Well-Being: The tools of therapy
Hypnotherapy claims to change you by changing how your subconscious operates. And no, you don't actually get hypnotised! Hear it from therapist Anna Yates
The UAE is one of the best places you can live in today, in terms of quality of life, work-life balance and salaries. But that's not to say people don't go through their fair share of problems and stresses out here.
According to clinical hypnotherapist Anna Yates, anxiety, stress and self-confidence are major issues among people here, besides relationship angst, addictions and weight gain. But a lot of problems can be sorted with hypnotherapy, she says, because most of them stem from our subconscious mind - and by tapping into your subconscious, you can make changes in your thinking.
Anna, one of the better-known hypnotherapists in the UAE and who runs Mind Solutions in Umm Suqeim, specialises in issues like weight management, smoking addiction, stress and anxiety, phobias and relationship problems, among others. So, what exactly is hypnotherapy? It's a state of induced relaxation that puts you in direct touch with your inner self (see box-out, next page, for details). The 'therapy' aims to get into the subconscious and reorient our thoughts. "Our mind is divided into two parts, like an iceberg: the conscious mind is the bit that sticks out of the water; this is the reasoning part of our mind, which thinks it's in charge, but it's just 12 per cent of it. The other 88 per cent is our subconscious, a massive databank," Anna reveals.
Everything we've known, seen or experienced in our entire lives is stored in our subconscious, including our memories, fears, phobias, and habits. "So what we need to do is get in there and change your thinking or pattern of behaviour," she says. "Hypnotherapy works by getting the conscious level relaxed, and then quietly sliding into the subconscious mind, making new suggestions to it, and getting it to affirm them."
On average, hypnotherapy is a short-term therapy, and limited to a maximum of 4-6 sessions. The only time therapy can fail is when, for whatever reason, the client doesn't listen to the copy (of the CD) of the hypnosis they're given, she adds. "It's really crucial that clients listen to the findings revealed in the hypnosis in their own time. Sometimes, the message is immediately absorbed, but sometimes the subconscious is resistant or reluctant to take on new ideas," points out Anna. Hence, it can take up to 21 times of hearing the same message over and over again for changes to start taking place!
The main difference between hypnotherapy and psychotherapy is that the former is actually a tool of the latter, which you can use to understand how people are processing or analysing things coming to them from external sources. The subconscious doesn't know the difference between real and imagined, and you can reprogramme someone to experience the same memory or sensation in a different, positive way.
For example, for someone with weight problems, the hypnotherapist reframes their idea of eating in their mind, their whole relationship with food, to see food for what it is: fuel for the body. "It's not really so much what we eat, but how we eat and why we eat. A majority of our hormones are made in our intestines, and, by not eating healthy, we're not just depriving ourselves of fuel or nutrients, but also not producing the hormones we need to function with, so that can adversely affect our mood," says Anna. "We need to enjoy food and nutrition. Most of us treat our cars better than we treat our bodies!"
Or, take the matter of confidence issues. A survey of top executives from some of the best companies in the world revealed that they would rather do anything else than stand up in public and speak. And this stems from our deepest fear of looking silly and incompetent in front of others, says Anna. The trick is to rehearse it in your mind and see it going well, as with anything else you want in life.
Men and women usually come forward with almost the same issues, while a few parents in the UAE also bring their children for therapy - usually for confidence problems, nail biting etc. Anna mostly advises against making a big issue out of trivial issues in formative years, as it can then affirm them in the child's mind and lead to other problems. For instance, she says, "If your child's not a good eater, that is not a big problem, because no child is going to starve itself to death! If they are hungry, they will eat. But by emphasi-sing it, you're probably going to create a problem or an eating disorder."
Mindfulness is the buzzword these days. It's about learning to be mindful and working out what it is that you want from life, says the therapist. "There's a lot of merit to the law of attraction," she says, and the underlying crux of any kind of therapy is eventually about learning to think positive. "We live in a time of instant gratification, so mindfulness is about getting into the intuitive part of your brain and showing your subconscious what you want, rather than what you don't want."
Contrary to most well-being experts and life coaches, Anna says it's not always possible to make ourselves happier. "It's a very glib thing to say. If everyone could make themselves happy, there wouldn't be people committing suicide or coming for therapy in the first place. We can only invite happiness into our lives by being grateful for what we have and by helping other people, which most people overlook."
Even the act of turning negative thoughts into positive, affirming ones takes practice. "The subconscious learns by repetition - whether it's doing your shoelaces or driving - and so it is with reprogramming your subconscious to look for positives."
Anna says her work is rewarding. She talks about cases like that of an Emirati man who came to her for a session in total panic, shaking and sweating in her office. His issues ran the gamut - from heavy chain smoking, marital problems, and difficult children to a business falling apart and severe eyesight problems. He returned a few days later to thank her, looking ten years younger, and having stopped smoking and made other drastic lifestyle changes.
Then, there's the case of the woman who came for group therapy with three of her friends, but said she was only there out of curiosity and didn't actually want to quit smoking. Days later, the other three came back for a session, but not her, because she was the first one to quit smoking!
Simple Steps to Better Being
Visualising what you want: See things as you want them to be, rather than falling into a loop of lamenting a certain problem or situation. Most things can be helped by just changing the image you have in your mind to a more positive one.
Practise being grateful: For 21 days, before you go to sleep, write down three things you're grateful for everyday.
Similarly, write down three small goals for the next day and fulfill them, and three things you can do to make someone else's life a little bit happier. Helping other people is crucial to helping ourselves.
Take the holistic approach: Eat properly, drink plenty of water, sleep well. We underestimate the effects of these most simple needs on our body and mind, and they make a huge difference.
Start loving and respecting yourself: Only then will other people start loving and respecting you!
Exercise: Move your body, even if it's just a few minutes of walking. Exercise produces endorphins - the happy hormones - that are 400 times stronger than anything you can take in pill form.
How does hypnotherapy work?
Unlike popular misconceptions, hypnotherapy does NOT involve actual hypnosis of a patient or client. You're not put into a trance-like state, where you blurt out your deepest, darkest secrets or made to run around, barking like a dog!
According to Anna, most sessions last about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the issue. The first stage is the breakthrough, which takes time, and involves delving into the patient's history, their childhood, relationships with parents and siblings, their birth order, and other factors that could have had major influence on their life. These details have to be harvested before going on to the actual issue, and then the "hypnosis", where Anna usually gets the client to sit back, close their eyes, block out noises with headphones and soothing music, and talks them through with helpful questions and suggestions, slowly but deeply accessing their subconscious mind. The client is hooked onto special software, with sensors attached to their fingers, which gauge how they're reacting. The therapist uses the recordings to improve on her therapy in the next session.
"It might sound fantastic, but I've never had anyone that did not go into the hypnosis stage," states Anna.