What Are Hypnosis And Hypnotherapy?

Offered By Kate Hoyle Hypnotherapy

What is hypnosis?

Often when I describe hypnosis it’s easier to start with what it’s NOT. 

Hypnosis is not about pendulums or swinging watches. Using a swinging watch is an example of how to capture someone’s focus, fascination and attention. These are all required when taking a client into an inward-focused state, but no watches or pendulums are required.

Most people first come across hypnosis in a stage show or on TV. You will often hear comments like “Jack is the quietest guy in the group - there’s no way he would dance around on stage by choice”. But it is a choice. 

It’s impossible to make anyone say or do something in hypnosis that they don’t want to. Members of the audience chosen to go up on stage are selected quickly, but carefully, to be highly suggestible. They are not being ‘made’ to act in a certain way; they are playing along. They are responding to the encouragement of the performer and the laughter and applause of the audience. Often these individuals have always wanted to be the life and soul of the party but have been too shy. Hypnosis allows them to fulfil this dream.

Often I get clients to repeat phrases. If the words I say do not resonate with them, they automatically change them.

So hypnosis is not being made to do or think a certain way; it’s a state of being that makes you highly susceptible to suggestion. That’s how we can introduce helpful thoughts and beliefs.

Hypnosis is not being asleep. We go in and out of a hypnotic state all the time; it’s a completely natural process. Have you ever been so engrossed in a book or movie and then jumped when your phone rang? That’s a hypnotic state.

Being in hypnosis allows your nervous system to sleep but your mind to remain very focused. This enables you to put highly-focused attention to whatever you are thinking about and become less concerned with any external input stimulated by your five senses. 

Although hypnosis activates certain brainwaves, it is not an altered state. I once had a client who told me she didn’t think she’d been in hypnosis. When I asked why not, she replied “I didn’t go anywhere”. Where did she think she was going to go, I wondered. 

In a hypnotic state, you won’t ‘go’ anywhere, float or fly; just the same way as you don’t when you are watching your favourite movie. You will just be completely relaxed and time will be suspended. 

Now we’ve covered what hypnosis is not, and hopefully dispelled some myths, let’s look at what it IS.

Hypnosis creates the ability for your subconscious mind to become more dominant and your conscious mind less dominant. 


"Opinions vary on the exact definition of this natural state of mind. First of all, contrary to what many people believe, hypnosis is not always a trance state or a sleep state, even though a person in hypnosis may appear to be sleeping. Hypnosis is a really natural state of mind and is an important part of everyday life. Whenever our mind wanders, daydreams or is focused on something, such as reading a book, driving a familiar route, or watching a film, we are in a state of hypnosis. "

"Brain scans on people who are in a hypnotic state show that brain wave activity moves from a Beta state to an Alpha state, and sometimes a Theta state. This is not dissimilar to the pattern of brain activity during meditation."

--- National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH)



Hypnosis makes it possible for you to concentrate intently while at the same time placing aside any concerns or doubts that would usually prevent you from engaging in the experience. In other words, hypnosis is not sleeping; it is a state that involves highly-focused attention.

Standard hypnosis will take the client into a hypnotic state and give them positive suggestion. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists defines hypnosis as a psychological procedure that can help to change how you feel and act. In hypnosis, you are put in a state of focused concentration that involves becoming less aware of your surroundings. In this state, you are more able to accept ‘suggestions’, also known as ‘invitations’. Your therapist will make suggestions that encourage you to move away from unhelpful beliefs towards more helpful beliefs. 

This is why it can be so effective with issues such as smoking. In hypnosis the therapist shifts the belief from craving smoking to disliking it, or not having any interest in smoking.

One of my favourite descriptions of hypnosis is that it’s where the conscious and subconscious minds can communicate. I have had many clients who have undertaken years of therapy and say that using hypnotherapy has been the first time they have managed to align what they know logically and what drives them emotionally. 


"Although controversial, hypnosis is now widely accepted as a technique for helping people change their habits, manage pain, overcome phobias, and deal with depression and anxiety." (Milling et al., 2018).


What is hypnotherapy?

In hypnotherapy, hypnosis is not the end result: it’s just a tool that is used to enhance the therapy. This is where we can use the advantages of a relaxed state, focused mind and susceptibility to good suggestions. 

Hypnotherapy is a type of psychological therapy that uses hypnosis to help treat certain mental and physical health conditions. It can also be used to change habits.

