Brainwaves and State
There is measurable brain activity during the different mental states of consciousness, trance and sleep. In 1929 Hans Berger used an EEG Machine to discover that when a person’s eyes were closed, the brain generated regular waves in the 8 to 12 cycles per second (cps) range. He named these brain waves Alpha Waves. Subsequently, other types of waves were discovered and labelled Theta, Beta and Delta. These brain waves have been found to correlate to various mental functions, including hypnosis and hypnotic states.
Although experts generally agree on these brain waves and their purpose they disagree on the exact boundaries of each kind of wave. Some experts define alpha as 8 to 12 cps; another as 7 – 14 cps, and so forth. Brainwaves are measured in Hertz, or cycles per second.
Beta Waves (15-30 Hz): A normal state of alertness; the waking state of consciousness. Beta brainwaves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness when attention is directed towards cognitive tasks and the outside world. Beta is a ‘fast’ activity, present when we are alert, attentive, engaged in problem solving, judgement and decision making, and engaged in focused mental activity.
Alpha Waves (9-14 Hz): A state of light relaxation and positive thinking. Alpha waves aid overall mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind/body integration and learning. Alpha brainwaves are present during quietly flowing thoughts. A light and aware state that might be accessed during mindfulness practise.
Theta Waves (4-8 Hz): A state of deep relaxation/ meditation. A state of increased memory and focus. Theta brainwaves occur most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation. It acts as our gateway to learning and memory. In theta, our senses are withdrawn from the external world and focused on signals originating from within. It is that twilight state which we normally only experience fleetingly as we wake or drift off to sleep. In theta we are in a dream state with vivid imagery, intuition and information beyond our normal conscious awareness. Theta is associated with REM sleep.
Delta Waves (1-3 Hz): A deep sleep state; also a state of increased immune functions. Delta brainwaves are the slowest brainwaves and are generated in dreamless sleep. Delta waves suspend external awareness. Healing and regeneration are stimulated in this state, and that is why deep restorative sleep is so essential to the healing process.
An easy way to remember these differing states is to think of the word BATTED – beta, alpha, theta and delta.
Usually hypnotherapy sessions take people into a light to medium depth trance in the alpha to theta range, where they are in a state of deep mental and physical relaxation yet still fully aware of their surroundings.
In a typical hypnosis session performed by a therapist, the client will be guided into a relaxed state of mind and body using hypnotic induction techniques. When someone is in a hypnotic trance state, brainwave cycles will actually slow down and then quicken again when they are brought out of trance and returned to full consciousness. This also occurs naturally during the sleep cycle with brain waves slowing as you go to sleep each night and quickening again when you wake up in the morning. The natural trance states just before and after sleep are called the hypnogogic and hypnopompic states. At no time during hypnosis is the subject actually asleep.
When we go to bed and wind down before going to sleep, we are likely to be in a low beta state. When we close our eyes and relax, our brainwaves will descend from beta to alpha to theta and finally, when we fall asleep, to delta. The ideal state for absorbing visualisations, suggestions and affirmations is between the alpha and theta states.
Most hypnotic inductions guide the listener into the alpha state. In this relaxed optimum learning state, and with the guidance of a skilled hypnotherapist, you are able to eliminate or change negative thoughts and patterns of behaviour, and replace them with new positive solutions. On some occasions people can go into a very deep somnambulistic trance state (which is like a deep sleep) although they can still accept and act upon any suggestions given to themStages in Hypnosis
The four or five stages in a typical hypnotherapy session are:
- Introduction – The first part of a session when some cognitive work may be done. On the very first session the therapist will usually describe the process of hypnosis and take the time to explain what to expect. This is also the time to ask any questions if you would like more information or are apprehensive.
I will often also use some ‘conversational hypnosis’ and ‘eyes open’ exercises with clients as a preliminary to deeper trance work.
- Induction – This is the actual ‘gateway’ into trance. There will often be a focus on breathing and physical relaxation as the client is guided into a light trance. This part of the session will use techniques involving concentration and focus of attention that may be similar to meditation.
- Deepening – The trance state is deepened to an appropriate level, guiding the client into a deeper state of hypnosis using a count down and other visual cues. This part of the process may also contain a pleasant guided visualisation. During hypnosis the client almost always feels comfortable and relaxed.
- Suggestions – The point of the session when most suggestions are made to the client in line with their objectives and what they want to achieve during hypnosis. Suggestions will often be ‘post hypnotic’ meaning they will be acted upon at some later stage, after awaking. They will also be cumulative each successive session building and strengthening any suggestions previously made. A typical suggestion might be “…each and every day from now on you will feel more relaxed and confident, and more able to cope in your every day life…”
- Awakening – ‘Waking up’ or returning from the trance state to a normal state of consciousness. This is usually (though not always) achieved by a countdown. I usually count back from 5 to 1, some therapists prefer a longer countdown.
It is important to note that it is impossible to hypnotise someone without their consent. On the contrary there must be willingness on the part of the person to be hypnotised. A common misconception with hypnosis is that you relinquish control when in a hypnotic trance. The truth is that in a trance state you are always in control; you are aware of everything said to you and you can easily accept or reject any suggestion given to you. This is why the hypnotherapist is careful to only make suggestions which will be understood as helpful and lead towards the clients stated therapy goals.
Conditions that can be treated with hypnotherapy
There are a wide range of conditions and problems which can be treated or improved using hypnosis.
Here are some of them –
Addictions, anxiety, stress, nerves, panic attacks, fears, phobias, self confidence, self esteem, weight control, stopping smoking, shyness, blushing, stammering, stage fright, performance anxiety, public speaking, driving test nerves, exam nerves, nightmares, bed wetting, nail biting, guilt complex, bereavement, memory, insomnia, blood pressure (hypertension), assertiveness, pain control, obsessions, compulsions, grief, sexual problems, relationship problems, motivation, concentration. sporting and other performance improvement, business enhancement, past trauma and regression therapy, travel fears i.e. fear of flying, sailing, driving etc.