What Is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a process where therapy is delivered THROUGH hypnosis and that’s an important distinction to make. Hypnosis and therapy are an excellent fit as will become obvious but let’s explore the subject of hypnosis and then look at the different types of therapy that hypnotherapists may offer.


Hypnosis (what it isn’t!)

Actually, it might be better to start with what hypnosis isn’t because there are many misconceptions about hypnosis particularly because of the way the subject is dealt with in films and fiction. Often hypnotists are depicted as having the ability to hypnotise people without their consent and then gain total control of their actions. Stage hypnotism acts also compound the false belief that hypnotism can override one’s will and force one to do things.

In stage hypnotism, the hypnotist selects volunteers from the audience and puts them through a range of tests to find the people who are most willing to participate. Typically, there will be an initially large group of people who will be whittled down to just a few. Then with just the click of the fingers, the hypnotist will put them into a trance and then one by one each will be directed to act in odd or bizarre behaviour, such as behaving like a chicken, to the amusement of the audience.

Clearly, this is entertainment in a fun environment when often the participants will have consumed alcohol which reduces their inhibitions. Also, there is pressure to perform because failing in front of an audience would be embarrassing. Remember, they are all volunteers who know beforehand what to expect. What the audience witnesses are the result of role-playing rather than a hypnotic trance. Stage hypnotism can be entertaining but it should not be confused with hypnotherapy.


Hypnosis is not magic

Maybe it is because of stage hypnotism and fiction that some people believe that hypnosis will cure any problem.  They believe that hypnosis is something magical that is done TO you, where you fall under the spell of the hypnotist and are made to make a change, such as give up smoking, stop nail biting, or eat fattening foods. Whilst it is true that hypnotherapy can support you and help you achieve your goals more easily, you need to be fully committed to making the necessary changes to your behaviour. Think about it, If hypnosis could be used to change people against their will, then maybe we could send criminals to a hypnotist rather than prison!


Everyday hypnosis

Hypnosis is not as unusual as you might think, because we all experience types of hypnosis in our everyday lives. You might not recognise this, because it happens without your intention and outside of your awareness. For example, daydreaming is when you become lost in your thoughts and your mind wanders. If you drive a car, you may have experience arriving at your destination with no memory of the journey. Watching television or a film at the cinema you become fully absorbed in the story and lose track of time. Listening to music when you become focused and relaxed. These are normal everyday examples of everyday hypnosis.

There are two other times you experience hypnosis, when you fall asleep and when you wake up. Just before you fall asleep you go into a hypnagogic state, which is a mixture of both waking and sleeping sensations. In this state, it is common to have vivid thoughts, a feeling of sinking or floating, and a detachment from the physical world. As you wake, you enter another state of hypnosis called hypnopompic hypnosis which is characterised by some confusion.  For instance, for a moment you might know exactly where you are, and your dreams feel real until you wake up completely.


What is hypnosis?

There are many definitions of hypnosis but it is generally accepted and understood as “a state of relaxation or altered state of consciousness, in which an individual becomes highly focused and responsive to suggestion”.  Brain imaging techniques used in some studies indicate changes in the activity in certain areas of the brain.


What does hypnosis feels like?

The experience of hypnosis varies from person to person and may even vary from one session to another. It is common for people to feel deeply relaxed, perhaps more relaxed than they have ever experienced before. This is one of the reasons why hypnosis can be therapeutic in its own right. The ability to concentrate on a specific thought or idea is increased. Time seems to distort, either passing slowly so that minutes feel like hours or quickly so that time flies by. Feelings of weightlessness or heaviness in the body are frequently reported and almost everyone describes the whole experience as a positive and pleasant one.


How is hypnosis induced?

Hypnosis can be induced in a number of ways and each hypnotherapist may have their own preferred techniques. Generally, these will include some form of guided relaxation, visualisation, or a physical element such as eye fixation to induce a hypnotic state.


The role of suggestibility

One of the most important features of hypnosis is that people become more suggestible. This is a major reason that companies spend so much money on television adverts, they understand the roles of everyday hypnosis and suggestibility.  During hypnotherapy, individuals are far more likely to accept a positive suggestion that is aligned with their goal. Post-hypnotic suggestions are instructions or suggestions that are given during hypnotherapy that is designed to take effect after the session has finished. These may continue to influence a person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviours for days, weeks, or longer. For example, the suggestion that a person may feel fuller after eating less food than usual, lose their desire to smoke a cigarette, or feel calmer in a situation that used to make them feel anxious.


