Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy

We’ve all seen or heard about the hypnotist who puts a crowd under a trance and makes them act like ducks or perform other uncontrolled acts on command. While this is the stereotypical perception of hypnosis, it is more often used as a genuine therapeutic method to help people control habits and undesired behaviors. Read on to find out what exactly hypnosis is, how it works, the myths about it, and more.

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a therapeutic technique in which clinicians make suggestions to individuals who have undergone a procedure designed to relax them and focus their minds. Through suggestion, hypnosis brings a person to an altered state of consciousness helping him or her gain control over undesired behaviors, change his or her habits, such as quitting smoking, or cope better with anxiety or pain. It’s important to know that although a person is more open to suggestion during hypnosis, he or she doesn’t lose control over his or her behavior.[1,2]

Reasons for Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis can be an effective method for coping with stress and anxiety. Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of pain; depression; anxiety and phobias; stress; gastro-intestinal disorders; skin conditions; post-surgical recovery; relief from nausea and vomiting; childbirth; treatment of hemophilia; hot flashes associated with menopause; habit and behavioral conditions such as insomnia, bed-wetting, smoking, and obesity; and many other conditions. However, it may not be useful for all psychological and/or medical problems or for all people. The decision to use hypnosis as an adjunct to treatment should only be made in consultation with a qualified health care provider who has been trained in the use and limitations of clinical hypnosis.[3,4]

How Hypnosis Works

Hypnosis is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images. Hypnosis uses exercises that relax people, bringing them to an altered state of consciousness where they are more open to suggestions. This process focuses on mastering self-awareness. Through trance-like analysis, hypnosis decreases blood pressure and heart rate, putting one’s physical body at ease. Working with memories, hypnotherapy helps a person to reframe, relax, absorb, dissociate, respond, and reflect. The process reconstructs healthier associations with a person’s past events. Dealing with a wide range of conditions, such as anxiety and depression, people become responsive to new solutions that can lead to personal development through hypnotherapy.[1]

During the therapeutic session, the therapist will explain the process of hypnosis and review what a person hopes to accomplish. Then the therapist will typically talk in a gentle, soothing tone and describe images that create a sense of relaxation, security and well-being.

When the person is in a receptive state, the therapist will suggest ways to achieve his or her goals, such as reducing pain or eliminating cravings to smoke. The therapist also may help visualize vivid, meaningful mental images of oneself accomplishing his or her goals.

When the session is over, either the person is able to bring himself out of hypnosis or the therapist helps end the trance-like state. The person generally remains aware of and remembers what happened under hypnosis.[5]

Results of Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis can be effective in helping people cope with pain, stress and anxiety. It may also be effective as part of a comprehensive program for quitting smoking or losing weight. Hypnosis isn’t right for everyone, though. For example, you may not be able to enter a state of hypnosis fully enough to make it effective. Some therapists believe that the more likely you are to be hypnotized, the more likely it is that you’ll benefit from hypnosis.[6]

Hypnosis is optimally effective when the person is highly motivated to overcome a problem and when the hypnotherapist is well trained in both hypnosis and in general considerations relating to the treatment of the particular problem. Some individuals seem to have higher native hypnotic talent and capacity that may allow them to benefit more readily from hypnosis. Although hypnosis has been controversial, most clinicians now agree it can be a powerful, effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions, including pain, anxiety and mood disorders.

It is important to keep in mind that hypnosis is like any other therapeutic modality: it is of major benefit to some people with some problems, and it is helpful with many other people, but it can fail, just like any other clinical method. For this reason, it should be emphasized that therapists are not hypnotists, but health care professionals who use hypnosis along with other tools of their professions.[2,7]

Risks of Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis that’s conducted by a trained therapist or health care professional is considered a safe, complementary and alternative medicine treatment. However, hypnosis may not be appropriate in people with severe mental illness. Adverse reactions to hypnosis are rare, but may include:[8]

  • Anxiety or distress
  • Drowsiness or dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Creation of false memories

Use special caution before using hypnosis for age regression to help relive earlier events in your life. This practice remains controversial and has limited scientific evidence to support its use. It may cause strong emotions and can alter memories or lead to creation of false memories.

Myths about Hypnosis

People often fear that being hypnotized will make them lose control, surrender their will, and result in their being dominated, but a hypnotic state is not the same thing as gullibility or weakness. Many people base their assumptions about hypnotism on stage acts but fail to take into account that stage hypnotists screen their volunteers to select those who are cooperative, with possible exhibitionist tendencies, as well as responsive to hypnosis. Stage acts help create a myth about hypnosis which discourages people from seeking legitimate hypnotherapy. Contrary to how hypnosis is sometimes portrayed in movies or on television, a person doesn’t lose control over his or her behavior while under hypnosis.[5,9]

Another myth about hypnosis is that people lose consciousness and have amnesia. A small percentage of subjects who go into very deep levels of trance will fit this stereotype and have spontaneous amnesia. The majority of people remember everything that occurs in hypnosis. This is beneficial, because the most of what we want to accomplish in hypnosis may be done in a medium depth trance, where people tend to remember everything.

Lastly, in hypnosis, the person is not under the control of the hypnotist. Hypnosis is not something imposed on people, but something they do for themselves. A hypnotist simply serves as a facilitator to guide them.[9]

Choosing a Hypnotherapist

Although there are no state or government certification agencies and certification is not a legal requirement in order to practice, be sure you carefully choose a therapist or health care professional to perform hypnosis. Get a recommendation from someone you trust and learn as much as you can about any therapist you’re considering. Consider the following questions:[10, 11]

  • Does the therapist have training in a field such as psychology, medicine, social work or dentistry?
  • Is the therapist licensed in his or her specialty?
  • Where did the therapist go to school, and where did he or she do their post-graduate training?
  • How much training has the therapist had in hypnotherapy and from what schools?
  • What professional organizations does the therapist belong to?
  • How long has the therapist been in practice?
  • What are the fees?
  • Will insurance cover the services?


  1. WebMD. Hypnosis. Definition. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020.
  2. American Psychological Association. Hypnosis. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/topics/hypnosis/.
  3. American Psychological Association. Practical uses for hypnosis. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/topics/hypnosis/media.aspx.
  4. WebMD. Hypnosis. Why it’s done. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020/DSECTION=why-its-done.
  5. WebMD. Hypnosis. What you can expect. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020/DSECTION=what-you-can-expect.
  6. WebMD. Hypnosis. Results. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020/DSECTION=results.
  7. American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). General Info on Hypnosis. When Will Hypnosis be Beneficial. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.asch.net/Public/GeneralInfoonHypnosis/WhenWillHypnosisbeBeneficial/tabid/136/Default.aspx.
  8. WebMD. Hypnosis. Risks. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020/DSECTION=risks.
  9. American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). General Info on Hypnosis. Myths About Hypnosis. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.asch.net/Public/GeneralInfoonHypnosis/MythsAboutHypnosis/tabid/135/Default.aspx.
  10. HMI Nationally Accredited College of Hypnotherapy. Professional Hypnotherapist Certification Program. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.hypnosis.edu/resident/certification.
  11. WebMD. Hypnosis. How you prepare. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020/DSECTION=how-you-prepare.

By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor

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