Author Archives: Pete

Why Hypnosis isn’t always needed

Not every client who visits a hypnotherapist will actually need hypnosis! A competent hypnotherapist should have a wide variety of techniques for enabling clients to make real changes in their lives. Hypnosis even on its own is useful for calming the mind and body, reducing excessive muscle tension and clearing the mind from unwanted thoughts. But most often I use hypnosis as a tool to help my clients to concentrate on other techniques for self-change. These other techniques are also tools. It’s not enough to have a set of tools- you need experience in picking the right tool and using it correctly. You also need to know as much as possible about what you’re working on- the human mind, the brain in which it lives, and the life in which it functions.

Reducing risk of Dementia

Dementia is largely avoidable: six of the seven main risk factors can be improved by changes in behaviour. But a new study by Alzheimers Research UK shows that  many people believe the only way to avoid dementia would be to not get old!

In fact there’s plenty of scientific research into how the risk of dementia can be reduced. The seven big factors that increase the risk are heavy drinking, smoking, a family history of dementia, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and lack of exercise.

Out of these seven factors, your family history (genetics) is the only one you can’t do anything about. We can’t go back and choose a different set of parents!

High blood pressure can generally be controlled, often without even needing medication. Changing lifestyle can achieve a lot. And even if you do need medication, it will only help if you take responsibility for your own health by at least remembering to take the pills.

Same goes for diabetes. I’ve worked a lot with diabetic patients. Their attitude to how they live with the condition is the biggest factor that determines how much or how little damage will occur to their body.

Heavy drinking, smoking, and an inactive lifestyle are all behaviours that anyone can change, especially with effective help. And depression is often connected to certain negative attitudes that persist in the background even when the person has recovered from the acute depression. These attitudes and habits of negative thinking can be changed just like any other habit.

So dementia is indeed avoidable for millions of people if they make changes now to reduce their risk. The sooner they begin these changes, the easier the change will be. Think of your mental and physical health as a house you’re building. You start from the foundations and build upwards from there. What you put into your body, and how you treat your body, these lifestyle behaviours are the foundation of good health.

I have moved to new city centre premises!

I am have now relocated to my own office in Plymouth city centre, at number 7, the Crescent, PL1 3AB. The Crescent is a beautiful Victorian building, home to various health professionals and solicitors firms. It is very near Royal Parade and Plymouth Pavilions. There are several large public car parks nearby.

Hello Stranger! My Thoughts on Channel Four’s new hypnotism show.

Since many of you may have seen this show broadcast last week, I thought I’d put my thoughts on it in writing. For those who didn’t see the show, it involved a young couple who have lived together for four years and felt the spark had gone out of their relationship. Supposedly they were to be hypnotised by Aaron Calvert, a stage hypnotist, and caused to forget that they had ever met. They would then each go on three blind dates, including one date with each other. The main theme of the show was to see how they responded to each other when meeting as “strangers”. Would they still be attracted to each other, or would they prefer one of their other dates? (Who, unlike them, had not been hypnotised and knew what was going on).

I thought I would really hate this show, but I must admit I liked Aaron Calvert better than expected. I still disliked the show itself- Channel Four has evidently gone way downmarket since I last watched television in 2007!

A lot of reviewers have assumed the whole thing was faked, and that the couple were pretending. My impression though, was that they had genuinely forgotten that they knew each other. Despite the nonsense talked by the commentator that Aaron had “erased their memories,” Aaron himself said he had not erased the memory, just “put it somewhere out of reach.” It wasn’t clear how long they remained in this state of selective amnesia- I’m guessing that all the blind dates were filmed on the same day.

What I did like about the show was that they showed some of the selection process, in which it was made clear that Aaron had tested a great many other couples before picking these two. most stage hypnotists don’t do this, giving the impression that they could work their “magic” on anyone. Many of the applicants did not respond to Aaron’s hypnotic tests at all. This is realistic. There are very, very few people who could be so suggestible as the couple featured in this show.

