Want to find out more about hypnosis? The FAQs on this page will help you understand what hypnosis is and how hypnotherapy works.
In simple language, I’ll try to answer the most frequently asked questions about hypnosis and explain how hypnotherapy is different to counselling and other talking therapies like CBT.
Hopefully, my answers will inspire you to find out more about hypnosis and whether hypnotherapy is something you’d like to use personally or even train in professionally.
Just to say that if you have a question that isn’t listed below send me an email and I’ll add it to the list.
And if you prefer to learn by watching rather than reading, check out the free video course Learn Hypnosis in 5 Days.
Okay, let’s get to the FAQs about hypnosis and find out about this most fascinating of subjects…
- What is hypnosis?
The best and simplest definition of hypnosis is a ‘narrowing of focus of attention’. When you become absorbed in something you can be said to be in a hypnotic state.
Think about times when you lose yourself in a good book, film, or whilst scrolling through social media on your phone. Playing a musical instrument, drawing/painting, gardening: these are all examples of when your focus of attention is narrowed.
Daydreaming is a hypnotic state, as is being in a state of reverie.
Strong emotions such as anger and anxiety are also examples of hypnosis. A panic attack is a hypnotic state.
Thus, when your attention is narrowed in some way you enter hypnosis. It’s an everyday occurrence; your attention is always focusing in on something then out again throughout the day. For this reason it could be said that we spend much of our waking hours in some kind of hypnotic trance.
- Can I be hypnotised?
Most of the people that come to see me are already hypnotised.
Strong emotions such as fear, anger, depression, and things like addiction and OCD are largely driven by hypnotic processes.
So in answer to this question, ‘Can I be hypnotised?’ I say, most definitely.
When we see hypnosis and trance as natural states of focused attention, we come to understand that absorption is a ‘human given’; an instinctive ability.
What I help people do is de-hypnotise them from their limiting trances and then help set up better trances or even access a larger consciousness, a ‘no-state state’ a bit like mindfulness or expanded awareness of All That Is.
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- Is hypnosis like sleep?
This is a common misconception, not helped by the Greek word for sleep, hypnos. But hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep.
You don’t ‘go under’, you definitely don’t become unconscious, and most likely you won’t fall asleep during a hypnotherapy session (though this sometimes happens because it feels so relaxing!)
Suffice to say that, in itself, hypnosis is not a state of sleep but a state of waking focused attention and absorption.
Sports people call it being ‘in the zone’ or in a state of ‘flow’.
- What happens in hypnosis?
This depends on whether you’re visiting a stage show or a hypnotherapist.
Hypnosis stage shows are purely for entertainment and participants can end up doing the most ridiculous things. This is because the hypnotist is, by and large, directing the participants’ attention mechanism.
It takes only a couple of minutes (and sometimes much less time) to stimulate the REM state. The brain switches over to right-hemisphere dominance and it is as if the hypnotist directs a ‘waking dream’.
So when you see people doing crazy things on the stage, it’s no different to the crazy, non-sensical dreams we all have every night. The same mental processes are in operation.
A hypnotherapist will use hypnosis for therapeutic ends, having identified with each client their goals of therapy.
And then, using a variety a techniques in trance, you might experience…
- Age regression – like going back to an earlier time in your life
- Age progression – going forward in time to mentally rehearse things going better in your life
- Amnesia – to help you forget certain things and let go of the past
- Dissociation – used in the right way, this can help you disconnect from troubling memories
- Post hypnotic suggestions – given to you whilst in trance that have a positive effect later
- Sensory distortion – sounds, physical sensations, feelings and emotions are often experienced differently in hypnosis: pleasurable emotions can be amplified whilst troubling emotions can be diminished
- Time distortion – a common trance phenomenon
- Could I get stuck in hypnosis?
This is a common misconception about hypnosis. It’s a bit like asking if anyone ever got stuck in a daydream.
Going into trance and then out again seems to be a natural ‘oscillation’ of human consciousness: we focus and become absorbed in something for a while (sometimes so deeply that the rest of the world disappears) then we de-focus and ‘come to’, like awakening from a daydream.
So the simple answer is, no, you can’t get stuck in hypnosis whether that’s on stage with a hypnotist or in session with a hypnotherapist. You’ll emerge from the hypnotic state and get on with the rest of your day.
Having said that, it does seem that some people spend large amounts of time in some sort of trance. Depression is a trance state. Addictive behaviours are often carried out in a trance, driven by unconscious compulsions.
