(Mayo Clinic staff) Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus, concentration and inner absorption. When you’re under hypnosis, you usually feel calm and relaxed, and you can concentrate intensely on a specific thought, memory, feeling or sensation while blocking out distractions.
Under hypnosis, you’re more open than usual to suggestions, and this can be used to modify your perceptions, behavior, sensations and emotions. Therapeutic hypnosis is used to improve your health and well-being and is different from so-called stage hypnosis used by entertainers. Although you’re more open to suggestion during therapeutic hypnosis, your free will remains intact and you don’t lose control over your behavior.

Why it’s done

Hypnosis is intended to help you gain more control over undesired behaviors or emotions or to help you cope better with a wide range of medical conditions. Hypnosis isn’t considered a treatment or a type of psychotherapy. Rather, it’s a procedure typically used along with certain treatments and therapies to help a wide variety of conditions.
Hypnosis may be used for:

  • Pain control
  • Smoking cessation
  • Reducing stress related to medical procedures
  • Mental health conditions
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Surgical preparation
  • Childbirth
  • Weight loss
  • Athletic performance
  • Dental procedures
  • Coping with chemotherapy
  • Skin conditions
  • Gastrointestinal problems
Risks

Hypnosis that’s conducted under the care of a trained therapist or health care professional is considered a safe complementary and alternative medicine treatment.
Adverse reactions are rare but may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Creation of false memories
How to prepare

You don’t need any special preparation to have hypnosis. But it’s a good idea to wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing to help with relaxation. Also, make sure that you’re well rested before having hypnosis so that you’re not inclined to fall asleep during the session.
Be sure you carefully choose a therapist or health care professional to perform hypnosis. Get a recommendation from someone you trust. Don’t buy into promises of cures. And when you do find a potential hypnotherapist, ask lots of questions, such as:

  • Do you have training in a field such as psychology, medicine, social work or dentistry?
  • Are you licensed in your specialty in this state?
  • Where did you go to school, and where did you do your internship, residency or both?
  • How much training have you had in hypnotherapy and from what schools?
  • What professional organizations do you belong to?
  • How long have you been in practice?
  • What are your fees?
  • Does insurance cover your services?
What to expect

There are a variety of techniques for hypnosis. The approach you choose depends on what you want to accomplish and your personal preferences. Your hypnotherapist may make a recommendation about the best technique for your situation.
In general, a hypnotherapist explains the process of hypnosis and reviews what you both hope to accomplish. The hypnotherapist typically induces you into hypnosis by talking in a gentle, soothing tone and describing images that create a sense of relaxation, security and well-being.
When you’re in a deep trance-like state, the hypnotherapist suggests ways for you to achieve specific goals, such as reducing pain or eliminating cravings to smoke. The hypnotherapist also may help you visualize vivid, meaningful mental images in which you picture yourself accomplishing your goals, such as shooting baskets accurately. When the session is over, either you are able to bring yourself out of hypnosis or your hypnotherapist helps you end your trance-like state.
A typical hypnosis session lasts about 30 to 60 minutes. You may benefit from just one session or several sessions of hypnosis. You can usually resume normal activities immediately.
Contrary to how hypnosis is sometimes portrayed in movies, on television or on stage, you don’t lose control over your behavior while under hypnosis. Although hypnosis makes you more open to suggestions, you can’t be forced to engage in behavior involuntarily. Also, you generally remain aware of who you are and where you are, and you typically remember what happened when you were under hypnosis.
You may eventually be able to practice self-hypnosis, in which you induce a state of hypnosis in yourself. You can use this skill as needed — for instance, after a chemotherapy session.
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