Hypnosis – what is it and how can it help you?

Hypnotherapy and specially, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, has been proven to be an effective and sustainable form of therapy in areas like weight-loss, IBS, moderate anxiety and depression, stop smoking, improve performance and confidence, etc. Here you will find information about the pros and cons of hypnotherapy and research about the subject.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.”



The word “hypnosis” has always had a bit a mysterious connotation. Some people seem to encourage the believe that they have a special or even esoteric skill when they use hypnosis. This is added to by the fact that, although hypnosis has been known about for centuries, and been the subject of scientific research for over 200 years, there is still widespread misconceptions about what it actually is.

Unfortunately, hypnosis has become more widely recognised as ‘entertainment’ than as an instrument to change negative behaviours, ameliorate mental problems and ease some physical difficulties.

What is a hypnotic state?

The more you understand hypnotherapy, the more effective it is likely to be. If there are any points below which you don’t agree with, or don’t understand, please discuss them with your therapist.

  • Hypnosis is a distinct way of using various naturally occurring psychological and physiological states. It’s a collaborative process in which you allow yourself to follow the guidance of the therapist by using your imagination to evoke positive emotions and rehearse behaviour change.
  • Everyone can, in principle, be hypnotised. It has been shown to help if you relax, think positively, and imagine the things being suggested.
  • Hypnotic “trance”, so-called, is an increased ability to respond to positive suggestions, usually accompanied simply by relaxed attention to the ideas being suggested.
  • Hypnosis is definitely not a state of sleep or unconsciousness. Roughly 90% of people report being aware of everything that happens, and relaxation helps but is not essential to hypnosis.
  • Hypnosis is definitely not a state of mind control. You cannot be made to do anything against your will. On
    the contrary, normally you must want to accept suggested ideas and actively imagine responding to experience their effects.
  • Hypnosis is completely safe when used in a responsible and professional manner. Nobody has ever been “stuck” in hypnosis.
  • Comedy stage hypnosis has very little to do with clinical hypnotherapy and has been shown to foster misconceptions which can prevent people from benefiting from treatment. Take what you see on television with a generous pinch of salt.
  • Hypnotic suggestion is a means of experiencing certain helpful ideas at a level profound enough to directly influence our emotions and behaviour.
  • Psychological and emotional problems can be seen as the result of negative thinking, whereas hypnotherapy aims to encourage (“suggest”) positive ideas which lead to improvement.
  • Hypnotherapy, except for smoking cessation, usually requires more than one session. However, it is probably one of the briefest forms of psychological therapy, and in clinical studies the average number of sessions is around 4-6.
  • Hypnosis can help with an enormous range of different issues. Research tends to provide most support for its use in:
  1. Anxiety management.
  2. Pain management.
  3. Overcoming sleep disorders
  4. Treating certain psychosomatic or stress-related illnesses.
  5. Hypnosis is also used to conquer habits such as nail-biting or smoking cigarettes, and for personal
    development in areas such as sports performance, public speaking, or creativity.
  • Thousands of positive experimental and clinical research studies on hypnosis have been published. It was recognised as an effective treatment by the British Medical Association (BMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) in the 1950s and, more recently, by the American Psychological Association (for obesity) and NICE guidance (for IBS) used by the NHS.

The fact is that anyone who can focus their attention, use their imagination or who can become emotionally aroused, will, regularly, enter hypnosis. We are in a self-induced hypnotic state whenever we are highly emotionally aroused.  We can be in a trance when we are absorbed in creative activities or using our skills (gardening, writing, cooking, singing, dancing, playing football, etc.)

The famous state known as “being in the zone’ or ‘peak experience’, when we know how to do something well and we effortlessly become one with what we are doing is also a trance state.

The deepest trance we experience is while sleeping, during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) state. We all spend part of our sleep time dreaming. It is during this state that we learn essential skills for our survival, and we process emotional arousal.

So, hypnosis is not just a state of relaxation and concentration – It is the way we learn survival templates, the way we are conditioned, and the way we form our beliefs – and also the way we solve problems.

