Everything you ever wanted to know about hypnosis and hypnotherapy (but were afraid to ask)

When I talk about the fact I am a hypnotherapist to people from Sheffield and beyond the same kinds of questions keep cropping up every time. I love answering these questions! It means that I can give people accurate information to help them have a factual understanding of what I do and how it could help them.

There are many misunderstandings, fears and anxieties about what hypnosis is and is not. If I have missed out the question you most want to know the answer to you can drop me an email to richard@sheffield-hypnosis.co.uk and I will reply directly to you and will then add your question to this post. Over time I hope that this page builds in depth to help even more people just like you.

Does hypnosis work?

The evidence from the many people I have helped over the years is undoubtedly YES! Hypnosis has the potential to help you shift unhelpful or unhealthy patterns of behaviour and to replace them with something more up to date.

You have been in a trance thousands of times before – you called it daydreaming, automatic pilot or being off with the faeries. These are all hypnotic states of mind and happen completely naturally to us all.

MRI scans have shown that when people go into trance something specific and distinct does indeed happen.

What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a perfectly normal frame of mind that the brain naturally enters many times a day for most people. Hypnosis is frequently associated with a deep sense of relaxation and the focusing of attention on appropriate suggestions made by the therapist.

These suggestions help people make the positive changes within themselves that they desire. In a hypnotherapy session you are always in control and cannot be made to do anything you wouldn’t do normally.

What is the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy?

Hypnosis is what happens in a hypnosis stage show. The hypnotic state is used to ‘make’ a person do things that are entertaining for the people in the audience. A hypnotherapist uses the same hypnotic state but uses it to help the individual to make changes to aspects of how they think, act or feel which are focused on improvement. The actual process of being hypnotised is pretty much the same in both cases.

Can everyone be hypnotised?

everyone can go into a hypnotic trance

Doctor David Speigel from Stanford University School of Medicine did MRI scans on people with high hypnotisability and people with low hypnotisability. He claims that about a quarter of people can’t be hypnotised but the research I have read doesn’t show how people were categorised into  high and low hypnotisability groups.

This research combined with the fact that everyone can imagine/daydream/zone out means that everyone can go into trance but some people do it quicker, easier and deeper than others. Even those who have a low hypnotisability level can still go into a trance and can still potentially benefit from hypnotherapy.

How do you hypnotise someone?

In the past a well known technique commonly used to induce a hypnotic trance was a swinging watch. This worked because it caused the small muscles around the eyes to get tired which lead to a feeling of heaviness in the eye. When this was combined with suggestions like “your eyes are feeling heavy and sleepy” it matched the individual’s experience.

Other hypnotic induction techniques of the past are to use hypnotic spiral. The idea behind this was that it would be something to focus attention on and would have a degree of dizziness and disorientation which we usually want to avoid or minimise. When given a suggestion to “close your eyes and relax” there is a sense of relief which matches in with the command to relax and gets the process off to a great start.

Nowadays a hypnotic state is usually induced in a therapy setting by just talking rather than swinging watches etc. Usually it is just the slow and soothing way that the hypnotherapist speaks, combined with certain linguistic techniques that enables the client to focus their attention, shut out the outside world and in some cases (but not all) to relax.  Sometimes the hypnotherapist may also touch the forehead or hands of the client as part of a hypnotic induction, if required, but only with permission.

how do i put someone into a hypnotic trance?
relaxed and in deep hypnosis

What does being hypnotised feel like?

It varies between individuals and it can take a few sessions for people to identify the feelings. These are often of arms or legs feeling very heavy or light or even feeling rigid. Sometimes clients may also feel like they are floating or spinning or that parts of their body have enlarged or reduced in size. Some people report a feeling of being so deeply relaxed that they are unable to or can’t be bothered to move their body.

The majority of people also feel that time passes quicker, so that a 50 minute session can feel more like 20 minutes. Some people get swirls of colour and light happening behind their closed eyes. Some people drift into pleasant past memories or dreams for the future and hardly hear a word the hypnotherapist says. There is also often a feeling of being re-energised after a session as well as residual feelings of being relaxed

Will I fall asleep when I’m in trance?

The word ‘hypnosis’ is based on the Greek word hypnos which means sleep. This means that hypnosis is definitely mis-named! A hypnotic trance is not sleep. They are similar but different. In a hypnotic trance you will probably be very relaxed and peaceful in a similar way to when you are drifting off to sleep but different. It is a bit like almost falling asleep but not quite getting there.

People do sometimes fall asleep while they are in trance but if they do it isn’t usually a problem if they are having a face to face session with a hypnotherapist. The reason for this is that most people change when they go from trance to sleep. One of the most common changes is that people snore. There are also other changes like some people slump over or their eye movements change.