There were two things I really didn’t like. The first was that people as suggestible as this couple are so unusual that messing with their minds in this way seems very irresponsible. Since this has probably never been tried before, how could the programme makers know how this would affect them in the long term?

The other thing I didn’t like was the misleading statement by the commentator that “only thirty per cent of people can be hypnotised.” This is just nonsense. In my experience at least ninety-five per cent of people can be hypnotised to a depth sufficient for effective hypnotherapy. The number who could be made to forget the person they’re living with would however be very much less than thirty per cent. For Derren Brown’s show “Apocalypse” he selected one man from 14,000 applicants. I suspect that Aaron’s couple were also selected from several hundreds or thousands of applicants.

Incidentally, a lot of people do call me asking if I can hypnotise them to “forget” something traumatic or embarrassing that’s happened to them, or even to forget a previous relationship. Even in the case of very unusual people like the couple featured in “Hello Stranger” it’s not possible to cause permanent amnesia by hypnosis (even for the short period of filming Aaron was constantly on hand to provide top-up hypnosis as required). What CAN be done however is to help people to stop thinking constantly about a past event. In my experience many problems are kept going by the person constantly re-telling the story to themselves, fantasising conversations and actions, such as revenge upon someone who has wronged them. Their real need is to let go of the past emotionally, not to actually forget that something happened. 

Breathing and Emotions

Those of my clients who have had other forms of therapy often tell me they were taught about “the breathing.” When I ask them what exactly they were told, they generally say “to breath deeply.” It’s not surprising that these clients did not benefit from the instruction, because it’s simply WRONG!

Breathing is very important. Well obviously- we die if we don’t breathe- but I mean it has a powerful effect on our emotions, not just our physical survival. Breathing patterns are the most powerful link between the mind and body, and the easiest way to control our feelings is through altered breathing. By changing our underlying feelings we change our thought patterns and our memory.

However, it’s not quite as simple as “deep breathing.” There are two ways by which we can alter our breathing. We can breathe faster or slower, and we can breathe deeper or more shallow. So there’s a total of four main breathing patterns we can do. I will now describe each pattern and its effects.

SLOW AND DEEP. This allows deep relaxation of the mind and body, especially if we focus our attention on each body-part in turn and feel the natural muscle relaxation as we breathe out. Muscle relaxation generally makes that part of us feel heavier at first, later we may feel weightless, or lose awareness of that body part completely.

SLOW AND SHALLOW. We naturally fall into this pattern when we’re asleep. If we use this pattern while still awake, we will fall asleep quite easily.

FAST AND DEEP. This pattern intensifies emotion and can unlock traumatic memories. It is a powerful technique but I don’t advise you doing it on your own as it could cause a panic attack with peculiar physical symptoms that cause further increase in anxiety, setting off a “vicious circle” or feedback loop of increasing anxiety

FAST AND SHALLOW. This pattern holds back emotion- as when we’re trying not to cry- but we should not make a habit of it.

For better control of our emotions, we can learn to breathe out slower than we breathe in. When we breathe in we divert more blood flow to certain areas of the brain that stimulate the “fight-or-flight” response. When we breathe out, the blood is diverted away from those areas. So by spending more time on the out-breath than the in-breath we can turn down the fight-or-flight response and be able to think clearly and rationally in difficult or even dangerous situations.

Questions I get Asked

At my first meeting with any client, the client generally has a lot of questions about how I work and how hypnotherapy could help them. I always enjoy answering these questions, and supplying useful knowledge that people aren’t getting from the media. My clients’ questions are always relevant and intelligent.

Outside of work, though, I do get asked some silly questions by people whom I meet. The one that quite annoys me is “does it work?” I mean seriously, would I have been doing it as a job for 23 years if it didn’t work? what job satisfaction could anybody get from that? and why would I get so many clients referred to me by their friends and family whom I’ve previously helped, and people whom I’ve previously helped coming back for help with a different problem? Quite apart from the scientific evidence- scientists have been studying hypnosis and its benefits since the Eighteenth Century.

