Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy - Learn the Truth

The Health Education Authority has said: “Research shows that there is more scientific evidence for Hypnotherapy than any other Complementary using hypnosis people can perform prodigious feats of will-power and self-healing.”

So what exactly is hypnosis?

Believe it or not, despite the term 'hypnotism' being used since the early 1840s, there is no absolute definition of hypnosis in my opinion. It can be described more easily than it can be defined and here is my description of it. Note that 'trance’, ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotic state’ all mean the same thing in this context and I use them interchangeably.

Hypnosis is the application of a number of natural methods to induce trance – an altered state of consciousness – in the patient. In a hypnotherapy session you will usually become more relaxed than usual and more able to concentrate. It is well known that hypnosis often produces profound relaxation.

But to me, the key is absorption. You become deeply absorbed into an idea or image without 'thinking about it'. In the hypnotic state you become more susceptible to suggestions made by the therapist (or yourself), more able to create changes to the way you think and behave, and more able to vividly access memories and emotions from the past. One or more of these characteristics of hypnosis is utilised by the therapist, depending on the treatment method.

Trance itself is entirely normal and natural. We all go in and out of various levels of trance spontaneously on a daily basis. We enter trance when we become so absorbed by one thing that, for a while, we are completely unaware of anything else. This could be while watching television, reading a book, listening to a lecture, driving, day dreaming, when startled or confused. It should be apparent that trance/hypnosis is not synonymous with relaxation. The difference between these examples and hypnosis undertaken with a therapist is that, with a therapist, you are guided into the state by somebody else for the purpose of achieving an agreed goal.

There are a number of methods available to the therapist to induce trance, but the most common is simply talking. The therapist asks you to close your eyes and talks to you for a while about relaxation, sleep, hypnosis or trance. You may be asked to do some relaxation exercises, and/or to imagine certain things – often being in very beautiful and tranquil surroundings. Sometimes you may be asked to focus your eyes on one particular spot for a short period of time, known as eye fixation, while the therapist continues to talk to you. There are also a number of quicker methods to induce trance that can be used when appropriate.

Many people experience hypnosis as pleasant and relaxing, but not profoundly different from normal (see Hypnosis Myths below.)

What is hypnotherapy and what is the benefit of it?

Hypnotherapy, in short, is the combination of hypnosis with psychotherapy and counselling methods to bring about therapeutic change. As a hypnotherapist AND psychotherapist/counsellor I believe that hypnotherapy can be successful where other therapies are not, and that it can speed up the process dramatically.

Many of our difficulties are deep rooted or the result of subconscious programming. It is the subconscious mind that stores past experiences, emotions, and habits or responses that may be hurting us. Counselling and psychotherapy alone do affect the subconscious, but rather indirectly via the conscious mind or behavioural change. Hypnotherapy attempts to treat the subconscious more directly, bypassing the conscious altogether.

But the conscious mind must not be left out of the equation. As we work with the subconscious we also need to integrate our experiences into our conscious life, to rationalise them and give them meaning. Therefore, hypnotherapists should work with a variety of hypnotic and psychotherapeutic techniques, so that hypnosis is used for some, but not all, of the time.

Hypnosis Myths

Myth 1. When you are hypnotised you are asleep or unconscious.

You do not go to sleep and you are not unconscious. You will remain aware throughout the session, no matter how deep the trance. Some people find that their senses seem to be heightened and that they are even more aware.

Myth 2. The hypnotist takes control of you – like on the television or stage show. (See also caveat 1 below)

There is no question of losing control or being made to do anything against your will by using hypnosis. You are in control throughout the session. This has been tested experimentally and no evidence exists to indicate that hypnosis increases the control of the hypnotist, or exerts any unique form of control, over and beyond that already present prior to the hypnotic induction. (Ref 1) The unwanted or noxious suggestion usually causes the person to wake up from the hypnotic state and is always rejected.

Television and stage shows are easily explained. The hypnotist is skilled at knowing which people want to take part and are highly suggestible subjects. He can tell this by observing the behaviour of people in the crowd and/or doing certain tests. Many people enjoy the excuse to have fun and show off. Although subject-volunteers feel compelled to act upon the suggestions given, the hypnotist does not suggest they do anything that they might really object to.

Together with rapid induction techniques (which require moderate skill and a lot of confidence), this creates the illusion of control. People who don’t want to play the part do not get called, and people who are especially unwilling don’t attend. If a difficult participant does make it onto the stage he will be given a more ordinary role to perform, like fetching a chair or being the recipient of someone else's behaviour.

