In this interview, Mike Dow, Psy.D., and author of “Your Subconscious Brain Can Change Your Life: Overcome Obstacles, Heal Your Body, and Reach Any Goal with a Revolutionary Technique,” reveals how tapping into your subconscious through a modern form of hypnosis can help you heal mind, body and soul.
“Most meditation is alpha. Hypnosis takes you into an even slower brain wave, into theta,” Dow says, who experienced his first hypnosis session as a “deep, wondrous trance, almost dream-like.”
“I would say it felt magical, relaxing and wonderful. I sort of would have those twitches when you’re about to fall asleep, because my brain was letting go of its control of my physical body. I just felt supremely relaxed. In that moment, I became a convert.
I knew that this had the potential to heal so many things and do it in a natural way, because I also knew in that moment that everything that I was hearing, I was accepting … I was allowing it into my mind, and into my mind-body. That’s my experience. In that moment I said, ‘I have to write a book about this.'”
Clinical Versus Layman Hypnosis
When considering hypnosis as a healing modality, it’s important to seek out someone who is properly trained. Dow, a licensed psychotherapist, received his advanced training with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), which only accepts licensed health care professionals and teaches the science of clinical hypnosis, which is different from hypnosis schools that train laypeople in hypnosis.
“There is a sort of international congress that recognizes different organizations around the world. The ASCH is the largest training organization in the United States,” Dow says. “I trained with a large group of mental health professionals, physicians, dentists, who wanted to add clinical hypnosis to their practice …
The human brain is a really complicated organ, an entity. If you work with somebody who has training from the ASCH, you know they have years of training, a license and malpractice insurance. They can bill your health insurance, and also have additional training in clinical hypnosis.”
Overcoming Barriers to Health and Healing
According to Dow, hypnosis is a great tool that can help patients overcome barriers that may be preventing them from implementing healthy lifestyle strategies. He notes that our Western health care system is subconsciously training us to become aware of symptoms.
“We are actually training our belief system to monitor what is wrong with us,” he says. For example, if you’re watching a commercial on TV for a drug, you may start thinking about whether you have those symptoms. Likewise, doctors don’t generally ask you how well you are, they ask you to list your problems.
“The subconscious is sort of the opposite of that. The subconscious is always looking for the place in your body where you feel the most relaxed,” Dow says. “You can then take that feeling and spread it around. It’s sort of a wellness model, which I really appreciate and I think people in this country, at least, need more of these days …
Electroencephalography (EEG) studies have found that hypnosis is using mostly the right side of the brain. It’s not thinking in words. It’s painting in pictures, in images, which is really fantastic if you have somebody with trauma, who has an overactive emotional center of the brain.
Their right side of the brain is overactive. We can sort of unstick that. I realized that you can integrate some of the old things that I was doing, sort of the more rational, logical dry therapies with this more, I would say, magical paintbrush, ethereal therapy of hypnosis and self-hypnosis.”
The Deep Link Between Your Subconscious Mind and Your Body
While originally trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Dow now integrates hypnosis in most therapy sessions. And, while CBT tends to be effective in about 70 percent of cases, the addition of hypnosis greatly increases the effectiveness.
Dow cites a recent brain scan study in which they discovered that hypnosis increases the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the insula, which they believe allows the subconscious to take control over the body. For example, studies have shown the placebo effect — an essentially subconscious process — is more effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) than prescription drugs.
“Now, all of a sudden, the subconscious can affect just about anything, not just the realm of mental health or the psychological, but just about anything in the integrative treatment model … It’s effective for so many things, from fibromyalgia to chronic fatigue syndrome …
It can boost T cells. If somebody is a cancer survivor and you want to boost your T cells in your immune system, the subconscious brain is a wonderful treatment strategy,” he says, adding, “This is something that we can measure in blood samples.
I think when people hear that, it’s really evidence-based. We can now say, ‘OK, visualize your immune system attacking those malignant cells.’ We know that actually works. We could actually measure that. That has been proven in research, which I think is really exciting for people to know.”
