What is it?

Hypnotherapy is one of the complementary therapies which is most respected by conventional medicine, and it has the largest body of supporting scientific evidence. Nonetheless, a recent Which? survey reported that it is one with which patients are less satisfied. This may be due to misconceptions about hypnotism in general and hypnotherapy in particular.

The nature of the hypnotic trance is not as mysterious as some people think. It is a state that most of us naturally drift in and out of during the course of a day: when we become engrossed in a task or a film, when we drive home on 'automatic pilot', when daydreaming. It has been suggested that children up to the onset of puberty can be in this light trance for up to 75% of the day. During these moments, our conscious (critical, ethical, judgmental) mind is still active, but by-passed, so that the unconscious mind, which stores every event and corresponding emotion and is very receptive to suggestion, becomes more active. The conscious mind has been likened to the tip of an iceberg, (with the unconscious underneath the surface, much larger, and very powerful), and to the ram power on a computer (which is only a fraction of the hard drive’s capacity).

In physical terms, it is thought that the left, analytical side of the brain becomes less active, while the right, imaginative, emotional side becomes more active. During deep hypnosis the metabolism, breathing and heartbeat slow down, and the brain produces alpha-waves, which indicate deep relaxation and are also induced by meditation.

Although the word derives from the Greek hypnos - 'sleep', the hypnotic state is quite different from sleep, and you will almost certainly remember the whole experience. The hypnotist encourages you to enter the trance-state, more or less deeply, but it is not possible for it to be imposed upon you. Further, you cannot be encouraged to do anything you don't want to, as you are still in control and your conscious mind is protecting you from unreasonable suggestions.

Stage hypnotism gave the discipline a bad name at its conception in the 18th century, and it continues to be counterproductive today. People appear to be 'forced' to act out of character, but in fact the subjects are usually extroverts enjoying themselves. Temporary amnesia is often 'suggested' to the subject's unconscious to maximise the mysterious effect.

Hypnotherapy itself can take several different forms. The most usual form is 'suggestion hypnotherapy', which aims to break patterns of thought and behaviour by means of positive suggestions and imagery. Pain can also be managed in a similar way. Less common is analytical 'age regression' hypnotherapy, during which a patient is encouraged to recall buried memories or emotions, which may be at the root of the present problem. This process may be traumatic unless carried out by a competent therapist.

The treatment

Initially the therapist will ask about the patient’s physical and mental health, likes and dislikes and motivation to resolve any problem. When the patient is ready to enter the hypnotic trance, the therapist will make them relax by asking them to visualise a place or scene, or a counting method may be used. Depending on the problem, the therapist may proceed straight to implanting positive suggestions, or some analytic discussion may take place.

Hypnotherapy is usually a short-term treatment; up to ten weekly one hour sessions would be typical for many problems. Many therapists will teach the patient the skill of self-hypnosis, so that they may continue to benefit from hypnosis at home.

What conditions may be improved?

The combination of relaxation and hypnotic suggestion may be used to treat both physical and psychological conditions. Hypnotherapy may be adapted for children (over about 4 years old), by using engaging imagery.

Eating disorders
ME/chronic fatigue
Panic attacks

Arthritis/ rheumatism (pain)
Asthma (the anxiety of not being able to breathe often makes the condition worse)
Cancer (pain; chemo side-effects; positive attitude helps the immune system fight the cancer)
Crohn's disease (immune system)
Eczema (stress)
Epilepsy (stress)
Fibromyalgia (pain)
IBS (emotional tension is often held in the stomach area)
Migraine (stress)
MS (pain)
Surgery - including dental (pain)
Terminal illness (pain; distress)

Hypnotherapy is not suitable for those with severe psychosis, depression, or obsessional neurosis; nor for patients who are debilitated or have a psychopathic personality or schizophrenia. Blind people are difficult to hypnotise; it is not possible to hypnotise deaf people.

Hypnotherapy is compatible with all other forms of therapy.


National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists
Suite B
12 Cross Street
Nelson BB9 7EN
Tel: 01282 716839

British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis
c/o Dept of Psychology
Grimsby General Hospital
Scartho Road
Grimsby DN33 2BA
Tel: 01472 879 238

British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis
4 Kirkwood Avenue,
LS16 7JU
Tel: 07000 560 309

American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists
4149-A El Camino Way
Palo Alto, Ca. 94306
Tel: 001 650 323-3224

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