Mayo Clinic Health Library

Hypnosis

Updated: 11-20-2012

Definition

Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration. Hypnosis is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images. When you're under hypnosis, you usually feel calm and relaxed, and are more open to suggestions.

Hypnosis can be used to help you gain control over undesired behaviors or to help you cope better with anxiety or pain. It's important to know that although you're more open to suggestion during hypnosis, you don't lose control over your behavior.

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Why it's done

Hypnotherapy can be an effective method for coping with stress and anxiety. In particular, hypnosis can reduce stress and anxiety before a medical procedure, such as a breast biopsy.

Hypnosis has been studied for other conditions, including:

  • Pain control. Hypnosis may be beneficial for pain associated with cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint problems, dental procedures and headaches.
  • Hot flashes. Hypnosis may relieve symptoms of hot flashes associated with menopause.
  • Behavior change. Hypnosis has been used with some success in the treatment of insomnia, bed-wetting, smoking, obesity and phobias.
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Risks

Hypnosis that's conducted by a trained therapist or health care professional is considered a safe, complementary and alternative medicine treatment. However, hypnosis may not be appropriate in people with severe mental illness.

Adverse reactions to hypnosis are rare, but may include:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness or dizziness
  • Anxiety or distress
  • Creation of false memories

Use special caution before using hypnosis for age regression to help you relive earlier events in your life. This practice remains controversial and has limited scientific evidence to support its use. It may cause strong emotions and can alter your memories or lead to creation of false memories.

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How you prepare

You don't need any special preparation to undergo hypnosis. But it's a good idea to wear comfortable clothing to help you relax. Also, make sure that you're well rested so that you're not inclined to fall asleep during the session.

Be sure you carefully choose a therapist or health care professional to perform hypnosis. Get a recommendation from someone you trust. Learn as much as you can about any therapist you're considering. Start by asking questions, such as:

  • Do you have training in a field such as psychology, medicine, social work or dentistry?
  • Are you licensed in your specialty in this state?
  • Where did you go to school, and where did you do your post-graduate training?
  • How much training have you had in hypnotherapy and from what schools?
  • What professional organizations do you belong to?
  • How long have you been in practice?
  • What are your fees?
  • Will insurance cover your services?
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What you can expect

The therapist will explain the process of hypnosis and review what you hope to accomplish. Then the therapist will typically talk in a gentle, soothing tone and describe images that create a sense of relaxation, security and well-being.

When you're in a receptive state, the therapist will suggest ways for you to achieve your goals, such as reducing pain or eliminating cravings to smoke. The therapist also may help you visualize vivid, meaningful mental images of yourself accomplishing your goals.

When the session is over, either you are able to bring yourself out of hypnosis or your therapist helps you end your trance-like state.

Contrary to how hypnosis is sometimes portrayed in movies or on television, you don't lose control over your behavior while under hypnosis. Also, you generally remain aware of and remember what happens under hypnosis.

You may eventually be able to practice self-hypnosis, in which you induce a state of hypnosis in yourself. You can use this skill as needed — for instance, after a chemotherapy session.

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Results

Hypnosis can be effective in helping people cope with pain, stress and anxiety. It may also be effective as part of a comprehensive program for quitting smoking or losing weight.

Hypnosis isn't right for everyone, though. For example, you may not be able to enter a state of hypnosis fully enough to make it effective. Some therapists believe that the more likely you are to be hypnotized, the more likely it is that you'll benefit from hypnosis.

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