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How Hypnotherapy Works

... a brief explanation

The basic concept we will work with is that we have a conscious part of the mind and a subconscious part.


The conscious part of the mind is the ‘thinking’ part of the mind- it can only be aware of a very limited amount of information at any one time.  We can’t consciously be aware of all bodily functions, sensory input and sensations, all memories and everything we believe all at the same time.  Instead, we are able to focus on a limited amount of information and sensation at any one time.

The subconscious mind is effectively the autonomic nervous system – all the things that are happening without you being aware of them continuously, including bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, blinking, gut movements, etc. The aim of the subconscious mind is to enable us to function and keep us alive, by taking  care of things with programmes ‘in the background’.

So the subconscious is our storehouse of long term memories - these memories can be triggered into awareness in the conscious mind, sometimes by a piece of music or a smell that suddenly takes you back to a different time, but most of the time these memories are not constantly in our conscious awareness. 

Emotions and feelings also have their seat in the subconscious -  generally we don’t consciously switch our emotions on and off - no one wakes up thinking they want to feel stressed or anxious. Once we become aware of an emotion or feeling, we can do something about it - but sometimes we are not even aware of the tension which we are holding in various parts of our body.

Habits - automatic behaviours - are behaviours that were at first consciously learnt, but by repeating them over and over they became a subconscious habit, When you first learnt to ride a bike, or drive a car, you had to consciously concentrate on every little action, but now it is just automatic, you no longer have to consciously think about these things, you just automatically do them.  Habits can be emotional as well as physical - some people habitually respond in a particular way when a particular stimulus or situation arises.

Very importantly, imagination is part of the subconscious mind – in the sense that the subconscious does not distinguish between what is ‘real’ and what is imagined vividly or what is expected at a deep level. If you have ever woken from a nightmare with a pounding heart and in a sweat, you will know that imagination can produce physical changes in the body.  Further, when you imagine something over and over, you actually create neural pathways, as if you were actually doing the behaviour; this is why professional athletes practice visualisation, and this is greatly enhanced in hypnosis.  


Indeed, new neural- and brain imaging techniques have shown distinct changes in the brain during hypnosis, in response to suggestion.  As the brain is in constant two way communication with the rest of the body, it would make sense that changes in in the state of one will affect the other.  This could explain why hypersensitivity of the submucosal lining of the gut (which is associated with chronic gut issues) can be calmed by hypnosis-enhanced visualisation, and also why pain perception can be altered in hypnosis.

"Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetitions and emotion will one day become a reality."

- Earl Nightingale

The purpose of the subconscious is always to protect us – though sometimes it keeps ‘protecting’ us from things we don’t (or no longer) need protection from, or in ways that are no longer helpful to us.

For example, the subconscious protects us with the ‘fight or flight’ response – if a person’s life is under threat -real or imagined- there is an automatic physiological change to the body to enable that person to fight or run away (there may also be an automatic ‘freeze’ response in traumatic situations where fight or flight is not perceived as a viable option).  Such a physiological response also happens when a person feels under severe pressure or stress, even when there is no actual physical threat to life - as the subconscious does not distinguish between what is real and imagined vividly.

The subconscious also protects us by keeping old habits going – until they are replaced by something better.  This is really important so that, as you are racing down a hill on your bike, you don’t suddenly forget the habit of bike riding!  However, although all habits start for a perceived benefit, some habits are unhelpful – but the subconscious doesn’t make this distinction; it works on the basis that if something has become a habit, it must be important and kept going.  This is why it can be so difficult to change a habit on a conscious level.


This is why we use hypnosis: to work directly with the subconscious mind, to facilitate positive changes more quickly.

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