Hypnotherapy: Hoax Or Help?

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated July 15, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW

Controversy surrounds the use of hypnotism, and with good reason. A stage hypnotist suggests that his volunteer is a chicken, and the willing participant responds by squawking and flapping his arms. Are we supposed to take this seriously? Certainly not, but from our seats in the audience, it looks real. What about the traveling hypnotist that holds seminars in city venues, using the hypnotic state to convince people they no longer want to smoke or eat candy? It sounds too good to be true, and it is. But there is one legitimate use of the hypnotic state which can help people overcome significant problems in their lives. It is a professional psychological tool called hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis.

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What Is Hypnotherapy and How Does It Work?

Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes. Guided relaxation, focused attention, and concentration are all methods used to get to what is often referred to as a "trance" or hypnotic state. Once you find a therapist, they will spend some time getting to know you in the initial meeting. They would work to understand what is troubling you about your life, as well as what you would like to change. If you both agree that hypnotherapy is an appropriate choice, you'd likely begin the process at a later session.

Does Hypnotherapy Work?

Hypnotherapy won't eliminate all negative emotions and change life circumstances immediately. It is not a magic cure. However, a well-trained, certified clinical hypnotherapist can use this technique along with others to help you overcome your most important challenges. Some people are able to participate in hypnosis more easily than others and it helps them significantly. The only way to know if the tool will work for you is to have at least one talk session with a therapist. If you and your therapist agree, you may allow your therapist to try a session of hypnotherapy. If it doesn't work, your therapist can propose other treatments for you. If it does work in your specific circumstances, you can continue the path toward a happy and healthy life together.

Hypnotherapy is a professional tool that has helped many people in the past. It is not a myth. It is important to note that, contrary to what has been portrayed with stage hypnotists, you are actually conscious, awake, and in control while you are in a trance state. It is not mind control. As mentioned earlier, hypnotherapy is a technique that a therapist uses as a part of a larger therapeutic intervention. A stage hypnotist, on the other hand, works to get a laugh or impress his audience. Even though the two types of hypnosis get confused often, it is important to remember that hypnotherapy is real, and when used in a professional manner, it provides positive results.

Hypnotherapy Uses

Hypnotherapy has been studied by researchers for many years. The results of the studies show that hypnotherapy does in fact help many people with certain problems. Each of the disorders, physical and mental challenges, and other difficulties on the following list have been effectively treated with therapies that include clinical hypnotherapy.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Post-surgery recovery
  • Nausea
  • Childbirth

Even though each of these conditions has been treated using hypnotherapy, the technique might not work for you. Your therapist is the best source of answers to this question for you in your unique situation.

Below, we'll discuss methods used in hypnotherapy.

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The hypnotherapist begins by helping you quiet your mind and bring your body to a calm state. The goal is to bring yourself to a relaxed but focused state of mind in which you can be open to the therapist's suggestions.

Revisiting Other Times in Your Life

Your therapist may decide to guide you in remembering times in your life that are pertinent to the problems you're facing. This wouldn't be possible if the therapist didn't work with you before the hypnotherapy session to learn about your life and the struggles you are currently facing. They might ask you to recall details of the setting, the people present, and the sensations you experienced during significant past events.

Hypnotic Suggestions

When the therapist determines that you're ready, he or she will begin to suggest that you alter your thoughts, behaviors, sensations, or perceptions, so that they are able to become in tune with your desire to change yourself. The therapist may describe the scene from your past event in a different way than you described it. What was once painful may quickly become something neutral and bearable. What once seemed enjoyable may seem unpleasant. With each experience, you re-experience the habit, bad feelings, or psychological trauma with an outcome that better aligns with your end goal.

Therapy for Your Childhood Experiences

Hypnotherapy isn't just for breaking unpleasant habits. A skilled therapist can use this technique to help you with childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect. They can help you come to terms with negative experiences you went through when you were young. As your therapist helps your inner child create a new version of reality, healing takes place.

Choosing a Hypnotherapist

It's important to choose your hypnotherapist carefully. Not all therapists are qualified to use the technique. It's important to examine the credentials of a therapist before beginning to work with them. Below are some attributes you will likely want to look for when trying to find a therapist that is right for you.

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You will want to look for a hypnotherapist who is a member of either The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. To be a member of either of these organizations, a clinical hypnotherapist must have a doctorate level degree in medicine, dentistry, or psychology, or a master's degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital and family therapy. Additionally, they must have a specific number of hours of approved training in hypnotherapy. If you find a therapist, don't be afraid to ask to see their diploma and certificate to verify their credentials for yourself. You need to ensure your therapist is fit for the job so that you're able to get the best care possible.

Personal Attributes

Any therapist you find should be a good listener. It helps tremendously if they are patient, kind, and empathetic as well. Make a list of the attributes that are important for your therapist to have, and pay close attention to it as you search for your perfect fit.


If you don't trust your therapist, hypnotherapy with him or her probably won't work for you. The only way to enter the hypnotic state is to trust that you'll be safe and well cared for. You may not know whether you feel that trust until you have a therapy session. Because of this, you may need to find a new hypnotherapist if your first session does not feel comfortable.

