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The Mystery of Brainwaves Revealed

Commonly Asked Question

One of the most common questions I get regarding hypnotherapy is: Will I remember my session? The answer is a resounding “yes,” but the question, itself, speaks to the seeming mystery and possible misunderstanding that accompanies the process of hypnotherapy.

In this article, I would like to dispel some of the unknowns around the hypnotherapy process by looking at and explaining the naturally occurring science of brainwaves. In doing so, my hope is that there will be more understanding of what actually is occurring and allay any fears of being unconscious or out of control during a session.

So let’s first define what hypnosis and hypnotherapy are. Hypnosis is a relaxed state of mind where the conscious takes a back seat to the subconscious. This state is often called a trance. Hypnotherapy is the process of doing therapy while in this relaxed state or trance.

Did I lose you? Usually just with the word “trance” a fog begins to roll in for people. So let’s demystify things by talking about the brainwaves that create different states, like trances.

What are brainwaves?

Brainwaves are measured in two ways; first, by how fast, or the frequency, of electrical activity is in a one second interval; and second, by how strong that electrical activity is. The frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz) and ranges from 0 to 32Hz, and the strength is measured in Millivolts (MV).

There are different internal experiences associated with each range of brainwave frequencies, and each range is produced by different areas of the brain. These frequencies are broken down into four groups of brainwaves:Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. There are both positive and negative associations with each group of brainwaves, depending on their overall pattern and their abundance or lack.

The following is an explanation of the different brainwave states:

1. BETA (13-32 Hz) (Conscious Mind)

(+) High performance and quick thinking, especially helpful in conjunction with other brainwaves to bring what is deep inside out into the world in the creative process

(-) High anxiety and panic, list making, judging, critiquing, internal dialog and rumination

(Predominant in frontal lobes and generated by Brainstem and Cortex)

(a) Hi BETA (20-32 Hz)

(+) Associated with peak performance and cognitive processing.

(-) Associated with worry, anxiety, ruminating and OCD,

*Correlated with alcoholism*

(b) Low BETA (13 to 21 Hz)

(+) Associated with focus, analytic, relaxed thinking.

(-) Can be associated with depression in asymmetry, ADHD, OCD, sleep disorders, learning disorders and anxiety

2. ALPHA 8-13 Hz (Bridge between Conscious and Subconscious Mind)

(+) Associated with meditation, inner calm, relaxed state, receptive mind

(-) Spacing out, daydreaming, fogginess, depression, OCD, ADHD, anxiety when high in the frontal lobes.

(Predominate in occipital lobes and generated by the Thalamus and Cortex)

(a) Higher ALPHA

More alert and can be associated with more emotion

(b) Lower ALPHA

More drowsy

3. THETA (4-8 Hz) (The Subconscious)

(+) Associated with creativity and spontaneity, accesses to the subconscious, body memory, ancestral or genetic memory

(-) Distractibility, inattention, daydreaming, depression and anxiety

(Predominate in frontal midline and generated by the Limbic System)

4. DELTA (0-4 Hz) (The Unconscious)

(+) Associated with sleep and infancy, the unconscious

(-) Diffused DELTA associated with ADHD or learning disorders, hyper- vigilance

(Predominate in frontal lobes and generated by Hypothalamus)

Let’s Apply It All to A Session

Now that you know about brainwaves, let’s discuss from that vein what occurs in a hypnotherapy session.

With Intent Comes Beta Waves

Most sessions begin with an interview, or a discussion of what the client would like to work on in her/his session. The client often talks about fears, phobias, anxieties, and other feelings. S/he may rationalize or express judgment and try to understand or make sense of it all. All of these actions are part of the conscious mind, and if we hooked up an EEG machine to the client during this interview, we would see that the client would be producing mostly Beta waves.

Why is it “mostly” Beta waves? This is because, often times when a person begins to talk about an experience, s/he begins to feel certain emotions associated with that experience. Once this occurs, the Beta brainwave pattern observed would include flares of Alpha and possibly Theta.

Relaxing Consciousness: From Beta to Alpha

So, now the client is clear of what her/his intention is for the session, and the induction, or relaxation part of the session, begins. Here, the therapist helps the client to reduce Beta waves by quieting internal dialog and melting away stress by bringing awareness to tense areas in the body.

Then the client experiences more Alpha through tuning in to her/his internal sensory awareness, such as going to a place in nature and becoming aware of sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes. This is where the client is dancing between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.

And Then Into Theta

Lastly, the client develops Theta by first accessing feelings and body sensations associated with a current-day situation, and then accessing those associated with the past-day source. Since painful and traumatic feelings and sensations are often housed in the subconscious (and therefore are not accessible in regular, waking consciousness), a person needs to be in Theta, or working from her/his subconscious mind, in order to access, process and resolve them.

Once the client has completed her/his work in Theta, the therapist then helps the client anchor, or remember, what transpired in the session by bringing the client back into Alpha.

This is a very important part of the session, for if it is skipped, the deep, healing material that is accessed in the subconscious will simply remain in the subconscious and be treated as though it never happened.

Bringing the Session Into Conscious Awareness

After bringing the client out of hypnosis, it is then important that the client share her/his experience by way of putting it into words, journaling, making connections with thoughts and patterns in her/his life, or by any other resonant means. Any and all of these actions bring the deep, hidden process back up to the conscious, waking mind and into Beta.

What About Delta?

You will notice that the Delta waves are missing. Only if a client falls asleep during a session are Delta waves present. And, if this occurs, it is not a problem. The therapist has various ways of gently arousing the client to lift her/him back into Theta.

In Summary

In this article, the different brainwave-states were explained and applied to the hypnotherapy process. My hope in doing so is that it has allayed some fears, trepidation and/or mysticism surrounding the process of hypnotherapy, for it is truly an approach grounded in science and augmented with the creativity of the therapist and the inherent organicity of the client.

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