What Is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is an adjunctive technique that utilizes hypnosis to aid in the treatment of specific symptoms or health conditions. Hypnotherapy works by inducing a hypnotic state marked by waking awareness that allows people to experience detached external attention and to focus on inner experiences. It is sometimes used as part of a treatment plan for phobias and other anxiety disorders. It is also sometimes used for pain management, weight loss, smoking cessation, and a variety of other applications. Formal explorations in the therapeutic uses for hypnosis began in the late 1700s but did not gain scientific credibility until much more recently. Modern researchers have further explored how hypnosis can be used, which conditions it can treat, and how effective it may be compared to other treatments.

What Hypnotherapy Can Help With

There are many different reasons why a person might want to try hypnotherapy. Research suggests that some possible applications include:

  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Dementia symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy
  • Pain during childbirth, dental procedures, or surgery
  • Skin conditions, such as psoriasis and warts
  • Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Hypnotherapy may also be used by licensed physicians and psychologists in the treatment of conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Benefits of Hypnotherapy

Some people may experience dramatic results with hypnotherapy. In other cases, people may simply feel very relaxed. Some of the benefits of hypnotherapy may include:

  • Awareness: Some people remain fully aware during the entire experience. They recall everything that happens and are even able to have conversations while under hypnosis. Other people may experience states of relaxation that are so deep that they may even feel detached from what is happening.
  • Focus: Most of the time, we are distracted by our surroundings. Whether the TV is blaring, your kids are demanding attention or your spouse wants to talk, it can be difficult to fully focus on yourself. Our conscious minds are also cluttered. You may be worried about paying a bill, concerned about an upcoming project, or planning tonight’s dinner. The therapy session is intended to break through these day-to-day concerns and allow you to focus completely on the problem at hand.
  • Relaxation: In the hypnotic state, you are deeply relaxed. Your conscious mind is quieted, allowing your unconscous mind to deeply focus on your issue. You are also calmer, and therefore more receptive to facing your problems or fears.

Most hypnotherapists utilize a series of calming messages, such as “you are safe” and “no one can harm you” to reassure their clients that during hypnosis they can objectively face their problems without having a panicked reaction.


The effectiveness and impact of hypnotherapy can vary based on the individual and how the treatment is used. Hypnotherapy has been shown to have some degree of efficacy for certain applications, particularly:

  • Pain reduction and control during dental procedures and childbirth
  • Reduction in nausea and vomiting in individuals being treated for cancer with chemotherapy
  • Reduction in the severity of symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

While it may help people cope with problems related to stress and anxiety, it may be best applied when used in conjunction with first-line treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and medications.

Things to Consider

While hypnotherapy is generally safe and well-tolerated, that does not mean that it doesn’t pose some potential risks, such as: 

  • Hypnotherapy can produce false or distorted memories in some cases.
  • People who are very suggestible may experience a decreased sense of personal control while under hypnosis.
  • Some people can experience side effects such as anxiety, headaches, or dizziness.
  • Hypnotherapy may not be appropriate for people who are experiencing symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations and delusions

Common Misconceptions

Hypnotherapy is still considered controversial, as many mental health professionals dispute its effectiveness. There are a number of myths and misconceptions about hypnotherapy that can affect how people view this therapeutic tool.

  • Hypnotherapy is often confused with stage hypnosis. Stage hypnotists are performers who are excellent at reading people. They seekextroverts who will put on a great show for the crowd. Whether or not their subjects are truly hypnotized is debatable, but they are willing to go along with the sometimes outrageous suggestions of the stage hypnotist.
  • Hypnotherapy doesn’t cause you to forget what happened. You will remember the things that occur during your hypnotic state, you will not be asleep or unconscious, and you will be able to break the hypnotic trance at any time.
  • Hypnotherapy doesn’t cause you to lose control. During hypnotherapy, you remain in control. It is not possible for anyone to force you to do anything against your will, even under hypnosis. You will be tuned in to the work at hand, and so may not pay attention to your surroundings, but you will always be in charge of your own actions, behaviors, and statements.
  • Being hypnotizable doesn’t mean you are less intelligent. While some people believe that they cannot be hypnotized, research suggests that most people are hypnotizable to a certain degree. Only about 10% of people are difficult or impossible to hypnotize.