Hypnosis: Does It Work?

The word hypnosis conjures up visions of mind control, past life regression, entertainment, even habit control. But, what really is hypnosis? According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, it is “a state of inner absorption, concentration, and focused attention.” While in this calm and relaxed state, you may be more willing to accept suggestions made by the hypnotherapist. These suggestions are geared toward the goal that you are working on, such as reducing chronic pain.

How Does It Work?

Very few practitioners actually swing the gold watch popularized by movies and television. Instead, the hypnotherapist talks to you, and you actively participate in achieving the hypnotic state. Progressive relaxation techniques, verbal repetition, or mental images are commonly used. Once you are in the hypnotic state, the hypnotherapist makes suggestions based on your goal. At the end of the session (usually 30-60 minutes), you either come out of the trance on your own or the hypnotherapist assists you to end the hypnotic state.

Most hypnotherapists acknowledge the importance of individual abilities and differences within the person being hypnotized. Being hypnotized is affected by your capacity to:

  • Focus attention and concentration
  • Become absorbed in an activity
  • Engage your imagination
  • Play a role
  • Openness to suggestion
  • Trust the hypnotherapist

Some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others. The combination of a skillful hypnotherapist and a subject that is easily hypnotized may be able to produce positive results. In general, most people can experience hypnosis to at least some degree. But, if you are not easily hypnotized or reject the techniques, then it will not work. You are the primary influence as to whether hypnosis will happen or not and the extent to which it will occur. And, despite common misconceptions, if you are hypnotized, you will not lose control over your behavior or forget what happened during the session.

Who Should Perform Hypnosis?

As with any healthcare professional, choose carefully. The hypnotherapist should:

  • Have graduate training from an accredited school
  • Have a license in the healthcare field (eg, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, social services, nursing)
  • Be a member of professional organizations (eg, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the American Psychological Association)

If you are interested in working with a hypnotherapist, find out if your insurance will cover the cost of the sessions.

Can Hypnosis Really Help Me?

Hypnosis is used to treat a wide variety of problems, including:

  • Psychological problems, such as:Insomnia
    • Anxiety disorders, including anxiety about surgery
    • Depression
    • Stress and worrying
    • Fears and phobias
    • Poor self-esteem
    • Emotional trauma
    • Anger
    • Psychologically-based memory problems
    • Interpersonal and relationship difficulties
    • Coping with physical pain and chronic illness
  • Pain control
  • Skin conditions (eg., certain types of warts, psoriasis)
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Smoking cessation
  • Weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal problems (eg, irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Dental procedures (eg, to reduce fear or to reduce habits, like clenching teeth)
  • Tension headache
  • Labor and delivery

Hypnosis may be used in addition to counseling or psychotherapy. Is hypnosis effective? While there are some studies that have shown positive results, hypnosis is an area that needs further research. If you are interested in this technique, your doctor may be able to recommend a hypnotherapist.


Cases of theNew EnglandSociety.New EnglandSociety for Clinical Hypnosis.

Hypnosis today: looking beyond the media portrayal. American Psychological Association website.

General Info on Hypnosis. American Society of Clinical Hypnosis website.

International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis website.


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