Hypnotherapy: Can a trance-like state bring positive change?

If you’ve seen a hypnosis show, the first thing that may come to mind when you think of hypnotherapy is being forced to cluck like a chicken. Well, think again.

Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique that harnesses the power of the subconscious mind to initiate positive changes in an individual’s behaviour, emotions, or physical state.

With everything from weight loss and quitting smoking to conquering phobias and reducing chronic pain among its purported benefits, hypnotherapy has surfaced as a mesmerising union of ancient wisdom and modern science, with increasing numbers of people turning to the therapy.

“It is also becoming more broadly accepted as a treatment to assist people with depression and anxiety,” explains clinical hypnotherapist Justine Williams from The Feel Good Studio.

But what is hypnotherapy and how does it work? We break down the key aspects to better understand its mechanisms, benefits, and applications.

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique in which a trained therapist guides a person into a hypnotic trance and utilises suggestion to facilitate healing or bring about positive behavioural change.

What is hypnotherapy used for?

Hypnotherapy can be used for a wide range of issues, including stress reductionpain managementovercoming phobiasweight loss, quitting smoking, and even improving sleep.

It’s also been employed to enhance performance in sports and the arts.

Recent studies have even found the therapy may help slow down the impacts of dementia.

How does hypnotherapy work?

The subconscious mind stores memories, beliefs, habits, and emotions.

Many of our automatic behaviours and responses are rooted in this part of the mind.

By accessing the subconscious, hypnotherapy can address the deeper sources of certain behaviours, patterns, or issues that might be challenging to address through conscious effort alone.

What is hypnosis?

Even if you’ve never had hypnotherapy before, it’s likely you have experienced a hypnotic trance.

Hypnosis is a natural yet altered state of consciousness characterised by deep relaxation, heightened focus, and increased suggestibility.

Contrary to popular belief, a person under hypnosis is not asleep but is rather in a hyper-attentive state.

“If you have ever driven from A to B on autopilot and wondered how you got there, you were effectively in a trance,” Justine says.

“One part of your mind is deeply relaxed and unfocused, whereas another part of your mind was in control – you stopped at traffic lights, you didn’t hit another car, you were able to park.”

Is hypnotherapy safe?

When practised by a qualified and trained hypnotherapist, it’s generally considered safe.

It’s non-invasive and does not involve any drugs. However, like any therapy, it’s essential to ensure you’re working with a reputable practitioner.

Can anyone be hypnotised?

While most people can be hypnotised, the depth and ease can vary.

Individuals must be willing, and some might naturally be more susceptible to hypnotic suggestions than others.


What happens during hypnotherapy treatment

Initially the therapist will go through your history and ask what you’re hoping to get from the session.

“If clients are unsure of their goals, we will work with the feelings that the client will prefer to feel moving forward,” Justine says.

You’ll then either sit or lie down and be guided into a deeply relaxing hypnotic trance.

How often do you need to undergo hypnotherapy?

How often you’ll need a hypnotherapy session depends on what issue you’re wanting to address and its complexity.

“Some clients come in once per week over a period of four to six weeks to help treat a phobia, whereas someone with anxiety may choose to see their hypnotherapist on a regular basis,” Justine says.

Can I be made to do something against my will?

No. Despite popular misconceptions, you cannot be made to do something that goes against your values or moral compass during hypnotherapy.

You remain in control and can choose to come out of the hypnotic state at any time.

“It’s important to know that you have free will, and that no seeds can be planted into your mind that go against your values,” Justine says.

Will I remember what happens while I’m under hypnosis?

Most people recall their hypnotherapy sessions clearly. Being under hypnosis is not the same as being unconscious; it’s a heightened state of concentration where the mind is more open to suggestion.

“Many clients feel like they are in trance for only five minutes, when they are actually in trance for 30 to 50 minutes,” Justine says.

You’ll be brought back from your trance at the end of the session, and you may find you can recall everything, or only certain parts.

“It depends on whether something compelling comes up or a memory you haven’t thought about for decades,” she says.

Hypnotherapy after-care

“Before you jump in the car and zoom off to the next thing on your to-do list, it’s important to take a few minutes, have a glass of water and enjoy the sense of wellbeing and peace you are feeling,” Justine says.

You may feel floaty and drowsy, or energised and clear-headed.

Regardless of your energy levels, the goal of all sessions is for you to feel deeply relaxed and inspired afterwards.

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Written by Samantha Allemann and Tianna Nadalin.

Originally published July 2019. Updated September 2023.