Thus, we should be careful about the therapist we choose. In fact, hypnosis is not always safe.

Careless use of hypnosis can interfere with people’s development and well-being.

The literature is full of unpleasant effects that have been experienced after hypnosis. It can go from extreme fatigue, headaches, and confusion to creating false memories and to the extremes of inducing hallucinations.

Hypnosis and self-hypnosis in therapy


Hypnosis is a powerful tool to help people change. Once a person is in a trance state, therapists can make powerful, positive psychological interventions, such as embedding empowering suggestions, giving direct instructions, and guiding the rehearsal of desired outcomes in imagination.

Guided Imagery (trance) also provides the best platform for desensitizing from strong emotions from traumatic events. This is why, using specific techniques, offers the fastest method to help people overcome phobias and PTSD.

Relaxation plus therapeutic interventions are what constitutes hypnotherapy.

Whether therapeutic trance work does harm or not depends on many factors including:

  • the integrity of the person doing the therapy
  • the therapist’s sincerity and intelligence (emotional and otherwise)
  • their level of skill and how well they use language skills; especially metaphor
  • the therapist’s level of knowledge about emotional and psychological problems
  • how well the therapist knows himself
  • their understanding of innate emotional needs about what a patient really requires
  • the therapist’s ability to put their own ego aside
  • the nature of the ideas absorbed by the patient.

Good therapy should include a combination of methodologies.  We are all different, and improving life performance or tackling emotional problems always involves taking into account several factors, such as how our thoughts and beliefs are built, our social and cultural background, and the habits we already have. Nevertheless, Guided Imagery is a powerful tool that should be used as an essential part of the treatment.

A hypnotherapy session typically involves the following components:

  1. Discussion of Goals: At the beginning of the session, the hypnotherapist will discuss the person’s goals and the reasons for seeking hypnotherapy. This discussion is intended to help the hypnotherapist understand the person’s needs and determine the best approach to the session.
  2. Induction: The hypnotherapist will then guide the person into a state of relaxation and suggestibility, known as a hypnotic trance. This may involve a guided visualization, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques.
  3. Deepening: Once the person is in a hypnotic trance, the hypnotherapist will often deepen the trance to help the person access their subconscious mind more effectively. This may involve suggestions for deeper relaxation or visualizations designed to deepen the trance state.
  4. Therapeutic Interventions: With the person in a hypnotic trance, the hypnotherapist may then use a range of therapeutic techniques, such as suggestion therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, or regression therapy, to help the person address their goals and overcome any issues or challenges they are facing.
  5. Emerging: Once the hypnotherapist has completed the therapeutic interventions, they will guide the person out of the hypnotic trance and back into a state of wakefulness. This may involve counting up from 1 to 5, or other techniques to help the person transition back to full awareness.
  6. Debrief: Finally, the hypnotherapist will often debrief with the person, discussing their experience of the session and providing any guidance or recommendations for further sessions or ongoing self-care.

What will you experience?

During a hypnotherapy session, some people may experience a deep sense of relaxation and calmness. They may also feel a sense of detachment from their surroundings or a feeling of being “in a trance.” Some people may also experience visualizations or sensory experiences that are suggested by the therapist. Others may feel a heightened sense of focus and concentration.

It’s important to note that the experience of hypnotherapy can vary from person to person, and not everyone will have the same experience. Additionally, the effectiveness of hypnotherapy can depend on factors such as the skill of the therapist, the willingness of the person undergoing therapy, and the specific goals and issues being addressed in the session.

The science of hypnosis

Hypnosis effectiveness


Scientific research about the benefits of using Hypnosis in several circumstances and to several different problems had been increasing since the early history of hypnotherapy. Here are some of the most recent studies and conclusions:

For stress and anxiety

Hypnotherapy has long been used to overcome fear and anxiety and also to quickly and comfortably cure phobias. Many therapists use a hypnotic technique to help people dissociate from negative events, which has been shown to reduce fear by making difficult memories feel comfortable and indifferent.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine carried out a study on children who were anxious about medical examinations. Forty-four children participated. The group who was taught self-hypnosis reported much less anxiety and the examinations in their group even took less time4

There has been a great deal of research done on the effectiveness of hypnosis and hypnotherapy for treating anxiety disorders. Hypnosis by itself and as an adjunct to other treatments has been proven to help calm anxiety in cancer patients, burn patients, and state anxiety issues such as pre-test anxiety.