In hypnotherapy such as Rapid Transformational Therapy, hypnosis enables the therapist to take the client back to past events (regressive hypnotherapy). The client can access memories that have either been long-forgotten or buried. The subconscious stores everything and has an extraordinary ability to select exactly the right memories to explain an existing, and unwanted, thought or behaviour. 

Research has shown that the following psychological conditions can be helped by hypnotherapy:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • eating disorders
  • functional disorders (bodily symptoms and conditions such as headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or backaches which may have a significant psychological component)
  • improving memory for people who have experienced a brain injury
  • addiction
  • smoking cessation
  • weight issues

It has also been shown to help in the following medical conditions, often by reducing anxiety but also by reducing other symptoms:

  • pain
  • medical and surgical procedures
  • cancer treatment side effects
  • anaesthetic procedures
  • burn wound care
  • dental procedures
  • childbirth
  • menopausal symptoms

Hypnotherapy can also have a positive effect on the immune system.


Who does hypnosis work for?

As referred to above, we naturally go in and out of a hypnotic state all the time. 

It has been shown that certain people are more ‘hypnotisable’ than others and questionnaires such as the ‘Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility’ can help to work out how well someone might respond to hypnosis. 

However, even for those with a low score, hypnosis has still proved helpful.

When should hypnosis be avoided?

There are only two medical conditions in which hypnosis is not advised:

  1. If the client suffers from epilepsy: this is because hypnosis can trigger a negative response to this pre-existing condition
  2. If the client experiences psychosis: this is because they may not be able to distinguish between what is real and what is not.


What is the format of a typical hypnotherapy session?

A hypnotherapy session begins with something called an induction procedure. The therapist will speak slowly and softly and make suggestions that help you to focus your attention and relax. They will often do this by describing relaxing images such as lying on a beach, or walking downstairs.

Many types of hypnotherapy will then take you straight into hearing positive suggestions. These suggestions will be aimed at helping you to change your outlook or behaviour in ways that are helpful to you. 

These suggestions might also involve creating images of the outcome you are seeking. For example, picture yourself leaving your home and remaining calm if you normally experience anxiety. When you are in a hypnotic state your mind can accept these images without challenge.

In regressive hypnotherapy, the therapist can guide you back to past experiences and events that pinpoint the root cause of the issue you want to address. Once you have this understanding of why, where and when the problem arose, it makes it much easier to create change. The therapist will then take you through a process of viewing these past events from your adult perspective and changing any negative beliefs you made at the time. 

Only after this work has been completed, will the therapist give you positive suggestions describing how you want to be going forward.

I also provide bespoke self-hypnosis audio to listen to regularly. This helps to cement a new, positive, way of thinking and behaving.


How does hypnotherapy work?

The hypnotic induction procedure creates a state of focused attention and reduces critical thought. This allows you to create images and accept suggestions that help to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.

Research has shown that positive suggestions in hypnosis change activity in relevant areas of the brain. 


Let’s use the example of a fear of dogs to describe the different approaches to hypnotherapy:

The client believes that the fear arises from a frightening encounter with a dog. This makes them believe that all dogs are dangerous and they become very aware of any possible interaction. This causes panic attacks and they avoid going anywhere where dogs are likely to be. 

Standard hypnotherapy will redirect attention to the fact that another frightening encounter is unlikely. This will reduce anxiety and enable the individual to go out more.

Regressive hypnotherapy (such as Rapid Transformational Therapy), will take the client back to the underlying reason why the initial encounter was so frightening. The dog may not be the direct cause. For example, the client experienced an incident with a dog but never felt protected as a child and therefore linked the feeling of being vulnerable and unprotected with dogs. Going back to the underlying root cause enables the therapist to deal with that issue so that dogs no longer cause fear.

Many people have the misconception that they will somehow lose awareness or control when in hypnosis, but according to Dave Elman (1900-1967), a person in hypnosis “has greater awareness than the person not in hypnosis.” It is now widely accepted that you cannot get someone to do something in hypnosis that they would not ordinarily do. The difference is that being in a hypnotic state makes the individual more open to accepting positive suggestions. 


Why is hypnotherapy becoming more popular?

Hypnotherapy is becoming more widely available as an increasing number of therapists realise its wide-ranging benefits. In a fast-paced world, hypnotherapy is a quick way to tackle even deep-seated negative beliefs or behaviours. It is also a completely natural, non-invasive process which doesn’t require medication with the possibility of side effects. 


Links to evidence-based studies in the field of hypnosis:

Want to keep learning? Find out more about the author - Kate Hoyle - Kate Hoyle Hypnotherapy.

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