What is Hypnotherapy?

When you think of hypnosis, you may think of a stage hypnotist getting someone to cluck like a chicken. While most people’s thoughts of hypnosis revolve around stage performance and entertainment. But that’s hardly an accurate reflection of hypnotherapy… 

As the name suggests, hypno-therapy is the therapeutic use of hypnosis. What that means is that hypnosis has been used in the treatment of various conditions that may defy conventional treatment. Things like irritable bowel syndrome, hot flashes, and pain management. 

If you suffer from any of the conditions where hypnotherapy has been found through controlled trials, to be effective, then you owe it to yourself to explore the possibilities that complementary and alternative therapies can provide you with the awareness and tools necessary to help alleviate your symptoms or free you from the root causes of your illness.

How does it work?

There are many scientific models used to explain how hypnotherapy works. While we won’t go into detail on each one here, for your reference, they are the dissociation model, the social cognitive model, the ability-aptitude model, and the social-psychobiological model.

What you may want to know is that in hypnotherapy, you’ll be entering an altered state of consciousness. This state is called trance or hypnotic trance by some in the field of hypnotherapy. It is a state similar to that of meditation, where your body and mind are relaxed, yet focused and responsive. 

In this state, you may find yourself aware of certain truths you were previously unaware of. Insights may come flooding in that help you understand the relationship between your thoughts and actions, and the disharmony in your life that is manifesting itself as disease.

What is it used for?

Hypnotic relaxation and suggestion have been used in the treatment of disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (Galovski & Blanchard, 1998; Palsson, Turner, & Whitehead, 2006; Prior, Colgan, & Whorwell, 1990), hot flashes (Elkins et al., 2008; Elkins, 2014), and dermatological disorders (Spanos, Stenstrom, & Johnson, 1988; Spanos, Williams, & Gwynn, 1990), Moreover, hypnotic relaxation and suggestions have been effectively used to induce analgesia and reduce pain dur- ing medical procedures (Lang et al., 2000). Hypnotic relaxation may moderate the effects of stress on immunity (Kiecolt-Glaser, 

Marucha, Atkinson, & Glaser, 2001). It has also been used with favorable results in the treatment of several mental health conditions including chronic depressive syndromes and post- traumatic stress disorder (Bryant, Creamer, O’Donnell, Silove, & McFarlane, 2008). Hypnosis using relaxation-based inductions has been shown to have a broad range of applications. Relaxation-based inductions have been shown to be of benefit for general pain management (Brown & Hammond, 2007; Hawkins, 2001; Montgomery, DuHamel, & Redd, 2000) and improving recov- ery from pain-related procedures (Montgomery, David, Winkel, Silverstein, & Bovbjerg, 2002; Patterson & Ptacek, 1997). Hyp- notic relaxation–based interventions have also been studied in cancer-related pain (Elkins, Cheung, Marcus, Palamara, & Rajab, 2004; Néron & Stephenson, 2007), tension and mi- graine headaches (Olness, MacDonald, & Uden, 1987), labor length and labor pain (Brown & Hammond, 2007), and procedural pain and anxiety (Elkins, Marcus, Bates, Cook, & Rajab, 2006; Enqvist, Björklund, Engman, & Jakobsson, 1997). Hypnosis with suggestions for mental and physical relax- ation along with other suggestions can provide a large analgesic effect for many types of pain and meets the criteria for “well- established treatments.” Patterson and Jenson (2003) and Elkins, Jensen, and Patterson (2007) found in recent reviews of the literature that hypnotic relaxation-based interventions for pain relief were found to be superior to placebo for both acute and chronic pain. 

“Hypnotic Relaxation Therapy: Principles and Applications by Gary Elkins.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 57(1), pp. 80–81

“Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of pain, depression, anxiety, pain, stress, habit disorders, and many other psychological and medical problems,” (Kirsch 1994b, p 143).

Hypnotherapy may be used for a variety of conditions, including:


According to the World Health Organization, “Randomized controlled trials also offer convincing evidence that therapies such as hypnosis and relaxation techniques can alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia.” 

Further, Gary Elkins asserts in his Handbook of Medical and Psychological Hypnosis that, “The accumulated clinical research provides persuasive evidence that relaxation-based interventions (including hypnosis) have therapeutic benefit.” These benefits may include:

Psychological Benefits

Health Benefits of Hypnosis

Side Effects

Hypnotherapy has a very low incidence of side effects and a very low risk of adverse reactions. In addition, depending on your health condition and if the treatment is successful, it also reduces your ongoing expense associated with medication treatments. 

With this in mind, experts like Elkins et al. assert that the positive benefits of hypnotherapy far outweigh the negatives. Side effects that do occur are usually short-lived, and may include:


Hypnotherapy may not be appropriate for everyone, particularly if you suffer from a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia or psychosis. 

Some people have reported the resurgence of memories from a previously forgotten or unresolved traumatic event. Reliving this event may increase feelings of anxiety and will result in having to process these traumatic events with a qualified professional.

False memories may also be a concern. This may occur when a therapist makes a suggestion during a hypnotherapy treatment session which results in the invention of a false memory.

What to expect

Curious about what to expect during your hypnotherapy session? Read our blog post about what happens during a hypnotherapy session. Meanwhile, here are five things to expect:

  1. Introduction. Your hypnotherapist will take some time getting to know you
  2. History. Your hypnotherapist should discuss your past history and get to know what kind of language may trigger you during your session, so the therapist can avoid using certain words
  3. Relax. Expect to relax and breath. No one can be hypnotized against his or her will. You are completely under control during your session and you cannot be compelled to do anything you don’t want to do.
  4. Induction. During the induction phase, your therapist may use guided imagery to help you relax. The therapist should use words and images that invoke relaxation and do not trigger past traumatic experiences.
  5. Suggestions. Once you’re in a state of hypnosis, your therapist will make certain suggestions. These should be created and agreed upon beforehand during the introduction and history stage. Examples of this may include: “You are free from the desire to smoke,” or “Your desire to eat healthy foods grows stronger as you make more positive choices about what you eat.”
  6. Ending the session. It’s important to come out of your hypnotherapy session gently. But it’s also important to end the trance state so you don’t experience episodes of spontaneous dissociation. Your therapist should firmly, but gently bring you back into a fully-wakened state at the end of your session.

How to find a Hypnotherapist

What a good hypnotherapist will do is guide you in the hypnotherapy process. While you may be capable of using self-hypnosis and guiding yourself, a qualified, professional hypnotherapist will guide you into the state of hypnosis, ask insightful questions, and guide you throughout the entire process to assure a successful outcome from your hypnotherapy sessions.

There are many types of hypnotherapy, and each hypnotherapist has his or her own approach to working with clients. Just like you may speak and meet with many doctors before choosing one as your primary care physician, it’s a good idea to speak with many different hypnotherapists to understand which may work best for you.

Read these 10 tips for choosing a hypnotherapist. We’ve also compiled a list of questions to ask your hypnotherapist. When you’re ready, view our directory of acupuncturists and find one near you who fits your needs and you feel may help you without whatever challenges you’re facing.


Bagozzi, D. (2010, December 08). WHO launches the first global strategy on traditional and alternative medicine. Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release38/en/

Elkins, G. R. (2017). Handbook of Medical and Psychological Hypnosis. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Gruzelier, J. (2000). Unwanted effects of hypnosis: A review of the evidence and its implications. Contemporary Hypnosis,17(4), 163-193. doi:10.1002/ch.207. Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d05e/1c440e0072b44f429c4129e403489eaae002.pdf