The fact of the matter is that although you can’t really get stuck in hypnosis, many people do spend a lot of time in varying degrees of trance, more in than out.
A good hypnotherapist will help you break free from unhelpful trances, perhaps by helping you develop your Observing Self – the ability to step back and see things from a wider perspective rather than the narrow lens of the hypnotic state.
RELATED CONTENT: Find out more in the excellent book Trances People Live
- Can a hypnotherapist control my mind?
This is another misconception fuelled by Hollywood fiction and ridiculous TV and stage shows.
Those of us who grew up watching Paul McKenna might think otherwise; it seems as if he had total control over the participants on the stage as they clucked like chickens or danced with broomsticks.
But this isn’t mind control. It’s the power of suggestion, combined with emotional intensity and absorption.
Before the cameras rolled, McKenna – like any stage hypnotist – would have tested the audience for their ‘hypnotisability’. He would have chosen only those that passed the tests. In other words, people who were highly hypnotisable.
The fact is that some people are better at hypnosis that others; McKenna would work with people who…
- were highly suggestible
- had a very good imagination
- were probably extroverted so didn’t mind making a fool of themselves
- didn’t want to spoil the show so would go along with anything he suggested
It made for great TV. Of course, expectation plays a huge part in this as well. If you’re going to a hypnosis show you expect that there’s a good chance you’re going to be hypnotised.
So, can a hypnotherapist control your mind? Not without your permission.
That being said, take a look at the next question: is hypnosis dangerous?
- Is hypnosis dangerous?
Yes, hypnosis can be dangerous – in the wrong hands!
A trained hypnotherapist will have good therapy skills and have your best interests at heart. They will use hypnosis therapeutically such as help you to relax deeply and process difficult emotions and memories from your past.
They’ll also use hypnosis to help you anticipate a better future by mentally rehearsing things going well. This is a typical use of hypnosis for improving sports performance.
But hypnosis also has a dark side.
Hitler hypnotised a whole nation with his rhetoric. Many politicians to this day use similar tactics, ramping up sentiment and arousing emotions, both of which serve to narrow our focus of attention.
So called spiritual gurus hypnotise mass audiences with their speeches that are littered with nominalisations – vague words that force us to go inwards to try to make sense of what they are saying. And going inwards is another definition of hypnosis.
Think of words like ‘nirvana’ and ‘enlightenment’. And what of the Lord’s Prayer? It’s full of hypnotic language. You have to go within to try to make sense of what it all means.
This, of course, is more a failure of the English language. There are no better words to describe certain states of consciousness such as the mystical state of oneness.
Suffice to say that hypnosis in itself is neither good nor bad. It’s all about how it is used. It has the potential to be dangerous in the wrong hands.
But used by a competent therapist, hypnosis is safe and speeds up the process of change because you’re tapping into the REM state – nature’s optimal learning state.
- What is hypnosis good for?
Used therapeutically, hypnosis plays a massive role in mind-body healing.
These are some of the symptoms I’ve treated in over 20 years as a hypnotherapist…
- stopping smoking and other addictions
- fears, phobias, and panic attacks,
- trauma and PTSD
- weight problems and eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia
- low confidence and self-esteem
- relationship problems such as jealousy and insecurity
- depression and suicidal thoughts
- pain, physical injuries and illness
- sleep problems
- OCD and intrusive thoughts
- shyness and and social anxiety
- poor performance in school, work, business, sports, the performing arts
- lack of motivation and/or procrastination
- public speaking and giving presentations
- loss and bereavement
- lack of purpose or meaning in life
Remember, hypnosis occurs naturally in everyone. When we learn to use it properly we program our minds better. Healing takes place on all levels: body, mind, and soul.
If you want to find out if hypnotherapy could help your issue of concern, book a Free Discovery Session with me. No fee. No obligation to book for paid sessions. Just a chance for you to find out more.
- How does hypnotherapy work?
Unlike talking therapies like counselling and CBT (which have an emphasis on changing your thought processes) hypnotherapy aims to change things on a deeper, ‘feeling’ level.
This is because the brain processes emotions before thoughts. If we can change the way your brain processes emotions (many of which are linked to your past) you will naturally think differently.
So, hypnotherapy uses the state of hypnosis – that naturally occurring focused state – to stimulate changes on a deeper, subconscious level. This, in turn, produce changes also on a conscious level, changing the way you feel, think and behave.
By using hypnosis we access the REM state – our optimal learning state. (We all enter REM during sleep but we now know that REM occurs also whilst we’re awake when the brain switches over to right hemisphere dominance). And that’s what hypnotherapy taps into.
