What is Hypnosis and How Does it Work?

Fascination and misconceptions about hypnosis

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of hypnosis, a subject of intrigue and misconceptions. In our article “What is Hypnosis and How Does it Work?”, we’ll explore the rich history of hypnosis from its early origins to its evolution. 

Hypnosis, a subject that has long intrigued and bewildered many, is often surrounded by misconceptions. From depictions in pop culture to dramatic stage performances, hypnosis often seems mystical or magical. However, the reality of hypnosis is far from these dramatized portrayals. It is an intensely studied and scientifically validated method that can offer various benefits, from therapeutic to enhancing performance. This scientific basis should make you feel informed and knowledgeable, dispelling the myths and intrigue that have made many eager to understand what hypnosis indeed involves.

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What is Hypnosis? Dr. Andrew Huberman Explains | The Tim Ferriss Show

This article will explore the concept of hypnosis from its historical roots to its modern-day applications. After looking at the history and evolution of hypnosis, the article will delve into how hypnosis works. It will also clarify common myths, discuss therapeutic techniques, and explore the various applications of Hypnotherapy. The article will empower you with the knowledge to explore hypnosis further

The History of Hypnosis

Early Practices and Origins

Hypnosis can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and India, where priests and healers used trance-like states and suggestive techniques for healing and spiritual purposes. These early practices laid the groundwork for modern hypnosis, demonstrating an understanding of the mind’s ability to influence physical and psychological states.

Key Historical Figures

Franz Mesmer introduced the “animal magnetism” theory, proposing that a force could induce healing. Though later discredited, his ideas paved the way for James Braid, a Scottish surgeon who debunked Mesmer’s mystical notions and coined the term “hypnosis,” relating it to focused attention and suggestibility. These figures were instrumental in transforming hypnosis from a magical practice to a subject of scientific inquiry.

Franz MesmerIntroduced the concept of animal magnetism
James BraidCoined the term “hypnosis” and studied its psychological aspects
Key Historical Figures Contributions

Evolution of Hypnosis Over the Years

Hypnosis has significantly evolved over the centuries. From Mesmer’s animal magnetism to Braid’s scientific approach, the understanding and application of hypnosis have progressed. In the 20th century, Milton Erickson revolutionized Hypnotherapy by emphasizing its therapeutic use for psychological and medical conditions. Today, hypnosis is integrated into modern psychological practices and treatments, supported by ongoing research and technological advancements. Hypnosis is now respected in the therapeutic community as an effective treatment modality.

What is Hypnosis and How Does It Work?

Hypnosis is a state of focused attention and deep absorption where an individual becomes highly open to suggestions. During a hypnosis session, a trained and ethical hypnotist guides the person into this relaxed state and provides positive suggestions. The person under hypnosis always retains control and cannot be made to do anything against their will or moral code.

Definition of Hypnosis from Three Respected Associations

1. American Psychological Association (APA) – Division 30 – Society of Psychological Hypnosis

In 2014, the Div. 30 Executive Committee prepared the following official definitions related to hypnosis:

  • Hypnosis: A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.
  • Hypnotic Induction: A procedure designed to induce hypnosis.
  • Hypnotizability: An individual’s ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or behavior during hypnosis.
  • Hypnotherapy: Using hypnosis to treat a medical or psychological disorder or concern.

The society has prepared a brochure titled “HYPNOSIS: WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT CAN HELP YOU FEEL BETTER,” which provides further insights into these definitions.

2. The British Psychological Society’s (BPS) report titled “The Nature of Hypnosis” addresses the question, “What is Hypnosis?”

The British Psychological Society (BPS) published a report titled “The Nature of Hypnosis” in 2001. This 21-page document is a thoroughly researched and thoughtfully composed analysis by leading experts in hypnosis. It offers a comprehensive and concise overview of scientific research into hypnosis, making it an excellent read for anyone interested. The report is well-written and not overly lengthy, making it accessible to a broad audience. You can download a summary of the report here.

“The term ‘hypnosis’ denotes an interaction between one person, the ‘hypnotist,’ and another person or people, the ‘subject’ or ‘subjects.’ In this interaction, the hypnotist attempts to influence the subjects’ perceptions, feelings, thinking, and behavior by asking them to concentrate on ideas and images that may evoke the intended effects. The verbal communications that the hypnotist uses to achieve these effects are termed ‘suggestions.’ Suggestions differ from everyday instructions in that they imply that a ‘successful’ response is experienced by the subject as having a quality of involuntariness or effortlessness. Subjects may learn to go through the hypnotic procedures on their own, and this is termed ‘self-hypnosis.”


