April 18, 2022

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Caitlin Harper

What Really Happens in a Hypnotherapy Session?

Despite what you've seen on TV and in movies, hypnotherapy isn’t performed by someone who is going to make you quack like a duck in front of all of your friends—it's performed by a licensed or certified healthcare professional who is specially trained in this technique. To demystify what happens in hypnotherapy, here is some insight from hypnotherapists in the MyWellbeing community, plus a few examples of what actually happens in-session.

You’ve seen it before on TV or in movies: someone agrees to be hypnotized, either on-stage in front of hundreds of people or on a leather sofa in a therapist’s office. The hypnotist pulls a watch from their pocket and swings it in front of the person’s eyes. 

“You’re getting sleepy,” the hypnotist says, “very sleepy.” The person being hypnotized zonks out and either ends up under the control of the hypnotist or starts waddling and quacking across the stage like a duck.

Is this hypnotherapy? NO. Not at all.

To demystify what happens in hypnotherapy, here is some insight from hypnotherapists in the MyWellbeing community, plus a few examples of what actually happens in-session.

What is hypnotherapy?

First and foremost, hypnotherapy isn’t performed by someone who is going to make you quack like a duck in front of all of your friends. Hypnotherapy is performed by a licensed or certified healthcare professional who is specially trained in this technique.

“Hypnotherapy is the practice of using therapeutic hypnosis in a safe and supportive environment to create lasting positive changes in the way you think, feel and behave,” says Niki Payne. “It is also a known self-improvement behavioral modification."

"Research has shown that changes made at the subconscious level are more likely to stick than mere 'positive thinking' at the conscious level. The goal of hypnotherapy is to create greater alignment between your conscious intentions and subconscious motivations. It’s talk therapy meeting with therapeutic hypnosis to help you close the gap between your current situation and your ideal outcome.”

What is hypnotherapy used for?

“Many people are unfamiliar with hypnotherapy, but once they experience it, they realize that it is the best feeling anyone can experience,” says Chanda DeYoung. “I spend the first half of the session talking with you about your issues and what you would like to improve in your life. Then the second half of the session is spent in a nice relaxed state of hypnosis where I guide you on a visual journey, helping you release the negativity and issues that are holding you back and incorporate the positive changes that you want to see happen in your life.”

Studies have shown that hypnotherapy can be useful for:

  • Pain control: Hypnosis may help with pain due to burns, cancer, childbirth, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint problems, dental procedures, and headaches.
  • Behavior change: Hypnosis has been used with some success in the treatment of insomnia, bed-wetting, smoking, and overeating.
  • Mental health conditions: Hypnotherapy can be an effective method for coping with stress and anxiety and may help treat symptoms of anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress.
  • Hot flashes: Hypnosis may relieve symptoms of hot flashes associated with menopause.
  • Cancer treatment side effects: Hypnosis has been used to ease side effects related to chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

“Hypnotherapy utilizes the state of hypnosis to reach your subconscious mind where all the automatic responses and habits are stored,” says Chanda. “When a person is in a hypnotic state, the therapist is able to use words and images as deemed appropriate by the client to release what no longer serves them and replace them with new habits and behaviors that the client is looking to achieve.”

“Our conscious minds only control about 12% of our mental and emotional well-being, whereas the other 88% is our subconscious programming,” says Chandra. “I work with the 88% of your mind that has been running on automatic up until now. Together we rewrite the code of your mental programming to reflect the changes that you want to effect long-lasting change. Our minds are very powerful and only you can decide what it is you want in life. I do not have a magic wand that will erase all your problems, but I can help you reframe your mental well-being to be in line with your goals and dreams."

What happens in a hypnotherapy session?

First, your hypnotherapist will want to know your medical history, background, and what you would like to address in sessions. They’ll explain how hypnosis works and what you can expect. Each session lasts about an hour, and most people start to see results within four to ten sessions. You and your hypnotherapist will monitor and evaluate your progress over time to assess how the treatment is working for you. The hypnotherapist may also teach you the basics of self-hypnosis and give you recordings to use at home so you can reinforce what you learn during the session in-between sessions with them.

So what exactly is a “trance” and am I still in control during hypnotherapy?

