Hypnosis – what’s fact and what’s fiction?

Hypnosis is a technique that is both widely used and controversial. Many see it as a form of stage entertainment. True hypnosis, however, is very different and has valuable medical and therapeutic benefits, providing effective treatment to a variety of ailments – from anxiety and depression to chronic pain. To help you gain a deeper understanding of hypnosis, let’s look at how it works and unpick some of its misconceptions.

What is hypnosis?

The British Psychological Society (BPS) defines hypnosis as an interaction between a ‘hypnotist’ and a ‘subject’. Your therapist (hypnotist) will attempt to influence you (subject) by means of suggestions. By giving you instructions, the end goal is to change your feelings, behaviour, thinking or perception. You can also perform self-hypnosis, that is after you have received the proper instructions and training.

How does it work?

A hypnotist is far removed from the stereotype you see in movies. They are not armed with special powers and won’t put you under their spell and at their complete mercy. In fact, for a hypnotist (or hypnotherapist) putting a person under hypnosis involves training and deep knowledge of psychology and the human psyche in order to develop the special skills needed.

Contrary to popular belief, you won’t enter a sleep-like trance when you’re hypnotised. Instead, you’re in a state in which you have:

  • Highly focused attention
  • Heightened suggestibility
  • Vivid fantasies

People under hypnosis may appear sleepy or zoned-out but that’s not true. They are intensely aware. A trained therapist can put you under a hypnotic state by using visualisation and verbal repetition.

What does it feel like?

While under hypnosis session, you’ll feel a sense of deep relaxation with your attention focused on the suggestions of the therapist (British Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis). This is a relaxation technique that gives you time to reflect and resolve the issues that trouble you. While science can’t give a definite explanation as to how hypnosis works, the medical community acknowledges its results.

It’s also true that you can’t get hypnotised if you don’t want to. In order for hypnotherapy to work, you should approach the session with an open mind and willingness to face the problem. In addition, there are no physical risks involved during the session. Even during under hypnosis, you’re still under control.

Theory about hypnosis

According to the Hilgard’s ‘dissociation theory’, people who were hypnotised experienced a split consciousness. One follows the hypnotist’s suggestions. The other self, however, disassociates from the hypnotist and remains consciously aware.

Effects of hypnosis

Not everyone reacts to hypnosis in the same way.  People who got hypnotised gave various reports like:

  • A sense of detachment
  • Extreme relaxation
  • Some are unaware of their actions
  • Others are fully aware and can still talk to other people while under hypnosis.

Still, hypnosis can alter one’s perception. Research shows that people under hypnosis were able to be instructed to not feel pain. Even if their arm is placed in a bucket of ice water, they would not respond to the cold, whereas the expected normal reaction would be to instantly pull their arm out.

Conditions that hypnosis treats

Psychologists use hypnotherapy to treat patients with a number of ailments. People consider hypnosis for a variety of reasons. Many who suffer from either chronic and anxiety pains use hypnosis for pain relief. Others turn to hypnotherapy to change or improve their behaviour. These include people who want to:

  • Lose weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Stop bed-wetting
  • Get rid of their addiction

Hypnotherapy is also used to treat a number of medical conditions including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Relieving the symptoms of dementia
  • Dealing with chronic pain
  • Helping people with ADHD
  • Reducing nausea and vomiting experienced by cancer patients during chemotherapy
  • Improving the skin conditions against warts or psoriasis
  • Easing the suffering of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

The possibility of getting hypnotised

We always come across people who believe that they would be impossible to be hypnotised. However, they could be wrong considering:

  • Only 10{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of adults are highly resistant to hypnosis.
  • People who often engaged in fantasies find it easy to get hypnotised.

Misconceptions about hypnosis

Now that you learned about the benefits of hypnosis, it’s time to correct some misconceptions about it, these include:

  • You will not remember a thing while under hypnosis (untrue). Admittedly, you can experience posthypnotic amnesia. This is a state where you forget certain things that happen before and during the hypnotherapy session. The effects, however, are only temporary and limited.
  • Hypnosis is used to help people remember crimes that they witnessed (untrue). Unfortunately, you can’t enhance your memory through hypnotherapy.
  • Getting hypnotised against your will (untrue). In every session, you need to volunteer, to get hypnotised.
  • People under the influence of hypnosis can improve their athletic performance (untrue). You cannot use hypnotherapy to make yourself stronger or faster beyond your current physical abilities. On the other hand, it can enhance your performance.

What happens during a hypnotherapy session?

Firstly, tell your hypnotherapist what you want to achieve during the session. They will then explain the procedure they will carry out, which usually starts something like this:

  • Being taken into a deep and relaxed state.
  • You are then led to your desired goal. For example, getting ‘suggestions’ to quit smoking.
  • Once the session is near the end, you’ll slowly come out from the trance.

How to choose a suitable hypnotherapist

If you wish to use the services of a hypnotherapist, this is what to look for, to ensure you find the best specialist to treat your needs.

  • Aside from a hypnotherapy certification, choose someone who also has a medical background. This means a doctor, psychologist or counsellor.
  • If you’re suffering from a mental ailment or serious condition, choose someone who is familiar with your condition.
  • If you’re choosing a therapist for your child, pick one who has worked with children before.
  • See if the therapist is registered with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) accredited groups.

These tips are important because UK hypnotherapists are not required to do any specific training under the law. This means that anyone is free to offer hypnotherapy.

Leigh Adley is a qualified clinical hypnotherapist/psychotherapist based in Milton Keynes.  Her site, Set Your Mind Free aims to help people get rid of their unwanted habits or addictions.







Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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