Hypnotherapy: Definition, uses, benefits, efficacy
Reviewed by therapist.com team
Written bytherapist.com team
Last updated: 08/14/2023
Hypnotherapy is an alternative therapy that uses guided relaxation to create a state of focused concentration. From this state of hyperawareness, you can concentrate on specific thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that may be causing you trouble and discover potential solutions.
The basis of hypnotherapy is hypnosis, a psychological process that places a person in a trance-like state. While hypnotized, a person is fully present; in fact, hypnosis is a state of increased awareness. The trance-like experience simply allows you to focus fully on a specific problem or task.
This can be helpful if you tend to brush off potential solutions for your problems for a number of reasons: Maybe you’re too embarrassed, skeptical, self-protective, or cynical to accept ideas beyond those you already believe. The hyper-focused state of hypnosis casts those unrelated feelings and worries aside, allowing you to be more receptive to suggested solutions.
Because hypnosis increases awareness and focus, people who are hypnotized tend to be more open-minded.
Hypnosis is real, but it’s not a cure-all. It’s also important to clarify what kind of hypnosis really works. The type of hypnosis therapists use is not the mysterious or supernatural form of mind control depicted in old movies. It’s also not the same as the silly party trick you may have seen at a conference or on a cruise.
Real hypnosis cannot force you to do anything you don’t want to do. It increases your focus, awareness, and suggestibility, but it does not take away your free will. If anything, it can actually increase your agency when it comes to addressing problems in your life.
Hypnotherapy is an effective alternative treatment for many mental health disorders and distressing conditions, including:
Hypnosis as a therapy offers multiple, tangible benefits, such as:
- Pain management: Hypnotherapy can be used to alleviate chronic pain as well as instances of acute pain, such as childbirth and the side effects of certain cancer treatments.
- Relaxation: Guided relaxation is a critical part of hypnosis. By learning how to relax through hypnosis, you may be able to better manage the stressors in your life.
- Open-mindedness: It can be hard to overcome your own biases, whether they stem from your personality, identity, or environment. Hypnotherapy increases your receptivity to new ideas and perspectives.
- Increased self-confidence: Many people who undergo hypnotherapy report higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence.
If you decide to seek treatment with a hypnotherapist, you can expect your session to follow three basic steps: goal setting, guided relaxation, and suggestion therapy or regression therapy.
Hypnotherapy is a guided therapeutic practice. That means that you are led by a trained hypnotherapist. It also means that you are being led somewhere specific—that is, you have an idea of where you want to go.
When you meet with your hypnotherapist, they will help you identify your treatment goals. For example, you may have decided to seek hypnotherapy treatment to stop smoking or to address your insomnia. Whatever your motivations may be, your hypnotherapist can help you turn them into tangible goals.
In old Hollywood depictions of hypnosis, you may have seen a hypnotist swinging a pocket watch and repeating the words, “You are getting very sleepy.” This is an overly dramatized version of guided relaxation that you won’t see your hypnotherapist do. Instead, they will use evidence-based, therapeutic methods to lead you to a state of relaxation.
An important part of guided relaxation is your sense of safety. If you don’t feel safe being hypnotized, your hypnotherapist won’t be able to guide you into a state of hypnosis.
Once you are in a state of hypnosis, your hypnotherapist will employ one of two therapeutic methods: suggestion therapy or regression therapy.
Suggestion therapy can help you change or control any unwanted or unhelpful thoughts or behaviors. When under a trance-like state, your hypnotherapist makes suggestions to encourage more positive behaviors that are consistent with your goals. Suggestion therapy is particularly helpful for people trying to overcome addiction or phobias.
Regression therapy, also known as analysis, recovers repressed memories or traumas. Its goal is to uncover the root cause of psychological distress. Regression therapy can be helpful for people struggling with depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though its use remains controversial given that it poses a risk of creating false memories.
It’s important to note that although regression therapy may bring past traumas to light, it does not treat them. Memories uncovered during hypnotherapy will then need to be addressed through other, more traditional forms of psychotherapy.
There is no danger of mind control or brainwashing when it comes to hypnosis. However, that doesn’t mean that hypnosis is right for everyone.
In particular, hypnosis is not recommended for people who struggle with psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions) or who carry a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. It is also not recommended for people who are actively under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Hypnosis also carries some risks when it’s used as a form of memory retrieval, as it can inadvertently create false memories if the therapist makes unintended suggestions or asks leading questions. This is especially the case for people who already struggle with their grasp of reality. This is why hypnosis is not recommended for people whose attachment to reality is tenuous, whether due to mental illness or substance abuse.
Hypnosis has minimal side effects, including:
- Increased anxiety
Hypnotherapy is an alternative therapy, which means that its therapeutic benefits only go so far. It is most effective when paired with other forms of therapy, such as:
Most certified hypnotherapists are also licensed or certified to practice other, more traditional forms of therapy. To find a certified hypnotherapist near you, click here.
Hypnosis is real, and hypnotherapy is effective, but it’s important to have realistic expectations when you seek treatment through hypnotherapy. Remember, hypnotherapy is not a magic trick. You cannot be hypnotized unless you want to be, and you cannot be forced to do anything while hypnotized or after being hypnotized without your consent.
Hypnotherapy won’t magically change your behavior, but it can help you choose to make changes.
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The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.