The art of hypnosis

People are always fascinated by hypnosis, and it provokes quite variable and sometimes strong reactions from different individuals. Recently I was talking about hypnosis with a student who has been on placement with me. She had done a course at the University with me on hypnotherapy, and over coffee she said that she had originally not wanted to do the course as she doubted that hypnosis was real. She recollected, however, that in the first session I had hypnotised the whole class in an exercise and her mindset had changed!

Out of all of the therapies I have learnt over many years, hypnotherapy remains one of the most interesting, useful and rewarding. It is not uncommon for there to be preconceived ideas about it, due to the portrayal of hypnosis over the years in movies and as a form of entertainment. However, these portrayals are not necessarily accurate or helpful. It can be helpful to understand more about hypnosis, especially if you are consider seeing a therapist for hypnotherapy.

Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness or a trance state, different from sleep and different from being awake. It is similar to relaxation or meditation. The brain wave pattern changes in hypnosis, fluctuating between alpha and delta waves. The mind regularly goes into a brief hypnotic state during the day to relax and refresh brain function. In hypnosis, the mind is more open to suggestion, and this is the basis of its use as a therapy. The hypnotherapist can assist the individual in managing thoughts, emotions or behaviours through suggestion.

Hypnosis has, in fact, existed for thousands and thousands of years across many cultures. The use of suggestions while the recipient was in a sleep-like state has been recorded from ancient Egyptian time. In the healing temples of Aesculapius, the Greek God of Medicine, the priests would walk among the clients as they slept, giving suggestions of health and well-being, which would be interpreted as the gods speaking to them in their dreams. In many cultures throughout the world, shamans and healers use the power of words and ritual to heal.

In Western culture, it was surgeon James Esdaile (1808-1859) who decided to use hypnosis to provide pain relief during surgery, as no other anaesthesia was available. This was the first therapeutic use of hypnosis. From this time its use has gradually grown and now it is commonly used for relaxation and stress management, to change behaviours (such as smoking), to improve sleep or to relieve pain. It is also helpful in working through emotional issues, such as anxiety, grief, anger or guilt. A number of other therapeutic approaches can be combined with hypnosis, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Quite often I am asked by clients or health professionals; “what can hypnosis do?” The answer is that it can enhance the client’s capacity to utilise what is already present (that is, their own abilities)! Hypnosis can:
1. Amplify abilities
The relaxed and focused state of awareness experienced in hypnosis, allows clients to focus on or remember positive events, and successful memories, therefore reminding them what they are already capable of doing. Suggestions can be given about achieving desired goals.
2. Focus attention on whatever task is in hand in order to achieve it more easily
As the hypnotic state is one of concentrated attention, and a relaxed and focused state is suggested, individuals can put all of their attention to achieving their objective.
3. Help create a specific goal so the mind can work towards it
The therapist and clients will talk at the outset about what the client is aiming to achieve. Goals can then be worked out.
4. Reduce stress or anxiety
Hypnosis assists in improving stress coping strategies and reducing anxiety. By being taught self-hypnosis the client can learn to manage stress better, learn how to relax and reduce anxiety.
5. Change behaviours
Clients often request hypnosis to help change behaviours, such as smoking, eating behaviours, nail-biting or picking. It is particularly useful in this area.
6. Modify sensations and thereby reduce drug use
Sensory perception such as pain can be modified in hypnosis, reducing distress, aiding coping and reducing use of analgesics.

There was an article in a medical newspaper this month; “Is there a role for hypnotherapy in medicine?” As you have read, I am an advocate of hypnotherapy, and it was interesting to read the views of a doctor previously sceptical about its role. Dr Deakin reflected on the limitations of medicine in helping individuals with some issues, or individuals with troublesome behaviours. Like the student I mentioned earlier, Dr Deakin attended a course and was convinced. She concluded; “Hypnotherapy … is the art of medicine .. and (as a result) is difficult to quantify. But if we limit our world to what is measurable, we may miss a lot that is meaningful.”

I wholeheartedly agree, and this is why I run regular courses for health professionals on hypnotherapy (the next one later in October!). I also have in mind to run an afternoon workshop for the public to answer questions on hypnosis and demonstrate some of the techniques. Watch the website for more information! Also, I have some relaxation recordings on the website (the ‘Keeping the Blues Away’ CD has some basic relaxation techniques, useful for everyone, and the first long track is similar to the deepening technique we use in hypnostherapy). Plus some new recordings coming shortly. Again, watch this space!


Deakin, G. Is there a role for hypnotherapy in medicine? Australian Doctor, 29th September, 2014.

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