to withstand adverse circumstances or not.

In closing, let me stress that these techniques employ our own natural inherent ability to reprogram those things we may wish to by inducing a state of consciousness similar to REM sleep. In fact all of us will tend to drift in and out of trance many times during the average day. So while the practice focusses and utilises this state for the client’s benefit there is nothing Rasputin-like about it at all.

Mike Parker