The other old favourite is “can you make me cluck like a chicken?” Of course people are usually joking but one or two are asking seriously. So let’s get this one straight.

No, I can’t, in fact I can’t “MAKE” you do anything, and neither can Paul McKenna, despite what it says on the covers of all his books! Hypnosis is a powerful tool to help YOU make the changes that YOU want to make. The willingness to change has to be there already.

That doesn’t always have to mean 100% willingness. Change is scary. A problem you have had for many years becomes your “normal,” your comfort zone. Even prison can become a comfort zone if people stay there long enough.

That’s why the first step in successful therapy is realising how much better and bigger life is going to be, once you’ve cleared away the problems that have limited your life.


The Truth about Hypnotherapy Training

thinking about hypnotherapy training

I’m sometimes contacted by people who want advice about training as a hypnotherapist. Many of these people are very disappointed in the hard facts I’m able to supply. They’ve read the seductive adverts from the various training schools, which tell them that hypnotherapy is one of the “fastest growing” professions. But what is actually meant by this? To be sure, the number of qualified hypnotherapists is growing very fast indeed, but how many of them actually practice, and how many of those remain in practice for any length of time- even long enough to gain real confidence in their abilities?

The truth is that hypnotherapy in the UK is a “saturated market.” Many people will deny this, but you’ll generally find they’re running training schools and therefore don’t want to put off potential students.

Today I surveyed the websites of the 28 institutions listed on the National Council for Hypnotherapy’s website as having been approved to offer the Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma. These are by no means the only hypnotherapy schools, just the ones that have sought and obtained NCH approval. These 28 institutes are this year offering a total of 45 diploma courses. Let’s suppose that six people graduate from each course (a conservative estimate, as some have far more). 45 x 6 = 270 newly-qualified hypnotherapists per year. Let’s suppose that each hypnotherapist would reckon to stay in practice for 20 years on average (I began practicing aged 38, I’m now 60 and have no plans to retire). So 270 x 20 = 5,400 hypnotherapists practicing in the UK, if they all remained in business. How plausible does that figure sound? Well, Devon contains about 1/60 of the UK population, so 5,400 divided by 60 = 90! I invite you to spend a while on Google and see if you can find ninety hypnotherapists practicing in Devon! Even those you do find are mostly part-timers, although this will not be apparent from their websites.

The fact is that the majority of hypnotherapy graduates never practice long enough to become proficient or to make a full-time living. The great majority will quit after one to three years. Some won’t even stick out their first year, and many- perhaps the majority- won’t even attempt the daunting task of setting up their practice.


Getting Over It: The Problem of Bad Memories 3

In my last two posts I discussed the problem of bad memories- past events that still affect us because they feel like they happened yesterday. The emotion linked to these events seems always fresh and immediate. This is because these memories are stored differently from ordinary memories that gradually fade with time. We cannot forget them any more than we could jump twenty feet up into the air. And endlessly picking over them is even worse, because in our heads we’re putting ourselves back into that situation, where we cannot think clearly or constructively- we can only suffer.

Fortunately there are other ways of dealing with these problems that are much more helpful and effective. These methods work by disconnecting the memory from the extreme emotion that stops us thinking clearly about it. When the emotion (usually fear, anger or embarrassment) is removed, we can begin to see the memory as something that is in the past- over and done with. We can see that we were different then and didn’t have the power and knowledge we have now. We can see that we survived.

These therapy methods use the power of our imagination, guided by the therapist in specific ways. Hypnosis makes the therapy more effective by increasing the power of the imagination. Using these methods the person can be helped to deal with memories while remaining detached from the powerful emotions that the memories would normally arouse. The client doesn’t even need to disclose to the therapist any details of what actually happened.

In this way, the client can think clearly about what happened instead of being immediately sucked into a whirlpool of extreme fear, shame, anger, or other powerful and unpleasant feelings. They can understand that they are now a different person with more knowledge and power than they had then. They can understand that the past event is now over, left behind them in the past, and has no power over them today.

