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Blog post
Monday 04 September 2023

Hypnotherapy in the world of cancer support

Imagine a place where dedicated volunteer hypnotherapists extend their compassionate skills to those facing the challenging journey of cancer. That’s what’s on offer as part of a range of transformative support from our Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre.

In this blog, Gavin Blackman, a volunteer hypnotherapist with UHS' Macmillan Centre, demystifies hypnotherapy, shedding light on the profound impact it can have on patients and their loved ones.

To access hypnotherapy services, all you need to do is reach out to the Macmillan Centre. You can visit them in person at the centre or call them on 02381 20 6037. No prior preparation is required to take part in sessions. Macmillan also has an explainer on hypnotherapy and other mind-body therapies on their website.

Gavin explains the reality of hypnotherapy below...

Hypnotherapy is not a new complementary therapy. In fact, its roots can be found in the sleep temples of ancient Egypt from around 3,000 BC, where peoples’ dreams were interpreted. Over recent years, hypnotherapy has steadily become recognised as an authentic therapy which has a broad range of uses.

Hypnotherapy is very versatile. For example, it can help with general wellbeing, anxiety, phobias, low self-esteem, sleep hygiene, performance (sports, exams), weight management - the list is endless. There are some more unusual applications of hypnotherapy, like being used in the birthing process or in dental procedures. I even incorporate hypnotherapy in team-building exercises for organisations and their wellbeing initiatives.

To understand hypnotherapy, we first need to understand what hypnosis is (and isn’t!), as hypnotherapists use hypnosis to help their clients. The popularity of various TV hypnotists has led to misconceptions about Hypnotherapy so let me dispel some common myths.

“You are asleep when you are hypnotised” - the client is conscious and is actually in a focussed state of attention or focussed meditation and is aware of what is going on around them.

“A hypnotist can get you to do anything they want to” - In hypnosis, the client is in control, and the client only does the things they want to do; the hypnotherapist is merely the facilitator.

“You cannot move when you are hypnotised” – the client can move and in fact is encouraged to do so to make themselves more comfortable during the session.

“Hypnosis will cause you to reveal your secrets/private details” - if that were true I would be on a Caribbean island living off ill-gotten client monies after they had told me their account passwords and pin numbers!

All hypnotic experiences are subjective, so people experience hypnosis at different levels i.e. from a light state all the way through to a deep state. People will naturally find the right level that suits them.

Here’s an example. I’m sure you’ve experienced going on a train journey and suddenly you realise you are a couple of stops further along the route than you thought you were. That is a form of hypnosis. So hypnosis is something people naturally go in and out of every day, without realising it.

So now we have a clearer idea of what hypnosis is (and is not), let’s turn our attention to what is hypnotherapy? Hypnotherapy derives from a variety of psychologies including behavioural, cognitive and analytical and focuses on “neuroplasticity” or the ability of the brain to form new neural connections throughout life. This is coupled with the consensus that our conscious mind makes up 5% of our mind-processing and our subconscious mind makes up the other 95%. Think of the conscious mind as what you see on your computer’s screen and the subconscious mind is literally everything else - the processes, storage, and programmes.

The way hypnotherapy works in practice is that in a counselling environment, the hypnotherapist would first discuss what the client is wanting to achieve via hypnotherapy. Asking them what the outcome is they want. Once the outcome is agreed, the hypnotherapist will perform some suggestibility exercises with the client to find out how susceptible the client is to hypnosis as that will inform the hypnotherapist and what method they will use to put the client into a hypnotic state. The exercises also inform the hypnotherapist if there is any resistance from the client to hypnosis because if there is, it is unlikely that the client will enter a true hypnotic state. In such circumstances, the hypnotherapist will ask the client if they want to work on their resistance first or may refer the client to another complementary therapist.

Hypnotherapy uses the power of suggestion, via hypnosis, to access a client’s subconscious mind to encourage positive change. A hypnotherapist will use relaxation techniques to help the client reach a state where the conscious part of their mind is relaxed, and the subconscious part is more open to suggestion.

Once the client is in the hypnotic state, hypnotherapy works by the hypnotherapist giving the clients suggestions (by the hypnotherapist “talking” directly to the client’s subconscious), around how they might feel and/or act to enable them to achieve or start to achieve the outcome they agreed with the hypnotherapist at the start of the session.

At the end of the session, the hypnotherapist will use a re-alerting technique to bring the client out of the hypnotic state and ensure they are 100% fully refreshed and alert. Some people may need just one or two sessions to have dealt with their issue; for others it may take a few more sessions. Again, the hypnotherapist will collaborate and work at the pace that suits the client.

Most of our appointments take place face-to-face, fostering a warm and welcoming environment. However, we understand the importance of flexibility, and virtual sessions can be arranged when necessary.

The first session is about discussing the challenges clients are facing. Clients are patiently guided through the process and any questions or uncertainties can be addressed. Rest assured, all sessions and information are held in the strictest confidence.

Each session typically lasts around an hour, and if the hypnotherapist recommends further sessions, the Macmillan Centre is here to support.

The hypnotherapists specialise in helping patients grapple with issues like loss of confidence, low self-esteem, a negative outlook on life, heightened stress and anxiety, sleep problems, and loss of self and self-worth. Furthermore, they extend their expertise to family members and friends who may have been negatively affected by their loved one's cancer journey.

It's important to note that all the hypnotherapists who volunteer at the Macmillan Centre are highly trained, qualified, and insured professionals. So, why wait? If you're seeking a path to positive change, why not take that first step and book a session today?