The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word hypnos, meaning “sleep.” Hypnotherapists use exercises that bring about deep relaxation to achieve a natural, yet altered state, also known as trance, in which the critical factor is relaxed but focused thinking is maintained and encouraged. A person in hypnosis is exceptionally relaxed, mentally, emotionally and physically, has a strong desire to fulfill suggested behaviors and is especially responsive to ideas, images and instruction, but this does not mean that a hypnotist can control the person’s mind and free will. On the contrary, the senses, while in hypnosis, are most often heightened, making them more aware of things around them than usual and they are completely in control of their own self-will and decisions about what to tell the therapist, etc. A hypnotherapist CANNOT control the mind or cause someone to divulge secrets about themselves they do not wish to. However, hypnosis can teach people how to master their own states of awareness. By doing so, they can affect their own bodily functions and psychological, as well as, emotional responses.
Throughout history, trance states have been used by shamans and ancient peoples in rituals and religious ceremonies. But hypnosis as we know it today was first associated with the work of an Austrian physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. In the 1700s, Mesmer believed that illnesses were caused by magnetic fluids in the body getting out of balance. He used magnets and other hypnotic techniques (the word “mesmerized” comes from his name) to treat people. But the medical community was not then convinced. Mesmer was accused of fraud, and his techniques were called unscientific. Hypnotherapy regained popularity in the mid-1900s due to Milton H. Erickson (1901 – 1980), a successful psychiatrist who used hypnosis in his practice. In 1958, the American Medical Association, followed 2 years later by the American Psychological Association, recognized hypnosis as a valid medical procedure and branch of psychology. Since 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended hypnotherapy as a treatment for chronic pain. Other conditions for which hypnotherapy is frequently used include anxiety and addiction, among others (see the “What illnesses or conditions respond well to hypnosis?” section below for more detail).
By relaxing the critical factor, that chatterbox in our head, we are able to access the subconscious directly. The subconscious controls the body, Autonomic Nervous System, memory, emotions, beliefs, and imagination, among others, and helps to develop both character and personality. Since most of our beliefs about the world in general were formed between the ages of 7-11, most of us are operating on an “outdated system” that we created years ago but not always serves us well or appropriately now. We may often notice that our emotional reactions are not warranted in certain situations, but we are unaware consciously how to change them. That is because the belief, and the emotional response to it, lie in the subconscious. By accessing the subconscious through hypnotherapy, we can “upgrade” that outdated system to give us tools that better serve us at this point in time and replace unhealthy behaviors with new, healthier ones. During hypnosis, your body relaxes and your thoughts become more focused. Most of us are running around in a stressed out manner that causes the body to remain in a state of “fight or flight” on a daily basis! This state causes less blood to go the brain and gastrointestinal region resulting in gastrointestinal issues and less brain functionality. However, just by being in the state of hypnosis, it lowers blood pressure and heart rate, changes certain types of brain wave activity, and puts the body back into a balanced state of homeostasis. In this relaxed state, you will feel at ease physically, yet alert mentally and highly responsive, and come out of hypnosis feeling much more relaxed and balanced than when you first started.
During the free consultation, the hypnotherapist will talk to you about the issue that brought you in and then explain what hypnosis is, how it works and how it can specifically work for you. Should you wish to have a session, you will then fill out some forms, including medical and psychological history and a confidentiality agreement. You will then be directed through some induction techniques, including relaxation, to achieve a relaxed, hypnotic state where you can best access the power of your subconscious. Each session is tailored to the specific needs of the individual.
Each session lasts an average of 45-90 minutes, depending on the needs of the client. Most people see some positive results after the first session but most choose to have several more to reach optimal results. The average amount of sessions for a given issue is between 1-3, though some issues like weight loss and stop smoking need 6. So most clients achieve the results they desire between 1-6 sessions. You and your hypnotherapist will monitor and evaluate your progress over time. Children are easily hypnotized and may respond after only one or two visits. However, if the adult or child does not wish to be hypnotized, it will not work, as a hypnotherapist cannot force someone to do something they don’t wish to. So generally, the more willing the client is to “just go with it,” the faster and more effective the results are.