A meta-analysis from 2018 reviewed the findings of almost 400 records, 15 studies, and 17 trials of hypnosis for controlling the symptoms of anxiety. They concluded that hypnotherapy was more effective in treating anxiety than other methods alone. At the end of treatment, the average participant in the 17 trials reported more reduced anxiety than 79% of the control groups.13

A 2018 study of burn wound patients found that hypnosis was highly effective in managing pain and reducing the secondary symptoms of anxiety.14

Another peer-reviewed study from 2018 of cancer patients concluded that the group receiving hypnosis as an adjunct treatment showed statistically significant reduction in symptoms of pain and anxiety. They further went on the say that hypnosis can be considered effective for controlling anxiety in cancer patients and other chronic illnesses.15

A 2010 meta-analysis concluded that a “tremendous volume of research provides compelling evidence that hypnosis is an efficacious treatment for state anxiety (e.g., prior to tests, surgery and medical procedures) and anxiety-related disorders, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.” The study also concluded that hypnosis showed promising results for treating general anxiety disorder but that more research was needed.16

If you wish to learn more about anxiety, here is some information that can help you manage it.


For weight-loss

There have been several studies investigating the effectiveness of hypnotherapy for weight loss. Here are some of the key findings:

  1. A review of 6 studies found that hypnosis for weight loss resulted in a significant reduction in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference when compared to control groups. The review also found that hypnosis was more effective when combined with behavioural therapy than when used alone.
  2. Another study found that participants who received hypnosis for weight loss lost significantly more weight than those who did not receive hypnosis. The study also found that the hypnosis group had better long-term weight loss maintenance than the control group.
  3. A randomized controlled trial found that a combination of hypnosis and behavioural weight management resulted in greater weight loss than behavioural weight management alone.
  4. A meta-analysis of 18 studies found that hypnosis for weight loss was associated with a significantly greater amount of weight loss than no treatment, and that the effects were maintained over time.
  5. According to a 2021 review, hypnosis may be a safe and effective adjuvant treatment for assisting weight loss.
  6. 2020 study indicates that hypnosis may lead to weight loss and considerable changes in leptin levels in people with obesity. Leptin is a hormone that helps control food intake.
  7. In a 2018 randomized control trial, found that regular self-hypnosis users reduced their calorie intake more significantly and lost more weight than those who did not use this technique. Those in the hypnosis group lost an average of 9.6 kilograms (kg) over a year compared with 5.6 kg among those in the control group. Individuals who learned how to use hypnosis but did not practice it regularly lost an average of 6.5 kg.

Overall, these findings suggest that hypnosis is an effective adjunct to other weight loss interventions. It’s important to note that individual results may vary and hypnosis should be used in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, for the best chance of success.

Find more information on therapy for weight loss here.

For pain relief and physical health2,3

Several studies show that people who are hypnotized before undergoing medical procedures like biopsies needed less sedation during the process, and experienced less pain, nausea, and emotional distress afterwards. Hypnotherapy has been found to be effective when treating acute pain after accidents and for chronic long-term pain, as well as increasing the immune system response.


For motivation5

Hypnosis can be used for all kinds of motivational issues, ranging from starting a healthy style of life, achieving goals, starting something new, feeling motivated to learn and change, etc. Research has shown that people are more likely to actually do something they’ve hypnotically rehearsed.


For performance6

Hypnotherapy has been used to improve concentration, reaction time, sports performance, and muscle strength. A study showed that basketball players taught to visualize a free throw radically improved their skills without physically touching a basketball. Another study published in 2007 found that hypnotic visualization can increase muscle strength almost as much as actual exercise.


For self-esteem and self-confidence7

Hypnosis uses the imagination constructively to embed self-confidence and encourage a strong sense of who you are and what you can become.


