Hypnosis is a genuine psychological therapy process. It’s often misunderstood and not widely used. However, medical research continues to clarify how and when hypnosis can be used as a therapy tool.

Hypnosis is a treatment option that may help you cope with and treat different conditions.

To do this, a certified hypnotist or hypnotherapist guides you into a deep state of relaxation (sometimes described as a trance-like state). While you’re in this state, they can make suggestions designed to help you become more open to change or therapeutic improvement.

Trance-like experiences aren’t all that uncommon. If you’ve ever zoned out while watching a movie or daydreaming, you’ve been in a similar trance-like state.

True hypnosis or hypnotherapy doesn’t involve swaying pocket watches, and it isn’t practiced on stage as part of an entertainment act.

Yes and no. Hypnosis is a tool that can be used for therapeutic treatment. Hypnotherapy is the use of that tool. To put it another way, hypnosis is to hypnotherapy what dogs are to animal therapy.

During hypnosis, a trained hypnotist or hypnotherapist induces a state of intense concentration or focused attention. This is a guided process with verbal cues and repetition.

The trance-like state you enter may appear similar to sleep in many ways, but you’re fully aware of what’s going on.

While you’re in this trance-like state, your therapist will make guided suggestions designed to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

Because you’re in a heightened state of focus, you may be more open to proposals or advice that, in your normal mental state, you might ignore or brush off.

When the session is complete, your therapist will wake you from the trance-like state, or you will exit it on your own.

It’s unclear how this intense level of inner concentration and focused attention has the impact it does.

  • Hypnotherapy may place the seeds of different thoughts in your mind during the trance-like state, and soon, those changes take root and prosper.
  • Hypnotherapy may also clear the way for deeper processing and acceptance. In your regular mental state, if it’s “cluttered,” your mind may be unable to absorb suggestions and guidance,

Researchers at Harvard studied the brains of 57 people during guided hypnosis. They found that:

  • Two areas of the brain that are responsible for processing and controlling what’s going on in your body show greater activity during hypnosis.
  • Likewise, the area of your brain that’s responsible for your actions and the area that is aware of those actions appear to be disconnected during hypnosis.
TakeawayDistinct sections of the brain are visibly altered during hypnosis. The areas that are most affected are those that play a role in action control and awareness.

It’s possible, but hypnosis shows marked differences in brain activity. This suggests the brain reacts to hypnosis in a unique way, one that’s stronger than a placebo effect.

Like hypnosis, the placebo effect is driven by suggestion. Guided conversations or behavioral therapy of any type can have a powerful impact on behavior and feelings. Hypnosis is just one of those therapy tools.

Hypnosis rarely causes any side effects or has risks. As long as the therapy is conducted by a trained hypnotist or hypnotherapist, it can be a safe alternative therapy option.

Some people may experience mild-to-moderate side effects including:

  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • situational anxiety

However, hypnosis used for memory retrieval is a controversial practice. People who use hypnosis in this way are more likely to experience anxiety, distress, and other side effects. You may also be more likely to create false memories.

Some doctors aren’t convinced that hypnosis can be used in mental health or for physical pain treatment. Research to support the use of hypnosis is getting stronger, but not all doctors embrace it.

Many medical schools don’t train doctors on the use of hypnosis, and not all mental health practitioners receive training during their years of school.

That leaves a great deal of misunderstanding about this possible therapy among healthcare professionals.

Hypnosis is promoted as a treatment for many conditions or issues. Research does provide some support for using hypnosis for some, but not all, of the conditions for which it’s used.

Research shows strong evidence for the use of hypnosis to treat:

Limited evidence suggests hypnosis may be used to treat:

More research is needed to verify the impact of hypnosis on the treatment of these and other conditions.

You may not undergo hypnosis during your first visit with a hypnotist or hypnotherapist. Instead, the two of you may talk about the goals you have and the process they can use to help you.

In a hypnosis session, your therapist will help you relax in a comfortable setting. They’ll explain the process and review your goals for the session. Then, they’ll use repetitive verbal cues to guide you into the trance-like state.

Once you’re in a receptive trance-like state, your therapist will suggest you work to achieve certain goals, help you visualize your future, and guide you toward making healthier decisions.

Afterward, your therapist will end your trance-like state by bringing you back to full consciousness.

Although one session can be helpful for some people, most therapists will tell you to begin hypnosis therapy with four to five sessions. After that phase, you can discuss how many more sessions are needed. You can also talk about whether any maintenance sessions are needed as well.

Although hypnosis is slowly becoming more accepted in traditional medical practices, many myths about hypnosis persist. Here, we separate reality from falsehoods.

Myth: Everyone can be hypnotized

Not everyone can be hypnotized. One study suggests that about 10 percent of the population is highly hypnotizable. Although it’s possible that the rest of the population could be hypnotized, they’re less likely to be receptive to the practice.

Myth: People aren’t in control of their body when they’re hypnotized

You’re absolutely in control of your body during hypnosis. Despite what you see with stage hypnosis, you’ll remain aware of what you’re doing and what’s being asked of you. If you don’t want to do something you’re asked to do under hypnosis, you won’t do it.

Myth: Hypnosis is the same thing as sleep

You may look like you’re sleeping, but you’re awake during hypnosis. You’re just in a deeply relaxed state. Your muscles will become limp, your breathing rate will slow, and you may become drowsy.

Myth: People can’t lie when they’re hypnotized

Hypnotism isn’t a truth serum. Although you’re more open to suggestion during hypnotism, you still have free will and moral judgment. No one can make you say anything — lie or not — that you don’t want to say.

Myth: You can be hypnotized over the internet

Many smartphone apps and Internet videos promote self-hypnosis, but they’re likely ineffective.

Researchers in one 2013 review found that these tools typically aren’t created by a certified hypnotist or hypnosis organization. For that reason, doctors and hypnotists advise against using these.

Probably a myth: Hypnosis can help you “uncover” lost memories

Although it may be possible to retrieve memories during hypnosis, you may be more likely to create false memories while in a trance-like state. Because of this, many hypnotists remain skeptical about using hypnosis for memory retrieval.

Hypnosis carries the stereotypes of stage performances, complete with clucking chickens and daring dancers.

However, hypnosis is a genuine therapeutic tool, and it can be used as an alternative medical treatment for several conditions. This includes insomnia, depression, and pain management.

It’s important that you use a certified hypnotist or hypnotherapist so that you can trust the guided-hypnosis process. They will create a structured plan to help you reach your individual goals.