Inside Hypnotherapy and What It Can Do For You

Hypnotherapy is one of the most controversial and fascinating therapeutic approaches. Being under constant and intense criticism from experts who denied its claims, this field has been in a continuous process of growth.

Although sometimes wrongfully compared to circus hypnosis, hypnotherapy is an effective intervention that can restore our mental health and help us achieve well-being.

Nowadays, hypnotherapy is used to successfully treat various emotional and behavioral problems such as depression, stress, and anxiety.

Current research indicates this therapeutic approach may be a promising solution for people dealing with chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, addiction recovery, and many other health-related problems.

But before we look at how hypnotherapy cultivates positive change and improves our physical and mental health, we need to get a better understanding of hypnosis as a transformational process.

Hypnotherapy: What is it?

When we hear the word ‘hypnosis’ most of us probably think of a mystical technique that can completely subjugate the will of another person. At least that’s how movies and sitcoms usually portray it.

In reality, things are entirely different. Used as a therapeutic tool, hypnosis can be one of the most effective ways to develop specific abilities such as focus, overcome traumatic events, and find the resources to cope with emotional problems.

Is Hypnosis Real?

For someone who’s never experienced it, hypnosis may seem strange and kind of spooky. In fact, when we hear the word ‘hypnosis,’ many of us probably imagine a man dangling a pocket watch in front of our eyes. But that’s far from being the truth.

Hypnosis is merely a step-by-step process through which we enter a profound state of relaxation that gives us access to altered states of consciousness. There’s absolutely nothing mystical or supernatural about this technique.

What is a Hypnotic State?

In a nutshell, a hypnotic state is an altered state of consciousness. Being hypnotized is kind of like being entirely absorbed by a movie or an exciting book. Nothing else matters but the object that draws your attention.

People under hypnosis choose to gradually and willingly lose sight of outside stimuli and focus on internal processes. It almost feels like you’re somewhere between awake and asleep.

A person who’s in a hypnotic state can be instructed to describe a particular event from childhood, visualize the result of certain decisions, or explore potential solutions to a current problem.

Hypnotherapy Theory

Most psychological theories state that mental health problems originate in the subconscious, a place where childhood memories, desires, preferences, and other relevant information are kept.

For example, family and cultural norms can be assimilated so strongly by the subconscious that they give rise to behaviors that influence the decisions we make, without us being aware of it.

How Does Hypnotherapy Suggest the Mind Works?

Experts in hypnosis and hypnotherapy believe the mind operates both consciously and subconsciously.

The conscious mind uses a structured approach to process information and gives rise to decisions that later become actions. Any thought, emotion, sensation, or behavior that you’re aware of takes shape at a conscious level.

But the true origin of our thoughts, decisions, and actions lies in the subconscious mind. Being an immense reservoir of information, our subconscious contains all the resources we need to construct our perception of reality.

Through hypnosis, we can access this great source of knowledge and find solutions to our problems.

In short, consciousness is merely an expression of the complex processes that take place underneath the surface of our mind.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

The hypnotherapist invites the client’s subconscious mind to give up harmful ideas and dysfunctional thoughts and replace them with others that better fit their values.

Between sessions, clients are encouraged to make a personal effort towards overcoming their problem or achieving certain goals. Using audio scripts, they can practice hypnosis at home thus learning to access their subconscious mind without the help of an expert.

During a hypnosis session, the therapist can ‘plant’ suggestions that clients can activate when necessary. For instance, if you want to quit smoking, a hypnotherapist can program your mind to associate the word “Stop” with a sensation of calmness. This means that every time you crave cigarettes, you can simply say “Stop” and your mind will automatically enter a state of calm.

How Does Hypnotherapy Cause Change?

Through metaphors and hypnotic suggestions, the therapist can cultivate change and help clients find resources to cope with their problems.

But for this approach to work, the client must be willing to trust the hypnotherapist. Furthermore, any suggestion that does not conform to the client’s values would be immediately denied, and the person would come out of the hypnotic trance.

During hypnosis, the subconscious takes on the leading role, leaving behind the structured and easily accessible processes of our consciousness.

Thanks to hypnotherapy techniques, we can tap into unexplored resources and discover new ways to deal with our everyday problems.

What Happens in a Hypnotherapy Session?

Before inducing a hypnotic trance, the therapist will assess your suggestibility. This is the first and one of the most crucial steps in hypnotherapy.

While under hypnosis, the client’s body and mind are in a state of idleness and passivity thus allowing easier access to deeper levels of communication with the subconscious mind.

By cultivating a trust-based, communication-based relationship, the therapist gives clients complete freedom to explore the depths of their subconscious mind and discover the resources and answers they need to overcome emotional and behavioral problems.

Modern hypnosis relies heavily on a tight collaboration between the therapist and the client. Furthermore, clients are never asked to do anything that contradicts their principles or desires.

Does Hypnotherapy Work?

As we mentioned in the beginning, current evidence suggests hypnotherapy can be successfully used to treat various health-related problems.

By uncovering the subconscious origins of your problems, you gain a clear understanding of the mind-body interaction and discover valuable answers to your day-to-day hassles.

Hypnotherapy can help you get rid of headaches, quit smoking, overcome fears, regain self-confidence, achieve better focus, regulate your blood pressure, and keep problems such as depression, and anxiety in check.

What Kinds of Concerns is Hypnotherapy Best For?