For changing habits and stop addictions8

We know something is a ‘habit’ when we no longer have to really think much about it

Bad habits can be replaced with good habits.

Of course, some habits are easier to change than others but Guided Imagery has been proven effective as a way of changing habits and stopping addictions.

For example, a meta-analysis at the University of Iowa looked at more than 600 studies about the best way of stopping smoke. The results included 48 studies of hypnosis covering 6000 smokers. They clearly showed that hypnosis was three times more effective than nicotine replacement therapy.


For childbirth9

Hypnosis has long been used to ease anxiety and pain in labour and childbirth.

The findings of a systematic review and a randomized controlled trial demonstrated significantly improved outcomes among women who used hypnosis during childbirth.  The researchers concluded that “outcomes are consistently in favour of hypnosis”. They suggested hypnosis could be considered an effective alternative to epidural anaesthesia because it is less invasive, and not associated with serious complications, and many women seem to find it a more satisfying way of giving birth, handing control back to the mother.


For fertility10

Hypnosis can be used to encourage conception and increase fertility (in men and women). In 2004 an Israeli study involving 185 women showed that the success rate of IVF treatments doubled in a test group (from 14% to 28%) when the subjects underwent hypnosis during implantation.


For insomnia and sleep disorders11

Insomnia and other sleep disorders can be caused and, in turn, worsened, by anxiety and stress.

College students with insomnia were assigned one of three treatments for a study:

  • No treatment
  • Progressive relaxation (with no other suggestions)
  • Hypnotic relaxation (with suggestions to sleep better).

After three therapy sessions, the progressive and hypnotic relaxation groups showed significantly greater improvement than the no-treatment controls. And hypnosis proved significantly more effective than just relaxation training.


For depression12

Now we know that hypnosis, used expertly, is a wonderful tool in helping treat depression. It helps to still the mind, which is just what depressed people who chronically ruminate need. It calms down the mind and body – extremely helpful, as depressed people always have higher than normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Hypnosis helps people sleep better, recoup lost energy and rehearse new positive behaviours, as well as build motivation to meet their emotional needs in satisfying ways.

AMA (1958). ‘Council on Mental Health: Medical use of Hypnosis’, JAMA, Sep 13, 1958: 186-189.
BMA (1955). ‘Medical use of Hypnotism: Report of a Subcommittee appointed by the Psychological Medicine Group Committee of the British Medical Association’,
Supplement to the BMJ April 23, 1955: 190-193, Appendix X.
BPS. (2001). The Nature of Hypnosis. Leicester: BPS.
APA (1997), Update on Empirically Validated Treatments, The Clinical Psychologist, 1997

  1. Hypnotherapy for overweight and obese patients: A narrative review – ScienceDirect


2. Mind Prepared: Hypnosis in Surgery | JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

3. Hypnosis as a treatment of chronic widespread pain in general practice: A randomized controlled pilot trial | BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)

4. Psychological approaches during conscious sedation. Hypnosis versus stress reducing strategies: a prospective randomized study – PubMed (nih.gov)

5. Picture yourself at the polls: visual perspective in mental imagery affects self-perception and behavior – PubMed (nih.gov)


7. J Ilmi, T Suharsono, M Ingarianti – … Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research Volume 128, 2017 – atlantis-press.com.

8. A meta-analytic comparison of the effectiveness of smoking cessation methods – PubMed (nih.gov)


Hypnosis for pain relief in labour and childbirth: a systematic review | BJA: British Journal of Anaesthesia | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

10. Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Vol. 31, No. 2, 2003, 121–127 http://www.hypnosisaustralia.org.au/wpcontent/uploads/journal/AJCEH_Vol31_No2_NOV03.pdf#page=31

11. Controlled investigation of the effects of progressive and hypnotic relaxation on insomnia. – PsycNET (apa.org)

12. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00029157.2001.10403465


*How does hypnosis work? eBook from Mark Tyrrel



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Maria da Silva (PhD, DHP Acc Hyp) is a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist and an expert in helping people understand and overcome their past conditioning and engage in meaningful and peaceful relationships through Nonviolent Communication.