Other Therapy Options to Consider

If you live in a large city, you likely will not have trouble finding a therapist near you who is trained in hypnotherapy. You can receive hypnotherapy treatments near your home, although you may have to drive through heavy traffic to get there.

If you live in a small town or rural area, you may have to drive a long way to get to a therapist who uses this special technique. If you want to avoid traffic jams or prefer not to travel at all, there is another option. You can choose therapy through an online platform like BetterHelp to find therapists anytime and anywhere. All you need is the internet. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing different issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Nikki is fantastic! I had my doubts about this type of therapy medium, but I'm delighted to report what an amazing experience I've had thus far and recommend it to my family and friends."

"Karen is amazing. I've never done therapy before and was very skeptical of it. I also wasn't sure if I wanted to talk about my stresses, feelings and opening up about work and relationships. Karen has made it very easy to do that and very appreciative of the work she does. I've been working with Karen for 3 weeks and have seen big improvements and changes in my life. Very thankful for Karen and this platform. It is really amazing to talk to someone that listens and offers great advice, encouragement and doesn't judge. Thanks Karen!"


Hypnotherapy should not be confused with stage hypnotism. It's an example of one of the types of therapy that work for many people around the world. If you think hypnotherapy would be a good fit for you, reach out and find a therapist so you can begin your journey today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Discovered Hypnosis?

Hypnosis has been around since some of the earliest civilizations were established, and therefore, it is an ancient technique that was once believed to be magical. Although we now know this isn’t the case and there are scientific explanations for hypnosis, it still shows that people understood the healing potential that hypnosis could provide even many millennia ago, despite not being officially known as hypnosis back then.

While it’s impossible to trace the very first individual who used hypnosis, we can in regards to when a trance was discussed in a scientific context.

The first person to do so in this manner was a German physicist from the 18th century known as Franz Mesmer who believed that there were natural forces between all living and inanimate things, and he referred to this as “animal magnetism” and would treat people based on the idea that these forces will flow between the patient and the professional.

Others would also call this “mesmerism,” and Mesmer’s name is the origin of the word “mesmerize” that is widely used today.

Eventually, the term animal magnetism would fall out of use after it was discredited, but it laid the foundation for other scientists to continue to research and understand it better.

In the 19th century, James Braid, who was interested in Mesmer’s findings, would discover that the trance used in animal magnetism could also be achieved by doing things such as depressing the sensory functions, eliminating distractions, and having the patient focus on a singular idea.

As a result of his discovery, Braid would coin the term hypnosis based on the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, and many regard him as the father of modern hypnotherapy.

Is Hypnotherapy Dangerous?

On its own, hypnotherapy is generally safe, and not something that is considered harmful, especially when in the hands of a licensed and experienced professional.

However, it can be dangerous if you use self-hypnosis tools such as listening audio track for guided hypnosis to induce a hypnotic state while operating a vehicle or machinery.

If you try hypnosis in a controlled environment with a professional hypnotherapist, you will most likely be very safe and won’t have anything to worry about.

What Are The Side-Effects of Hypnosis?

On a rare occasion, some individuals who undergo hypnosis treatment might experience some negative, but mild side effects.

The most common one is drowsiness, but others might have headaches or feel dizzy. It is also possible for people to feel more anxious upon exiting a trance or hypnotic state, but it’s rare.

Another issue that may occur is false memories because, during hypnosis, your brain is very receptive, and the suggestions and imagery that are used to induce it can lead to certain individuals to believe something happened when in actuality, it didn’t.

Therefore, while hypnotherapy can help people with mental health conditions, it isn’t recommended to those with the most severe cases of mental illnesses.

How Quickly Does Hypnosis Work?

 It doesn’t usually take too long for people to reach the trance state in hypnotherapy, and on average, it takes around 10 minutes to do so.

The more relaxed you’ll be, the easier it will be to be hypnotized; however, you don’t want to be too relaxed to the point where you fall asleep during your session.

How Many Hypnosis Sessions Are Needed?

Although people often report some benefits from just one session of hypnotherapy, such as feeling calmer afterward, lasting change will require multiple sessions, and it is common for people to attend weekly sessions across the span of a few months, especially if they find a therapist that they trust.

Keep in mind, change is a gradual process, and it takes time. If you are curious about trying hypnotherapy, you shouldn’t expect a sudden moment of enlightenment. Over time, you should experience positive changes, but be aware that because many problems stem from issues at the subconscious level, these modifications will often be subconscious as well.

Is Hypnotherapy Evidence-Based? 

Hypnotherapy has a lot of research to support its efficacy, and it has been used by countless professionals to treat a wide range of problems that people run into.

Although it has been used by countless psychotherapists in clinical settings, hypnotherapy is not a form of psychotherapy and isn’t a replacement for other types of therapy that are evidence-based such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Nonetheless, they can be used in conjunction, and it’s proven that hypnosis affects the mind and can provide people with numerous benefits.

Does Hypnotherapy Work For Chronic Pain?