There are several treatment methods based on these principles. They include the Clearance Protocol (invented by Graeme Harvey), the Reflective Time Process (invented by Dr Geoff Ibbotson), the Rewind Technique (invented by Dr DC Muss), and the Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing or EMDR technique (invented by Dr Francine Shapiro). The first three use hypnosis, though it doesn’t have to be deep hypnosis. EMDR does not use hypnosis although a relaxed state of mind is needed. I personally use the first three methods.

To discuss further how I might help you with problems caused by bad memories, or with any other problem, you can phone or email me via the contact form on this site HERE.

Getting Over It: The Problem of Bad Memories 2

In my last post I discussed the problem of bad memories- how things that happened long ago can still torment us as if they happened only yesterday.

Such memories are not like ordinary memories that fade with time. The troubling memories are stored in a different place where time makes no difference- it’s as if they happened yesterday, even if they really happened many years ago. This is why the traditional advice to “just get over it!” is so unhelpful.

Nowadays people may be told to remember rather than forget. They may be told that they can only “get over” their bad memories by picking over them in great detail. They may have counselling for this purpose, or attend groups, or record their memories in diaries- many of which can be seen on the internet. These diaries typically go on and on without any change in how the person feels about what happened. Likewise with counselling, the person may have many sessions and each time comes out of the counsellor’s office feeling worse than when they went in.

As soon as they start digging up the details of the past they are plunged right back into the memory as if it was happening right now. That’s because these memories do not fade with time- they are always fresh and vivid. Nothing has changed. And when a memory feels like it happened yesterday, it’s natural to fear that it could happen again tomorrow. That’s how these memories can affect our whole attitude to life going forward. When we see or hear or even smell anything connected to the bad memory, powerful emotions are triggered before we have time to think or even notice what we’ve seen or heard.

This is because of how our brains are put together. The brain has separate areas for different things. There are seeing and hearing areas (visual and auditory cortex), an area for powerful emotion (amygdala) and a thinking area (frontal cortex). The nerves going from the visual and hearing areas to the emotion area carry messages faster than the nerves going to the thinking area. This is why we react before we’ve had time to think.

Fortunately there are effective ways of dealing with bad memories. I will discuss these in my next post.

Getting Over It: The Problem of Bad Memories 1

Many people feel tormented by things that happened in their past. It’s like the memory is sitting in some corner of their mind, ready to jump out at them, as vivid and powerful as if it only happened yesterday. Quite trivial events and experiences in the present can trigger memories so powerful that the present-day trigger is forgotten, washed away by the surge of negative feelings. Bad memories leave us questioning- and the questions are another torment. “Why did that happen? Why did I let that happen? Did I deserve it? Will it happen again?”

Unless they’ve caused physical injuries, or ongoing problems like a criminal record that stays with us, most of these past events exist only in our memory. Everyone else who was involved may have forgotten or even died. Yet the memory remains powerfully alive.

How should we deal with such damaging memories? Should we just forget about them and get on with our lives, or should we dig them up and examine them in detail? Or is there a third possible solution?

“Just forget about it” is the traditional solution. Unfortunately it’s nonsense. We can’t simply forget a horrible event, the way we might forget the name of some kid we went to school with. That’s because these are two completely different types of memories, which are stored in different ways.

Memories of things that don’t affect us emotionally- like the names of every kid in our class in school- are stored like the old files in an office. They’re kept for years just in case they’re needed- but probably in some basement or lock-up space, not even in the main office building. Those memories are easy to forget- because the mind feels no need to remember them.

The “problem memories” are kept close to hand because the mind thinks they could be needed at any time. They’re in a place where time doesn’t matter- everything is right here, right now. Something that happened 20 years ago is remembered every day, while things that happened yesterday are already forgotten.

This is why “just forget it!” is useless advice. And it’s even worse when we’re told to “forgive and forget!” Many people use the word “forgive” to mean “pretend it didn’t happen.” This is very convenient for someone who has wronged you- they can do it all again and take you by surprise, just like the first time!

In my next two posts I shall look at other possible answers to the problems caused by “bad memories”.