3. Australian Psychological Society (APS)

The Australian Psychological Society describes hypnosis as a state of focused attention that allows for increased responsiveness to suggestions. Hypnosis can lead to changes in consciousness, memory, and behavior. It is distinct from sleep and can naturally occur in situations like daydreaming. APS emphasizes its application in medical, psychological, and dental contexts to manage stress, reduce pain, and support therapeutic processes.

These definitions from respected organizations provide a comprehensive understanding of hypnosis, emphasizing its scientific basis and clinical applications.

For more detailed information, you can visit the following sources:

Key Aspects of Hypnosis

The Hypnotic State: Also known as a “trance state,” this state is characterized by a relaxed, focused, and absorbed feeling. In this state, individuals may not notice external surroundings or pay them little heed.

Hypnotic Suggestions: These are instructions given during hypnosis to alter sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Suggestions can be delivered both in and out of hypnosis but are often more effective during a hypnotic state.

What is the Hypnotic State? During hypnosis, a person enters a hypnotic state where their attention is intensely focused. This focused state often results in heightened receptivity to suggestions and reduced awareness of external stimuli.

What are Suggestions? Suggestions are directives to experience the world differently, potentially changing sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Effective suggestions feel effortless to the individual.

What are Hypnotic Suggestions? These are specific suggestions delivered during a hypnotic induction. While not necessary for hypnosis, they are often more effective when the person is in a hypnotic state. Examples include inducing temporary amnesia, creating analgesia for pain management, or causing hallucinations for entertainment purposes.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

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How hypnosis works | Dr. David Spiegel on We Do Hard Things

Hypnosis is a form of psychotherapy that uses focused attention and guided suggestions to induce a trance-like state. Here’s how it works:

Hypnotherapy Process:

Induction: Focus Attention Induction is a pivotal stage in the hypnosis process, where the hypnotist utilizes verbal cues and hypnotic language to help the client focus their attention. This might involve the hypnotist asking the client to fixate their gaze on a particular point, such as a finger, hand, or a swinging pocket watch. This intense focus aids in diminishing external distractions, leading to a calm yet highly attentive state. This procedure, combined with calming, repetitive language patterns, facilitates a relaxed and highly concentrated state of awareness, setting the stage for an effective hypnosis session.

Deepen: Absorbing attention is critical for achieving a heightened state of focus and receptivity. It involves using various techniques to completely absorb the individual’s attention, steering them deeper into the hypnotic state. This stage is essential for making the subject more responsive to suggestions, thereby maximizing the effectiveness of the hypnosis session.

Suggestion: In this stage, the hypnotist provides suggestions tailored to the client’s individual goals and needs. These could be centered around managing anxiety, alleviating pain, boosting self-esteem, or altering certain behaviors such as smoking or overeating. The power of suggestion during this highly focused state can facilitate significant positive change, leading the client closer to their desired outcome.

Conclusion: The conclusion marks the final stage of the hypnosis session, skillfully bringing the process to a complete and effective end. It is not merely about ending the session but also about ensuring the client is gently guided from the deep state of focus back to their normal state of awareness. The hypnotist may use a series of verbal cues or a gradual count-up method to slowly bring the client out of the hypnotic state. This stage also serves to reinforce the positive suggestions made during the session and to ensure the client is feeling relaxed and refreshed. It’s a crucial step in ensuring that the client leaves the session feeling positive, empowered, and ready to apply the insights and changes from the hypnosis in their daily lives.”


Hypnosis is not just a subject of intrigue and misconceptions. It is a powerful tool for treating conditions like IBS, anxiety, and depression. It can also complement other forms of psychotherapy or medical treatments. This should make you feel optimistic about the potential of hypnosis in improving your well-being. Finding a Qualified Hypnotherapist:

  • Finding an experienced hypnotherapist who can tailor sessions to your needs is crucial to ensuring effective, personalized care.


  • With regular practice, individuals can learn to incorporate hypnosis into their self-care routine, enhancing relaxation and focusing on positive outcomes.

Hypnotic Induction in Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

A hypnotic induction is a procedure used to help someone enter a hypnotic state by focusing their attention. It often includes instructions for relaxation. Common techniques include:

  • Eye Closure: Encouraging the subject to close their eyes to reduce visual distractions.
  • Counting Down: Counting down numbers to deepen relaxation progressively.
  • Imagery: Using vivid imagery to focus attention and promote relaxation.
  • Relaxation Instructions: Directing the subject to relax different parts of their body.

These elements help the individual achieve a trance-like state conducive to receiving suggestions.

Applications of Hypnosis

Therapeutic Uses (e.g., Hypnotherapy)

Hypnotherapy has proven to be an effective psychological treatment for various health conditions, including anxiety, depression, pain management, and addiction. Therapists use hypnosis to help individuals reframe negative thought patterns, introduce calming suggestions, and alter perceptions of pain, offering noninvasive and medication-free options for managing chronic conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Hypnotherapy can also aid in breaking habits like smoking or overeating by targeting behavioral triggers and reinforcing positive changes.

