Hypnosis in Clinical Psychotherapy


The use of hypnotic techniques by the helping professions has increased steadily in recent years, because hypnosis is gaining widespread acceptance as a safe, reliable, effective and comfortable alternative or adjunct to other, more traditional methods. Hypnosis is also proving invaluable as an aid in speeding recovery from physical and mental problems.

It is, however, by no means a new healing tool. The first uses of hypnosis by health professionals occurred more than two hundred years ago. In its early days, clinical hypnosis was used to treat hysterical conditions, and was also very useful for the induction of anesthesia in surgery in the days before anesthetic drugs. For example, James Esdaile, a Scottish physician working in India in the early part of 19th century performed over three hundred and forty major operations, including amputations and removal of large tumors, with hypnosis as the only anesthetic.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud used hypnosis extensively in the first years of his psychicatric practice, but abandoned it in favor of psychoanalysis, a slower but more meticulous method of mental healing. In the first half of the 20th century, hypnosis was often viewed as an exotic or fringe method in medicine and psychology, but slowly gained respect as a potent clinical tool. It finally earned formal recognition as a valuable tool in health care in 1958, when the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association recommended that instruction in hypnosis be included in medical school curricula. Hypnosis was similarly embraced several years later by the American Psychological Association. Thousands of psychologists, dentists, and physicians in various specialties now have thorough training in hypnotic methods within their specialty areas. Professional organizations in clinical hypnosis provide extensive training and continuing education in hypnosis, and provide their members with specific ethical guidelines for the professional use of hypnosis.


There are many good reasons to seek the services of medical professionals or psychotherapists skilled in the use of hypnosis. In psychotherapy, hypnotic techniques are effective in speeding the process of therapy. Hypnosis is used effectively to facilitate patients’ understanding of themselves or their problems, extinguish unfortunate habits, uncover repressed or forgotten memories, reduce anxiety and fears, and develop a new and more adaptive outlook. In medicine and health psychology, hypnosis is used to effectively treat irritable bowel syndrome, reduce pain and discomfort associated with medical procedures such as childbirth, treatment of burns, and surgery where anesthesia cannot be used effectively. It is also used to treat chronic pain and psychosomatic problems and counter unhealthy habits that contribute to illness. In dentistry, hypnotic analgesia is an effective needleless alternative to topical anaesthetic drugs, reduces bleeding and discomfort in oral surgery, and is used to treat teeth grinding and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.

Many people feel somewhat apprehensive and have numerous questions when they consider the possibility of seeking clinical hypnosis for their problems. The following are answers to some of the most common questions and concerns people voice about hypnosis:

How does it feel to be hypnotized? There is really no such thing as a specific hypnotized feeling. As described earlier, a number of different experiences are commonly associated with the hypnotic state. The most unique characteristic, the one that people tend to remember best and find most surprising, is perhaps the subjective sense of positive changes seemingly happening without effort.

Will I lose consciousness? As mentioned above, hypnosis is not sleep. Ordinarily, you will be conscious of everything that goes on when you are in the hypnotic state. Sometimes, though, you may relax so much under hypnosis that you may drift off and lose track of what is happening, – or even fall asleep!

Will I reveal deep secrets about myself? In some psychotherapeutic applications of hypnosis, it is important to uncover mental material that is related to the problem being treated, – material which you have been ignoring or keeping secret from others and even from yourself. However, no such uncovering is needed in many applications of clinical hypnosis. In medical and dental hypnosis and in the treatment of IBS with hypnosis no such uncovering of personal material is necessary

Will I do something embarrassing or silly? A clinical hypnotist will not make you cluck like a chicken or do other things for amusement at your expense. You may, however, sometimes become emotional or feel less tense, more relaxed.

What if I do not want to lose control of myself? Hypnosis does involve a certain amount of letting go of yourself and opening up to a new experience. However, you are never really losing control of yourself when you respond to what the hypnotist’s narrative and suggestions. You are making the decision to go along with his or her guidance at every step. You can benefit from hypnosis as long as you are willing to go along with the instructions of hypnotist. It may be helpful to think of the hypnotist as your personal coach or guide – a person helping you to master new ways to use your own mind. You can stop the process, however, at any time you wish though since there is no harm involved this would be rare.

What if I do not wake up again? Not to worry. Only in movies and bad novels do people get stuck in the hypnotic state. In the real world, it happens only very rarely that people cannot be immediately brought back into the ordinary waking state at the end of a hypnosis session. When that happens, it may simply take them a little longer to come to wake from such a relaxed state, or someone may slip into ordinary sleep and take a nap, and then wake up. In either case, there is no reason for concern.

Can I be made to do things I do not want to do? Contrary to a popular belief, people under hypnosis are not captive and spellbound. They can resist direct instructions that are at odds with their wishes or moral standards. For this reason, it is not as easy as one might think to make people do things against will with hypnosis. Unfortunately, however, it has been adequately demonstrated, both in experiments and in established rare cases of misconduct, that hypnosis can be deliberately misused by a skilled hypnotist through the use of sophisticated deception. This is the most important reason for seeking a reputable professional who you feel comfortable with and already have a positive rapport of trust to help you. If you begin to feel uncomfortable with the person you have selected, talk about it. And if you feel you cannot do so, remember that you are the customer and you are always free to leave without making any apologies.

What if I cannot be hypnotized? The odds are against that. While the degree to which people are receptive to hypnosis varies from individual to individual, the great majority of people, perhaps three out of every four individuals, can be hypnotized to a sufficient degree to enjoy benefits from the IBS program.

Aren’t gullible or simple-minded people most easily hypnotizable? Not at all. In fact, researchers have found that more intelligent people are slightly more hypnotizable. It seems that openness to new experiences, rather than gullibility, is related to hypnotic ability.

Are women more hypnotizable than men? Research has conclusively shown that, on the average, there is no difference between men and women in their susceptibility to hypnosis.

Can hypnosis be dangerous to my mental health? The state of hypnosis is generally very safe and free from complications – probably no more disturbing to your mind than ordinary sleep. However someone who is struggling with severe mental problems that cause them to lose their grip on reality need to carefully choose a well-trained and competent clinical hypnotist who knows you well and would be able to help you decide if or when this treatment is best for you. For most people, however, the experience of hypnosis is pleasantly relaxing and refreshing. The only aftereffects you are likely to experience are possible drowsiness for the first few minutes afterwards, and possibly a stiff neck from your posture while relaxing or (rarely) a minor headache. All such effects are transient and harmless.

Can people hypnotize themselves?

Yes, they can. Entering a hypnotic state is simply a mental skill, and hypnotherapists commonly believe that regular hypnosis is nothing more than assisted self-hypnosis. It is just more easily learned under the guidance of a skilled hypnotist. However, once you have mastered it, you can do it on your own. This is the goal in many applications of clinical hypnosis, such as for pain management, where the benefits of hypnosis need to be available at any time.

If you are interested in starting a program of Clinical Hypnosis, please contact me.