But it isn’t simply being in hypnosis that creates changes. Hypnosis is not a therapy in itself. It is the suggestions and ideas absorbed whilst in the hypnotic state (the REM state) that produces the changes.
When these are accepted by your subconscious mind it’s almost as if you operate on updated software, no longer controlled by old memory patterns from the past.
- What happens during a hypnotherapy session?
Many people have the misconception that hypnosis is some kind of magic wand. Unfortunately it isn’t. The therapist won’t swing a watch in front of your eyes, ask you to stare at a ‘hypno disc’ or tell you, “You’re under!”
These were all old-style ‘authoritarian’ hypnosis techniques. These days, things are different…
Think of hypnotherapy more like counselling, but with the added benefit of hypnosis.
A typical hypnotherapy session will include the more traditional counselling skills of good listening, rapport building, empathy, goal-setting etc. before any hypnosis takes place.
The thing is that hypnosis is unlikely to have any positive impact if a safe, therapeutic relationship hasn’t been established first. (If you don’t like your therapist, good outcomes are difficult to achieve).
So typically, a hypnotherapy session involves a mixture of psychotherapy/counselling but with the intentional use of hypnosis as this helps you tap into your most powerful learning state – the REM state.
A hypnotherapist might also teach you self-hypnosis techniques that you can practise between sessions and set agreed-upon ‘homework’ tasks – things you can do to aid the changes you’re looking for.
Sometimes, I’ll suggest listening to a specific hypnosis recording at home as this can reinforce the work done in the hypnotherapy session.
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- What is the difference between hypnotherapy and psychotherapy?
A good hypnotherapist will have been trained extensively in counselling and psychotherapy techniques, such as good listening skills, rapport building, empathy, and having ‘unconditional positive regard’ for all their clients.
However, unlike counselling, a hypnotherapist purposefully uses hypnosis as the main agent of change.
But here’s the thing…
Hypnosis will be occurring in every therapist’s office, whether they call themselves a counsellor, psychotherapist or mindfulness practitioner. What I’m saying is that hypnosis plays a part in all such interactions.
For example, if a counsellor were to ask you to explore an old memory you would have to go inwards to access the details. And going inwards is one of the definitions of hypnosis.
The intimacy (and safe space) created by the therapeutic setting and relationship often means strong emotions are expressed. Emotions focus your attention. And focus of attention is hypnotic.
A deep and meaningful conversation with a counsellor or psychotherapist – where your attention is held for 50 minutes or so – can be so intense that the rest of the world disappears. That’s also hypnotic.
Most counsellors don’t even know hypnosis is happening in their consulting rooms. That’s why I say all professionals who work with people in mental distress should be trained in the use of hypnosis.
Knowing how to use hypnosis therapeutically – when it occurs naturally – could speed up recovery times. This would be beneficial for the client and alleviate waiting times, saving a huge amount of money for care providers.
- What's the difference between hypnotherapy in person and online hypnotherapy?
The main difference between in-person and online therapy are the techniques used. Some (such as techniques used in the treatment of trauma) are not suitable for working online.
Indeed, conditions such as psychosis or people with suicidal thoughts are best treated in person.
With in-person therapy the therapist can ‘read’ your body language much more easily compared to looking at you on a screen.
With in-person sessions, you and the therapist will more easily be able to use the therapeutic relationship and the ‘energy’ between you. This can often point to relationship dynamics you have with other people outside of the therapy room. This is not so easy to identify when working online.
That being said, good therapeutic outcomes online can be expected if you’ve developed good rapport with the therapist, feel safe, and have created a space where you won’t be disturbed (by family members, pets etc.).
A competent hypnotherapist will still use hypnotic techniques online (though may avoid using certain techniques with certain people for safeguarding reasons).
- Is hypnotherapy suitable for children?
Quick answer – absolutely!
Think of it this way: most kids spend huge amounts of time in some kind of hypnotic state. They are entranced by their phones, YouTube, or video games. This is hypnosis.
Nearly all kids love listening to stories. Stories themselves have the power to hypnotise us (children and adults!).
And what about a visit to the theatre or cinema? Kids become engrossed by what they are watching up on stage or on screen.
So when it comes to hypnotherapy, a skilful therapist will quickly establish rapport with the child (making him or her feel safe) and then use the child’s natural hypnotic ability to generate new ideas for the child’s subconscious mind to absorb.
