What is Hypnotherapy ?

Meghan Scully, LCSW CADC Certified Hypnotherapist – ext. 338


“The easier you can make it inside your head, the easier it will make things outside your head.”

-          Richard Bandler, co-creator of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

The image of hypnosis is, for some, a mysterious practice involving pendulums, magicians, mind control and stage tricks. Scary, isn’t it? For others, it is the promise of a “magic pill” which will allow for the riddance of any unwanted thoughts or habits. Well, that does sound magical, doesn’t it? However, I’m sorry to report that hypnosis is far less mysterious or magical than our sensational culture would lead us to believe. It is, in fact, one of the simplest tools our minds possess, with a healthy capacity to effect change in our perspectives and behavior. This is partly because:

“The unconscious mind records all 1001 little details the conscious mind neglects.”

-          John Grinder, co-creator of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Think of the conscious mind as the part of the iceberg that we can see from sea level. Imagine this as being about 10% of the entire iceberg. Such is the relationship between the conscious and subconscious mind. The conscious mind, or that which we are aware and in control of, is responsible for the tasks of analyzing, thinking and planning, and managing our short-term memory. We can easily work with this material, and change it at will. Yet we wonder why the changes we make, or the automatic thoughts, patterns or emotions we continually experience, do not respond to this conscious effort. The reason is that the subconscious mind is actually responsible for most of our deeper-seated experiences, including long-term memory, records of emotions and feelings, habit and relationship patterns, addictive drives, intuition, spiritual “connections”, and creativity, which collectively comprise our core beliefs about who and what we are, as well as the world we believe we inhabit. Think of this mental activity as being the other 90% of the iceberg.

We come to therapy for change. As in the above quote, what we struggle with in our minds tends to make our lives more challenging. Negative thoughts about ourselves, fears, habits, lack of clarity in specific areas of our lives, self-esteem, feelings of being “disconnected” spiritually, or even from ourselves…. All of these have roots in our subconscious minds, and can therefore be more effectively connected with via the subconscious, and hypnosis is a vehicle for this connection.

So, how does hypnosis work?

Hypnosis is very simply a method of relaxation and concentration that allows the conscious mind to relax and receive information without its usual defenses and analyses. This allows for greater receptivity of information and messages, as well as access to information that is stored in the deeper memory. Also available are the connections that the mind has formed neurologically between thoughts and senses, and experiences and reactions. It is primarily a state of enhanced attention, not dissimilar from focused mindfulness or meditation. This state is achieved through a guided relaxation process that generally takes only a few minutes arrive at. It can be done while sitting up or lying down, and from this comfortable state, the journey begins.   

How can it be useful in therapy?

Since a hypnotic state is one in which the mind is very open, hypnosis can be used to offer safe and supportive suggestions to assist in strengthening coping skills, or creating more positive perceptions of one’s self or abilities. Hypnosis can be used to assist in lowering anxiety (Hammond 2010), assisting in relieving depression (Alladin and Alibhai 2007), and exploring and relieving phobias. It can help with sleep problems, chronic pain, and stubborn habits. Beyond this, hypnotherapy is a more involved application of hypnosis wherein the hypnotic state is created to allow the client access to their own internal resources, to change or resolve deeper issues. The therapist works with the client to explore, in this state of greater awareness and connectivity, areas in which the client seeks greater understanding or control. Hypnotherapy is often used to help restructure traumatic responses to PTSD, within the safe context of the therapeutic relationship. Hypnotherapy can increase the efficacy of other tools with which the client is working, such as CBT or mind-body connection (Kirsch et al. 1995; Jensen et al. 2011).  Generally, whatever the mind is working to change or create, hypnosis can increase the speed and depth of which this is accomplished.

You are always in control

Some of the fear around hypnosis is, understandably, that one will not be able to control one’s own mind while in a hypnotic state. The concern that someone or something else will be in control of your mind is a healthy and rational protection! However, the truth is that the mind is always capable of rejecting anything that is suggested, and you can always return to a “normal” state of wakefulness and alertness whenever you choose, and you are never incapacitated in any regard. Your mind is never “taken over” in clinical hypnosis. As well, hypnotherapy is only used when the client and therapist both agree that it is an appropriate and effective tool for the issue at hand, and a trusting relationship must exist for this process to be effective. One can only be induced into hypnosis if they feel safe, and this is possible only within an established and secure therapeutic relationship.


Alladin A , Alibhai A. Cognitive hypnotherapy for depression: an empirical investigation. International Journal of Clinical Experimental Hypnosis 2007.

Hammond DC. Hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety- and stress-related disorders. Expert Review of Neurotherapy 2010.

Kirsch I , Montgomery G, Sapirstein G. Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: a meta-analysis. Journal of Consultation Clinical Psychology 1995.