What is hypnosis

What’s hypnosis?

There has been a lot of discussion among experts (and quite a few theories) about the nature of hypnosis but we have yet to reach a consensus. Instead of a definition, we tend to offer a description of the process and what one is likely to experience and observe during hypnosis. So, lets briefly describe the process so you can an idea of how it is done, although words cannot truly decribe an experience.

Hypnosis usually involves a person being focused on appropriate suggestions put by the therapist in order to experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts and/or behaviour. Your attention tends to narrow down, and you are focused on what you are doing and feeling and less on your surroundings. During hypnosis, you are not so critical or quick to shrug off suggestions. This means that you are more willing to try out new ways of achieving your goals. Suggestions differ from instructions because they tend to be experienced, at least to some degree, as avolitional (automatic). Hypnosis can be used as a means of managing symptoms (as in pain management) or by dealing with the behavior directly (e.g. responding to a situation differently) or by exploring the problem and its possible solutions or all of the above (which may often be the case).


The hypnotic context is often established by an induction procedure (a preparation with which one begins), although this is not always the case. There are various ways of inducing hypnosis. Most induction procedures attempt to establish a focus of attention. The focus of attention can be internal or external.

If the therapist, for example, asks you to close your eyes and attend to feelings of relaxation or to a calming word or picture, the focus of attention is internal. Here’s a glimpse of how it may start:

and as you are relaxing with your eyes closed, feeling all the more comfortable, you may have already noticed how your breathing has its own rhythm, how you are more attentive to your inner feelings, or your inner abilities, the ability to relax even further, even deeper…(continue deepening using comforting words or images

Whereas, if you are asked to look at your hand, a spot on the wall or on your forehead, the focus of attention is external:

and as you are sitting comfortably in the chair, all you need to do is look at that spot on the wall, and as you are simply looking at that spot, sitting comfortably in that chair, you may notice soon enough that those eyes are becoming somewhat heavier or somewhat sleepier, both maybe…” (we continue until eyes close and then we proceed to deepen the experience).

Often, the client engages in psychotherapy during hypnosis. Thus, it is most likely that you will be talking to your therapist during the process. By teaching the client self-hypnosis, therapy continues at home (and it is not confined to the office). Thus, the client’s sense of autonomy and self-mastery increases.


People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe their experience as an altered state of consciousness. Others describe it as a normal state of focused attention, in which they feel calm and relaxed. Some people are more responsive to hypnotic suggestions than others, although most of us are in the middle range.

Your ability to experience hypnosis can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions. Contrary to some depictions of hypnosis in movies, in books, or on television, you have complete control over your behaviour and you will not do something that you do not wish. You will not talk about anything or share any personal information unless you choose to do so. Hypnosis is a self-control technique. So, its aim is to increase your self-control. Even in the extreme case that the therapist induces hypnosis, and then forgets all about you and goes home, you will either fall asleep (especially if you are tired) and wake up a bit later or you will just end it and alert yourself.

Many experts believe that all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. You are the one driving the car and the therapist is the passenger suggesting the direction you will take. In the end, you decide whether you will take the suggested route, how fast you will get there, and so on. Hypnosis makes it easier for you to experience suggestions, but it will not force you to have these experiences. After all, many professionals believe that hypnosis is not far removed from everyday experiences, such as daydreaming, being absorbed in a good book, or being engrossed in an interesting conversation.


Hypnosis is not a type of therapy, like cognitive or behaviour therapy. Instead, it is a process that can be used to facilitate therapy. Because it is not a treatment in and of itself, training in hypnosis is not sufficient for the conduct of therapy. It should be used only by qualified health professionals (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, speech therapists) who have been trained in the clinical use of hypnosis and are working within their areas of expertise.

Hypnosis is one of many techniques which form part of a treatment programme. It has been used in the treatment of pain, depression, anxiety and stress, panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, habit disorders, sexual difficulties, psychosomatic symptoms and many other psychological and medical problems, in both adults and children. Just because hypnosis can be applied broadly, it does not mean that it is the solution to everyone’s problems. The decision to use hypnosis as an adjunct to treatment can be made in consultation with a qualified professional who has been trained in its use and limitations

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