The role of imagination and visualisation

Although it might appear that the role of the patient or client is a passive one, a crucial component of hypnotherapy is that the client is willing to use their imagination during the session. By imagining reaching their goals and positive outcomes, a sense of positive expectancy is created that increases the motivation to make changes to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.  Also, the unconscious mind responds strongly to vivid mental images and responds as if they are real. For instance, if one were to imagine giving a great performance in an interview, the unconscious mind would respond as though they had already achieved that success. As a result, you would feel more confident and motivated and those positive feelings would, in turn, reinforce the positive mental image of success, creating a positive loop. Hypnotherapy can help you to start imagining what might go right in a situation instead of worrying about what might go wrong!


Therapy with hypnosis

Hypnotherapy is a combination of hypnosis and therapy. There are several different types of hypnotherapy and these are a few of the most common.


Clinical Hypnotherapy

Clinical hypnotherapy focuses on the treatment of physical and mental health conditions such as pain, skin complaints, depression, and anxiety. It is also used for psychosomatic conditions when there is discomfort or pain but no pathology.  The qualification for clinical hypnosis is usually more academic and training takes place over a longer period of time.


Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy (CBH)

This is a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with hypnosis that focuses on changing negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours by identifying and challenging negative thought patterns.


Ericksonian Hypnotherapy

Developed by Milton Erickson, this approach involves the use of metaphors and indirect suggestions and often uses stories tailored to the needs of the individual.


Solution-focused Hypnotherapy

This type of hypnotherapy focuses on identifying and working toward solutions to specific problems and challenges. The hypnotherapist helps their client to identify their goals and strengths and uses hypnosis to reinforce positive changes and overcome obstacles


Neuro-lingguistic programming (NLP) Hypnotherapy

This type of hypnotherapy combines hypnosis with NLP techniques with a focus on the relationship between, language, behaviour, and thinking.


Brief Strategic Hypnotherapy

This is a future-focused, short-term treatment.  It aims to help clients develop strategies, resources, and techniques to achieve change in behaviour(s) that prevents them from achieving their goal. It is based on the principle of helping clients discover, identify, interrupt and change ineffective processes that maintain problem behaviours and patterns. Typically a client is asked more about ‘how’ they have a problem than ‘why’ they have a problem.


Positive Psychology Hypnotherapy

Positive psychology hypnotherapy combines hypnosis with positive psychology principles that focus on the promotion of well-being and positive emotions. Emphasis is placed on the importance of identifying and building on one’s strengths and developing resilience.

Although there are a variety of different approaches to hypnotherapy, a well-trained hypnotherapist may be proficient with several of them. In this case, they may use them in combination or select the most appropriate for their client with their presenting problem.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hypnotherapy

Is hypnotherapy safe?
As long as hypnotherapy is delivered by a qualified and competent hypnotherapist it is generally considered to be a safe practice. There are a few psychological conditions that might make hypnotherapy unsuitable but your hypnotherapist should take a comprehensive personal history from you before proceeding with treatment and make you aware if this applies to you. Often a hypnotherapist will require your GP to affirm that hypnotherapy is suitable for you and your condition.

Can anyone be hypnotised?
Anyone can go into hypnosis if they wish to, but equally, no one can be made to against their will. Remember, hypnosis is a natural state of relaxation. The role of the hypnotherapist is to facilitate hypnosis for you and deliver the therapeutic element of your treatment.

Does hypnotherapy always work?
If the goal of the client is realistic and achievable and they are motivated to achieve a positive outcome then hypnotherapy has a very high rate of success. However, hypnotherapy alone is not enough to create a positive change.

Can I be made to do something against my will?
No, in hypnosis, just as in real life, you will only agree with suggestions that align with your values and wishes.

Could I get stuck in hypnosis?
No. This is a common fear but a person in hypnosis remains in control of their own experience and can always come out of the hypnotic state if they wanted to.

What conditions can hypnotherapy be used for?
Hypnotherapy can be used for a variety of different conditions. For example, anxiety disorders and phobias, depression, post-traumatic disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), insomnia, addictions such as smoking alcohol, and drugs, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), performance anxiety, phobias such as fear of flying, dogs, heights, etc.

Might I say something I don’t want to reveal?
Although people coming out of anesthesia often say funny or inappropriate things (often shared on social media), hypnosis is different. You will not say anything that is against your will or better judgment.

Will I remember what happened?
You are likely to remember some but not all of what is said during a session. Just like in a normal conversation, you don’t remember every word that was said. You shouldn’t worry if you don’t remember everything as your unconscious mind hears and reacts to positive suggestions at the time and changes to your negative beliefs and confidence about a problem may alter during the hypnotherapy session.

How many sessions will I need?
This varies depending on your presenting problem or condition and the approach the hypnotherapist uses. For instance, solution-focused or brief strategic therapy may attain positive results in just a few sessions. Your hypnotherapist should inform you of how many sessions they think you will need before you agree to work with them.

How should I choose a hypnotherapist?
It is important that you carefully choose a hypnotherapist who will meet your needs. Read about how to choose a hypnotherapist here