Performance Enhancement

1. Sports Athletes use hypnosis to enhance performance by focusing on positive imagery, motivation, and concentration. Hypnosis helps overcome mental blocks, reduce anxiety, and improve focus, leading to better performance under pressure.

2. Academic and Work-Related Performance Hypnosis can improve academic and work-related performance through mental rehearsals, confidence-boosting suggestions, and relaxation techniques, enhancing memory, focus, and productivity.

Additional Uses

1. Childbirth Hypnobirthing uses relaxation, visualization, and positive affirmations to provide pain relief and reduce anxiety during labor, offering a natural alternative to traditional pain management.

2. Sleep Issues Hypnosis treats insomnia and other sleep disorders by encouraging relaxation and addressing stressors, fostering better sleep patterns through guided imagery and positive suggestions.

Clinical Applications of Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is widely used for various health conditions, particularly in the UK, for IBS symptom relief. Gut-focused Hypnotherapy has shown significant effectiveness in alleviating IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea through randomized controlled trials.

Reference: Hasan, S. S., Whorwell, P. J., Miller, V., Morris, J., & Vasant, D. H. (2021). Six vs 12 Sessions of Gut-focused Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Trial. Gastroenterology, 160(7), 2605–2607.e3. DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.02.058

Hypnotherapy’s safe and noninvasive nature makes it a preferred choice for managing IBS. Additionally, hypnosis is used to address specific issues or behaviors, aid relaxation, and improve performance in sports or other activities. It promotes overall well-being and helps individuals confront fears and phobias in a safe environment.

Debate Among Researchers About Hypnosis

While most hypnosis researchers agree on many aspects of hypnosis, there are still some points of contention.

  • Altered State of Consciousness:
  • Some scientists argue that actual hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness marked by specific changes in brain activity, such as increased blood flow and activity in specific brain areas.
  • Active Participation:
  • Others believe that individuals under hypnosis are actively engaging in hypnotic behavior rather than passively responding to suggestions. They emphasize the role of relaxation, concentration, and focused attention guided by the hypnotherapist.
  • Unconscious Mind:
  • Some therapists discuss accessing the unconscious mind’s contents and resources. At the same time, other researchers avoid such terminology, focusing on observable behaviors and cognitive processes.
  • Holistic Perspective:
  • These different perspectives may describe various aspects of the overall phenomenon of hypnosis.

Hypnosis Process

  • Hypnosis State: A state of mind causing high suggestibility and openness to suggestion.
  • Concentration: Focusing attention, memory, and behavior on a single idea.
  • Learning and Behavior Change: Used to help remember messages, perform actions, learn new information or change behaviors.
  • Rapport and Suggestions: Develop rapport between hypnotist and client, using verbal suggestions to induce a trance-like state.
  • Non-verbal Cues: Hypnotists use body language and non-verbal cues to guide clients into a hypnotic trance.

Power of Suggestion

Hypnosis leverages the power of suggestion to influence behavior and mood. It remains one of the most potent suggestion forms, affecting behavior and mood through concentrated focus and guided suggestions.


Hypnosis offers a diverse range of applications, from treatments like Hypnotherapy for conditions such as IBS, anxiety, and chronic pain to personal development through hypno-coaching. Despite some debate among researchers about the mechanisms behind hypnosis, its effectiveness in improving mental and physical well-being is well-documented. Whether used for therapy, behavior change, or performance enhancement, hypnosis is a powerful tool for achieving positive outcomes and enhancing quality of life.


Q: What is hypnosis?

A: Hypnosis is a state of focused attention and deep absorption, making individuals more open to suggestions.

Q: How does Hypnotherapy work?

A: Hypnotherapy involves guiding a person into a relaxed, trance-like state and providing positive suggestions to achieve desired outcomes, such as reducing anxiety or managing pain.

Q: What conditions can Hypnotherapy treat?

A: Hypnotherapy can be used to treat conditions like IBS, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, addiction, and more.

Q: Is hypnosis safe?

A: Yes, hypnosis is safe when performed by a qualified hypnotherapist. It is a noninvasive procedure that promotes relaxation and well-being.

Q: Can I practice self-hypnosis?

A: Yes, with regular practice, individuals can learn self-hypnosis techniques to enhance relaxation and focus on positive outcomes.

Q: How do I find a qualified hypnotherapist?

A: Look for a hypnotherapist with proper certification and experience. Personal referrals and professional directories can also help you find a qualified practitioner.

Q: What are hypnotic suggestions?

A: Hypnotic suggestions are instructions given during hypnosis to alter sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, or behaviors.