In the 18th century, hypnosis was all the rage, but the practice goes back further than many realize.
Temple sleep, practiced widely throughout early Greek and Egypt, involved a meditative ritual said to bring on a deep, healing sleep and dreams of a cure for the sleeper’s physical or mental symptoms.
“The Book of Healing,” published in 1027 by Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna), also mentions hypnosis.
Modern practitioners, like Franz Mesmer, eventually brought hypnosis into the public consciousness. It was originally called mesmerism, after Mesmer (though he termed it “animal magnetism”).
Mesmer also successfully hypnotized himself and, quite possibly, taught self-hypnosis to other interested individuals.
In basic terms, self-hypnosis means putting yourself in a highly focused and suggestible state. If you’ve ever tried meditation, you might find that a state of self-hypnosis isn’t terribly dissimilar.
The practice might seem a little implausible, but there’s a decent amount of scientific evidence behind it. Read on to learn more about its potential benefits and get tips on trying it yourself.
A number of scientific studies suggest self-hypnosis can have a few key benefits.
This study divided the women into four groups. Some met in-person for hypnosis sessions, while others received phone calls with guided self-hypnosis sessions.
Most women reported that hypnosis helped them sleep longer. They also noticed improvements in:
As all groups showed similar improvements, researchers concluded that self-hypnosis was just as beneficial as the in-person sessions, with the added bonuses of convenience and ease of accessibility.
Not all the included studies specifically focused on self-hypnosis. Still, the review authors said more than half of the studies offered audio recordings for home practice and encouraged participants to practice hypnosis on their own. (Plus, plenty of experts have pointed out that all hypnosis, on some level, is self-hypnosis.)
The authors of the review also noted a few key limitations, including:
- small study sample sizes
- low study quality
- relatively small number of studies looking at groups who experience sleep concerns
They concluded that, despite the need for more research, hypnosis showed overall promise as a low-risk treatment for sleep issues.
A 2021 review considered 11 studies evaluating the potential benefits of hypnosis for weight loss. Nine of those studies found some evidence to suggest hypnosis or self-hypnosis could help promote weight loss.
According to the review authors, hypnosis and mindfulness can help with weight loss by:
- increasing awareness of food during meals
- promoting greater acceptance of body image
- limiting eating in response to emotional or external cues
The review authors noted that hypnosis appeared to have the most benefit for weight loss when combined with diet changes and exercise.
- diet and exercise recommendations
- tips for mindful eating, sticking to a nutritious diet, and adding physical activity to a daily schedule
One group also learned self-hypnosis. Researchers encouraged these 60 participants to use self-hypnosis before eating to improve self-control and break unwanted eating habits.
According to the results, self-hypnosis promoted feelings of fullness after eating, along with improved quality of life and reduced inflammation.
These benefits could certainly have an indirect effect on weight loss, which another key finding of the study appears to confirm: Participants who used hypnosis regularly did lose more weight than those who didn’t.
Researchers divided the patients into 2 groups: One group received a massage intervention, while the other received 3 hypnosis sessions. The patients also learned self-hypnosis from a trained physician, who encouraged them to practice self-hypnosis for extended pain relief.
The results suggested hypnosis had more benefit for pain relief than massage during the hospital stay. Hypnosis also seemed to offer some mood-boosting benefits.
Researchers divided participants into four groups:
- eight sessions of self-hypnosis training
- eight sessions of self-hypnosis training, plus audio recordings for practice at home
- two sessions of self-hypnosis training, plus audio recordings and a weekly phone call reminder
- eight sessions of biofeedback
According to the results, hypnosis was more effective for pain relief than biofeedback. More than half of those in the hypnosis groups said their pain improved. These benefits lasted for 6 months following treatment, if not longer.
What’s more, the findings suggest two self-hypnosis sessions, when combined with home practice, could provide just as much benefit as eight regular treatment sessions.
Other potential benefits
Some research also suggests self-hypnosis could have some benefit for:
- boosting mindfulness and reducing stress
easing feelings of anxiety
- increasing self-confidence
Most existing studies examining the potential benefits of self-hypnosis have smaller sample sizes, not to mention other limitations.
On one hand, very little evidence points to any adverse effects of self-hypnosis. Still, researchers generally agree on the need for larger, better quality, randomized controlled trials to conclusively support the practice as a beneficial treatment approach.
Interested in giving self-hypnosis a try?
Self-hypnosis, step by step
- Get comfortable. Aim to wear clothing that helps you feel relaxed and at ease. Stiff, scratchy, tight, or heavy clothing might not promote relaxation.
- Find the right spot. Settle yourself in a quiet room, where you won’t have to worry about anyone disturbing you. Silence your phone and sit anywhere comfortable, in a position that supports your back and won’t leave you feeling cramped.
