Psychotherapy What Is Hypnosis? By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 26, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Fiordaliso / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Hypnosis? Types Uses and Potential Benefits Impact Tips Potential Pitfalls History What Is Hypnosis? Hypnosis is a trance-like mental state in which people experience increased attention, concentration, and suggestibility. While hypnosis is often described as a sleep-like state, it is better expressed as a state of focused attention, heightened suggestibility, and vivid fantasies. People in a hypnotic state often seem sleepy and zoned out, but in reality, they are in a state of hyper-awareness. While there are many myths and misconceptions, hypnosis is a very real process that can be used as a therapeutic tool. Hypnosis has been shown to have medical and therapeutic benefits, most notably in the reduction of pain and anxiety. It has even been suggested that hypnosis can reduce the symptoms of dementia. Types of Hypnosis There are a few different ways that hypnosis can be delivered: Guided hypnosis: This form of hypnosis involves the use of tools such as recorded instructions and music to induce a hypnotic state. Online sites and mobile apps often utilize this form of hypnosis. Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis in psychotherapy and is practiced by licensed physicians and psychologists to treat conditions including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders. Self-hypnosis: Self-hypnosis is a process that occurs when a person self-induces a hypnotic state. It is often used as a self-help tool for controlling pain or managing stress. How Self Hypnosis Can Help You Manage Stress Uses and Potential Benefits Why might a person decide to try hypnosis? In some cases, people might seek out hypnosis to help deal with chronic pain or to alleviate pain and anxiety caused by medical procedures such as surgery or childbirth. The following are just a few of the applications for hypnosis that have been demonstrated through research: Alleviation of symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)Control of pain during dental proceduresElimination or reduction of skin conditions including warts and psoriasisManagement of certain symptoms of ADHDTreatment of chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritisTreatment and reduction of pain during childbirthReduction of dementia symptomsReduction of nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy Hypnosis has also been used to help people with behavior changes such as quitting smoking, losing weight, or preventing bed-wetting. Impact of Hypnosis What impact does hypnosis have? The experience of hypnosis can vary dramatically from one person to another. Some hypnotized individuals report feeling a sense of detachment or extreme relaxation during the hypnotic state while others even feel that their actions seem to occur outside of their conscious volition. Other individuals may remain fully aware and able to carry out conversations while under hypnosis. Experiments by researcher Ernest Hilgard demonstrated how hypnosis can be used to dramatically alter perceptions. After instructing a hypnotized individual not to feel pain in their arm, the participant's arm was then placed in ice water. While non-hypnotized individuals had to remove their arm from the water after a few seconds due to the pain, the hypnotized individuals were able to leave their arms in the icy water for several minutes without experiencing pain. What Does Hypnosis or Hypnotherapy Feel Like? Tips for Hypnosis While many people think that they cannot be hypnotized, research has shown that a large number of people are more hypnotizable than they believe. Research suggests that: Between 10% to 15% of people are very responsive to hypnosis.Approximately 10% of adults are considered difficult or impossible to hypnotize.Children tend to be more susceptible to hypnosis.People who can become easily absorbed in fantasies are much more responsive to hypnosis. If you are interested in being hypnotized, it is important to remember to approach the experience with an open mind. People who view hypnosis in a positive light tend to respond better. If you are interested in trying hypnotherapy, it is important to look for a professional who has credentials and experience in the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool. While there are many places that offer hypnosis training and certification, it may be helpful to look for a mental health professional who has been certified by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Their program is open to health professionals with a master's degree and requires 40 hours of approved workshop training, 20 hours of individual training, and two years of practice in clinical hypnosis. How Does Clinical Hypnotherapy Work? Potential Pitfalls Misunderstandings about the subject of hypnosis are common. While amnesia may occur in very rare cases, people generally remember everything that transpired while they were hypnotized. However, hypnosis can have a significant effect on memory. Posthypnotic amnesia can lead an individual to forget certain things that occurred before or during hypnosis. However, this effect is generally limited and temporary. While hypnosis can be used to enhance memory, the effects have been dramatically exaggerated in popular media. Research has found that hypnosis does not lead to significant memory enhancement or accuracy, and hypnosis can actually result in false or distorted memories. Despite stories about people being hypnotized without their consent, hypnosis does require voluntary participation on the part of the patient. People do vary in terms of how hypnotizable and suggestible they are while under hypnosis, however. Research suggests that people who are highly suggestible are more likely to experience a reduced sense of agency while under hypnosis. While people often feel that their actions under hypnosis seem to occur without the influence of their will, a hypnotist cannot make you perform actions that are against your wishes. While hypnosis can be used to enhance performance, it cannot make people stronger or more athletic than their existing physical capabilities. History of Hypnosis The use of hypnotic-like trance states dates back thousands of years, but hypnosis began to grow during the late 18th-century from the work of a physician named Franz Mesmer. The practice got off to a poor start thanks to Mesmer's mystical views, but interest eventually shifted to a more scientific approach. Hypnotism became more important in the field of psychology in the late 19th-century and was used by Jean-Martin Charcot to treat women experiencing what was then known as hysteria. This work influenced Sigmund Freud and the development of psychoanalysis. More recently, there have been a number of different theories to explain exactly how hypnosis works. One of the best-known theories is Hilgard’s neo-dissociation theory of hypnosis. According to Hilgard, people in a hypnotic state experience a split consciousness in which there are two different streams of mental activity. While one stream of consciousness responds to the hypnotist’s suggestions, another dissociated stream processes information outside of the hypnotized individual's conscious awareness. Hypnosis Apps to Try 10 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Michael H. Hypnotherapy: A Handbook.McGraw-Hill Education (UK); 2012. Williamson A. What is hypnosis and how might it work?. Palliat Care. 2019;12:1178224219826581. Published 2019 Jan 31. doi:10.1177/1178224219826581 Jensen MP, Jamieson GA, Lutz A, et al. New directions in hypnosis research: Strategies for advancing the cognitive and clinical neuroscience of hypnosis. Neurosci Conscious. 2017;3(1):nix004. doi:10.1093/nc/nix004 Landolt AS, Milling LS. The efficacy of hypnosis as an intervention for labor and delivery pain: A comprehensive methodological review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(6):1022‐1031. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.06.002 Jensen MP, Patterson DR. 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