The predominant school of thought on hypnosis is that it is a way to access a person's subconscious mind directly. Normally, you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind. You consciously think over the problems that are right in front of you, consciously choose words as you speak, consciously try to remember where you left your keys.
But in doing all these things, your conscious mind is working hand-in-hand with your subconscious mind, the unconscious part of your mind that does your "behind the scenes" thinking. Your subconscious mind accesses the vast reservoir of information that lets you solve problems, construct sentences or locate your keys. It puts together plans and ideas and runs them by your conscious mind. When a new idea comes to you out of the blue, it's because you already thought through the process unconsciously.
Your subconscious also takes care of all the stuff you do automatically. You don't actively work through the steps of breathing minute to minute -- your subconscious mind does that. You don't think through every little thing you do while driving a car -- a lot of the small stuff is thought out in your subconscious mind. Your subconscious also processes the physical information your body receives.
In short, your subconscious mind is the real brains behind the operation -- it does most of your thinking, and it decides a lot of what you do. When you're awake, your conscious mind works to evaluate a lot of these thoughts, make decisions and put certain ideas into action. It also processes new information and relays it to the subconscious mind. But when you're asleep, the conscious mind gets out of the way, and your subconscious has free reign.
Psychiatrists theorize that the deep relaxation and focusing exercises of hypnotism work to calm and subdue the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process. In this state, you're still aware of what's going on, but your conscious mind takes a back seat to your subconscious mind. Effectively, this allows you and the hypnotist to work directly with the subconscious. It's as if the hypnotism process pops open a control panel inside your brain.
In the above section We examined the idea that hypnosis puts your conscious mind in the back seat, so you and the hypnotist can communicate directly with your subconscious. This theory has gained wide acceptance in the psychiatric community, mostly because it explains all the major characteristics of the hypnotic state so nicely.
In the last section, It provides an especially convincing explanation for the playfulness and uninhibitedness of hypnotic subjects. The conscious mind is the main inhibitive component in your make-up -- it's in charge of putting on the brakes -- while the subconscious mind is the seat of imagination and impulse. When your subconscious mind is in control, you feel much freer and may be more creative. Your conscious mind doesn't have to filter through everything.
Hypnotized people do such bizarre things so willingly, this theory holds, because the conscious mind is not filtering and relaying the information they take in. It seems like the hypnotist's suggestions are coming directly from the subconscious, rather than from another person. You react automatically to these impulses and suggestions, just as you would to your own thoughts. Of course, your subconscious mind does have a conscience, a survival instinct and its own ideas, so there are a lot of things it won't agree to.
The subconscious regulates your bodily sensations, such as taste, touch and sight, as well as your emotional feelings. When the access door is open, and the hypnotist can speak to your subconscious directly, he or she can trigger all these feelings, so you experience the taste of a chocolate milkshake, the satisfaction of contentment and any number of other feelings.
Additionally, the subconscious is the storehouse for all your memories. While under hypnosis, subjects may be able to access past events that they have completely forgotten. Psychiatrists may use hypnotism to bring up these memories so that a related personal problem can finally be resolved. Since the subject's mind is in such a suggestible state, it is also possible to create false memories. For this reason, psychiatrists must be extremely careful when exploring a hypnotic subject's past.
This theory of hypnosis is based mostly on logical reasoning, but there is some physiological evidence that supports it.