Clinical hypnosis is known for its ability to assist with pain control, and many people have utilized it before undergoing surgery for this reason, as well as to reduce anxiety. It may also help improve recovery time as well.

Hypnotherapy won’t replace anesthesia or pain medication, but it can certainly be something to consider if you have an upcoming procedure.

While it won’t be the cure for them, studies show that hypnosis, when included in their treatment plan, can also help people who struggle with chronic pain from various medical problems, including cancer.

Can You Lose Weight With Hypnosis?

When it comes to losing weight, managing calories through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes is paramount; however, hypnosis can help you in achieving your goals of reaching the desired weight by helping you stay motivated and committed to a healthy routine.

Additionally, hypnotherapy can also assist with eating problems that lead to weight gain, such as comfort eating while depressed and anxious, and once these are under control, you may notice weight loss due to fewer calories being consumed.

Can Hypnosis Wear Off?

The positive changes that you gain through clinical hypnosis can last a lifetime, provided that you don’t do anything that goes against the suggestions that were given during your hypnotherapy sessions.

Nonetheless, it is possible for them to wear off if the hypnotherapist is inexperienced, which is why you should always check their credentials when trying to find a therapist. Some credentials to look out for to see if the therapist has the approved training in hypnotherapy that they need are from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH).

There is also a chance that the script or suggestion therapy used in your session might not have been ideal or effective for you either, and your therapist might try a different one.

Importantly, to make hypnosis work, there must be a willingness to change, and if that isn’t there, the effects won’t last.

What is hypnotherapy used for?

Hypnotherapy can be used to improve your mental health in many ways, such as:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • Relieving depression
  • Dealing with phobias
  • Healing from traumatic events
  • Enhancing communication
  • Improving learning disorders
  • Improving relationships
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Managing stress

Hypnotherapy can also be used to improve physical conditions like:

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Quitting smoking
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Childbirth
  • Insomnia
  • Allergies
  • Sexual dysfunction

Does hypnotherapy really work?

Yes, hypnotherapy has worked for many people, as shown in a number of research studies. When used along with other forms of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy might be an important part of improving your mental health.

What is hypnotherapy, and how does it work?

Hypnotherapy is using hypnosis as a therapeutic technique. Here’s how it works. Your hypnotherapist will start by explaining the sources of your behavior. Then, they work with you to come up with a strategy for changing that behavior. They continue by guiding you to relaxation and encouraging you to concentrate intensely and focus your attention. Once you reach a state of heightened awareness, also called a trance,your therapist offers “suggestions,” which are reminders of the strategy you have devised together to change your behavior.

What is the average cost of hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy can cost as little as $50 per session or as much as $275 per session. Sometimes, a hypnotherapist offersseveral sessions grouped together under one cost, which can be up to $1375 or more for five sessions. This package pricing is often used for weight loss and smoking cessation. In some cases, health insurance can cover hypnotherapy, especially for conditions like chronic pain. And, some psychotherapists include hypnotherapy within their normal fees so that you pay no more for hypnotherapy than you would with other forms of psychotherapy.

Can hypnotherapy be dangerous?

Hypnotherapy comes with very little danger. The worst is that you might form false memories. Physical side effects are mild and include headaches, dizziness, and anxiety. However, these physical effects go away quickly. You are in no physical danger at all during or after hypnotherapy as a result of this treatment.It is important to wait until the mild side effects have passed before you drive. For example, if you are still drowsy when you get behind the wheel, you might not be able to react quickly enough to drive safely.

What can hypnotherapy cure?

Hypnotherapy can’t exactly cure anything, but it can provide an effective treatment to improve many physical and mental health conditions. And, it can help your body heal itself.

What are the side effects of hypnotherapy?

Adverse reactions to hypnotherapy are rare, and when they happen, they’re usually mild. Side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • False memories

What are the disadvantages of hypnotherapy?

Although hypnotherapy is very safe, effective, and affordable, it does have a few disadvantages:

  • It won’t work if you don’t participate fully.
  • If you’re dealing with a mental health issue, you will likely need your therapist to use other techniques to help you. In other words, hypnotherapy is not a standalone treatment for most mental and emotional problems.
  • It isn’t a quick fix like some other treatments. For example, a pain medication might take care of chronic pain in minutes (at least for a while), but hypnotherapy for pain takes at least a few sessions.
  • When you are in the highly suggestible state during hypnotherapy, you may harness the power of your unconscious to make dramatic changes in your life. So, your therapist will also work with you during your therapy sessions to prepare you for those changes.

What is the success rate of hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy has been recognized as a highly successful technique, sometimes reported as being as high as 93% effective. However, the condition being treated makes a difference. For example, hypnotherapy for sleep problems may be about 90%, while hypnotherapy for quitting smoking may be about 50%. Hypnotherapy for mental health problems, on the other hand, tends to be very successful for most people.

Does hypnotherapy really work for anxiety?

Hypnotherapy is typically only one tool in your therapist’s mental health toolbox for treating anxiety. It can help you feel relaxed, not only during the hypnotherapy session but also when you’re in stressful situations.

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