During hypnotherapy, a hypnotherapist will move you into a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration, while also feeling relaxed and calm, using tools like repetition or visualization. During the trance, you’ll be more open to suggestion, but you don’t lose control over your own behavior—despite what you have seen on TV and in movies.

“In hypnosis, you are always in control and I will only use suggestions that we have cognitively agreed upon before hypnosis,” says Karen Veloz. “If you want to feel relaxed and freed up to listen consciously and subconsciously to positive ideas and new ways of thinking then this is a great place to start.”

“Hypnosis is an alpha/theta brain wave state that we go through every night when we go to sleep,” says Karen. “It's the sensation you have when you drive somewhere routinely and upon arrival don't quite remember the actual drive.”

Everyone goes in and out of a trance state naturally throughout the day. A few more examples of being in a trance state are:

  • Being immersed in a good movie
  • Daydreaming
  • Experiencing anxiety

The negative states that people suffer from and oftentimes seek hypnosis for are, from a hypnotherapist’s point of view, unfavorable trance states. What a hypnotherapist aims to do is to replace the unfavorable state with one that you’d rather experience.

What can this all look like in an actual session?

While your treatment will be tailored to you based on your own needs, it always helps to know the types of things that go on behind closed doors! Here are three anonymized case studies from hypnotherapist and MyWellbeing community member Joanne Davies:

Case #1

“One client had not been sexually intimate with his wife for two years and he was worried that she would leave him,” says Joanne. “We identified that he processes visually and was an over-thinker. He was very busy with work and was disconnected from his physical body. He was short on time and just wanted to fix [his situation immediately] as he felt he had already left it too late.” 

“I used a visual induction (this is what we call the ways we get clients into a trance state) where he looked at the palm of his hand, analyzing everything he saw until he just wanted to rest. I used a counting down technique to take him deeper and I asked him to indicate ‘yes’ answers by raising his right finger and ‘no’ answers by raising his left finger.”

“I then asked his subconscious if he genuinely wanted to have sex with his wife, and he indicated ‘yes’ by raising his right finger. I asked if he knew the reason why he wasn't, and he indicated ‘yes’ again by raising his right finger. I asked if he was ready to begin to investigate this today, and he indicated ‘no’ by raising his left finger. I asked if he would like to do some work on feeling good about himself today, and he indicated ‘yes’ by raising his right finger. So I gave him a pep talk of sorts using the information gleaned from our consultation, while he was in this very receptive state, and then I asked him if he felt better and was ready to come out of trance. He indicated ‘yes’ by raising his right finger and I counted him back up.”

Case #2

“Another client had been following the keto diet for three months, but unlike her friends, she hadn’t lost weight,” says Joanne. “She was very connected to her physical sensations, and so we used those to get her into a light trance. We took a meditative walk to a beach, and she brought the feeling of her grandmother sitting beside her on the rocks. Her grandmother told her that she never liked greasy things growing up and they used to make her sick. Her grandmother told her that her father had gallbladder issues and maybe she does, too.”

“She knew that her issues were stress-related and by putting her body under further stress with this diet, she was making matters worse. She needed to look at how to comfort herself in other ways. Together, we promised that she would return to this place to talk some more and figure out where she needed comfort and how she could give herself this, to naturally let go of the weight and nurture herself.”

Case #3

“Another client hated their job, but had no idea what else they could do and didn't want to give up the money,” says Joanne. “They revealed that they had ADD, so it was important that we made the induction very interactive and engaging. They were also very distracted by noise, so we used the sound of the air purifier as an attention anchor.”

“I guided them to picture their perfect office, down to every detail. It was exceptionally quiet and serene there; it transpired that the work they were doing was not the problem, it was the location. They wanted to work on their own. We made a plan for how we would spend the next couple of weeks making that a realistic long-term goal and teaching them how to become more aware of ways they could connect this to opportunities in their life that couldn’t be seen at that time.”

Like all types of therapy, having the right fit with your therapist is an important part of the process

Rapport is responsible for over 70% of why therapy works—and hypnotherapy is no different. Finding the right therapist for you is crucial to you getting the care you deserve. 

If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy but have had no idea how to actually take the first step, you’re not alone. We’ve pulled together our ultimate guide to starting therapy, breaking down the process and giving you the resources you need to get the mental health support you’re looking for. And if you need some help, our form can help you find the right hypnotherapist for you.

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About the author

Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.

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