Brain Waves and States of Suggestion
Brainwaves, from fastest to slowest are:
- Gamma — The “aha!” moment; moments of insight
- Beta — Normal waking, alert consciousness, such as when you’re focusing on your work, reasoning or worrying about something
- Alpha — Deep relaxation, meditative consciousness
- Theta — Dreaming (rapid eye movement or REM sleep)
- Delta — Deep sleep
When you’re using hypnosis, self-hypnosis and conscious visualization techniques, you’re in a state between beta and theta, somewhere between awake and asleep, yet you’re conscious and aware of what you’re doing.
Dow’s own EEG scans revealed mostly theta brainwaves throughout his brain, with the exception of the back of his occipital lobe which had beta brainwaves, which means the brain thinks it’s seeing something.
“Theta is a really fantastic brainwave. It is the jack-of-all-trades of brainwaves, because it allows the delete and edit button in your brain to work better,” Dow says.
“If you want to go back to something that you didn’t like during that day or from 10 years ago, and you want to delete or edit that file, or … if you want to reframe something and see something in a different way … highlight all the things you did right, and all of a sudden, that helps you to reframe.
Theta brainwaves are really good at that. Theta is also fantastic at helping the brain access memories. You’re going to find memories you couldn’t access while you’re awake in a conscious beta or an alpha state. It really is sort of a magical brainwave to a lot of people.”
Wake-Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD)
This hypnosis state is sometimes also referred to as wake-induced lucid dreaming or WILD. It’s a theta state, just like the moment right before you fall asleep, in which you’re highly impressionable.
“I use a technique with my patients — I have them imagine that they are having a dream. Sometimes I will tell them that they are dreaming. I will have them imagine there is a blank canvas in front of them. This blank canvas is going to be the dream they wish they’d had, that they’re going to enter the dream, and that this awareness is their entire awareness.
People, when they’re in a subconscious, brain-activated state, often report they feel like they lose sense of their body. They lose sense of time and space. Like what happens when you’re dreaming, you’re not aware of your body or where you are when you’re dreaming.
If you have this blank canvas or you intentionally have a dream, if I say on a count of “three, two, one,” the dream will start, you can actually paint dreams and have these lucid dreams.
If there’s an intention to the dream — for example, if this dream is going to give you some insight about a particular part of your life that you’re struggling with — you just let the subconscious become untethered to paint that dream. Usually, people will find something that they hadn’t discovered before.
It would be a new insight for them, which is really exciting for people … It really is a form of lucid dreaming, which I really love … People really do look like they’re in rapid eye movement sleep as well …
In study after study in major peer-reviewed journals, hypnosis combined with CBT is more effective than either alone. My conscious visualization technique combines those strategies. Whether we’re talking about fibromyalgia, cancer, smoking, alcoholism, anxiety disorders or depression, it works time and time again.
If you’re talking about something like a phobia, I used to treat phobias the old-fashioned way, with graded exposure … Baby step by baby step, your brain learns that you can tolerate the thing you fear. But it goes really slowly … When we supercharge that treatment with the subconscious, it really works wonders. It makes the treatment go much faster.”
Hypnosis can even change your bleeding rate. Dow cites a study in which patients were told during hypnosis that they would bleed less. A control group did not get that suggestion. The blood loss of each person was then measured, showing the hypnosis group actually bled less.
Improving Compliance With Subconscious Suggestion
Getting and staying healthy requires follow-through, whether it’s changing your diet, exercising moreor getting more sleep. While few lifestyle strategies are actually difficult to implement, compliance can be an issue for any number of reasons.
Life changes require a bit of discipline in the beginning, until you’ve formed a new habit. Here, self-hypnosis can be a really valuable tool. In his book, Dow details the protocol for his subconscious visualization technique. He also provides both written and audio files of several sample scripts you can use and modify for self-hypnosis.
“What I suggest is that in the beginning people use the audio tracks. As they get better at using the technique, they start to modify it for themselves. I use my own scripts on myself all the time, but I’m always changing it.
