Self-hypnosis is a branch of hypnotism, as are stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
It is very simply the general term for any method which a person uses to hypnotise themselves.
Self-hypnosis is, however, probably the oldest form of hypnotism. It is possible to see elements of it in the primitive shamanic trances found in ancient tribal cultures.
In this sense, self-hypnosis has probably been around since prehistoric times. However, it is generally accepted that the first book on modern hypnotism was Neurypnology written by the Scottish physician James Braid in 1843.
Doctor Braid rejected the many supernatural theories around in his time and instead coined the term 'hypnotism' to designate a more scientific, psychological explanation of trance. Few people realise this, but 'hypnotism' is actually an abbreviation of the word 'neuro-hypnotism', meaning 'sleep of the nervous system.' Braid chose this word to express his concept of a trance as a kind of deep, mental fatigue or relaxation similar to the drowsy state that occurs when falling asleep.
Often people are confused by this historical connection with sleep and think that being in hypnosis feels like being completely asleep, unconscious, or unaware. This a misconception; in self-hypnosis, or any form of hypnosis, subjects are basically conscious, awake, and aware of what is happening.
It is another common fallacy that people in hypnosis are under the control of the hypnotist and acting like puppets or robots. In hypnosis you are in control of what you are doing. It is also impossible to get "stuck" in any form of hypnosis.
When you are finished doing self-hypnosis, e.g., you just need to rouse yourself by making a decision to come out of trance, or using a simple emerging technique. In many ways being in self-hypnosis resembles doing meditation, it is just as safe and easy as basic meditation techniques are.
Braid's method, then, is the oldest method of hypnosis, and is usually called "Braidism" or the "eye-fixation" technique. He would teach subjects to tire their eyes by staring at a bright object overhead.
The doctor famously used his silver lancet case, though people often simply stare at a spot on the ceiling.
An alternative method is to stare up at a point in the centre of the forehead and imagine the eyes growing sleepy and tired, until they feel like closing. Braid used to get people to strap a wine cork to their forehead and try to stare at that! There are many other methods of self-hypnosis around though, and scripts describing the various techniques are freely available on the internet.
Hypnosis can be used for all sorts of things, from enhancing creative writing skills to conquering feelings of depression. It is believed that the famous composer Rachmaninov used hypnotism to help him compose his Second Piano Concerto. The French artist Andre Breton and other members of the surrealist movement used hypnotism to produce some remarkable poetry, literature, and works of art.
When hypnotism is used to treat a physical or psychological problem of the kind dealt with by medicine or psychotherapy, we call it "hypnotherapy." For example, hypnotherapy is often used to help skin conditions like psoriasis, and to deal with anxiety disorders like agoraphobia.
The various applications of self-hypnosis can be conveniently grouped under three main sub-headings:
1) Personal development
For example, public speaking skills, creative writing, memory and study skills, sports performance, martial arts skills, advanced meditation.
2) Psychological and emotional issues
Dealing with depressed mood, overcoming fears, phobias, and anxiety, stress management, breaking destructive habits and compulsions (like smoking, drinking, drug misuse, overeating, fingernail-biting), relationship issues, confidence building, etc.
3) Physical conditions
Managing or overcoming pain, treating psycho-somatic or stress-related illnesses, retraining posture and physical habits, enhancing the bodies self-healing processes to combat other physical illnesses and injuries.
In fact, more or less anything that can be done with one-to-one hypnotherapy can also be done with self-hypnosis. However, it is generally quicker and easier for people confronting serious problems to work with a hypnotherapist.
Most hypnotherapists will, however, teach clients to use some form of self-hypnosis as an adjunct to the therapy done in their sessions.
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