Aside from severe mental disorders like major depressive episodes, acute psychotic episodes, schizophrenia, or neurodegenerative diseases, hypnotherapy shows promising results in treating mood and behavioral issues.

But this approach is not reserved exclusively for people who wish to overcome mental illness. Many of those who choose to see a hypnotherapist do it because they want to develop particular skills and abilities that will help them achieve personal and professional growth.

How Are Hypnotherapy Specialists Trained?

Many of the mental health professionals who seek hypnotherapy training are interested in learning practical ways to deal with ‘tough’ clients who are resistant to other treatment methods.

Before you can even think about entering a training program, you need to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology, education, social services, or any other related field.

Aside from a solid academic background, you also need clinical experience which you can obtain by doing an internship program at a mental health clinic.

Lastly, to obtain your license or certification in hypnotherapy, you need to join an extensive training program that usually covers both theoretical and practical aspects of this approach.

Concerns/Limitations of Hypnotherapy

Just like any other therapeutic approach, hypnotherapy has certain limitations that both mental health professional and clients need to be mindful of.

First, hypnotherapy cannot treat brain disorders, fix genetic problems or repair congenital damage. It’s also ineffective in preventing the aging process or helping you achieve something which surpasses your physical and mental abilities.

Second, due to its potential side effects (nausea, dizziness), some experts opt for different approaches. Furthermore, uncovering traumatic events through hypnotic trance may result in flashbacks, panic attacks, and anxiety, which is another reason why some mental health professional avoid using hypnotherapy.

Lastly, the far-fetched claims some experts in hypnosis have made over the years may have affected the reputation of this approach. However, the promising results published by experts from across the globe place hypnotherapy among some of the most effective therapeutic strategies.

Important Practitioners in Hypnotherapy

James Braid

James Braid was a Scottish surgeon and a pioneer of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. In fact, many consider him to be the first hypnotherapist to use this approach in treating functional nervous disorders.

For Braid, hypnosis was neither a miracle cure nor a universal solution that would eventually replace other forms of treatment. His sole purpose was to harness the potential of hypnosis and use it as a treatment option for various types of mental illness.

Jean-Martin Charcot

Known for his work on hysteria and hypnosis, Jean-Martin Charcot was a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology who recognized the immense potential of hypnotherapy.

Although his primary specialty was neurology – a field in which he excelled – Charcot was among the most vocal advocates of hypnosis as a potential treatment for mental disorders.

Milton Erickson

Milton Erickson is considered by many as one of the emblematic figures of modern psychotherapy. The American psychologist and psychiatrist created an entire therapeutic approach around hypnosis.

In fact, we could argue that he was the father of modern hypnotherapy, using this approach to treat difficult cases and gain new insight into the human unconscious.

How to Find a Therapist

Despite hypnotherapy’s solid scientific background and rigorous ethical standards, there’s always the chance of stumbling into self-proclaimed experts with sketchy academic backgrounds who seek to attract clients by making extraordinary claims.

If you’re planning to see a hypnotherapist, don’t just go to the first one you find on Google. Considering your mental health is at stake here, be patient and take the time to do some thorough digging.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Just like any other mental health professional, a good hypnotherapist should have a legit and verifiable academic background. In addition to that, his/her certifications should be recognized by reputable organizations such as The American Psychological Association.

Aside from academic background and certification, another crucial aspect you should be mindful of is interpersonal skills. Sharp hypnotherapists are excellent communicators who inspire trust and are empathetic towards your needs and concerns.

Furthermore, they set realistic goals and avoid making extraordinary claims.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

Here are a few questions that will help you determine if a therapist is right for you:

  • How did you become a hypnotherapist? What’s your academic background?
  • How long have you been working in this field?
  • What are some of the problems that hypnotherapy is best for?
  • What are the ethical standards that guide your practice?
  • What can hypnotherapy do for me?

The more you know about a hypnotherapists’ background and experience the better you can determine if he/she is a good fit for you.

Final Thoughts on Hypnotherapy

Though still under scrutiny by experts who doubt its results, hypnotherapy has managed to win its place among the most effective interventions for mental disorders.

By helping us explore the depths of our unconscious mind, hypnosis represents a valuable tool that allows us to discover the origins of our emotional pain and access valuable resources that facilitate healing and growth.

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Ebesutani, C. K., Helmi, K., Fierstein, M., Taghizadeh, M. E., & Chorpita, B. F. (2016). A Pilot Study of Modular Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Hypnotherapy for Treating Anxiety in Iranian Girls. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 13-37.

Ford, A. C., Quigley, E. M., Lacy, B. E., Lembo, A. J., Saito, Y. A., Schiller, L. R., . . . Moayyedi, P. (2014). Effect of Antidepressants and Psychological Therapies, Including Hypnotherapy, in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 1350–1365.

Gill, M. (2018). Anatomy and Pathophysiology of Chronic Pain and the Impact of Hypnotherapy. Sleep and Hypnosis, 85-90.

Haghighi, S., Movahedzadeh, B., & Malekzadeh, M. (2016). The Effectiveness of Group Cognitive Hypnotherapy on Major Depression Referred to Residential and Semi-residential Addiction Recovery Centers. Armaghane Danesh Bimonthly Journal, 914-923.

Harris, T. (n.a.). How Hypnosis Works. Retrieved from HowStuffWorks:

Hypnotherapy. (2015). Retrieved from GoodTherapy:

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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