Hypnotherapy is a technique that uses the hypnotic state, which enables changes in perception and memory, a major increase in response to suggestion, and the potential for managing many physiologic functions that are usually involuntary. Hypnotherapy uses guided relaxation, intense concentration and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness that is sometimes called a trance. The person’s attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked or ignored. In this naturally occurring state and with the help of a trained therapist, the person may focus his or her attention on specific thoughts or tasks.
Hypnotherapy is performed by a licensed or certified healthcare professional who is specially trained in this technique. The decision whether or not to use hypnotherapy in a clinical setting as a sole treatment or as an add-on treatment in psychotherapy should be made in consultation with a qualified professional who is trained in the use and limitations of hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy is usually considered an aid to psychotherapy, rather than a treatment in itself. It helps with psychotherapy because the hypnotic state allows a person to explore painful thoughts, feelings, and memories that may be hidden from the conscious mind. Hypnotherapy also enables a person to perceive some things differently, such as blocking an awareness of pain.
Hypnosis can be used in two ways:
The hypnotic state allows a person to be more open to discussion and suggestion. It can improve the success of other treatments for several conditions such as:
Hypnotherapy might be used to help with pain control and to overcome habits, such as smoking or overeating. It might also be helpful for a person with severe symptoms or in need of crisis management.
Hypnotherapy might not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should be used for pain control only after a doctor has evaluated the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment.
Some therapists use hypnotherapy to recover repressed memories they believe are linked to the person’s mental disorder. However, it also may pose a risk for creating false memories — if an individual is working with an untrained hypnotherapist and unintended suggestions are transmitted. For this reason, using hypnotherapy for certain mental disorders, such as dissociative disorders, remains controversial.
Hypnotherapy is a safe procedure when done by a trained therapist. Hypnotherapy is not mind control or brainwashing. A therapist cannot make a person do something embarrassing or something the person does not want to do.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/07/2019.