In hypnotherapy, a therapist puts a patient into a mental state called a trance. A person in a trance is usually able to be more focused on a specific topic and is more receptive to suggestions. The patient undergoing therapeutic hypnosis does not lose their free will or self-control. Rather, the patient can learn to better control their state of awareness.

The word “hypnosis” has its origins in the Greek word for sleep, and versions of hypnotherapy are believed to have been used thousands of years ago.

The first person credited with a scientific exploration of hypnosis was Franz Mesmer, an 18th Century Austrian physician. Others continued to explore hypnosis after him, but the method did not start to gain mainstream acceptance until the 1950s. Today, hypnotherapy can be used to help treat depression and a variety of other issues.

How Hypnotherapy Works

A hypnotherapy session usually lasts about an hour. A trained therapist uses various relaxation techniques to guide the patient into a hypnotic state. In this state, the patient is still conscious and aware. But the body becomes more relaxed and the mind more responsive to suggestions from the therapist.

The therapist’s suggestions will depend on the condition or behavior being treated. Hypnotherapy can be used to help target unwanted or unhealthy habits and possibly replace them with healthier behavior. This can include being able to better control pain or anxiety or adjusting negative thought patterns that are causing depression.

Pros of Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis can be applied to improve a variety of conditions, from depression to anxiety and fear. Hypnotherapy is generally considered a safe method of treatment.

Cons of Hypnotherapy

The method does have some risks. The most dangerous is the potential for false memories (called confabulations) to be created in the patient. Some other potential side effects are headache, dizziness, and anxiety. However, these usually fade shortly after the hypnotherapy session.

Patients considering hypnotherapy should consult their physicians or psychiatrists to more accurately define their problems. It is possible that hypnotherapy could worsen conditions. People suffering from delusions, hallucinations, or other psychotic symptoms might not be the best candidates for hypnotherapy.

What the Expert Says

Hypnotherapy appears to work best when used with other forms of treatment, says Steve G. Kopp, a licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist. The method can be used to help erode a patient’s resistance to other more traditional treatments.

“It seems most effective complementing cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy,” Kopp says.

Alone, hypnosis is not as effective as a depression treatment, Kopp says. For patients suffering from moderate depression, the technique has been about 15 percent effective when used on its own.

Kopp also warns that hypnotherapist quality varies widely. Therapists might be trained psychologists or people who got their training on the Internet. He suggests that anyone considering hypnotherapy should make sure the therapist is not only certified to perform hypnosis, but is also a trained mental health professional.