Hypnotherapy, or hypnosis, is a technique through which a person is guided into a trance-like state of heightened awareness by a qualified therapist. It allows the person to focus their attention so narrowly on specific thoughts or tasks that they can ignore anything else around them - rather like being absorbed in a good book or movie. The person is awake, relaxed and comfortable; they even retain autonomy and have memories of the process afterwards.
When a person is under hypnosis, they are open to suggestions that may help them overcome negative behaviour or feelings and they can also discuss topics or memories that they may find difficult to contemplate normally. They may even have hidden these thoughts from their conscious mind.
Hypnotherapy is often used to help treat pain, anxiety and stress. It can also be used as part of an integrated program to help with weight loss and quitting smoking.
To prepare for hypnotherapy, the client should arrive wearing comfortable clothing and be well-rested to reduce the likelihood of falling asleep during the session.
Before beginning, the therapist will explain the process and discuss with the client what they each hope to gain from the experience. Using a gentle and calming voice, the therapist will guide the client through a series of images (such as beautiful scenery) until the client is completely relaxed and in a receptive state.
At this point the therapist can either make suggestions or explore and analyse the root cause of a disorder or symptom. Suggestions could include ideas to help the person stop smoking or they may invoke an image of the person achieving their goals. The analysis could include discovering a past trauma or deeply-held emotion that the person’s conscious mind has not acknowledged. This information could then be discussed in a follow-up session.
To end the session, the client is gently prompted to start to notice their surroundings and to slowly stretch out until they are fully alert again.
While in a hypnotic state the person is more open to ideas and suggestions which may enable them to move past current issues. Hypnotherapy can enhance the benefits of other psychotherapy treatments for issues such as:
Hypnotherapy may also assist with pain management especially after surgery or for those with chronic pain. Eventually, a person may actually be able to practice self-hypnosis and induce the trance-like state themselves. They could then draw on the skill as needed, for example in times of stress.
It is worth noting that some people find it difficult to enter a deep enough state of hypnosis for it to be effective. It is believed that the more easily a person can be hypnotised the more likely they are to benefit from it as a form of treatment.
When conducted or taught by a trained mental health care professional, hypnotherapy is considered a safe and recognised complimentary medicine treatment. It is not dangerous and there is no brainwashing involved. The client is aware of every stage of the process and cannot be forced to do anything they don’t want to do.
This form of therapy may be inappropriate for a person with psychotic symptoms (such as delusions or hallucinations), or for someone who has a substance addiction. If used for pain control it should only be after a doctor has assessed the person for any physical causes that may need medication or surgery.
While hypnotherapy can be an effective tool to help uncover repressed memories there is a risk that unintentional suggestions from a therapist may create changed or false memories. It should also never be used on someone with severe mental illness.
On very rare occasions, hypnosis may cause adverse reactions such as headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, anxiety or distress.
Other than the risks outlined above, the main downside is that it can sometimes be a less effective treatment than other forms of therapy or medication.
There are no official requirements for a hypnotherapist to have a particular qualification or level of training; however using a therapist that has some form of experience or recognised qualification in this field will help give you confidence in them.
If possible, get a recommendation from someone you trust. It is also useful to see if the therapist is a member of a related professional association and to learn how long they have been in practice?