If this happens the hypnotherapist can easily bring the person back from sleep and back into trance and continue with the therapy. Sometimes there is only a small difference between someone who is asleep and that same person in trance. In these cases the hypnotherapist might not notice that the client is asleep. If the hypnotherapist is recording the session then this can act as a kind of safety net and the client can listen again at home.

Will I give away secrets when I’m in trance?

Being in a trance in real life is very different to being in a trance in films. Hypnosis is not a “truth drug” and you can’t be made to do something against your will.

Even if you did divulge a secret it would not go any further because whatever is said in sessions is covered by client/therapist confidentiality.

your details are kept confidential

Can I be hypnotised against my will?

The jury is out on this one! Many hypnotherapists will reel out the lines they have been told by others that you can never be made to do anything against your will. the reason for this is that it really reassures potential clients but is probably not true.

As a technique hypnosis could be used to make you do something out of character/against your will. The secret is to have the thing you are made to do not register as being against your will. Derren Brown (and a few others) have made a convincing case that hypnosis can be done on people without their knowledge. Then the subject could be conditioned or influenced to do things like kill Steven Fry or rob a security guard.

The question is why would a hypnotherapist have any interest in making you do something illegal or immoral? They have a lot more interest in helping you to change in the way you want to change and the happy by-product of this is that it is also good for their business.

was someone hypnotised to kill stephen fry against their will?

Is hypnosis dangerous?

Not usually if it is done by a well trained therapist. It is important to ensure that your therapist has at least a Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma (HPD) as this is seen as the bare minimum for a professional hypnotherapist.

As well as this they should be insured for public liability and professional indemnity. If the hypnotherapist is a member of a professional body they will usually have to work to a code of conduct and ethics. This makes the process of hypnotherapy safe for you to enjoy.

Will I remember everything after my session?

Possibly, possibly not. Some people remember ever single word that was said in a session while others have no conscious memory of what was said after the first 5 minutes. For hypnotherapy to be effective you are not required to be able to recall what was said. I have had many clients who have said that they have heard each word I have said while they were in trance but after I have said each word they have forgotten it. In this way it is possible to hear what is said AND to forget it as well.

you might remember everything about being hypnotised or you may not

Do I have to remember things from my past?

There are two main ‘flavours’ of hypnosis. One is regressive. This means going back into your past to the ‘initial socialising event’ and using techniques that focus on imagining this initial event being different and the effect that this change would have had on your life. They then usually focus on this change carrying forward into the future.

In most cases it is not important if you remember the details of an incident which went on to be a possible root cause of your current issue. Sometimes it is useful or interesting to get the details of the picnic that lead to you being stung by a wasp which then lead to your phobia, for example, but it isn’t vital.

The second ‘flavour’ of hypnosis is solution focused. This skips out the whole regression side of things. This approach says “the past is what it was and is as important as you tell yourself it is.” It focuses on what you can do in the future to make things more how you want them to be and it is my preferred way of working.

Can hypnosis work as a performance enhancer?

In a word, yes. Hypnosis has been shown to improve performance in many areas including : sports, career, memory and concentration, acting, studying, exams, presentations and public speaking skills.

Is there anyone who should not be hypnotised?

This depends on the type of therapy and the individual. There have been concerns raised regarding epileptics, although there is no evidence that hypnosis can trigger seizures.

Some people say that people with schizophrenia should not be hypnotised but Richard Bandler (the co-creator of NLP and someone who is very skilled at hypnotic techniques) says that he has had considerable success working with schizophrenics.

How long does it take to see results from hypnotherapy?

This depends on the individual and the issue being addressed. To a large degree it is down to the person receiving treatment as to how effective hypnotherapy can be.

Hypnotherapy is intended to be a swift therapy technique and there shouldn’t be any reason to see someone for more than 12 sessions at the very most although many people will see results much sooner than this. A professional therapist will never keep a client in therapy any longer than is absolutely necessary.

The reviews from previous clients I have worked with will attest to the fact that often change can be unexpectedly swift for some people.

how many sessions will I need and how long will the hypnosis sessions last

How long can the effects of hypnosis last for?

This depends on the degree of subconscious change that was initially brought about. The best and most long lasting therapy addresses underlying causes of the behaviour causing concern.

It depends on the individual, but there is always the possibility that a problem can be treated once and never troubles the client ever again. It is also possible that hypnotherapy will be successful but won’t last a lifetime and may need ‘topping up’.

Can a person be too strong-minded to be hypnotised?

