What is hypnosis and how does it work?

You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. In movies and up on stage, hypnotism has been shown as some sort of “magic.” Subjects are made to cluck like a chicken or are at the whims of the hypnotist, willing to do almost anything they ask. In reality, hypnosis is a powerful way of using our mind to influence our perception and our bodies and you’re always in control of the experience.


What is hypnosis?

Researchers and medical professionals have been exploring the use of hypnosis for medical treatment and behavioural change for hundreds of years. In fact, according to Dr David Spiegel of Stanford University, says “hypnosis is one of the oldest forms of Western psychotherapy.” 


Essentially, hypnosis is just a state of relaxed and focused absorption, where your mind is more open to suggestions. The brain has different levels of consciousness, or awareness, ranging from fully alert to drowsy to fully asleep, with variations in between. Hypnotic states are one of these variations and can occur naturally and spontaneously, including:

- Daydreaming

- Doing a mundane task (such as folding the clothes or driving) while thinking about something else, to the point that you can’t actually remember performing the task.

- Being absorbed in a pleasant task and losing track of time, like with a good book or movie.


Clinical hypnosis deliberately induces this kind of relaxed state of absorption. Once the mind is in a relaxed state and focused state, therapeutic suggestions can have a significant effect on attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours.


What does hypnosis do to the brain?

The mechanisms behind hypnosis aren’t fully understood. Some researchers believe that hypnosis promotes particular brain wave activity that allows the mind to receive and adopt new ideas, while others suggest that hypnosis bypasses the critical ‘conscious mind’ to access the ‘unconscious mind’, which is more open to new ideas and is involved in many automatic actions.


In fact, recent brain research seems to confirm the basis of the second theory. One study, in particular, showed that areas of the brain responsible for criticalness show reduced activity during hypnosis. Dr. David Spiegel, chair of the psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford, studied the brain activity of people under hypnosis and found that hypnosis involves:


- Increased brain-body connections: The research found that hypnosis increases the brain-body connections that help the brain process and control what’s going on in the body. This could help explain why hypnotic suggestion can help us better control how the body responds in certain stimuli, i.e. to reduce pain, fears, or negative natural responses.

- Reduced self-consciousness: The researchers observed that the connection between two brain networks – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the default mode network – were less connected. This has the effect of dissociation, making us less self-conscious about our thoughts and behavior and effectively making us more suggestible.

- Heightened absorption: The study showed reduced activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate, an area of the brain that’s part of our conscious awareness network. In other words, while in hypnosis, you’re so absorbed that you’re not worrying about anything else.


What can hypnosis help with?

Hypnosis can help you change attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours. It can be effective in treating a range of medical and psychological issues, including:

- Anxiety

- Depression

- Chronic pain

- Irritable Bowel Syndrome

- Fears and phobias

- Smoking

- Insomnia

- Panic attacks

- Stress

- Migraine

- Obesity

- Sleep problems

- Sexual problems

- Confidence & self-esteem issues

- Procrastination & motivation issues


What does hypnosis feel like?

Being in a hypnotic state feels similar to the dreamy state of mind that exists just before falling asleep, except you are alert and aware of your surroundings. You may feel like you’re in a calm, and relaxed state, in which you’re are able to focus deeply on what the hypnotherapist is talking about. You’ll often feel open-minded, and willing to think about and experience life differently, often in a more detached way than usual. As you enter into hypnosis you might also experience:


- Physical sensations such as heaviness and relaxation around muscles like eyelids. You might feel your body relaxing into the chair or bed.

- Dreamy feeling. It’s possible that you’ll have a “dreamy” feeling, or feel as if you are drifting back and forth between sleep and wakefulness throughout hypnosis. After hypnosis, it’s likely that you’ll probably have a fading memory of the session, similar to emerging from a deep daydream or a nap.


Can you be hypnotised?

Most likely! While many people think that they cannot be hypnotised, research has in fact shown that the vast majority of people can be hypnotised:

- Fifteen percent of people are highly responsive to hypnosis.

- Around ten percent of adults are considered difficult to hypnotise (although still possible).

- 75% of people are able to be moderately hypnotised.


People who can become easily absorbed in their imagination are much more responsive to hypnosis.

It is important to remember to approach the experience with an open mind. Research has suggested that people who view hypnosis in a positive light tend to respond better and achieve better therapeutic effects. If you’re interested in experiencing hypnosis, download the Mindset app for free – it will provide the best introduction to clinical hypnosis.

©2019 Mindset Health Pty Ltd, All Rights Reserved

Terms and Conditions |                         

Join our newsletter

Get the latest information on clinical hypnosis, IBS, hypnotherapy and Mindset messages.