So how do people achieve this state of hypnosis? Is it simply relaxation? “YOU ARE BECOMING VERY SLEEPY...”
It is and it isn't relaxation. Which is to say, it is relaxation, but it isn't simply relaxation. The state of hypnotism itself is a state of relaxation, but to hypnotize a person, you don't start by relaxing them. You start by overloading their brain with messages. Once the conscious mind is completely overloaded with messages, the hypnotist will offer the person a chance to let go of off of those thoughts and sink into a relaxed state. Usually, after being overloaded, people will gladly accept the suggestion to just stop thinking for a bit. This is similar to the physical relaxation technique of holding a muscle tight for several seconds before relaxing it, which brings it into a state of better relaxation than it was in before it was tense.
So, at this point I've introduced the concepts of the effectiveness of hypnosis, the difference between the short-term functions of the subconscious and the long-term functions, how short-term stage hypnosis is most like the dream function of the subconscious, and I've briefly explained the trust-based nature of the practice, and the way hypnotists bring people into a state of hypnosis. Now this is all well and good, but how are long term changes brought about by hypnosis?
First of all, I would like to quickly mention one use of hypnosis which can be either short-term or long-term: accessing forgotten memories. If you have a memory, then the data is recorded in your mind. If you cannot consciously remember, then you know that it's somewhere in your subconscious that you have forgotten how to access. It's like putting a file in a cabinet and then coming back the next day and not remembering which cabinet you placed the file in. This is why it's easier to answer multiple choice questions than open-ended question on quizzes – the possible answers jog your memory so that it's easier to access memories that you always have stored in your mind somewhere. So, since memory is in the jurisdiction of the subconscious, sometimes hypnosis can be useful to help people remember things they think they have forgotten. Generally, after they remember it, they refile the information in their brain in a place which is easier to access (remember) later, and it's a long term change, albeit a small one. Otherwise, they may just “forget” it again.
Now, most everyone has heard the claim that hypnotism can help people to stop smoking. How can it do that? Well, sometimes there is a discrepancy between our conscious and subconscious thoughts and beliefs. Seriously. In the case of the smoker who is willing to pay good money to stop smoking, he obviously is conscious of a desire to quit smoking. Yet on his own, he chooses to keep smoking. This is because subconsciously, he likes smoking, which is an ingrained habit, and is associated with stress-relief. The subconscious keeps track of experiences, habits, and associations. So this man wants to quit, but has a hard time doing so because of this discrepancy between his conscious and subconscious mind. It takes 30 days of doing a particular activity to make it a habit, which is to etch it into the subconscious. Once it's etched there, it takes a lot of work if you want to erase that habit! Hypnotism is a way of aligning the subconscious mind with the conscious mind.
The man tells the hypnotist, consciously, “I hate smoking. I would rather do 5 minutes of deep breathing to relax than pick up a cigarette to help me relax when I am stressed.” When the man is in a state of hypnosis, the hypnotist repeated back to his subconscious the same messages. (If the hypnotist repeats back something the man does NOT consciously believe, his subconscious won't believe it either, and he will reject the message. An abreaction.) After a few sessions of hearing back what he consciously believes, while in a relaxed state, and accepting it as what he truly and deeply believes, the man is freed from his subconscious insistence that what he really wants is to smoke. Therefore, he is able to quit smoking through letting truth really sink in.
Hypnosis, therefore, can also apply to other mental discrepancies between conscious and subconscious mind. You want to lose weight, but subconsciously you associate sweets with comfort and happiness. You want to make a presentation and think it's a good idea, but subconsciously you fear that you will fail miserably and make a fool of yourself. People habitually seek assistance from hypnotherapists regarding these topics, and it's very publicized. The combination of regular therapy and hypnotherapy to address other discrepancies of mind does exist, but it's less well-known or widely practiced. Why? Because once you get past the simple discrepancies between conscious and subconscious, it becomes a bit more complex.
Hypnosis and Psychology
For instance, take the case of a phobia. It may be simple to resolve a phobia and assign someone's subconscious fear of pillows to match their conscious belief that pillows are pretty safe. However, what if you have someone like Monk, who has a hundred phobias? Sometimes the mind will make up phobias to explain an underlying feeling of fear and pain, such as the emotion result of a long-term attachment disorder.
When you are dreaming, and you hear a sound, sometimes your subconscious will integrate that sound into your dream by thinking up a plausible dream explanation for why the sound would be there. Similarly, the brain can think up all sort of fears, dislikes, and phobias to try to account for an ongoing feeling of discomfort and feeling which stems from a deeper issue. If you aligned this person's subconscious mind with their conscious mind – that the things they fear are actually safe – their subconscious will just go and make up some more, still in an attempt to explain the ongoing emotional state. Similarly, the subconscious of a person with Multiple Personality Disorder (D.I.D.) is divided, and if you hypnotize a person like that, you don't know which subconscious you will be dealing with. (However, hypnosis has been used to help people with D.I.D recover memory and integrate)
At this point, I believe that hypnosis is neither fake nor dangerous, can be used to help people, and therefore I plan to actually learn hypnosis myself. Then we shall see if hypnotism is everything more than I claim it might be! From personal experience, hypnosis helped me to breath properly again after months of hyperventilating (since how fast you breath is mainly a subconscious activity). In regular therapy, it sometimes takes years of repeating back to someone what they truly believe about themselves before it sinks in, but I want to be able to help people to internalize their own beliefs without wasting so much time and emotional energy.