What people mean by “strong minded” when they ask me this kind of question is never that clear but technically everyone is capable of going into a trance as it is a perfectly normal frame of mind pretty much every one of us experiences on a daily basis.

As I mentioned in a previous question, if you don’t want to be hypnotised then you can’t be. This means that you have every chance of going into a trance and benefiting from this if you are a willing participant.

Can hypnotherapy be used to reduce pain?

Pain is a warning signal to let a person know there is a problem within the body and where it is at. This is essential for survival. For example, if you touched an oven that was extremely hot you would instinctively and instantly move your hand away. If you have got the message that pain is being registered, for example while having a tattoo, the pain signal is not needed but can still get in the way in some cases.

It would be really useful to be able to turn off or reduce the pain signal in these circumstances. Hypnotherapy can in some cases help people to achieve exactly this.

Professor William Ray from the Penn State psychology department has said “We have done a variety of EEG studies, one of which suggests that hypnosis removes the emotional experience of pain while allowing the sensory sensation to remain. Thus, you notice you were touched but not that it hurt.”

In 2013 hypnotist Alex Lenki put himself into a hypnotic trance while a surgeon did an operation that involved cutting through Alex’s ankle bone. Alex said

“I’m not averse to anaesthetic – it’s just that my pain control is a hell of a lot better than the medical profession’s and I heal a lot quicker because my body doesn’t have to get rid of all the chemicals. The brain is a very sophisticated computer and if your press the right buttons it will do amazing things – if you press the right buttons it will switch certain things off.”

How frequent will the treatment sessions be?

At the beginning it is usually best to have each treatment session around 7 days apart. This gives the work done in each session the time to sink in and to be processed by the brain and during this time you may begin to notice your thoughts, attitudes or behaviours changing.

What issues is hypnotherapy most commonly used to treat?

Hypnotherapists are usually generalists rather than specialists. A generalist is like a GP/doctor. They see people for all sorts of different issues and are pretty good at helping most people to some degree. However, if you have a serious health issue and your GP said “I could have a go at treating you but to be honest I have never done this kind of procedure before” it wouldn’t exactly fill you with confidence would it?

Compare that to a specialist who says “The only field I work in is this one and I see people day in and day out with the exact issue you have and I know exactly what I am doing when I treat this.” Who inspires more confidence? The specialist of course!

The downside is that there aren’t many specialist hypnotherapists. As a result a generalist will probably be easier to find.

Issues hypnotherapists often treat are weight loss, phobias, stopping smoking, and confidence issues (like public speaking – the UK’s #1 phobia).

Is it possible to get stuck in trance?

This is a question which was fuelled in the last few years by a stage hypnotist who supposedly tripped mid show and knocked himself out. It was reported that his subjects were “stuck in trance” and a second hypnotist had to be called in to get the “stuck” subjects out.

This smacks of self publicity and the manipulation of the ignorant media by someone who wanted some national press! It is not possible to get stuck in trance. Think of it as being like going to sleep. When you sleep you might have a 10 minute power nap or you might have a super long 14 hours. However long you are asleep for there will come a point where you wake up. The same is true for being in a hypnotic trance. You will open your eyes eventually one way or the other.

Can a hypnotised person be made to cluck like a chicken?

A person in trance is more suggestible than someone who is not. The clucking like a chicken (or dancing like a chicken is a common variation on this question) is something that you might expect to see during a stage hypnosis show. It would be expected by a participant in this kind of setting as it is done for the entertainment of others at the expense of the subject’s dignity.

In a therapy setting however no hypnotherapist worth their salt would ever do this kind of thing as there is no audience to entertain.

Just out of interest … how DO you dance like a chicken??

How much does hypnosis cost

How much does hypnosis cost?

This is usually one of the questions most people want to know. You could find a hypnotherapist that charges as little as £40 per session and sometimes for this price you can get someone who is good at what they do. Equally you might be able to find some that charge £90 per session and they might be rubbish at what they do.
I would recommend finding a hypnotherapist you want to work with that takes account of their cost but also focuses on other factors like the number and quality of their reviews, the quality of their website, the gut instinct you get from speaking to them and if they work at home out of a back bedroom or if they have a professional clinic.

Have your questions about hypnosis been answered?

If they have great! That was my hope. If not then there is no problem at all. There are a LOT of questions about hypnotherapy and this page answers the main ones. If yours isn’t answered here or if you have something of a more personal nature that you would like to discuss then click the box below to book a time for me to call you back.

I am happy to give you all the information you need, for free. This enables you to make an informed and educated decision about working with me.

Image credit:

Stephen Fry @ BorderKitchen by Marco Raaphorst is licensed under CC BY 2.0