Hypnosis is used in a variety of settings from emergency rooms to dental offices to outpatient clinics and offices. Clinical studies suggest that hypnosis may improve immune function, increase relaxation, decrease stress, and ease pain and feelings of anxiety. Hypnotherapy can reduce the fear and anxiety that some people feel before medical or dental procedures. For example, hypnosis may improve recovery time and reduce anxiety as well as pain following surgery. Clinical trials on burn patients suggest that hypnosis decreases pain (enough to replace pain medication) and speeds healing. Another clinical trial shows how patients who used hypnosis had faster recovery from a broken bone by that bone healing an average of 2 weeks faster than someone who didn’t use hypnosis. Still another showed that patients who needed a mastectomy and used hypnosis, needed less anesthesia during surgery, less medication after surgery, less side-effects from the surgery and recovered and left the hospital an average of a day and a half faster than patients who did not use hypnotherapy. Generally, clinical studies show that using hypnosis may reduce your need for medication, improve your mental and physical condition before an operation, and reduce the time it takes to recover. Dentists also use hypnotherapy to control gagging and bleeding, as well as pain. A hypnotherapist can teach self-regulation skills. For instance, someone with arthritis may learn to turn down pain like the volume on a radio. Hypnotherapy can also be used to help manage chronic illness. Self-hypnosis can enhance a sense of control, which is often lacking when someone has a chronic illness. Clinical studies on children in emergency treatment centers show that hypnotherapy reduces fear, anxiety, and discomfort. Other problems or conditions that may respond to clinical hypnotherapy include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Tension Headaches/Migraines
- Alopecia Areata
- Fears, Phobias, or Trauma Recovery
- Labor and Delivery
- Skin Disorders [such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema (atopic dermatitis)]
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Cancer-Related Pain
- Body Shape/Weight Loss
- Eating Disorders
- Indigestion (dyspepsia)
- Sports Enhancement
- Guilty or Angry Feelings
- Low Self Esteem or Shyness
- Lack of Motivation
- Test Taking/Accelerated Learning/Memory
- Chronic Pain (already assessed by a physician)
- Accelerated Healing (already assessed by a physician)
- Relationship Issues
- Job Performance
- Unwanted Habits
- Smoking Cessation
- Sports/Skill Performance
- Self Confidence
No, people with brain damage cannot and hypnosis works best with average to above average functioning individuals. It is not as successful and not recommended with people who have serious mental disease. If you are willing to be hypnotized, then you are a great candidate. If you are not a naturally responsive subject you can improve your receptivity to hypnosis with practice. Each time you are hypnotized and practice self-hypnosis, you can become more and more responsive and susceptible to it.
Yes! The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association
have both approved hypnotherapy for use by professionally responsible individuals, the
AMA first in 1958 and then again in 1987, followed 2 years later in 1960 by the American
Psychological Association who endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology. The British
Medical Association also adopted hypnosis as a viable therapeutic tool in 1958, at which
time, the BMA also advised all physicians and medical students to receive fundamental
training in hypnosis. More recently, the National Institute of Health (NIH) also endorsed
“The evidence supporting the effectiveness of hypnosis in alleviating chronic pain associated
with cancer seems strong. In addition, the panel was presented with other data suggesting
the effectiveness of hypnosis in other chronic pain conditions, which include irritable bowel
syndrome, oral mucositis [pain and swelling of the mucus membrane], temporomandibular
disorders [jaw pain], and tension headaches.” (NIH, 1995)
No, the induction of hypnosis and hypnosis itself are not dangerous to the subject. But it should be mentioned that personal disappointments may arise because of unrealistic expectations or preconceived misinformation.
Impossible! It only appears that way in stage hypnosis, where the hypnotist asks for volunteers (many of whom have been drinking and who are already willing as they are volunteering themselves) or picks likely people to come on stage and participate. However, stage hypnosis is no different than any other hypnosis in that it is still absolutely impossible to make someone do something that is against their will, values or beliefs. So, even their participants must be willing to participate.
Professional hypnosis is quite different. A hypnotherapist is there to help you with your issues and needs your cooperation with the process. If the hypnotherapist were to give you suggestions that you didn’t agree with or were morally against your beliefs, you would express that to the hypnotherapist or refuse them outright. You do not black out
when hypnotized and you are not sleeping or else you would not be able to respond to the hypnotherapist!
Never! There is absolutely no danger to you in a state of hypnosis.
The answer is that currently most states, including California, do not require licensure by hypnotherapists. So even though hypnosis is very safe, to achieve the most effective results, the client should use discretion when choosing a hypnotherapist, as anyone, with very minimal training or even none at all, can claim to be a hypnotherapist. It is advisable to check the hypnotherapist’s education, both before and after they became a hypnotherapist (where they went to school, was it accredited, online or live training, how long the program is, its
reputation, experience in the mental health profession, etc.) as well as their certification (who they are certified with, what are the qualifications of being certified with that agency,
etc.). Many schools and certifying boards are not only not accredited but often have no qualifications or continuing education necessary to be certified by them.
So please look into the background of any hypnotherapist to get the best results for you. Doing this will ensure that you are getting a quality hypnotherapist and then it’s up to you to
chose based on different needs and preferences.
Yes, hypnotherapy is covered by some insurance plans. If you are unsure whether your insurance plan covers hypnotherapy, please check with your provider directly.