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In hypnotherapy, clients are helped to become deeply relaxed, allowing them to be more receptive to suggestions designed to enhance their wellbeing and quality of life.

This document provides general information on what to expect when you visit a hypnotherapist, as well as explaining briefly how the discipline works. It must be noted, however, that every hypnotherapist works in an individual way, and may subscribe to slightly different theories as to how the practice is carried out. It is always advisable that you ask to see relevant qualifications and discuss the treatment offered to you by the hypnotherapist if you are in any doubt whatsoever.

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnosis definitely works, but no one knows exactly how and why. When a person is hypnotised, the part of the brain responsible for rational thought is bypassed and the subconscious becomes receptive to suggestion. Hypnotic states vary from shallow to very deep. Some people are hypnotised at such a deep level that surgery can be performed without the patient feeling any pain at all. Whilst in a trance the person’s heart rate slows down and the brain starts to produce alpha waves. It is estimated that 90% of the population is responsive to hypnosis.

Main uses

Fears, phobias, stress, anxiety, weight loss, asthma, skin conditions, addictions, insomnia, menstrual problems, and many other conditions. 

Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses altered states of awareness (hypnosis) to achieve a therapeutic end result. It is a much-misunderstood form of therapy, and there are many myths surrounding this highly valuable form of treatment. Most of us have only seen the stage or television hypnotist who seems to be able to get people to do things against their will, it is as if he exerts some kind of control over them. In fact, this is not the case at all as we shall see. It is important to remember that stage hypnotists very carefully prime their ‘victims’ before they are allowed on stage. They are very selective and only choose people who exhibit a strong desire to go up on stage and be hypnotised. Don’t forget that all these people are aware that stage hypnotism acts are usually outrageous and that they will be required to perform some unusual act or other.

What to expect when you visit a hypnotherapist

You will be asked questions relating to your medical history and perhaps that of your immediate family. Lifestyle questions regarding such matters as your dietary habits, sleep patterns, exercise regime, and stress levels will also be put to you, to ensure that a holistic approach is taken.

Although all CMA registered therapists follow a strict code of ethics, you are advised to choose a person with whom you have a good rapport. There are many schools of hypnotism, the most common one being ‘classical induction’. This is where you lie on a couch or comfortable chair and the practitioner talks to you in a calm and soothing tone, often getting you to visualise a relaxing scene. You will be counted-down into the trance. However, even when you are in this deep daydream-like state you will still be able to hear sounds in the room. The therapist may talk you through events in your life, perhaps early childhood memories. If you consult a therapist for an addiction problem, you will be given clear positive messages / images during hypnosis that will assist you in your recovery. You will probably need to go to at least four weekly sessions for minor complaints, and more for more deep rooted conditions, but this is something for you and the therapist to discuss. The sessions usually last from between 30 to 60 minutes.

What happens during a session with a hypnotherapist?

It is important that you feel confident about your hypnotherapist. When you make your appointment do be sure to ask about their training and qualifications. Be assured that anyone who has been through a genuine training course will be only too delighted to tell you about his or her qualifications. After all, the genuine hypnotherapist has spent a great deal of time and effort acquiring them. 

When you arrive at the hypnotherapist’s practice you should feel comfortable there; it should be clean and welcoming and you should have the overall feeling that you will be able to relax easily. Initially you might be asked about the problem you are seeking help for.

You might spend some time discussing this problem and also other issues arising from this. Your hypnotherapist will explain a bit about hypnotherapy and how it works so that you can feel quite at ease.

The process of going into a hypnotic state is usually very relaxing and is not at all like the films that feature strange men dangling watches in front of the subject – telling them that they feel very sleepy! Once you have reached a deep enough state of relaxation, you will be guided by your hypnotherapist so that you can start to make the changes that might be necessary to achieve your desired outcome.

At the end of the session most people report that they feel relaxed and that they really enjoyed the experience of going into the hypnotic state. Many people say that they would like to stay in that state as it is so blissful.

Can I get stuck in a trance? 

The answer to this is an emphatic NO! If you are seeing a qualified, registered hypnotherapist, you will be guided back to a normal state of everyday awareness.

Some people enjoy that hypnotic state so much that it is quite an escape from the reality of their lives so these people sometimes decide to stay in this deep state of relaxation for a little longer – this is fine, just as you slip in and out of dreams and day dreams, you will slip out of this very deep trance state within a few minutes.

History (in brief) 

The term ‘mesmerise’ is derived from the name of the famous Austrian doctor Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), who practised hypnotism-formerly known as ‘animal magnetism’ or ‘mesmerism’ as a therapeutic technique. However, it was not until 1843 that the hypnotic state was explained in scientific terms, by a Scottish surgeon called James Braid. Even so, the medical community, due to the introduction of ether in 1840, largely overlooked his findings regarding the use of hypnosis for pain-free surgery. However, in 1890, with the advent of a published document written by Braid detailing his findings, a new interest emerged, and a school of hypnotherapy was opened in Nancy, France. Milton H Erickson developed the discipline further, and hypnotherapy is now widely used in the West.

What can it treat?

Situations that respond particularly well to hypnotherapy include:

Habit control, i.e., smoking


Phobias compulsions, etc.

Additionally, a wide range of physical symptoms can show vast improvements and these can include:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)

Irritible Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (See our article on Irritible Bowel Syndrome)



Menstrual problems (see also Dysmenorrhea and Menorrhagia)


Stress related disorders

How does it work?

When we relax or if we begin to day dream, our brain patterns change. Hypnotherapy utilises these naturally occurring altered states of mind that happen to everyone throughout the day quite normally. In America these altered states are taken advantage of in the popular Power Naps, which are taken by executives who claim that it helps them to be more creative and work more efficiently.

Your hypnotherapist will help you to enter deep states of relaxation that facilitate access to the subconscious mind so that therapeutic work may be performed at that level. In this altered state of mind all distractions are minimised, thus allowing you to focus upon the issues in hand.

Hypnotherapy can be used to help achieve many positive changes in behaviour, feelings and thoughts. It is important to remember that you are always in control and cannot be made to do things against your will.

Research at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary has recently demonstrated that the use of hypnotherapy with cancer patients has shown a positive result. There are also promising results with tests on subfertile women in whom conception rates improve after visualisation of conception.

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