- Set your goal. What do you want to get out of self-hypnosis? Go into the exercise with a clear goal, whether that’s improving self-esteem, getting better sleep, or breaking a habit.
- Focus your gaze. Find something simple within your line of sight to focus on, or create a point of focus by pushing a colored thumbtack into the wall or lighting a candle and focusing on the flame.
- Begin breathing slowly and deeply. Inhale through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your eyes rest on your focus point. Continue breathing, imagining that with each exhale, your eyelids are becoming heavier. Keep going until they feel too heavy to keep open.
- Continue to relax. With closed eyes, keep breathing slowly, concentrating on your breath to keep your thoughts from wandering. When your awareness drifts off course, return it to your breath. If any part of your body feels particularly tense, imagine each exhale carrying the tension away.
- Visualize. Using your senses, create a peaceful mental “happy place.” You might surround yourself with clouds of relaxing colors or imagine yourself walking along the beach, sitting in a field of flowers, or biting into a juicy, delicious slice of melon.
- Spend some time in your scene. As your visualization begins to soothe you, imagine your body becoming very heavy, just as it does when you’re about to fall asleep. If it helps, you can even imagine yourself sinking slightly into the chair or sofa.
- Affirm your relaxed state. Try repeating a mantra, like “I am calm,” or “I am at peace.”
- Move on to your goal. Once you feel completely calm, use visualization to focus on your goal. Don’t skimp on the detail — make your scene as vivid as possible. Trying to sleep better? Feel yourself tucked into bed with your soft sheets. Hear the hum of the fan as you breathe peacefully in the cool darkness and drift toward sleep.
- Affirm your goal. As you imagine yourself achieving your goal, mentally repeat it, such as “I’m speaking confidently, without feeling nervous,” “I’m sleeping peacefully through the night,” or “I don’t want to smoke. I don’t crave a cigarette.” As you repeat these words, direct compassion and encouragement toward yourself.
- Let your body return to normal. After 5 minutes or so, prepare to leave the hypnotic state. Imagine each inhale drawing energy from the world around you, and each exhale sending it flowing through your veins. Each breath leaves your limbs feeling lighter until they return to normal.
- Wake yourself. Begin counting down from 10, telling yourself, “When I reach one, I will open my eyes, energized and alert.”
Hypnosis not quite working for you? These tips could make a difference.
Try guided self-hypnosis
The steps above offer one approach to self-hypnosis, but you can reach a relaxed, hypnotic state using several methods.
You’ll find plenty of guided recordings on YouTube, if you aren’t sure about trying self-hypnosis completely on your own.
You can also use books to get more familiar with the practice.
- “Close Your Eyes, Get Free” by Grace Smith
- “Instant Self-Hypnosis: How to Hypnotize Yourself with Your Eyes Open” by Forbes Blair
Try different relaxation techniques
If you find it tough to relax, experimenting with different relaxation strategies could help:
- Try imagining yourself climbing down a flight of stairs slowly, inhaling and exhaling once per step. As you descend, tell yourself you’ll feel completely relaxed at the bottom.
- If you find water images comforting, you could imagine yourself swimming deeper and deeper into an undersea world, leaving your tensions behind on the shore.
- To end the hypnotic state, simply imagine yourself climbing the stairs, or swimming back to shore.
Make it a habit
As with any new skill or routine, making time for daily practice can increase your chances of noticing improvement. Even just 10 or 15 minutes per day can help.
Maybe you add self-hypnosis to your morning routine, or set aside a few minutes before you start cooking dinner.
You’ll also probably find self-hypnosis more helpful if you believe the practice has some benefit. This confidence can also make it easier to stick with the habit over time.
You can also try hypnosis by working with a trained hypnotherapist.
Hypnotherapy is an approach to mental health care that incorporates the use of hypnosis. During a session, your hypnotherapist will help you enter a relaxed state and then offer suggestions specifically tailored to key goals you’ve discussed.
Professional hypnotherapy may be an option worth considering if you have a hard time entering a relaxed state on your own.
Keep in mind, too, that identifying underlying causes of unhelpful thought patterns or behaviors is often key to successfully changing those habits. Since a therapist can help with that, you could end up getting a lot more out of professional treatment.
Looking for a hypnotherapist?
- Professionals trained in other approaches to mental health treatment, as well as hypnotherapy, will be better able to recognize when another approach might have more benefit.
- A trained and ethical professional will always offer information about their license and experience.
- Professional therapist directories and credible organizations, like the American Psychological Association, are a great place to start.
Self-hypnosis doesn’t work for everyone. That said, experts generally agree it’s a low-risk approach to self-help that many people find beneficial.
In short, if you’re considering it, why not give it a try? It can’t hurt — and it could very well help. Just don’t let it stop you from seeking out other treatments if it isn’t providing relief.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.