Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 17, 2022.
Hypnosis is a changed state of awareness and increased relaxation that allows for improved focus and concentration. It also is called hypnotherapy. Hypnosis usually is done with the guidance of a health care provider using verbal repetition and mental images. During hypnosis, most people feel calm and relaxed. Hypnosis typically makes people more open to suggestions about behavior changes.
Hypnosis can help you gain control over behaviors you'd like to change. It may help you cope better with anxiety or pain. Although you're more open to suggestion during hypnosis, you don't lose control over your behavior during a hypnosis session.
Why it's done
Hypnosis can be an effective way to cope with stress and anxiety. In particular, it may ease stress and anxiety before a medical procedure, such as a breast biopsy.
Hypnosis also may be helpful for:
- Pain control. Hypnosis may help with pain due to burns, cancer, childbirth, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, jaw problems, dental procedures and headaches.
- Hot flashes. Hypnosis may ease hot flashes caused by menopause.
- Behavior change. Hypnosis has been used with some success to treat sleep problems, bed-wetting, smoking and overeating.
- Cancer treatment side effects. Hypnosis has been used to ease side effects from chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
- Mental health conditions. Hypnosis may help reduce anxiety associated with fears and phobias.
Hypnosis done by a trained health care provider is a safe, complementary and alternative medical treatment. Be aware, however, that hypnosis may not be safe for some people with severe mental illness.
Harmful reactions to hypnosis are rare, but they may include:
- Anxiety or distress.
- Sleep problems.
Be cautious when someone suggests hypnosis as a way to work through stressful events from earlier in life. That may trigger a strong emotional reaction.
How you prepare
You don't need any special preparation for hypnosis. It's a good idea to wear comfortable clothing to help you relax. Make sure you're well rested. That way, you're less likely to fall asleep during the session, as it is meant to be relaxing.
Choose a health care provider who is certified to perform hypnosis. Get a recommendation from someone you trust. Learn about any provider you're considering. Ask questions, such as:
- Do you have specialized training in hypnosis?
- Are you licensed in your specialty in this state?
- How much training have you had in hypnosis? From what schools?
- How long have you done hypnosis?
- What are your fees? Does insurance cover your services?
What you can expect
Before you begin, your health care provider explains the process of hypnosis and reviews your treatment goals. Then the provider typically begins by talking in a gentle, soothing tone, describing images that create a sense of relaxation, security and well-being.
When you're relaxed and calm, your health care provider suggests ways for you to achieve your goals. That may include, for example, ways to ease pain or reduce cravings to smoke. The provider also may help you visualize vivid, meaningful mental images of yourself accomplishing your goals.
When the session is over, you may be able to bring yourself out of hypnosis on your own. Or your health care provider may help you gradually and comfortably increase your alertness.
Contrary to what you might see in movies or during a hypnotist stage act, people don't lose control over their behavior during hypnosis. They usually remain aware during a session and remember what happens.
Over time, you may be able to practice self-hypnosis. During self-hypnosis, you reach a state of relaxation and calm without a health care provider's guidance. This skill can be helpful in many situations, such as before surgery or other medical procedures.
Hypnosis can be effective in helping people cope with pain, stress and anxiety. Keep in mind, though, that health care providers typically suggest other treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, for those conditions before or along with hypnosis. Hypnosis may be effective as part of a larger treatment plan for quitting smoking or losing weight.
Hypnosis isn't right for everyone. Not all people are able to enter a state of hypnosis fully enough for it to work well. In general, the more quickly and easily people reach a state of relaxation and calm during a session, the more likely it is that they will benefit from hypnosis.