hypnotherapy, hypnosis therapy, hypnotherapist, what is hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy as a treatment for illness has been occurring for hundreds of years but has been steeped in mysticism and quackery. Hypnotherapy only began to gain credibility as a viable intervention in the last century. In particular, 20th-century psychiatrist Milton Erickson was a strong proponent of hypnotherapy as a treatment for mental and physical health conditions. Let’s take a closer look at hypnotherapy as a viable mental health treatment.

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness that allows the individual to enter a deeper condition of concentration and awareness. While hypnosis can make one more mentally alert, it is also associated with feelings of calm and relaxation. Hypnosis has the potential to increase suggestibility and facilitate self-understanding. These hypnotic states are utilized by the therapist to perform hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy steps

  1. Relaxation: The mind must be relaxed for induction to occur. Numerous relaxation methods can be used, from deep breathing to progressive muscle relaxation.
  2. Induction: Induction is the process where someone is put into a hypnotic state. While relaxation alone might cause induction, there are numerous other ways to perform induction, including counting and visual cues.
  3. Work: The work stage is where the change happens. This is when the hypnotherapist uses the techniques illustrated below to meet the client’s goals.
  4. Exit: The exit is when you release the client from their hypnotic state. Although this would happen normally over time, the hypnotherapist can do this quickly by defining a certain cue. For example, “When I count backward from three, you will no longer be hypnotized”.

Hypnotherapy techniques
The following techniques are commonly used as part of hypnotherapy:

Direct Suggestion

This is what most people think of when hypnotherapy is mentioned. While in a hypnotic state, the therapist can offer suggestions that facilitate the goals of the client. If the client is working to curb smoking, for instance, the therapist can suggest that smoking is “poisonous" and will harm the body. When the client comes out of the hypnotic condition, they will hopefully feel like smoking is poisonous and want to reduce their usage.

Indirect suggestion

A favorite of Erickson, an indirect suggestion gives the client the illusion of choice. Instead of commanding the client to perform a specific behavior or telling them something directly, the therapist will indirectly mention it and allow the client to decide what they want to do with the suggestion. For example, a therapist will say to the client, “You may notice how much better you feel when you don’t smoke”, hoping the client’s mind will run with the suggestion and stop smoking.


In this technique, the therapist guides the subject to explore and uncover past experiences that may be the cause of problematic behavior. After this initial uncovering phase, the therapist helps the client reframe the past events and find more adaptive ways of coping. Regression is particularly helpful in resolving past trauma or other troubles that may be stuck in the subconscious mind and difficult to access.


The parts technique theorizes that the subconscious mind has different parts, both helpful and unhelpful. The conflict between the parts leads to negative emotions and maladaptive behavior. The hypnotherapist guides the client to identify the damaging parts and find a healthier alternative part to replace them. For example, the client who wants to stop smoking may—through hypnosis—identify the subconscious “devil” and the “angel” within them and learn to vanquish the devil so they can stop smoking.

Does hypnotherapy work?

The effectiveness of hypnotherapy is controversial. Although there is substantial research measuring its efficacy, these studies have traditionally lacked strong psychometric properties. When better research designs have been employed, the results have been largely inconclusive.

Some recent studies, however, point to the potential for hypnotherapy as a mental health treatment for specific problems:

  • Alleviating pain is also a frequent target of hypnotherapy. Hypnosis has been used as a replacement or adjunct to analgesics before and after surgeries. In one meta-analysis, hypnotherapy was found to reduce the need for conventional analgesics. Of course, some of those studies were not highly credible due to poor psychometric properties.

  • Smoking cessation is another problem for which hypnotherapy is frequently employed. In one study, hypnosis did at least as well as behavioral counseling in reducing smoking behavior.

  • In another meta-analysis, researchers found a small number that asserted that hypnosis was significantly effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD. However, more research is needed to make a definitive conclusion.

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Training Resources

There are numerous resources for training in hypnotherapy.

Here are a few:
  • The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is the organization founded by Milton Erickson in the mid-20th century. It is probably the most credible hypnotherapy training institute in the United States. Besides a lengthy certification training, the organization also has a ton of resources, including smaller online trainings and links to books. You can become a member of the organization and have all it offers at your fingertips. If you choose one place to receive hypnotherapy training, this is it.

  • The American College of Hypnotherapy offers certification as a “Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist”. This can be done entirely online but takes considerable time and cost.

  • Don’t laugh, but Hypnotherapy for Dummies does a good job of explaining hypnotherapy to beginners to the field. For those who want a more advanced look, Hypnotherapy by Dave Elman is a seminal text.

Hypnotherapy shows potential as a stand-alone and adjunct treatment for a variety of mental health problems. As the quality of research improves, its effectiveness (or lack thereof) will be more clearly exhibited.


If you would like more information about hypnotherapy and other relevant psychotherapies, Theraplatform has what you need. Theraplatform is an all-in-one EHR, practice management and teletherapy software for clinicians. Try a 30-day free trial of Theraplatform today. No credit card required. Cancel anytime.


American Psychological Association. (2008) Hypnosis today: looking beyond the media portrayal. https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/hypnosis

Carmody, T. P., Duncan, C., Simon, J. A., Solkowitz, S., Huggins, J., Lee, S., & Delucchi, K. (2008). Hypnosis for smoking cessation: a randomized trial. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 10(5), 811–818. https://doi.org/10.1080/14622200802023833

Fuhr, K., Meisner, C., Broch, A., Cyrny, B., Hinkel, J., Jaberg, J., Petrasch, M., Schweizer, C., Stiegler, A., Zeep, C., & Batra, A. (2021). Efficacy of hypnotherapy compared to cognitive behavioral therapy for mild to moderate depression - Results of a randomized controlled rater-blind clinical trial. Journal of affective disorders, 286, 166–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.02.069

Gorton, G.E. (2005). Milton Hyland Erickson, 1901–1980. The American Journal of Psychology, 162 (7), 1255. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.162.7.1255

Green, J. P., Laurence, J.R., & Lynn, S. J. (2014). Hypnosis and psychotherapy: from Mesmer to mindfulness. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1(2), 199-212. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cns0000015

HYPNOTC. (n.d.) What is a hypnotic induction? https://hypnotc.com/what-is-a-hypnotic-induction

Patterson, E. (2023, September 6). Hypnotherapy: how It works & what to expect. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/hypnotherapy

Rotaru, T. Ș., & Rusu, A. (2016). A Meta-Analysis for the Efficacy of Hypnotherapy in Alleviating PTSD Symptoms. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 64(1), 116–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2015.1099406

Shih, M., Yang, Y. H., & Koo, M. (2009). A meta-analysis of hypnosis in the treatment of depressive symptoms: a brief communication. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 57(4), 431–442. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140903099039

Thompson, T., Terhune, D. B., Oram, C., Sharangparni, J., Rouf, R., Solmi, M., Veronese, N., & Stubbs, B. (2019). The effectiveness of hypnosis for pain relief: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 85 controlled experimental trials. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 99, 298–310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.02.013

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