You should also bear in mind that stage hypnotists are skilled illusionists. They employ a number of tricks to fool both audience and volunteers that have nothing to do with hypnosis. For more about this you might like my article Are Hypnosis Shows Real

Myth 3. "But I didn't feel hypnotized/I didn't go under."

There is no such thing as a ‘hypnotised feeling’ as such, and a lighter trance might not feel very different from normal. Individuals vary in how deeply they go into trance, yet a light trance is all that is needed for many types of therapeutic work. The therapist has a number of ways to tell when a suitable level of hypnosis has been achieved to begin treatment.

Myth 4. After the session everything that took place in the session will be forgotten.

This is generally untrue. Most of the time you will remember generally what the therapist said. It is very rare that the therapist will attempt to make you forget what happened, because ordinarily there is no benefit to this and the suggestion usually wears off anyway in time.

However, if you enter a deep trance you might find that you’ve forgotten most of the details of what the therapist said. You may realise when you wake up that you missed certain parts altogether, and wonder whether you fell asleep. If you responded to suggestions to wake up at the end of the session, it is unlikely that you fell asleep. In a deep trance the conscious mind more or less switches off and stops creating conscious memory. This gives the sense that you were ‘out’ for that time, or asleep, when really you were still aware.

Myth 5. You can just be hypnotised and your problem will go away.

This is usually not true. Hypnosis is only a tool to go along with the real work of psychotherapy. It is not an instant fix for most problems, and you may find that you have to participate in joint effort with your therapist over a number of weeks or months to get better. This is in common with other psychotherapies. Hypnosis is a powerful therapeutic aid and it can usually speed things up, but it is not magic.

Myth 6. "I can’t be hypnotised."

This is almost the opposite of the last myth, in that it unduly predicts failure.

Although the level of trance achieved varies from person to person, almost everyone can be hypnotised to a level deep enough to begin some kind of therapeutic work. This is good news: it means that by far the majority can benefit from hypnotherapy.

The few exceptions include people who are intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, people who have a learning disability or dementia, and one or two uncommon mental and neurological conditions. All told these probably amount to no more than 1% of the population. If you are capable of reading and understanding this text and forming an opinion about it, then you almost certainly can be hypnotised to some degree!

Myth 7. Hypnosis is spiritually dangerous – by giving up control you become more susceptible to immoral or demonic influence.

This is a common belief within certain church and religious circles. Potentially this has some merit but not within the context of what most hypnotherapists do.

We have carefully researched this issue and found it to be untrue, at least within the context of what I and most hypnotherapists do in terms of psychological or clinical work. Within Christian circles the fear stems from Old and New Testament verses that speak against sorcery, witchcraft, spirit channelling, and other pagan religious practices in which trance seems to be involved. These practices invite spiritual powers or entities to come through or take over. In the Christian bible, all references that can be translated to relate to any kind of trance or hypnotic behaviour are within that context.

Therefore, it is not the trance state itself that is the problem, but what the trance is used to facilitate. Prayer, for example, is a trance state for many people. In my work trance is used only to bring about psychological and health benefits. There is no connection to Spiritism, witchcraft, or any other practice forbidden in scripture. (see caveat 1 below).

As stated earlier, we all enter trance spontaneously on a daily basis. Concerns about hypnosis on spiritual grounds must assume that trance facilitated by a therapist is inherently different from trance that we enter spontaneously, or that deep relaxation is somehow different when facilitated by a therapist. But neither are; trance is trance, relaxation is relaxation, whether or not they occur with a therapist. You can see that if spirits could enter or attack us in the hypnotic state without invitation everyone would be being spirit possessed everyday!

You will recall also that you are not giving up control; you cannot be made to do anything against your will or that you would morally object to. (see caveat 2)

You may also be interested in my article: Are Hypnosis Shows Real?


1. Not everyone is the same as me on this issue, and some complementary therapists do use methods that go outside of these boundaries. Always check first if you are concerned about this.

2. Be aware that stage (entertainment) hypnotism may not involve any kind of vulnerability/risk assessment and has caused a minority of subjects to become markedly distressed. Avoid it if you have any reason to think you might be vulnerable to any kind of mental illness.

Ref 1. Orne MT (1972): Can a hypnotized subject be compelled to carry out otherwise unacceptable behaviour? a discussion. Int J Clin Exp Hypn Apr 20(2):101-117
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