Hypnotherapy is a therapy conducted under hypnosis. Hypnosis is an altered state of relaxation when the subconscious and the conscious mind are at heightened levels of awareness. As a modality, hypnotherapy works on the subconscious level based on the premise that mind and body work together.

By putting the patient under hypnosis and then giving them verbal therapeutic suggestions, the hypnotherapist works to go into the depths of the mind and alter the conscious obstacles so that the body heals itself through therapeutic suggestions that trigger the mind and body.



Hypnotherapy is the application of hypnotic techniques in such a way as to bring about therapeutic changes. The therapist assists in activating the inner resources of a person in order to achieve realistic goals.

For about 90% of the time we are using our unconscious to function and make decisions.  That means we are using our individual and unique past experiences to make sense of the present situation – the brain’s way of being efficient. So it makes sense to use the unconscious to “dehypnotize” ourselves from unwanted feelings, habits or thoughts – reducing anxiety and increasing motivation towards what you do want.

Hypnotherapy is becoming increasingly recognised for its’ effectiveness in helping people live more balanced, happier and healthier lives.

History of Hypnotherapy

Since the dawn of recorded history and before, hypnosis or hypnotic techniques have been used to heal, comfort, relax and motivate people by using their conscious attention to access mental and physical processes that are often unconsciously controlled. The term “hypnotism” was first coined by James Braid in 1843 who developed the first fully fledged psycho-physiological model of hypnosis, in opposition to the occult theories o f the mesmerists. His theory of hypnotism rested on the use of “concentration of attention, in which the subject is entirely absorbed with one idea, or train of ideas, whilst he is unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, every other object, purpose, or action” (Braid, J. (1846). The Power of the Mind over the Body).


Scientists and physicians continued to study the use of techniques to relax, focus attention and then foster patients' abilities to use imagination to access otherwise inaccessible bodily processes and mental abilities including a number of French researchers. In the mean time, .James Esdaile (1808 - 1859), a British surgeon in India, used hypnotism for pain relief and performed hundreds of major operations using hypnosis as his only anaesthetic. But the medical establishment did not take him seriously, and it was not until the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association, in 1892, unanimously endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis- but it remained virtually ignored by Medical schools and Universities.


The development of hypnotherapy was delayed by the rejection of hypnosis by Sigmund Freud who turned the focus in psychology towards psychoanalysis. Freud initially used hypnosis to regress clients to reveal childhood traumas that he believed influenced their current problems. It is reported that Freud was not particularly in favour of hypnosis as clients did not give enough credit to his influence in the process of healing, and that his very direct authoritarian style was less successful than other therapists.


Modern-day hypnotherapy has been heavily influenced by Milton Erickson (1901 -1980), an American physician who recognised and extensively developed the use of hypnosis through the use of indirect hypnosis – rather than a more direct authoritarian approach previously favoured (e.g. “you may notice your eyes closing now” versus “your eyes will close now”). He demonstrated that a variety of simple verbal strategies and guided imageries could be used to help patients access their own inner abilities with profound results in healing and optimizing functioning in any or all areas of their lives.


It is argued by some that the hypnotic state is not a "special state" but the result of normal psychological variables, such as active imagination, expectation, appropriate attitudes, and motivation. This has influenced emerging schools of hypnotherapy that combine cognitive behavioural techniques with the trance states that we all naturally experience.

The functioning of the brain, mind and body are the subject of vast unknowns, but scientific research continues to reveal the mechanisms by which hypnotherapy techniques may work, and helping to restore the acceptability of hypnosis as a legitimate and effective intervention.


How does it work?

By entering into a mental state of profound relaxation while focusing the conscious attention on certain kinds of ideas, hypnosis allows a functional connection and communication to normally unconscious thought processes. No one has discovered why or how hypnosis produces this effect but it is well documented that the hypnotic experience can produce alterations in blood flow, perceptions and a variety of brain functions that are normally considered out of the realm of "conscious" control.


Hypnotherapy uses a broad range of technique, including hypnosis, to disrupt and change the way the unconscious operates in certain situations, and increases the choice and flexibility you have.

An example of how we go into hypnotic/trance states naturally include when your mind is miles away in a boring meeting, or you have just driven through some traffic lights and have no conscious  idea what colour they were. Other examples are when we are feeling strong emotions –we often act as if on autopilot, repeating old patterns without seeming to be able to control it.


The success of hypnosis doesn’t depend on whether you are highly motivated or especially willing, and is unrelated to how submissive/trusting/imaginative you might be.

 Many hypnotherapists also use NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques to adjust how you interpret and store information in your mind, and to essentially get your conscious and un-conscious parts working together.

A typical appointment

Styles of hypnotherapy can differ in their approach, but many therapists will start with an assessment of your situation and then tailor the treatment to the individual.  This is because everybody has their own unique way of experiencing the world, through their own stories, thoughts, sounds, images, smells, tastes and so on that create their version of reality.

Some therapists will provide a one-off session (e.g. becoming a non-smoker or phobias), where as others may suggest an initial assessment, and then provide an estimate of the number of sessions needed.


Within a session a client could expect to be asked about the exact way in which they experience the condition (e.g. do you notice a particular feeling in your body when you experience X, a particular image?); to experience an altered state where the therapist can make suggestions in line with the change goal; to be taught self-hypnosis and other ways to change your state so that you can have greater choice about how you behave in future; and to be given various tasks to do between visits.

What to expect

Depending on the therapist style and methods used within a particular session, clients usually leave feeling very relaxed, and aware of experiencing things in a different way – a shift in their attention, dependent on what suggestions have been made. People also feel a lot more focussed, positive and confident in their change goals.

People are often confused about what to expect regarding hypnosis, and sometimes say they heard everything or nothing of what the therapist said – neither is incorrect, as the experience will differ greatly depending on each person. The effectiveness of treatment does not rely on the depth of the trance, and everybody goes into various trances throughout the day e.g. the TV trance, the eating trance, the arguing trance, the stress trance and so on.

Conditions treated

Hypnotherapy is effective for a range of conditions. There is good empirical evidence for it’s’ effectiveness for the following: -

Anxiety, headaches/migraines, acute and chronic pain management (surgery, cancer, child birth, osteoarthritis) , weight reduction, anorexia, asthma, bed-wetting, bulimia, cystic fibrosis, depression, fibromyalgia, haemorrhage, high-blood pressure, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea & hyperemesis,  smoking cessation, trauma recovery, wart removal.


Hypnotherapy is also successfully used in the treatment of many other behaviours, such as addictions (alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping), nail biting, stammering, phobias,  OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), panic attacks, fear of public speaking, stage fright, exam nerves and driving test nerves.

Hypnotherapy and NLP are also used very successfully in coaching clients for personal development, and improving performance in sports and the arts (e.g. writing, acting, and painting).


Hypnotherapy generally has only positive effects, and no known negative side-effects, which compares well to medication options.  However, a good therapist will recommend ruling out any physical/medical reasons for the condition you are seeing them for.


Therapists will usually decline treatment if a person has a diagnosis of certain psychiatric or neurological disorders, including psychosis, multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar disorder, or epileptic seizures (relaxation may trigger seizure).


Written by Natalie Fishwick



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