Whatever I need that day, I just close my eyes and I’m sort of talking to myself. What’s really great is people can start to tweak. They see the language of the subconscious brain. They can start to really customize it however they need.”
Here’s a quick summary of the steps:
|First, consider your conscious thought patterns, such as pessimistic thinking, catastrophizing, worst-case scenario thinking or polarized thinking. Dow details seven pitfall thought patterns that fuel your conscious thinking.|
|Next, you activate your subconscious using Dow’s “3-12-7 technique,” which starts out with mindfulness meditation. First, note three sounds that you hear. Then take notice of two colors — one color on the back of your eyelids when your eyes are closed, and one at the top of the crown of your head as you inhale.|
On the next exhale, allow your eyes to drop, which will typically take you into a light trance. Next, keeping your focus on your breath, imagine descending a flight of 12 steps, allowing yourself to become increasingly relaxed with each step. “By the time people get to the end of that, their subconscious brains are really activated,” Dow says.
Next, imagine yourself floating upward to the count of seven, allowing your body to feel warm and light. “By the time they reach seven, it’s a really, really deep state of subconscious activation,” he says.
|In step 3, you float backward into your chosen memory. Once your subconscious brain is activated, memories are going to start to feel real. At this point, you can reimage and edit that memory. At this point, Dow also incorporates bilateral stimulation, which encourages your eyes to flutter from side to side, as they do during REM sleep.|
|Next, imagine floating forward in time, back to the present. See yourself today, and notice what’s different.|
|Then, float yourself forward into the future, and see yourself doing whatever it is you want to be able to do, be it face a phobia, stick to a diet or go to the gym. See yourself performing the activity the way you want to be able to do it. According to Dow, research shows that when your subconscious wires certain parts of the brain together, and unwires others, it feels like things happen effortlessly. Dow explains:|
|In the final step, you bridge your subconscious and conscious mind. Dow explains the process:|
Myths and Misconceptions About Hypnosis
Many believe they’re just not suggestible enough to get into these states where personal transformation can occur but, according to Dow, this simply isn’t true. “I have yet to encounter somebody who is not hypnotizable when they use my technique,” he says. Another myth is that you’re either hypnotizable or you’re not. The reality, however, is not that black-or-white.
“Remember that it is a skill,” Dow says. “As you use it, you will become better and better. You will go deeper and deeper. It will become more and more effective every time you use it … I recommend using my program a few times a week.
I shared a case example of somebody who felt relief after one or two sessions. But when we look at the research for conditions from anxiety disorders and depression to smoking, weight loss and IBS, most of the data show that the more people practice — we’re looking at eight sessions, 16 sessions, 32 sessions — that’s when we’re really finding results.
I think people should use this as a practice. Also, remember, just like meditation, self-hypnosis is really the shift from a sympathetic nervous system activation, or fight-or-flight, to a parasympathetic, rest-and-digest dominant state. You are teaching your brain in your body to relax … Many issues flare up when there’s stress present. The more you use this practice, the more relaxed, the calmer you’re going to be.”
Another common misconception is the fear that you might be induced or motivated to do something under trance that you wouldn’t normally do if fully conscious. Dow puts such concerns to rest, saying:
“All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Remember that the mind is a very suggestible entity in general. As long as you have somebody who has your best interest at heart … [who is] unbiased, [they’re] not going to plant false memories … [or] lead you into anything that you don’t want to do.
It is your subconscious brain that is going to lead you to ultimate health and healing … Your subconscious is actually conspiring in your favor. I think that’s really good news …
The subconscious is really a tool that we all use every day. If you’ve ever been searching for a name and it just pops into your brain hours later, your subconscious was looking for that name the whole time. That was your subconscious brain conspiring in your favor, helping you. You didn’t even realize it.
I think our subconscious brains can be used for our own health, our own healing. We can use it for good. If we give our subconscious brains a little bit of love and a little bit of attention, they can help us with a lot more in our own daily lives.”