Over the 20+ years as a therapist I’ve used hypnosis to help kids…
- overcome shyness
- build confidence
- deal with bullying, abuse and PTSD
- resolve panic attacks and ‘meltdowns’
- stop self-harming
- Limit screen time and improve attention deficit disorder
- break free from suicidal ideation
- conquer separation anxiety
- stop bed wetting and other habits
- have more self-belief
- overcome fears and phobias
- establish positive self-esteem
- make better friendships
- and more
- What is a hypnosis induction?
A hypnosis induction is a method whereby the hypnotist or hypnotherapist prepares you to enter the hypnotic REM state.
As hypnosis occurs naturally, a good therapist will simply elicit the way you already experience it. They will ask you to talk about your own experiences of enjoyable hypnosis such as watching a movie, reading a book, relaxing on a beautiful beach, whatever.
The therapist will later use this to engage your memory and imagination with ‘hypnotic language’ that draws your attention into the imagined scene playing out in your mind’s eye.
Indeed, it takes just a minute or two of focused attention like this to access the REM state. It’s as if your brain hands over control to the right hemisphere for a period of inward attention, much like going into a dream at night.
There are other, more rapid hypnotic inductions. Indeed, Milton Erickson, probably the most famous hypnotherapist from the last century, would sometimes use a ‘handshake technique’ that could put his clients into a trance in seconds.
This technique relies, to a degree, on shock and surprise in an attempt to confuse or disorient the person’s conscious mind. With the conscious mind (and any resistance) bypassed, the subconscious takes over where powerful suggestions can be embedded quickly.
- What is a hypnotic deepener?
A hypnotic deepener is simply a means of deepening the client’s trance if it is deemed necessary. (Most change-work can be done in light trance states).
You might be asked to imagine going down a flight of steps and as the therapist counts down from 10 to 1 they might suggest that, “With each number you can relax deeper and deeper.”
Or they might suggest you visualise going down in a lift, watching the numbers on the control panel or simply walking down a path on a glorious carefree day…
“And as I count from 10 down to 1…you can leisurely stroll down that path…taking your time to unwind a little bit more…with every step you take…and with every number I say…letting go…relaxing…deeply…lightly…or somewhere in between…”
A skilled hypnotherapist can deepen a client’s hypnotic state simply by changing their tone of voice and by using gestures.
When the hypnotherapist’s body becomes still and their breathing slows down, this is often mirrored by the client (especially if good rapport has already been established).
And when the delivery of words is slowed down…and the tone of voice deepened…and the volume quietened…it feels rather like being a child again, listening to a bedtime story.
But the thing to remember is that deep trance is usually not required for change to take place. Lighter trances are enough for new ideas to seed themselves in the client’s subconscious mind.
- What is self-hypnosis?
Self hypnosis simply refers to hypnosis you do yourself. And trust me, you’re already doing it every day!
Think of your little habits and mindless, repetitive thought patterns and behaviours. Many of us operate on autopilot, in some kind of zombie-like trance.
Just sit down in a cafe and watch the people walk by, heads down, engrossed in their phones, locked in a world of their own. This is self-hypnosis.
But there is a more intentional use of self-hypnosis. Instead of the automatic trances that you experience, you can set aside some time each day and purposefully use hypnosis to program your subconscious mind.
You might like to write a script, including a hypnotic induction and deepener, followed by all the suggestions you want to program into your mind. Then you could record this onto your phone – using your best hypnotic voice – then sit back and listen to the recording.
- What are your thoughts on AI therapy? Is it any good?
AI therapy has become increasingly popular over the last few years, especially among teens and young adults. It’s cheap (sometimes free) and it saves time having to visit a human therapist.
However there are limitations to the effectiveness of AI therapy. Indeed, even the programmes themselves say that the use of an AI app should not replace a real therapist.
Much of the problem with AI stems from the fact that a chatbot can’t read between the lines of your words. It can’t sense or feel what you’re feeling. It can’t ‘hold the space’ like an empathic therapist will. It can’t intuit what you need to start feeling better.
Abstraction from a computer’s database won’t ever replace human intuition, empathy and genuine care.
And an AI chatbot is a million years away from being able to do effective hypnotherapy.
The fact of the matter is that good therapy is underpinned by a therapeutic alliance between you and the therapist. With AI therapy there is no such alliance.
I say much more about the pros and cons of AI therapy here
I hope you found the answers you were looking for! If you’ve got a question about hypnosis that’s not listed here just send me an email. If it’s a good one, I’ll add it to this page.
Remember to find out more about hypnosis in the free video course: Learn Hypnosis in 5 Days.
If you want to learn hypnosis on a professional level take a look at the online courses in my resources for therapists section